Light is the essence of photography, delineating both form and space in a way that indelibly expresses the transient nature of human experience.

For artist/photographer Linda Butler, whose just-published monograph of Italian architectural studies and still-lifes is being featured in a new exhibition at the Weston Gallery in Carmel, light is also an expression of human history resonating within the objects, structures and spaces of the physical world.

"My work has a feel for people in the past, and the basic theme I''m trying to get at is a suspension and awareness of time, a sensing of the presence of the past," explains Butler, who will be at the Weston Gallery on Saturday to discuss her work and sign copies of her new book, Italy: In The Shadow Of Time.

"I''m very moved by beauty, and one of the reasons I do photography is the experience of what I see really moves my heart, and that is what I''m trying to capture," adds Butler. "A lot of the material I work with has a meditative or contemplative quality."

Whether recording the reflections of old buildings in a Venetian canal, the soft luminescent glow of an antique silverware set, or the interiors of ancient public buildings cast in chiaroscuro, Butler magically captures the enduring beauty and spectral presence of a living past.

"Light communicates that presence, and one of the things I''m trying to do that''s different from other people is my interest in [making] a photograph that has a sense of mystery or presence that happens when light pours into a room in a certain way," says Butler.

In order to better isolate the interplay of light, space and form, Butler previews her images with a special viewing filter that is used as both a framing device and to block out color in order to emphasize how light plays on a given space.

"I will walk around the space to see if the light is good, then I decide where I''ll stand and what lens I''ll use to take the picture with," Butler explains. "Before I click the shutter I''ve already made my decisions."

The richness of detail and tonality, as well as the sense of antiquity that imbues Butler''s images, is enhanced by her use of a Kodak toner that imparts a bright, almost copper-hued patina to her prints.

"Italy and its light have such warmth, I felt for the Italian subject matter somehow the images felt cold without toning," says Butler. "They become more like paintings with toning, and the coloration taps into the history of art that is so much a part of Italy."

The challenge for Butler in trying to capture the historical vitality of Italy was to block out the imprint of the modern world. Although Butler photographed older Italians she came into contact with during the years she worked on her project, she says the modern world intruded too heavily into peoples'' lives.

"I was operating in the very contemporary world of modern Italy and trying to find material that evoked the past was actually quite difficult," says Butler. "I found even if I took a photo of an elderly farmer, people are so much a part of the contemporary world it bursts the mood and destroys that sense of timelessness."

Butler''s images display a degree of formalism that reflect her years spent living and studying photography in California. Butler acknowledges the influence of such mentors as Ansel Adams and other noted West Coast landscape photographers, but says she moved beyond pure landscape photography in order to explore her fascination with history. In an era of digitally enhanced and conceived image-making, Butler says formalism remains a meaningful approach to image-making.

"Not to disparage digital images, I feel formalism is making a revival," says Butler. "Digital photography is more about personal expression. In my work, people can revisit places they''ve seen themselves and the moods they experienced. There is something wonderful about working with reality and the limitations of the real world. Some of the things I''m looking at are familiar things, but seen in a new way that I hope opens up peoples'' experience of the world."

Italy: In The Shadow Of Time will be on display at the Weston Gallery through Oct. 26. The reception and booksigning will be held Sept. 5 from 4:30-6:30pm. 6th Avenue, between Dolores and Lincoln streets, Carmel. 624-4453. Gallery hours Wed.-Mon., 10:30am-5:30pm. Closed daily 1-2pm.

Openings

Carmel Art Association "Fin de Siecle." Mixed media on paper by Robert Bradshaw. Dolores Street between 5th and 6th avenues, Carmel. 624-6176. Reception: 9/4, 6pm. Through: 10/7.

Carmel Art Association "European Travels." Oil paintings of scenes from Italy, England, France, Switzerland and Germany. Reception: 9/4, 6pm. Also, "Gallery Showcase." Oil paintings by Reed Farrington, Brenda Morrison, Philip Thorngate and sculptures by Ken Wiese. Dolores Street between 5th and 6th avenues, Carmel. 624-6176. Through: 10/7.

Forest Hill Manor Vest Pocket Gallery "Artistry in Wood Carving." 551 Gibson Ave., Pacific Grove. 649-5215. Reception: 9/4, 6:30pm. Through: 9/30.

Valley Art Gallery "Color Your Life." Watercolors by Grace Bryan. 218 Main St. , Salinas. 455-1706. Reception: 9/4, 4:30pm. Through: 9/26.

Art Listings

Ansel Adams Gallery "Landscapes of the Spirit." Color landscape photographs by William Neill. Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach. 375-7215. Through: 9/15.

Back Porch Fabrics "Quilts and Paintings." Works by Wilda Northrop. 157 Grand Ave., Pacific Grove. 375-4453. Through: 10/15.

Bytes Internet Cafe "The Invisible World." Photographs by Helene Constant. 403 Calle Principal, Monterey. 372-2987. Through: 9/30.

Center for Photographic Art "Roadworks." Photographs by Linda McCartney, the late wife of Paul McCartney. Sunset Cultural Center, San Carlos Street and 8th Avenue, Carmel. 625-5181. Through: 9/11.

Chapman Gallery Works by SC Yuan, Hank Ketcham, Ron Elstad, Keith Lindberg and Colden Whitman. Also portrait artist Gail Reeves will be painting in the gallery every Saturday. 7th Avenue, between San Carlos and Mission streets, Carmel. 626-1766. Through: 9/6.

The Dome House "Big Sur Artists." Paintings, sculpture and furniture by Janice Rocke, James Wolfenden and Sofanya. Weekends only. Palo Colorado Road (at the 2-mile marker), Big Sur. 626-2876. Through: 9/6.

Monterey Museum of Art "Jo Mora: Artist and Writer." Collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. Also: recent paintings by Marie Brumund. "Behind the Mask: The Textures, Shapes and Color of Folk Art," "Images of the West: A Romantic View." 559 Pacific St., Monterey. 372-5477. Through: 9/6.

National Steinbeck Center "This Side of Eden." Paintings that reflect California in the 1920s, ''30s and ''40s. One Main St., Salinas. 796-3833. Through: 9/13.

Pacific Grove Art Center "Artists Studio Tour ''98." Works by local members of Artists Equity who will participate in the annual studio tour on 9/26-27; "The Unknown Sculptor," works by Dick Iverson; "The Silk Road," works by Meredith Mullins. 568 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. 375-2208. Through: 9/27.

Santa Catalina School Gallery "South Mountain/North Mountain." Landscape scrolls by Joan Larkey. 1500 Mark Thomas Dr., Monterey. 655-9350. Reception: 9/11, 5:30pm. Through: 10/18.

Searle Art Landscape paintings by Cyndra Bradford, Jeff Smith, Diane Howell, Barbara Norton and Dave Rojas; ceramic works by Rabun Thompson. 639 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 373-0126. Through: 9/4.

Vehicle Gallery "AutoRotica." Auto racing art photography by Alan Olmstead; "Otterly Motor Sport Surrealistic Paintings" by Lola Disco Volante; photographs taken at Laguna Seca by Lola Disco Volante and Spyder McLaren. 551 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. 373-0448. Through: 9/28.

Zantman Art Galleries Seascapes by E. John Robinson. 6th Avenue and Mission Street, Carmel. 624-8314. Through: 9/11.

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