December 20, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Clyde Butcher

Environmental Photographer, 63

Cynthia Barnett | 3/1/2006

I see the Everglades restoration as a rationalization not to fix the problem. To create a water source for the people of the east coast. At one of the Everglades Coalition meetings, the Corps of Engineers and water management gave presentations, and they said, "If we have a drought, the people will get so much and the Everglades will get so much." I said, "Wait a minute now. The people can conserve. The Everglades has no way of figuring this out. How can you say you're restoring the Everglades when you're going to split the water?" If we had excess water, fine. But that's not the plan. The plan is that south Florida's population will double. What are we going to do with all that shit?

At one point the federal government, during the lawsuits over sugar and the Everglades pollution, wanted me to photograph the destruction of Florida. So I showed them my picture "Ochopee" of the cattails. I said, "That's what I do -- that's the destruction of Florida." And they said, "Forget that -- that's too pretty."

I can give you some beautiful shots of melaleuca, cattails and Brazilian pepper too.

A typical exposure in the sunlight is between a half and one second. A typical exposure in the woods is from one minute to 10 minutes. It depends on the light.

When I'm doing those exposures, I'm very intent on the technical parts. There's a lot of things I'm having to watch -- if there's any leaves moving, if there's any grass moving. But between those exposures, waiting for them to begin, you become one with the scene. By having these long exposures and large setups, you become one with it.

I was thinking of going to digital, because digital's come a long way. For what I'm spending on my latest system, a 12-by-20, I could have gotten a $30,000 digital camera and possibly done almost as good work. But I felt that the digital camera would put me into a shotgun mode. It's so easy that you're not particularly studying the scene. You're not getting to be one with the scene.


Clyde Butcher, renowned for his large-format photographs of Florida's landscape, is in the state's Artist Hall of Fame.

Clyde Butcher, renowned for his large-format photographs of Florida's landscape, is in the state's Artist Hall of FameOne sheet of my film is 11 bucks. So every time you shoot the trigger it's $11. With a digital camera, it's nothing. So I could shoot as many as I want. I just don't think I would react to the scene the same way. I feel like it would take away something that I don't even know I'm doing.

My pictures are all over Washington, D.C., and in museums. But the most impressive places are people who have an 800-sq.-ft. house and one of my huge pictures.

I don't see us ever moving from the Everglades. Have you been north of Gainesville lately? There are no clouds to speak of.

We have panthers walking around the house. Bobcats, squirrels, rabbits, otters, big gators. Yesterday there were 500 to 1,000 birds.

I've been married 43 years. I have these visions of what I want to do, and sometimes they are hard to explain. But Niki has always had the ability to cope with my visions. With us, it's the couple -- not just the one person. I think it's that way with a lot of people. Without Niki, I wouldn't be doing all I'm doing. And also Jackie.

Jackie has taken over the business. She's a good businesswoman, much better than we are. She had her own business, but she wanted to do more than sell a product. She wanted to have meaning in her life. It's perfect revenge. She tells me what to do now.

Tags: Florida Icon, Around Florida, Environment

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