Salin-de-Giraud: The Empire of Salt
In the mid-19th century a sea-salt extraction complex was set up around the Étang de Giraud in the Camargue. Covering several thousand hectares, this was the largest saltworks on the entire Mediterranean rim. And in this isolated part of the Rhône Valley was created the workers’ village of Salin-de-Giraud, designed by the saltworks employers and inspired by the social ideology of the second half of the 19th century.
The distinctive character of this village ‘at the end of the world’ – deep in the Camargue, between Beauduc and the Rhône – was the subject of a study carried out in the 1980s by ethnographer Hélène Guyonnet and photographer Patrick Box. They focused on social issues, with a particular emphasis on people’s relationships with the world of work.
Today, with the Camargue salt industry winding down, the pair have gone back to Salin, continuing the words-and-images dialogue begun twenty years ago. The exhibition at the Museon Arlaten – the Bouches-du-Rhône Département’s ethnography museum – highlights the singularity of a landscape shaped by its industrial past, with gleaming workers’ houses, crystallised cliff faces and machines at a standstill offering a glimpse of how the work of man can merge with the work of nature.