Daylight to release 'Dammed: Birth to Death of the Colorado River' by Debbie Bentley

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Daylight to release 'Dammed: Birth to Death of the Colorado River' by Debbie Bentley
Colorado River at early morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

NEW YORK, NY.- The main stem of the Colorado River flows from the Colorado Rocky Mountains to the Mexico border. And while it provides water for almost 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland throughout the American West, it is also one of the most over-allocated, highly controlled, and endangered rivers. Through extensive research of the historical as well as current day contextual factors and implications, photographer Debbie Bentley presents a comprehensive documentation of the river, its 16 dams, the reservoirs, and people in its path in her new book, Dammed: Birth to Death of the Colorado River (Daylight Books), January 16, 2024).

Bentley began this project while working on a series exploring the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California. The Sea was formed in the early 20th century during a failed attempt to cut into the Colorado River for irrigation, sending the entire flow into the Salton Sink for two years. The lake's water level has been diminishing for decades, due to decreased inflows and evaporation. As a result, the exposed lakebed releases high levels of toxic dust, causing devastating effects to bio and eco systems, as well as residents of the area.

For the Dammed project, Bentley follows the 1,450 miles of the river's main stem and through her photographs, infographics, and historical background, she presents a project that invites readers to gain knowledge on the reverberations of climate change and overallocation of the Colorado River basin. Her insightful writing interspersed throughout the book sections, provides depth on the geography, historical decisions on diversion and allocation, and current day realities.

In the book's Introduction, Bentley discusses the way she conceptualized using the visual reference of photographs combined with background information and data to invite viewer engagement. She writes that most people do not have an extensive knowledge base on the source of their drinking water, or irrigation necessary to grow the food they eat, or the relationship between electricity and dams, nor the potential risks with increasing water scarcity. This book is a vehicle to contribute to the conversation around such issues. She writes, "This project sought to provide that visual connection so often lacking—a view of the entire interconnected and complex system to further understanding—coupled with background information to raise awareness."

To provide further insight into Bentley's personal connection with the Colorado River, and her artistic process, the book includes a conversation between Bentley and photographer Linda Connor who is widely heralded for her decades of work photographing the natural world. Bentley shares conceptual considerations and goals with the work, as well as technical details on her medium format imagery. In response to Connor's inquiry about the project's origin, Bentley discusses some of the background that led to the formation of her concept and goals, noting, "Much information is shared in the press, etc., related to the concerning situation at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and much data is shared. Data, however, can’t be visualized in the way a photograph can present it. This is an important component of environmental/eco art and photography in general."

Additional information and images about the Dammed project may be found here:

Debbie Bentley is a photographer and multi-disciplinary artist from Denver, Colorado. Her work focuses primarily on the documentation of places and environments, their connection to the internal parts of people, and the need as an artist to see and record this connectivity.

Linda Connor's peripatetic practice demonstrates a longstanding interest in the relationship between systems of belief and the natural world, and has seen her photographing wide-ranging subjects, from sacred sites and intricately jagged cliff faces, to antique plate-glass negatives from San Jose’s Lick Observatory and petrified bodies from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii.

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