Salton Sea Images/Recap

A couple of months ago I went with my friend, Crafty, to the Salton Sea.  I took my trusty Mamiya RZ67 film camera as I think there are certain locations that are just better shot on film than with a digital camera.  I loaded up the camera with 2 rolls of Ilford Delta Pro 100 B&W film to capture the gritty, earthy and solemn feel of the Salton Sea.  Again, if you don't know the tragic story of the Salton Sea then please check out this page HERE.

My Mamiya RZ67 film camera

Don't get me wrong, I think I could have made some great images with my Nikon DSLR but I truly believe that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot replicate the look of B&W film from a digital shot.  Yes, Nik Software's SILVER EFEX PRO 2 is an amazing piece of software that comes pretty damn close to emulating a true B&W film look.  Also, Vincent Versace has some great tips for converting digital images through the ACME Educational website.  But, if you were to ask most photographers I think you will find the vast majority will tell you that nothing you can do in Photoshop can compare to the final image you get from using your favorite B&W film. Crafty and I spent several hours driving around and looking for the best locations for shooting.  One of the first places I wanted to see was Salvation Mountain.  A devoutly religious, Christian man created this "mountain" over 25 years ago as an art project.  He was only going to stay one week but has since made it his home.  Unfortunately, the creator, Leonard Knight, suffers from dementia and has been placed in a long term care facility and is no longer on site.  I was hoping to meet the man who dedicated his life to this project but took solace in knowing we could see the project at least.  There are plans to keep this project alive and hopefully there will be enough paint, sweat and volunteers who can keep his vision alive long after he is gone.  While I am not a deeply religious person, I do respect any artist who has dedicated his/her life to their passion.  Knowing Mr. Knight wasn't around I wanted to create an image that signified his passion and desire.  I asked Crafty to pose for me here, put the Red 25A filter on the lens to completely darken the sky and made the image below (Yes, the starlight/God's light was added in Photoshop as that was what I was thinking about when I made this image).

Redeemed by Salvation Mountain.

Another place I wanted to visit is the old Red Hill Marina.  This used to be a thriving marina but now there is nothing left but busted up concrete, rocks, hills and dead Tilapia.  While walking around here I noticed these lone trees sitting in the dried up area that used to be part of the Salton Sea (the sea levels are diminishing year after year).   I found this sad and wanted to make an image of this tree.  This tree and marina reminded me of everything that used to be thriving and vibrant with the sea.  But if you look closely you can still see some large bird nests in the limbs and that actually gave me hope that this beautiful area can, once again, be alive with tourists, homes, people and life (Editorial note: But I am sure if a lot of people start coming back to this area again then I am sure they will figure out a way to screw it up. - Now I am stepping down off soapbox). 🙂

A lone tree at the Salton Sea.

When we wrapped up walking around the Red Hill Marina we found this little driving trail leading us to another side of the area.  Being the explorers that we are, we wanted to see what was on the other side.  After following the path we came to (what appeared to be) an abandoned trailer park/RV area.  There was a posted sign stating that no cars were able to drive past this marked area without permission.  So I got out of the car and started walking around yelling for someone or anyone to come out.  After about 15 minutes of walking around and asking if anyone was around we decided to drive past the marked area, park the car and get out and walk toward the Salton Sea to explore possible shoots.  Around 20 minutes into our walk we notice a car coming from the area we had just left.  The vehicle was coming toward us and I knew we were in trouble.  As the old Chevy Blazer approached and stopped, this diminutive man of 70+ years steps out of the vehicle and starts to inquire as to why we were there, what we were doing, didn't we read the signs, etc.  It felt like an interrogation.  However, after about 10 minutes of talking and letting the caretaker of the property (if you saw this area you would scratch your head wondering why there was a "caretaker" of the area) introduced himself as J.J. and started telling us stories about the area, his life as a Marine and his passion for living at the Salton Sea!  He showed us the arsenal he had in the back of his vehicle in case he needed to use it on us.  One of the items he pulled out was a Samurai sword and I knew I had to get a shot.  Here's the image I made of J.J.

The Salton Sea Samurai

This man is so proud of this area and where he lives he took Crafty and me around the Sea to show us some of the best locations that only locals know about.  I also promised J.J. that I would print the image I made of him and get it to him.  As a side note, I did return to the area about 10 days later with my lovely wife, Lisa, and handed J.J. a 16x20 print of this shot.  J.J. also pulled out part of his arsenal of firearms and let Crafty take target practice.  You can see that below. Lastly, if you are wondering why there are only three images from my shoot, I have to admit that I discovered a massive light leak with the camera.  The bad part of shooting film is that you don't know about the dreaded "Light Leak" until you develop your negatives.  Now while some people like the light leak effect I don't particularly care for it.  I had to trash many of the images because the leak directly affected the area I wanted to have the viewer focus on.  But the leak has since been repaired and I am looking forward to going back to the Salton Sea for more images.  In case you don't know what a light leak is then here is an example.

More to come,


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  1. Timm Eubanks says:

    Awesome! Great stories and photos! I need to get out of the studio, road trip and grab some images. It’s been too long. Thanks for the kick in the pants. JJ is classic.

    • Seth Hancock says:

      It’s such a great location for making images. My next project is to photograph the people of the area (like J.J.).

  2. Pua says:

    My sojourn from FB has allowed me more time, in between writing chapters, to spend on blogs that I love. This morning (it’s now 5 am), I couldn’t sleep, and so I just got up and started blogrolling. Something that I haven’t done in earnest (I’m embarrassed to say) in a while. Your blog has been the source of a myriad of smiles in the wee hours. While I appreciate that this is a professional journal and chronology, I am so in awe of the beauty of your work and your appreciation of the things you see, not only with the “eye” of your camera, but with the “eye” of your heart.

    This one, in particular, was poignant to me. When I was little, my father (a career Navy man) was stationed in El Centro. Most people laugh about that, knowing that El Centro is a landlocked desert “oasis”, if you can call it that. But, once I explain that it’s an air facility, also known as the winter home of the Blue Angels, then it’s all good. Sorry, I digress…our “retreat” back then, were weekend campouts at Salton Sea. Back then (mid 60’s), the thought of going to the Salton Sea for camping and swimming, for a kid, was akin to going to Disneyland, no joke. For my mom, it was a little piece of “island life” for a girl far, far from her Hawai’i home. It really was a beautiful, fun place and I have a million memories of it that make me smile. It is sad to see it now and know what a diamond in the desert it once was. So, thank you for this trip down memory lane. One day, I’ll dig up my dad’s old photos of those trips, but for now, remembering it through your photos was fun.

    • Seth Hancock says:

      The Salton Sea IS a very special place and one I hope sees a resurgence at some point. I know a lot of people are fighting for it and scientists have said that if this lake were to go away then that part of CA would see dust and sand storms the likes of what Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas saw in the ’30s. Hopefully that will never happen.