December 19, 2018

Bombay Beach

When you stare at something long enough, your perception of it changes. You notice it’s perfect imperfections, the shadows it creates at different times of day, the subtleties no one simply passing by would notice. A learned appreciation never became more obvious to me than in the time I spent shooting a tiny community on the edge of the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach. If you're unfamiliar with the Salton Sea, then this requires a little backstory....

The Salton Sea is a large body of water in the desert that was formed in 1900 by a error in canal construction that ended up flooding a huge chunk of land. People initially saw opportunity to turn it into a tourist destination, a oasis of sorts (think Palm Springs, but with a massive lake). All sorts of vacation homes popped up around the Salton Sea, but the water quickly became extremely salty and polluted... eating away at any boats on it’s surface, killing all the fish below, and making the water very unappealing to swim in. Without boring you with too many other details, the developments were abandoned and the area has turned into a bit of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. 

I spent a week in a tiny community along the Salton Sea where people have decided to inhabit despite the incredibly hot summers and a giant, pungent body of water that is simply a tease as swimming isn’t recommended. The town is called Bombay Beach and is just a grid dirt roads lines with trailers and run-down houses. It has a population of 295 people and all of these folks have some story of how out of all the places one could live… they ended up in this surreal place. Some trying to escape civilization, others not being able to afford anything else, a select few that simply enjoy the obscurity, and some that have been born, raised, and carried out their whole lives there.

My good friend Tao Ruspoli found beauty in the ruins and decided to buy up a few plots to create his own escape. Shortly after the Bombay Beach Biennale was born and this area has become a hub for freedom of creative expression.

Tao asked me to come out to Bombay Beach for a week and shoot the “town” as if I was shooting for Dwell… to take these dilapidated homes and find the beauty in them. Each morning I would wake up at sunrise and walk street-by-street scanning for hidden photographic treasures and would continue to do so until the sun fell below the horizon. This turned into one of my favorite photo projects as of late. It challenged and trained my eye to see my surroundings differently. Once I returned to Los Angeles from this trip I found myself observing each building the same way, seeking these quiet moments in the architecture. I encourage any photographer to spend an extended amount of time meditating on a single subject matter they wouldn’t normally be compelled to shoot. Eventually your eyes will adjust and you’ll discover something you would have never seen before.