Monday, May 10, 2021

Meeting Clyde Butcher

Growing Up Everglades City

Submitted Photo | The author and Clyde Butcher.

The first time I ever laid eyes on a Clyde Butcher photograph was when I was 10 years old visiting my sister-in-law when she worked at the Cleveland Clinic. I remember being in awe over how a black and white photo could serve such purpose to the details of the nature it encased and the story behind the photograph. Black and white made the photo of the Everglades more realistic and powerful, almost like I could step into the picture and be there fully.

Clyde Butcher is one of the most exceedingly well-known black and white nature photographers in the world and is often referred to as the next Ansel Adams. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated from California Polytechnic State University with an architecture degree. It was during these years that he began teaching himself photography since he would photograph his architectural replicas for presentations. At the time he couldn’t afford to buy a camera, so he created his own reliable pinhole camera.

Clyde became inspired by Ansel Adam’s photographs after visiting an exhibit at Yosemite National Park, so he began to capture landscapes in black and white as well. Clyde began successfully selling the photographs he’d taken at art festivals. He helped to establish Eye Encounter, Inc. in California where he sold his work to department stores, including but not limited to Sears and J.C. Penny’s. He started photographing in color to boost his sales.

A few years later Clyde sold the business, built a sailboat and traveled down to Florida with his family. Clyde began photographing the beaches of Florida, but it wasn’t until he stumbled upon a new side of Florida after going to Tom Gaskin’s Cypress Museum that he wanted to find more of this “new world.” He met a Florida Native, Oscar Thompson, who took him on a swamp walk through Big Cypress and the Everglades which sparked his interests even more and inspired him to begin his photography of the swamp in black and white.

Clyde has three galleries where you can view his work, in Venice, Sarasota and Ochopee, Florida. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to visit his gallery located in Ochopee and I was thrilled to know he was there signing his work during a meet and greet. Ochopee is just a few miles down the road from Everglades City towards Miami so it didn’t take long to get there. We parked and started walking up to the building and it sat beautifully positioned in the swamp. Cypress knees sprouted on both sides of the building hidden in a swampy oasis. I opened the door to the gallery and the place was packed! So many people had come to not only view his gallery but of course to see Clyde himself. His photographs on the walls were large and captivating. The photos ranged from the Everglades, to the Keys and even outside of America in Cuba.

On one side were books that contained his photographs along with stories and history ranging from Big Cypress to the National Parks. Clyde was seated down the hall at a small table in front of a line that wrapped around the room. Clyde’s large format camera was positioned upright on a stand beside him. Surrounding us in the line were walls filled with his photos from top to bottom. I couldn’t stop looking at them because each time I would glance I found something new in the picture. The photograph I have of his in my house was already signed by him previously, but I did want to ask him where it was taken so I snapped a shot of it to show him. When I showed him the photo, he immediately knew the location of where he took the photograph. “Disney’s Wilderness Preserve,” he stated to my parents and I. “Oh, my goodness!” I breathed out of excitement, not only is the photograph extraordinary on its own but knowing the backstory had something to do with Disney (which I’m obsessed with) made me love the piece even more. It was such a privilege to be able to talk with him about the Everglades, the conservation of it and what’s happening in Everglades City since he used to attend the Everglades City Council meetings every so often, which I attend with my dad who’s a council member. It was an even greater privilege to meet his wonderful wife Niki, his daughter and granddaughter! Niki has her photographs and artwork on display in the gallery as well as a few other photographers. Niki was sharing with me many interesting stories such as how they stumbled upon the gallery building as well as sharing her wisdom about following your passions because they were given to you for a reason. I also found out their grandson attends the University of Florida which goes to show the Gator Nation is everywhere! One day I am hoping to go on one of their swamp walks which take you through Big Cypress and into the flora and fauna of the Everglades. If you haven’t already visited Clyde Butcher’s Gallery, I highly recommend that you do. It is truly breathtaking and the perfect ode to our one of a kind environment around us.

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