Beneath the Salt is a collaborative publication, created by British born photographer Dan Mariner and Norwegian artist Marianne Bjørnmyr. Using their 2016 Træna residency in Norway’s nordland as developmental space for the project, the two collectively curated and compiled a series of images that explore the culturally rich history of the eponymous mineral, presenting their works alongside that of twenty other artists from across the world in a bid to share an importance, lineage and legacy beyond what we already know of the modest seasoning.
Designed by Bjørnmyr, and fronted with an image of curious abstraction by Iain Sarjeant, BTS looks neat; contemporary, igniting curiosity even from a distance. At first glance, the combination of its off-square sizing, uncoated paper-stock and double-layered board cover, allows it to carve its own path aesthetically, strengthened further by a strictly monotone colour scheme. Under closer inspection, the publication’s size (188 pages of images) can seem somewhat overwhelming and when held, the choice of dimensions make it feel slightly awkward. At circa eight by six (and a half) inches and nearly one inch thick, the question as to what viewing situation the book was designed for, may arise for some. Still, the hyper-conscious creative direction by way of sleek, minimal typography and inventive image layout, both redeems and strengthens in equal doses.
BTS appears to have two specific aims: to contextualise the history of salt production and its place within historical tradition, and explore its place within contemporary human life, both of which seems to have been successfully accomplished. The overall focus on black and white images, both archival and contemporary, allows for a smooth visual consumption of images that in turn allows readers to weave in and out of abstractions, forms and time periods smoothly, making the scale and scope of salt’s many manifestations beautifully palpable.
We see the risks that humans take in making use of it, the effects on the environment from mining it and the scale of production methods operated by way of it, which all seem undoubtedly surreal at times. Standout images such as a behemothic structure of salted fish fillets lying in countless wooden rows, a moody triptych of images depicting surf crashing against a forest lined shore and a more obscure macro, colour image of copper salts, galactically fluorescent, all make for impressionable viewing. The continuous interplay between new and old images is enticing; many of these same historical images coming from the National Archive of Norway in Oslo.
The main critique of BTS would be in the editing. Repetition for a publication this ambitious is of course inevitable, yet the scale that it occurs does at times seem avoidable. One can only peruse through so many archival, desolate or macro scenes before questioning some of their individual importance to the overall series; one that could have likely been reduced to a more concise end result.
Still, it is beneath the salt that the publication aims to take readers and all things considered, seems to do so soundly, educating and enchanting in the process.
– reviewed by Dorrell Merritt
Beneath the Salt is available to purchase here.