Jenny Stark was born in Bellaire, Texas.  She received her BFA in Photography from the University of Houston and went on to receive an MFA in Film/Video from the California Institute of the Arts. She is an Associate Professor of Communications and Film as well as the Film Coordinator at Sacramento State University. Her films and videos have shown at South by Southwest, Austin; The New York Underground Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, The Viennale, Vienna; LA Film Forum, The Aurora Picture Show, Houston; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The British Film Institute and Image Music Text, London and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City.  She recently completed a photography series of the California Delta for an exhibition at The Crocker Art Museum and will also be showing her films and photography at Unite, an exhibition of Sacramento State faculty work also at The Crocker.  

About the Photos

Her most recent exhibition: In-Between Place reflects instability in the Central California region.  Place plays an important role in her research and in her art practice. In her films the locations play a significant role in the story and landscapes/interiors are the primary focus of the photographs.

The photos in this series were shot with a Pentax 67, a medium format film camera and the negatives were scanned at high resolution and printed on archival paper.  For some of the exposures the shutter was open for as long as 15 minutes, capturing the time between day and night. 

The California Delta: From North to South 
From Water, California
The Crocker, 2011

Driving up and down the central Delta’s winding levee roads makes me homesick for the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.  In downtown Isleton, it is easy to forget that the Bay Area is only 60 miles away.  The boat ramp near Hogback Island looks so much like a swamp, I half expected to see an alligator.  The man-made canals mirror Gulf Coast bayous. The marshes are remnants of a time in the delta before the levees when it was covered entirely in wetlands. 

 Since Hurricane Katrina, there have been more disturbing comparisons between the 700-mile California Delta and the Gulf Coast. The 1,100 miles of levees along the Delta are at risk of failing, especially in a 6.5 or greater magnitude earthquake.  Levee breaches could flood the freshwater Delta with saline water, most likely destroying crops, residences and highways and could compromise oil pipelines, releasing hazardous waste into the waterways.  (EPA)

Every day at about sunrise in Walnut Grove, a group of farmers gather at Mel’s restaurant where they drink coffee and bet on cards with the waitress.  When I photographed them, they pointed to a sticker on the wall that read, “Stop the Canal.”  One farmer looked at me and said, “If that canal comes, we’ll probably all die.” 

A peripheral canal that would route water from the top of the Sacramento River to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California is being proposed at the state Capitol. The canal would reinforce the infrastructure of the levee system, but Delta residents fear that it would also destroy the area’s ecosystem.

If the canal is built, the Delta would not have to rely on antiquated levees to protect the area in an earthquake.  The canal would  decrease the use of pumping plants that divert water south, protecting endangered fish like the Delta Smelt. 

But opponents of the canal say that 450,000 acres of Northern Delta farmland would be compromised as more  saline water would flow in from the Bay.  Farmers in the Central Valley and residents of Southern California towns would receive fresh water, - already, 23 million people depend on the Delta for drinking water - while the Northern Delta farmers, some of whom have been there for 150 years, could end up leaving their farms because of increased salinity.

Driving south on Interstate 5 from Sacramento to  Fresno, signs that read, “Stop the Congress Created Dust Bowl,” line the freeway. In 2007, a federal judge ordered less water to be pumped to the southwestern delta to protect the endangered Delta Smelt, angering Central Valley farmers 

These signs are a startling sight and create a strong narrative with dried up black orchards behind them.  It is a false narrative to a certain extent, as those orchards had most likely reached the end of their life cycle.  But that is not meant to diminish the fact that the lack of water supply from the Delta, along with a few years of drought, had a devastating effect on the Central Valley --  .

As the Central Valley dried up, another false narrative emerged --- that  the government values a tiny fish over California’s farmers.  What is missing from the story is that the water was never guaranteed to flow south to the Central Valley and farmers took the risk and planted their crops anyway. 

Before the late nineteenth century when Chinese Farmers were brought in to construct a labyrinth of levees and canals to control flooding and irrigate farmland, massive areas of the Delta would flood, creating one of the largest estuaries on the West Coast.  Given its current unnatural and precarious state, it may be difficult for even third generation Northern Delta farmers to claim these waterways as their own. 

The true narrative about the Delta’s water is less about Congress valuing fish over farmers, but which farmers have the most political clout.  Northern Delta farmers and grass roots organizations, like Restore the Delta, have expressed concern over closed door meetings held by water contractors with Governor Jerry Brown and members of the Obama administration They know that the funding for  a massive water project would come from Southern California.  But what would Southern California, with all of its money and political power, want in return?

At night in the Delta, cool breezes bluster in from the Bay Area at speeds up to 45 mph, cooling off neighboring towns like Stockton, Sacramento and Davis.  Water laps against  the sides of a levee and a corn field blowing wildly.  The threat of natural and man made disasters and the uncertain future of water supplies have created distress, anger and confusion in this delicate place.  To capture this imbalance, most of these images are taken on these windy evenings when the light is transitional.