“Salt has an inherently sacred quality. It is in our oceans and in our tears…” – Tom Hegen
Salt Works, the latest monograph from German photographer Tom Hegen, captures both the tantalizing beauty and dramatic impact of salt production on our planet.
Tom Hegen is an award-winning German photographer, who captures how humans have shaped natural landscapes throughout the world. Since 2015, he has focused almost exclusively on aerial photography, capturing spectacular wide-angle shots from small planes, quadcopters, and even hot air balloons, that depict the surface of the earth from above.
Like much of Hegen’s work, at first glance, the images appear to be abstract paintings or strange configurations of textures, but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that these are photographs of actual earthly landscapes.
Using his trademark aerial perspective Hegen captures the natural beauty of salt extraction, one of the oldest forms of human landscaping. The process involves creating shallow, man-made pools that are evaporated by wind and the sun, leaving behind salt that is harvested by hand using rakes or machinery.
It is a process that creates otherworldly landscapes, characterized by geometric shapes and pastel-hues, caused by microorganisms whose color changes as the salinity of water increases.
Beautifully presented in large-scale, each of the 167 images is afforded a whole page to display the finer, subtle details and variegating hues. The book is divided into seven chapters each of which includes background information about the production sites, while three essays written by experts in the fields of salt, Anthropocene, and art history, provide additional context.
The images in Salt Works embody his oeuvre for they demonstrate with great clarity, Hegen’s skill, eye for color, and love of geometry, as well as his love of modernist icons Mondrian and Rothko. Some of the images in Salt Works bear a striking resemblance to the latter’s color field paintings, in particular.
Despite their artistry, the photographs remain forthright and authentic, as Hegen’s editing process is minimal. Although light, contrast and color are accentuated during post-production, the process is always governed by strict principles that ensure the work’s authenticity is never in question.
In his beautifully written introduction, Hegen reflects on the importance of salt in human society. In many ways, therefore, this collection of images can be seen as a tribute to this seemingly humble mineral. Yet ultimately, by his own admission, as with much of his work, the images are a tool for understanding vision.
The abstract quality, particularly when first viewed, forces us to ponder and decipher the image in order to understand what we are seeing, a process which Hegen says, ‘ensures they will remain in one’s memory for longer’.
These images, therefore, stand not only as captivating works of art but also as striking, forthright emblems of the human impact on our planet, that remind us of the importance of questioning where every product in our world comes from, and how it is made.
All images © Tom Hegen
Salt Works is available via his website.