Cris Benton: On Approach

Terminal 2

Sep 01, 2015 - Nov 30, 2015

Cris Benton: On Approach

On approach to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), airline passengers view vividly colorful patchwork tapestries of the San Francisco Bay’s salt-evaporation ponds. These ponds reflect a five-year-long process of solar evaporation that yields 600,000 tons of salt yearly. As the bay’s salt water processes from two percent to thirty-two percent salinity, it evolves through a succession of bright colors—evidence of halophilic algae, bacteria, and other organisms that thrive at high salt concentrations. Millions of these tiny creatures paint the daily version of what has been a remarkable transitional landscape.

For ten years, retired University of California, Berkeley, professor of architecture and kite-aerial photographer Cris Benton has hiked the South Bay landscape. He has examined diverse microorganisms with a field microscope, seeking early engineering interventions–levees, boardwalks, flow-control structures, and bridges scattered across the Bay shallows. 

Benton has also launched a kite-lofted camera to photograph juxtapositions in the landscape. By photographing from heights of up to three-hundred feet, Benton brings a much-overlooked part of the San Francisco Bay into sharp focus. That these images are visually compelling is in no small part because they reveal hidden and often enigmatic aspects of the landscape. Aerial images greatly reduce the sky reflection from the salt-pond surface, thus exposing colors, textures, and traces of the Bay’s previous epochs.

Behind the visual richness of the South Bay’s juxtapositions lie its compelling history and the active formulation of bold initiatives for its future. After a century of industrial-salt production, over one thousand acres of this once vast marshland are now being restored to their natural state. Benton’s On Approach allows us to leave our earthly bonds and see the salt ponds from a fresh perspective—a portrait of ecological transformation and resilience.

Cris Benton began the South Bay project in 2003 while on sabbatical as artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. His aerial photographic documentation of salt ponds has been exhibited at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the Exploratorium, and the Coyote Point Museum.

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