- About the Photographer
Linda Butler's photographs have been exhibited widely, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan. Her work has been collected by numerous museums, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her books include Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy (1985), Rural Japan: Radiance of the Ordinary (1992), Italy: In the Shadow of Time (1998), and Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake (2004).
Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges contains work from two of Butler's portfolios that document momentous events, one caused by man and the other not.
The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world. It originates in the high plateaus of Tibet, in southwestern China, and empties into the East China Sea 3,950 miles downstream. The city of Shanghai is built on a delta at its mouth. Between 2000 and 2003, Butler made seven trips to China to photograph the transformation of the Yangtze River Valley while the Three Gorges Dam was under construction. In 2003, with the dam's completion, the reservoir behind the dam began to form. It would eventually inundate 350 miles of the river valley, submerging 1,500 cities, towns, and villages, and displacing 1.3 million people. Butler writes:
In 2000, on my first trip to the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges Dam Project was in an early stage. I was amazed by the immensity of the project. The old villages were still intact, but soon the government began building super highways on each side of the future reservoir as well as bridges to span it, and massive structures to prevent erosion. I made a total of seven trips over a three-year period. Much of what I photographed and published in the book Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake is now gone forever. [End Page 182]
Hurricane Katrina made landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi, on the morning of August 29, 2005. During that morning, storm surges as high as twenty-eight feet swept over the land, uprooting trees, killing hundreds of people, and forever changing the coast. The winds continued for days, spawning sixty-two tornadoes. The damage was so severe that people came from all over the country to help rebuild. In addition to FEMA staffers and electrical crews, church groups and college students volunteered to assist. A crew from California completely rebuilt a Buddhist temple. Butler writes:
I was one of the photographers who felt "called" to create a record so that Americans would never forget this storm. On my first trip in October 2005, I found no accommodations and little fuel or food to buy. Without electricity, at sunset Mississippi's coastal towns became completely dark. It was so spooky that I decided to drive forty miles east to the house of a friend in Mobile, Alabama, which had food in the refrigerator, lights, and a warm bath.
In the foggy Mississippi mornings that followed, a surreal landscape began to emerge. Sailboats with their masts askew were sitting in the middle of farmland, miles from the ocean. The storm carried pianos, beds, broken plates, and sofas into back yards. The homes that were still standing tilted away from the ocean; mold covered their interior walls.
During the fourteen years since I created these images, other severe storms have had frightening effects. No one can definitively say which of these are "just weather" and which can be attributed to climate change. But if the past is any indication of the future, we can expect increasingly destructive storms as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere.
For more of Linda Butler's work, see www.lindabutlerphoto.com. [End Page 183]