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Documenting the change in California salt ponds over the years

Ravenswood III, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
Ravenswood III, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.

Editor's note: As the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Summit convenes, NPR's Picture Show is taking a look at work by artists and visual journalists that highlight climate change.

Salt Ponds have existed in the San Francisco Bay since the 1800s and are characterized by environmentalists as having taken away the lungs of the Bay. Currently they are a part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest wetland restoration program in the United States.

As a Silicon Valley native, photographer Barbara Boissevain feels drawn to capture these dramatic changes taking place in the San Francisco Bay and use her photography to highlight environmental issues in the region.

Boissevain started going up in a helicopter to take aerial photographs of the Salt Ponds in 2010 and has continued for over a decade. After several years of taking these aerial photographs, she had thousands of images and began creating formal grids based on the year they were photographed and a common color palette. As the transformations in the Bay continue, the photographer keeps adding to this series and creating more grids documenting the increasing biodiversity over the coming decades.

Left: Ravenswood XII, 2020, Menlo Park, CA; Right: Ravenswood IV, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Left: Ravenswood XII, 2020, Menlo Park, CA; Right: Ravenswood IV, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
Ravenswood XIII, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Ravenswood XIII, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
Ravenswood II, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Ravenswood II, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.

Boissevain recently expanded the project to include photography from the ground level, allowing the viewer to examine the changes in biodiversity, zooming in from a completely different perspective. During the pandemic, she began photographing Ravenswood salt ponds bordering the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Technology workers look out over these ponds from slick glass buildings and go out to exercise at the Ravenswood Trail in the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. Many are not aware that this miraculous transformation is taking place in their own backyard.

Every time she walks out on the trails leading to these sites, Boissevain sees new life and dramatic changes: evidence of the exponential increase in microbial life as the wetlands are restored. It is really inspiring to see what nature is capable of. This gives hope for the survival of our species (and others) on our planet. Nature reclaiming its territory is a potent theme for her and one that she explores further in other photographic series.

Salt Pond Grid II, 2013, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Salt Pond Grid II, 2013, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
Salt Pond Grid I, 2010, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Salt Pond Grid I, 2010, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
Salt Pond Grid V, 2018, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Salt Pond Grid V, 2018, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
Salt Pond Grid III, 2016, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Salt Pond Grid III, 2016, Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
Salt Pond Grid IV, 2018, <strong></strong>Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Salt Pond Grid IV, 2018, <strong></strong>Aerial photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
Ravenswood VI, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Ravenswood VI, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
Ravenswood I, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.
/ Barbara Boissevain
Ravenswood I, 2020, Menlo Park, CA.

Barbara Boissevain is an internationally exhibited photographer who explores and documents environmental and social justice issues. Follow her on Instagram @barbaraboissevain.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.