Water in the West: Arcata Marsh Project

The Arcata Marsh is a unique solution to urban wastewater management, studied and emulated by diverse communities around the world. Conceived in the late 1970's by Humboldt State University professors George Allen and Robert Gearheart, an abandoned industrial site bordering north coast California's Humboldt Bay was reconfigured into a series of artificial ponds that use natural processes to treat secondary sewage for the city of Arcata. The developed marsh has become a significant wildlife refuge, teeming with resident and migrating birds, and a popular recreation area. The constructed landscape of the Marsh easily fools visitors of all species: nearly all take it to be, and use it as a perfectly natural setting.

The ongoing series of photographic collages is an imagined portrayal of what kind of refuge it may become as a result of predicted climate change. Some images incorporate 19th century bird and animal illustrations of inappropriate species, questioning what is natural in nature. Flat drawings inhabit deep photographic space; the species might be geographically incorrect or suggest reversal of extinction. In recent work scanning electron microscope images of highly magnified Marsh vegetation crop up in the landscape, conflating the scale of each element. Reflecting another change in scale, current work involves aerial views.

The entire project derives from Land-Weber's membership in Water in the West, a collective of twelve photographers and a writer, each involved in personal photographic projects about water in western American states. The group includes Robert Dawson, Laurie Brown, Gregg Conniff, Terry Evans, Geoff Fricker, Peter Goin, Wanda Hammerbeck, Sant Khalsa, Mark Klett, Ellen Land-Weber, Ellen Manchester, Sharon Stewart, and Martin Stupich. An extensive Water in the West archive is preserved in the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona.

Ellen Land-Weber's Water in the West portfolio also includes “Fish On/No Fish,” a project about the Hoopa Valley Tribe's efforts to restore traditional water flows on the Trinity River in northern California. 
Recent work on exhibition at First Street Gallery: “A Moment in Time”

Technical note: Photographs and collages utilize 6x7, 35mm, and digital camera formats, antique natural history prints, and scanning electron microscopy. All photographs copyright © 1995-2013 to Ellen Land-Weber. Written permission is required for reproduction by any means worldwide.

Click on a picture to see an enlarged view.

The Landscape Remembers
The Landscape Remembers

the marsh seen closely
the marsh seen closely

More Arcata Marsh
More Arcata Marsh



Fish On / No Fish


Marsh in
Marsh in
Black and White

Marsh Pond After
Marsh Pond After
Global Warming



Marsh Pond After
Global Cooling



Moth Invasion After
Global Warming



B
utcher's Slough After Global Cooling

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