Butler, Linda 1946(?)-
BUTLER, Linda 1946(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1946.
CAREER: Photographer and author. Exhibitions: Exhibitions include at Whitney Museum of American Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Yokohama Museum of Art, and Fondazione Querine-Stampalia, Venice, Italy. Work included in collections at Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
(Photographer) June Sprigg, Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
(And photographer) Rural Japan: Radiance of the Ordinary (essays), foreword by Donald Richie, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1992.
(Photographer, with others) Delphine Hirasuna, Presidio Gateways: Views of a National Landmark at San Francisco's Golden Gate, afterword by Robert G. Kennedy, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
(And photographer) Italy: In the Shadow of Time, foreword by Naomi Rosenblum, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: American photographer and author Linda Butler has published several critically acclaimed volumes of her photographs and essays. In her debut effort, Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy, written by June Sprigg, Butler uses her camera to capture the architecture and craftsmanship of various Shaker communities in the United States. (Shakers are members of a sect who live in celibate communities.) For her next two efforts, however, Butler traveled overseas. For her Rural Japan: Radiance of the Ordinary, she trekked through the remote Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu to photograph ancient village life amid the encroaching industrialization of modern Japan. Then Butler, who specializes in still-life photography, published her lauded work Italy: In the Shadow of Time. "This is one of those exceptional books that will be deeply appreciated now and admired long into the future," Library Journal critic Raymond Bial wrote of Italy, comparing Butler's work in the book with that of such photographic masters as Ansel Adams. In addition to producing the photographs for each of the three books, Butler has also contributed the text in more recent endeavors.
Inner Light contains fifty-eight photographs depicting items created by Shaker artisans during the religious sect's heyday in the nineteenth century. The Shakers, who form a branch of the English Quakers, built up communities throughout eastern North America that were based on hard work and strict moral laws. Despite gaining some prominence, their numbers drastically declined by the dawn of the twentieth century, and very few members survived into the early twenty-first century. "Today, just two communities remain active," coauthor June Sprigg writes in the book's introduction, "with fewer than a dozen members combined, in Maine and New Hampshire. . . . There are still some buildings where Shakers dwell, rooms warm and full with the business of life. . . . It has been those other rooms, the quiet empty places, that have drawn us in the making of this book."
Butler found her subjects as she traveled to different Shaker communities and museums, including Shaker Village at Canterbury, New Hampshire, Shakertown in South Union, Kentucky, and the Shaker Museum located in Old Chatham, New York. While some of the photographs are of dwellings and larger objects such as a wooden fence or a doorway, many others are of normal, everyday items, including wooden kitchen bowls, milk buckets, brooms, and even gravestones. Butler chose each because they exemplify the Shaker aesthetic and reflect the group's attention to detail. "This is a soothing book. Looking through its pages is like praying," wrote critic Campbell Geeslin in People. Choice contributor P. D. Thomas called the work a "handsomely produced volume" and praised the photographs as "meticulously composed and carefully printed."
Butler's interest in Japan began in 1967 when, as a college student, she first traveled to that country and learned of its many ancient traditions. She returned to Japan in 1986 and spent three years moving from village to village, capturing what she refers to in Rural Japan as the "astonishing resilience" of the ancient cultures she encountered. In addition to the fifty-seven photographs that appear in Rural Japan, Butler includes fifteen short essays about her visits and experiences traveling throughout the coastal and mountain villages of the three islands. The photographic subjects include still lifes and landscapes, as well as a few portraits, including one of a seventy-year-old Buddhist nun. In the design of the book, Butler also includes some examples of haiku poetry, a Japanese verse form, to give the work a more authentic feel.
R. K. Dickson, writing in the Bloomsbury Review, was struck by what he called the work's "simplicity and grace." A contributor to Publishers Weekly called Butler's photographs in Rural Japan "exceptionally beautiful" and her text "charming and insightful." A contributor to the Antioch Review had a similar opinion, saying that "these beautiful photographs are remarkable in their authenticity."
Italy is a collection of sixty black-and-white photographs, none of which are human portraits. Instead, Butler concentrates on articles she felt had a timeless aura, such as wine bottles, ancient ruins, statues, fountains, and olive trees. She began the project in 1992 when she embarked on an eight-month tour of the ancient country, searching for unique subjects she hoped would capture the "distilled energy of artisans long dead." Many of her photographs come from the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which had been destroyed, and subsequently preserved, by a volcanic eruption. The essay Butler contributes describes her adventures as she traveled the country, including the time she had to bribe a guard to photograph and gain access to a men's bathhouse in Pompeii. Critics were impressed with the effort. Calling the work "hauntingly beautiful," Booklist writer Ray Olson described Butler's work as "painstaking craftsmanship." "The stark, strong images imply the presence of humanity," wrote Sandra Mardenfeld in the New York Times Book Review.
Butler made eight trips to China from 2000 to 2003 to photograph the people, environment, and landscape of 1,500 cities, towns, and villages that disappeared when the Three Gorges Dam was opened in June, 2003, creating a reservoir the size of Lake Superior. Her Yangtze Remembered: The River beneath the Lake consists of before-and-after photographs accompanied by her commentary on the one million people who were moved and the new landscape and cities that are now springing up in the wake of the project.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, fall, 1992, review of Rural Japan: Radiance of the Ordinary, p. 781.
Bloomsbury Review, December, 1992, R. K, Dickson, review of Rural Japan, p. 18.
Booklist, October 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Italy: In the Shadow of Time, p. 390.
Choice, December, 1985, P. D. Thomas, review of Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy, p. 595; February, 1999, J. A. Day, review of Italy, p. 1049.
Kliatt, fall, 1985, Helen W. Coonley, review of Inner Light, pp. 44-45.
Library Journal, September 15, 1998, Raymond Bial, review of Italy, p. 70.
New York Times Book Review, October 4, 1998, Sandra Mardenfeld, review of Italy, p. 22.
People, May 6, 1985, Campbell Geeslin, review of Inner Light, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, April 20, 1992, review of Rural Japan, p. 47.*