Interview Series: Rebecca Cabage & The Salton Sea

In a riveting book titled, “The Salton Sea,” LA-based photographer Rebecca Cabage embarks on a journey within the largest body of water in California. A tour through an environmental decline encompassing a location that was once a tourist attraction during the 1920s – the photographer visits the Salton Sea numerous times and as a result captures gorgeous, storytelling, up-close and personal images of urban decay in a desolate and forgotten place.

As an emerging artist’s story would have it, Cabage has exhibited her photographic works at numerous galleries and shows throughout Los Angeles including MOPLA, AFTA, Create Fixate, Duncan Miller Gallery and has exhibited and sold work in the Art Mére/Art Pére auction benefiting the Livestrong Foundation. She lives fast—her travels to Paris to shop the book and capture more images rounded out her month, but before she left I sat her down, inquired, and jotted down notes on a selfless capture in one photographer’s push to save the environment…

Q & A

LF: How did your first trip to the Salton Sea unfold?

REBECCA CABAGE: The first time that I went to the Salton Sea, I unintentionally stumbled upon Bombay Beach. It was somewhat hidden. You have to go beyond this small town and up and over an un-marked dirt hill until you find it.

LF: What was your first reaction like?

REBECCA CABAGE: I arrived just as the sun was setting. It was the most intense and beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life (the images at the end of the book). The beach was filled with abandoned homes, mobile homes, cars and people’s lives that had been washed away with the catastrophic floods. It felt amazing to see something so tragic along with the most beautiful sunset I had ever experienced. It was mystifying.

LF: I love moments in time such as the one you mentioned. What happened next?

REBECCA CABAGE: I left with an exhilarated feeling. I needed to make sense of how this tragedy could be perceived as beautiful. My next trip was on a warm day in broad daylight. I was able to see more this time, and had more of a sense of what I was embarking upon. Only to my surprise, it wasn’t as beautiful in the hot daytime sunlight.

LF: What was it like if not as beautiful as you mentioned? When did you start documenting it with your camera?

REBECCA CABAGE: I could see the thousands of dead fish on the shore line. I could smell the stench of dead fish all around me. It was overwhelming. I also realized that many of the birds (that I loved so much on my first trip) were dying from eating the sick fish. Realizing this, I did some research and found out that sometimes hundreds die a day. This was when I also learned that the Salton Sea was a cesspool for disease, botulism and agriculture run-off. Even more sad, it’s a man-made mess! Since I’m not a geologist, politician or reporter, I did what I do best and started documenting it.

LF: Did anything change for you while you invested further emotion by taking all of the photographs?

REBECCA CABAGE: I was sad for the dying birds, fish and loss of life. I began to ask a lot of spiritual questions. Since we made this mess, do we clean it up? Or from here, should we let nature take its course? If we metal more in the mess, will it make it worse? I’m not really sure what the right answer is. Maybe if people see what has happened to this place through my lens, something or someone can help.

LF: How many trips did you make to accomplish your 250 page book?

REBECCA CABAGE: I made 4 trips total.

LF: What do you hope to accomplish by publishing The Salton Sea?

REBECCA CABAGE: Maybe if people see what has happened to this place, something or someone can help. Maybe in some way my photos can help the birds and fish.

LF: What are your plans for the book when it’s published?

REBECCA CABAGE: I would like to share it with The Sonny Bono Salton Sea Restoration Project in hopes of coming together to move towards a positive solution. I would also love to use this book as a photographic awareness journey about this abandoned place.

 *If you’re inspired enough to spread the word, the photographer has released “Editor’s Choice” select images from her book that can be found in her DIARY.*

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