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In 1963 the waters began rising behind Glen Canyon Dam and 170 miles of the Colorado River slowly disappeared as the riverbed and surrounding canyons filled with water. Those who supported and those who opposed the dam considered it a longterm transformation; environmentalists mourned Glen Canyon as dead and gone forever. But it’s coming back, in a victory that is also the pervasive disaster of climate change. There isn’t enough water in our new age, and so the world that drowned half a century ago is reappearing. Byron Wolfe, Mark Klett, and Rebecca Solnit spent half a decade exploring the place as expectations and possibilities changed and the river reemerged at the upper end of the reservoir. What they found is here in photographs and words.
“Lake Powell and the wreckage of where it used to be and will never be again was the right place to think about the madness of the past and the terror of the future, even amidst the epiphanies of beautiful light and majestic space,” Solnit writes. “We came to know the flat blue water the hard sunlight bounced off, the green water in shallower places, the water that turned red with the dust storms washed down from the sandstone landscape, the roiling waters of Dirty Devil Creek pushing a wall of debris downstream after a deluge, the clear little streams and waterfalls in the side canyons whose lively movement died in the placid lake.”
Their starting point was Eliot Porter’s landmark book of color photography, The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon the Colorado, published by the Sierra Club in 1963 as a political statement about what had been lost under the dam’s waters and why it should never happen again. Their ending point is the reemergence of the river and the rise of questions about climate, the fate of the southwest, the folly of human endeavors to control nature, and the possibility of seeing these places and problems in new ways. Like previous collaborative work using historic images, Klett and Wolfe retrace the physical locations where Porter made his photographs, now mostly submerged by the lake’s waters, often as deep as 400 feet beneath the surface. Unlike previous projects, this work is not a rephotographic examination of his earlier sites or scenes; by necessity, this effort involves making entirely new images in response to the original Porter works. Solnit’s accompanying text meditates on meanings and histories, drawing from both the trio’s explorations of the place and archival research.
Drowned River is a book about climate change, but also about how photography can describe beauty and trouble simultaneously, about depth and shallowness, about what it takes to understand a place and to come to terms with the enormous scale of the changes we have set in motion.
Introduction by Michael Brune
Essay by Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Radius Books
Size: 11.25 x 13”
212 pages, 80 images
- ISBN 13
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