The Bizarre Beauty Of Silicon Valley’s Salt Ponds

Before tech became the San Francisco Bay Area’s biggest export, salt was the primary industry. Eighty percent of the Bay’s natural wetlands were turned into salt mines, and they remain today dotting the waterfront like a patchwork of surrealist paintings. Julieanne Kost–a photographer and digital image evangelist at Adobe–has been documenting aerial images of the ponds, which turn brilliant shades of purple, red, and orange. Together, they look nothing like the sprawling industrial operation that they are.

“I’ve lived in the Bay Area all my life, and the aerial images of the salt ponds, are a constant reminder that simply by changing one’s perspective it’s possible to see the world in an entirely different way,” Kost tells Co.Design via email.

[Photo: Julieanne Kost]
The salt mines are essentially enormous manmade ponds that flood with bay water and leave salt deposits as evaporation occurs. Naturally occurring microorganisms thrive when the salt brine reaches different salinity levels, which causes the colors to change over time. While some are being restored to their original ecosystems–thereby becoming new habitats for endangered species–there are over 8,000 acres of salt-producing land still lining the bay. Today, the mines produce over 500,000 tons of sea salt annually.

“Fortunately, my job requires that I travel and being based in San Francisco means that I have often seen the salt ponds on the descent into SFO,” Kost says. “I’ve always been drawn to abstract, organic shapes and forms, and enjoy the challenge of making photographs that require the viewer to look at the image a little bit longer than normal in order to discover what the photograph represents.”

It’s easy to get lost in Kost’s images as you try to figure out what they are and if they’re doctored with the help of Photoshop. The colors are very real–and they’re dazzling. See them in the slideshow above.