Linda Butler Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake

Linda Butler Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake

From April 27 to June 30, The University of Maine Museum of Art presented a major exhibition of 56 documentary photographs by Linda Butler portraying the massive cultural change in rural China prompted by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

The Yangtze has inspired poets, writers and artists for centuries by its power and changing moods. Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake explores daily life in this fragile landscape of tradition and change, where more than a million people were moved, and cities, towns, ancient temples, burial grounds, and other historic sites are now submerged.

On eight three-week trips to the Yangtze between 2001 and 2003, Linda Butler photographed the people and their surroundings, as well as the river and its grandeur, before it was changed irrevocably by the designs of man. Astonished by the transformation of the region, Butler documented the dismantling of dense cities brick by brick, while new cities sprang up on the hillsides high above the river. Tunnels were blasted out of the mountains, modern roads were constructed, and enormous suspension bridges were built to span the Yangtze’s expanse.

Yet in the middle of all this change, some families continued to farm, cook, fish, and dig for coal as they had for centuries. To record the change, Butler’s photographs focused on the specifics: the textures of history and the evolving way of life in the villages and towns. Since foreign journalists had been given only restricted access to the river, she knew that many of her photographs were to become the last visual record of river life.

When she returned in the fall 2003 for her final trip, Butler found the river that had once been a great highway transformed into a silent lake, and much of the human activity had shifted to the hills above. Container vessels had replaced the barges and charming individual fishing boats, and the economy of the new cities suffered as tourism and business declined. When the Three Gorges Dam’s reservoir reaches its full height in 2009, only time and hindsight will reveal whether the project is determined to be a tragedy, a comedy of errors, or a triumph of technology.

Linda Butler has worked as an independent photographer for more than 25 years and is known for her explorations of other cultures. She has had more than 40 one-person exhibitions in the United States, Canada and Japan. Her photographs have appeared in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan.

Major funding for Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake Photographs by Linda Butler was provided by significant grants from the Davis Family Foundation and the Fisher Charitable Foundation. Generous funding was also provided by Merrill Bank, Bangor Daily News and WBRC Architects and Engineers.

Linda Butler
Wu Gorge Upstream, Beishi, 2003 (composite)
Reservoir, Wu Gorge, Beishi, 2003


BDN WBRC Merrill Bank