Fault Line

2022

The Salton Sea, a landlocked body of water in Southern California, lies on the San Andreas Fault within a trough that extends all the way into Mexico. This shallow saline lake was created by an irrigation accident precipitated by the flooding of the Colorado River in the early 20th century. The lake is currently drying up and could disappear entirely over the next few decades. This no man’s land with its stunted palms was a busy tourist resort during the 1950s and 1960s. In its crumbling marinas one can still see dilapidated wharves and boat wrecks.

I visited the area for the first time in 2015 – 2016 in order to carry out a project titled Desert Shores (Lost America). The place is of particular interest to me because its desolate landscape raises certain social, political and environmental questions. I dreamed of going back there to see how its unusual and inhospitable spaces had changed. Most of the abandoned hotels and ruined buildings I’d photographed earlier have since completely fallen down or been demolished.

The level of the lake has dropped substantially in the past few years and the navigation canals are dry. There are no more fish in the remaining stagnant lagoons, whose foetid basins are filled with a oddly coloured sludge that betokens the presence of cyanobacteria. For decades, agricultural runoff from the Imperial Valley has been flowing into the lake, contaminating it with water containing fertilizer and pesticides. Along with nitrates, there is lead, chrome, selenium and even DDT. Since evaporation regularly outstrips the desert precipitation, pollutants have built up into compact concentrations over time. The old salt-scorched beaches are now covered in a thick layer of toxic alluvial deposits. The wind blows across this sediment and carries particles of it into neighbouring cities, leading to lung problems for some of the inhabitants.

The Salton Sea is slowly dying. I have to walk much farther now to reach its shores, now that the desert is reclaiming its territory. Before this poisoned mirage disappears for good, I would like to capture its ephemeral landscapes, whose disquieting and ambiguous beauty continue to fascinate me.

This project comprises 36 large photographs.