Eden Revisited explores the ways geography, anthropology, and culture combine to influence how individuals develop a sense of home. While this project is specific to the Salinas Valley region of Central California, it addresses issues that have universal relevance to our human experience, especially in the volatilely individualistic and ethnocentric times in which we now live. The project’s photography explores both the ways in which our values as individuals evolve from the community within which we live, and the unique power of a region’s geographic characteristics to impact the ethnographic makeup of these communities. The Salinas Valley presents a unique opportunity to explore these questions as it contains a number of different geographic regions, each of which is home to a distinct culture.
Framed by the Santa Lucia and Gabilan mountain ranges, the Salinas River guides this meandering valley for 90 miles through the heart of California. These two mountain ranges provide the valley with dramatic backdrops and combine with the river to afford it some of the most fertile soil in the world. The hot and dry southern reaches are home to vast ranches and a distinct culture that still possesses many characteristics from the pioneering Wild West days of California’s distant past. In recent decades this cowboy culture has been gradually replaced with a more cosmopolitan one that draws heavily on the tourism associated with one of California’s great wine production regions.
As the Salinas River moves north, the average temperatures drop and combine with the valley’s exceptionally fertile soil to create an ideal climate for agricultural production. The valley’s incredible productivity is responsible for annual revenues of more than $9 billion, 47,000+ jobs, and 80% of the salad greens consumed in the US each year. Driven by geography, the culture of this region has developed in dramatically different ways than that of the ranch or wine regions so close in proximity.
The great valley-making river completes its journey to the Pacific in a swampy, misty, coastal area that has become a wild life lover’s paradise. Like much of the valley, this sector is currently experiencing a geographically motivated transformation. A steep rise in tourism and new retirement-age residents over the last half-century has begun to re-shape the culture of this region from one primarily concerned with agriculture and fishing, into one skewed more towards outdoor adventure and high end consumerism.
The unique geography of each of these regions has drawn residents with equally varied ethnographic makeups and the culture that has developed within each reflects this. The Salinas Valley presents a microcosm of the incredible diversity present within the United States as a whole. It is important to understand how these diversities develop, and begin to recognize the value and importance of them. Eden Revisited acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of experience and culture present within a small portion of this great nation, and in doing so, presents an example of how we can begin to understand and value cultures different than our own on a larger scale.