HAYWARD -- At first glance, the magenta field slashed down the middle by a multicolored strand could be an abstract painting in an art gallery.

The striking image, though, is the work of aerial photographer Barrie Rokeach of Berkeley, who elevated a sight familiar to Bay Area residents -- salt ponds along the Hayward shoreline -- to a work of art.

His photo of the ponds will grace one of 15 "Earthscapes" stamps being issued Monday by the Postal Service.

Rokeach shot the ponds, which no longer exist, in 1983 and he has been creating images of the San Francisco Bay ponds from the air for decades.

"I see patterns emerge, forms that change with the seasons, time of day and lighting," he said. "As the water evaporates, the colors evolve into unpredictable shapes, shades and hues, replacing the monotone blues."

The photo is a shot of Cargill salt ponds just south of the San Mateo Bridge. Cargill sold most of its Bay Area salt ponds in the 1990s to the state and federal governments for wetlands restoration.

Rokeach shot the photo from a plane in the middle of the day. "That's the actual color it looks if one had flown over it," he said.

He said that salt ponds are formed by enclosing the area with an earthen berm and waiting for the water to evaporate, leaving the salt. As the water evaporates, various microorganisms concentrate.

"As they concentrate, they change colors. It goes from orange to yellow, magenta, pink -- all the warm colors that you could possibly imagine," he said.

Rokeach has been an aerial photographer for about 40 years. Hundreds of his photos have been used in books, posters and calendars, he said, "but this is my first postal one." The photographer said he was contacted by the Postal Service, which let him know the image had been chosen for the "Earthscapes" series.

Images for stamps are first narrowed down by about a dozen citizens from around the nation, said Augustine Ruiz, spokesman for the Bay-Valley District of the Postal Service. "The members come from different backgrounds, including artists, teachers, professors and sports announcers," Ruiz said.

Postal Service art director Howard Paine made the final selection of the 15 photos used in the "Earthscapes" series.

The stamps, which all feature aerial shots, are being issued as Forever stamps. Forever stamps are equal in value to the current first-class mail one-ounce rate.

On Monday, Rokeach will be at the main Hayward Post Office, 24438 Santa Clara St., from 10 a.m. to noon for the release of the "Earthscapes" stamps. "Earthscapes" stamps and prints can be purchased. A pictorial postmark created to mark the event will be available at the post office.

Although the image appearing on the stamp no longer exists, there are still colorful ponds in the South Bay, Rokeach said.

"Anyone flying into the Bay Area in an airliner can see them."

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr.1

A look at the stamps
To see all of the Earthscapes Forever stamps and vote on your favorite, go to www.facebook.com/USPSStamps,