Friday, July 10, 2009

Linda Butler: Rural Japan

This splendid 1992 volume of photographs, sadly no longer in print, is the work of the American photographer Linda Butler, who has an uncanny eye for and command of visual texture, whether it is on the grand scale of a river landscape or just the meticulous detailing on the surface of a cast-iron kettle. In her introduction she relates a vivid -- if somewhat alarming -- anecdote of how she began the project and how the cover image, in particular, came to be taken.
At noon the Fujita's grandmother asked me to take a break from my photography to join her family for lunch. She was planning to serve a rural delicacy that is now rarely eaten by the Japanese. In the kitchen, she placed a two-inch cube of tofu (bean curd) and several small, live eels at the center of lacquer bowls. Just before the soup was served, she added five small eels and poured soup stock in the bowls. In order to escape the heat, the eels dove into the cool tofu and smothered.

In the formal dining room we knelt around a lacquer table. The fifty year-old Mr. Fujita sat at the head of the table. Outside the sliding screens was a carefully composed rock garden, but it was the fifteen-inch long white radishes drying in the cool fall air under the eaves that captured my attention. Just as the soup arrived, there was a break in the clouds and the sun came out. The radishes were transformed--looking almost translucent. I knew I had to act quickly to capture this image so I excused myself in the polite language customarily used by Japanese in formal situations. It took me ten minutes to set-up the camera and expose a negative. When I returned to lunch, my soup was lukewarm and the eels seemed particularly dead, but the image of the radishes would become the beginning of my photographic work in rural Japan.
Below are a representative sample of images chosen from the photographer's website.

Pagoda, Yamagata-ken

Seacoast Village, Yamagata-ken

Earthen Floor, Iwate-ken

Grape Vineyard, Yamagata-ken

The next image is here simply because I can never let anything having to do with cuttlefish or squid go by.

Drying Squid

But I think this last one is still my favorite:

Tea Ceremony Kettles, Iwate-ken

Butler explains the above image:
Cast iron kettles are used to hold hot water in the tea ceremony. Made in the Suzuki studio in Morioka, the pots were cast in a clay and plaster mold that is used once and then discarded. The tiny indentations in the mold (bottom left), made dot by dot with a pointed hand-tool, become textural protrusions in the metal container.
Second-hand copies of Rural Japan are not impossible to find if you poke around for them, and individual prints may be available as well through the galleries who represent Butler's work. She has three other books that remain in print, all of them well worth getting a hold of; they are Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy, Italy: In the Shadow of Time, and Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake.

1 comment:

kit said...

Those are stunning images. My favorites of the group are the tea kettles and the threshold of the doorway. I must look for her books!