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Review

San Francisco Chronicle. January 15, 1984

To Save The Water of Life

AT MONO LAKE

Edited by Stephen Johnson
Friends of the Earth Foundation, $12.95

Reviewed by Peter Goin

Mono Lake is one cog in the water system feeding Los Angeles. It is also one of the oldest continuously existing lakes in North America. Nestled in the high Sierras, Mono Lake is also a critical wildlife habitat. And it is caught in a battle for its survival.

"At Mono Lake" includes the work of some of the greatest Western Landscape photographers whose pictures have appeared in an exhibit seen by over two million people in California and the rest of the United States.

Just as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Kings Canyon have been protected from exploitation through photography, "At Mono Lake" demonstrates compassion for the plight of the lake. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that the lake's total area has decreased over 26 square miles in 40 years, that the volume in acre feet has been halved, from 4,200,000 to 2,200,000.

Conservative estimates give the lake 25 years before it will be unable to support independent life. The salinity of the water has nearly doubled, and the food chain has already suffered one major disaster. The threat is obvious and cannot be disguised by the inherent scenic beauty of the Mono Basin.

Yet beauty is the means by which the photographs appeal for the lake's salvation. The elements of space, light and silence so prevalent in the 19th-century Western landscape photography are still evident. Throughout the history of photography, Mono Lake has been portrayed as an impressive area of natural beauty, and as a meditative retreat. The photographs document not the destruction of the lake, but its scenic beauty, its harmony of color, its drama of wind, water and mountain.

Few citizens are aware of the origin of their water. Rarely is water conservation politically supported. Whether through ignorance or indifference, the sacrifice of Mono Lake would be disastrous to the state, its people and wildlife. "At Mono Lake", involves more than the photographers who love the lake, more than the conflict over its survival. It is a testament to the need of humankind to live in harmony with its environment.

San Francisco photographer Peter Goin has contributed articles to Pacific Historian, Camerawork Quarterly and Landscape Magazine.


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