Daily Picture Show

Seeing Where Salt Comes From

Those little white shakers on every restaurant table are modest enough. Most of the time we Americans don't think twice about the invisible flavor enhancer packed into most of the things we eat. When you start to think about how it got into that little shaker, though — how far it traveled, how many people were involved — the plot begins to thicken.

  • A salt worker pauses in the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, in Bolivia.
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    A salt worker pauses in the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, in Bolivia.
    Clint McLean
  • The ancient salt terraces at Maras, Peru, are used to evaporate supersalty water from a subterranean stream.
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    The ancient salt terraces at Maras, Peru, are used to evaporate supersalty water from a subterranean stream.
    Clint McLean
  • Industrial salt plant on the Dead Sea, Israel
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    Industrial salt plant on the Dead Sea, Israel
    Clint McLean
  • A car drives at the edge of a salt lake at Siwa Oasis, Egypt.
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    A car drives at the edge of a salt lake at Siwa Oasis, Egypt.
    Clint McLean
  • Afar and Tigray salt workers cut and shape blocks of salt from the earth, which will be transported by camel caravan to Mekele in the north of Ethiopia.
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    Afar and Tigray salt workers cut and shape blocks of salt from the earth, which will be transported by camel caravan to Mekele in the north of Ethiopia.
    Clint McLean
  • Salt ponds in India
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    Salt ponds in India
    Clint McLean
  • At Lake Rose, Senegal, salt is dredged from the bottom of the lake and piled into boats. The boats are then dragged ashore just before the weight of their load makes them sink.
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    At Lake Rose, Senegal, salt is dredged from the bottom of the lake and piled into boats. The boats are then dragged ashore just before the weight of their load makes them sink.
    Clint McLean
  • Salt mining near Hodeida, Yemen
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    Salt mining near Hodeida, Yemen
    Clint McLean
  • A man inspects his salt ponds near Hodeida.
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    A man inspects his salt ponds near Hodeida.
    Clint McLean

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Salt has been used as currency, has provoked wars and inspired city names (e.g., Salzburg). Today, while Americans consume an average 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt a day, it is still considered a luxury in some parts of the world.

"My salt project started out, though, as a fascination that something so mundane and overlooked could come from landscapes so amazing," says photographer Clint McLean. He has been working on a series called Salt for four years now.

McLean's photos take us from Peruvian salt evaporation terraces to the world's largest salt flat in Bolivia, to Africa's Danakil Depression, to mines in Yemen and an industrial plant in Israel.

"Now when I travel, I try to work a salt shoot in wherever I happen to be," McLean explains. "Beyond enjoying the photography, though, I get a peek into a world I probably wouldn't otherwise witness — if not in pursuit of salt harvesting in India, Yemen, et cetera. It gives an odd focus to my trips, which opens the door to the unexpected."

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