There is such a unique feeling in this shooting; it leaves the viewer with a fascinating sensation triggered by the location´s deserted vibe combined with the zest for life that Erin embodies. And so Phillip takes us along of their Salton Sea experience.
“Salton Sea, it’s crazy out there.” starts photographer Photographer Phillip Skraba while showing us his latest rad photo shooting starring Erin Rowbotham.
“I’ve been there about 4 times, and I absolutely
“Salton Sea changed a lot. A lot! For better, for worse, a little of both.”
“It’s changed a lot. A lot! For better, for worse, a little of both. It’s getting to quite a dangerous point, in that the water in the sea is drying up so fast it’s revealing the nasty seabed beneath it. The seabed is highly toxic and as more and more of it is exposed the wind picks it up and causes all kinds of horrible health problems for the residents who are not willing to leave the surrounding areas, very sad, I hope the government will do more to help. Erin and I stopped and got out of the car more times than we could count, either to reminisce or because we just saw something totally awesome and had to get a shot! Many of the shots we took we’re direct copies of what we shot 4 years ago, however, as Salton Sea has evolved, not only in negative ways, but also in positive ways, the Coachella festival has brought a lot of interest to the area, a series of art exhibitions in the desert have been hidden in the landscape and it seems the government is slowly trying to funnel money into the area, so we found lots of new places to shoot.
Our first stop was Desert Shores. It’s really cool there, not much had changed and we walked around, played some basketball, wandered around the church and carefully tip-toed around the trailer park as not all Salton Sea folks are so welcoming, it’s best to keep your distance sometimes and not invade their privacy. We took a drive down Capri Rd, where all the big houses are and snapped some funky shots on the crushed-vertebrae-of-dead-fish sand beach. It’s exactly what it sounds like. All the beaches there are made up of dead fish bones, look down and you’ll see. It used to smell really bad back in 2010, it’s okay now. We then drove down to Salton Sea Beach, where we re-shot a photo that spent almost 2 years on the main Facebook page of C-Heads magazine, it’s not better, it’s the same, just different. We had so much fun walking around the somewhat deserted streets. If you’ve never been there it almost feels like a location from an American horror film, and people live there, miles from any shops, surrounded by mountains and living on a toxic seabed. A lot of people fled, but a fair amount of people stayed and live there, have their homes there. I won’t go into the history of the sea, but it’s worth having a read if you have 5 minutes.
“We ate a couple of burgers in the only dinner we could find, which wasn’t easy as a couple of cockroaches, big ones, were playing hide and seek behind some of the pinball machines, not your Michelin star restaurant that’s for sure.”
When we’d finished shooting on the beach, we started a long drive to a place I’d found on Google maps and thought we have to go there and check it out! On the way we stopped a few times and shot in the desert, Erin lost her phone, which got run over by a couple of cars, but we luckily found it and I put my foot down to get there before sunset. We arrived in Borrego Springs, and I’ve got to tell you, this place is wild! It’s beautiful! So many really nice houses, quiet, and it’s full of metal sculptures, and I mean full! There are over 130 sculptures by artist Ricardo Breceda. These things aren’t small either, some of them are massive! We drove around as many as we could, a lot of them were in very difficult to reach places, off road, between cactuses, and scattered around all over the place. It got dark, so we started the long journey around the south side of the sea towards Calipatria where we had our motel.
Calipatria, well, it stinks to high heaven. It’s almost unbearable at times. There is a huge cattle farm as you drive in to town and the whole place reeks of it. We ate a couple of burgers in the only dinner we could find, which wasn’t easy as a couple of cockroaches, big ones, were playing hide and seek behind some of the pinball machines, not your Michelin star restaurant that’s for sure. We were totally exhausted so we called it a night.
“It’s a place with no rules, no running water, no electricity, it’s basically a Mad Max style trailer park, and it’s awesome. If you’re kind and positive and you know when to mind your own business you’ll be fine.”
The next morning we took a ride through Calipatria, and as Erin was getting ready I was casually walking up the street with my camera. For me, it’s all new, it’s all photogenic, it’s like I’m in GTA and I’m exploring, l love it. The people who live in these run-down houses, a lot of them weren’t happy that I was walking around with my camera, and there was even one instance where someone quite aggressively started approaching us out of his house, so we took off. We drove up to Salvation Mountain, which is a special place and it’s worth visiting if you ever go there, and, if you feel like exploring even more and are brave, go check out Slab City up the road. We did. In places you are greeted warmly and kindly, in others people are quite hostile. It’s a place with no rules, no running water, no electricity, it’s basically a Mad Max style trailer park, and it’s awesome. If you’re kind and positive and you know when to mind your own business you’ll be fine. East Jesus is cool, it’s an art gallery made up from items lost and found. There is even a plane there, a bus, a couple of dozen televisions, and it’s very open and inviting. We also took a drive to the library, and all the way up past Slab City towards the secret army base you can see hidden on Google maps, we were obviously stopped and told to go back, so we shot a few photos in the desert when we noticed smoke coming from Slab City. The reverends trailer caught fire, apparently there are a couple of fires every month, it’s nothing unusual for them. Looking at the aftermath, he had lost everything, so we decided to move on without any photos of this situation, Erin was also getting some evil stares dressed in her bikini and Nikes, so we moved on to shoot back at the motel and in town. At the end of the day we were once again completely exhausted, the sun there, it doesn’t give in.
The next day it was time to go home, but of course on our way we had a lot of stops planned. Two of the most important, Bombay Beach, and one of our favourites – Rancho Dos Palmas. Bombay Beach, as usual, was totally awesome. The people there are great. The whole place is just fun. There are a few art installations – trailers or houses completely re-arranged as art installations, some really crazy stuff out there. There was a swing set way out in the sea, a door that led to nowhere on the beach, the Bombay Beach drive-in, so many fun things to see, and so many great places to shoot!
“There was a swing set way out in the sea, a door that led to nowhere on the beach, the Bombay Beach drive-in, so many fun things to see, and so many great places to shoot.”
After lots of walking in Bombay Beach we headed towards our favourite place, the hot springs. Now this place is not easy to find, and it’s not a fun walk in the ridiculously hot sun. You have to park your car a really long distance away from the hot springs, and walk along a scorching hot road, in land home to vast amounts of rattlesnakes to get to the hot springs. There are a lot of hot springs, and they are everywhere, surrounded by palm trees and tall grass. It’s stunning. A little scary as you’re in the wild, with natural hot springs, who knows how many rattlesnakes checking you out and not as much water as you thought you should have. The springs are lined with silky mud, the water is comfortably warm and it’s so peaceful you could fall asleep in the water. There are a lot of different hot springs, some are very deep, some are shallow, some you should keep away from, make sure to find out before you go!
From there we stopped off at the old North Shore yacht club, grabbed some water and drove to LA via Lake Elsinore, which is a stunning place I wish I had more time to explore, I got my drone up for two batteries and that’s the end of the story.
We hope you all like our shoot “Back to Salton Sea”, we had a lot of fun shooting it. Take care Salton Sea, see you again someday.”
Erin is wearing T-shirts by Electric West by Kelly and a silver swimsuit by misbhv.