David Abramson’s Salton Sea: A Promise Not to Forget

Can the artists save the Salton Sea?

The Salton Sea is in trouble, and no one quite knows why—until now. In a major new exhibition and documentary film, David Abramson offers a very different look at what is happening here.

When I first saw David Abramson’s Salton Sea: A Promise Not to Forget, I was struck by its tone of both sadness and hope. This is an artist I had not previously had the opportunity to see.

I was right. Salton Sea: A Promise Not to Forget, made for the opening of the exhibition, is what an artist and critic would expect from him. It is a documentary, like many of the films of Abramson’s career. There are some great shots, but they are the exception to the rule. This is a documentary filmmaker who is more concerned with the telling of stories than with telling stories (except when doing news stories, which he doesn’t like to do).

If Salton Sea: A Promise Not to Forget is an odd sort of documentary (in that it does not have to be), it nevertheless is an interesting, powerful, and moving one. Abramson is able to take the viewer back to the Salton Sea with a sense of wonder and love, to a time when it was a wonderland and not just a natural wetland that needed a big wetland restoration project. He is able to show us an entirely different Salton Sea, one that is actually now a desert.

In the course of his work for Salton Sea: A Promise Not To Forget, Abramson has traveled around the Salton Sea, meeting with residents and scientists, and interviewing people from all corners of the Salton Sea. Some have welcomed him with open arms, and others, like my father, have shown him contempt. “He’s a fool,” my father has said about Abramson. “He’s always talking about artists, but he’s never seen one. He is going to write some drivel about artists, about people who didn’t exist in the past, and all their artists are dead or are dead now. He can’t save anything. That’s the problem with writers or the artists’ movement, it’s dead.

“You don’t have a political movement. You have a movement for people with nothing

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