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Icon: Clyde Butcher

In the 20 years I've been walking around Big Cypress, I've never met another person. We go places where most men don't tread. There's no path.

The only thing you get in your pants is a little muck. When the water's high, there's hardly any mosquitoes. I've had to knock a couple gators in the nose, but that was because I was in their way. Water moccasins just swim by you. They're not interested. It's really one of the safest places I could be.

Clyde Butcher? [Photo: Burk Uzzle]

When I first started showing my Everglades work, people would ask me, "Is this Africa?" "Is this the Amazon?" And I'd say, "No, it's just out in the Everglades." People had never seen pictures that allowed them to feel the Everglades.

Before the death of our son, the images were products. After Ted's death, they became art that could educate people about the loss of the world around them. When something like that happens, you can either become positive or negative. If you become negative, you've wasted a soul.

I do pictures large so you can't see them. Your angle of view is five to six degrees. So if I make a picture big, you have to scan it. You have to experience it. That's why my books aren't as good as my exhibits. I want you to experience my pictures like when you're in nature.

One question people ask me is why do I not want to go to the Amazon or all these other places. My answer is that we have so many problems here. If we can't solve our problems with all the money we have, what's the point of going to all those other countries? Because it's fun? Or is there a purpose?

I'm doing "America the Beautiful" for a purpose. I probably should stay here in Florida because my daughter, Jackie, keeps telling me I need to finish my book on the Everglades. But William & Mary College is giving me an opportunity to shoot parts of the country I've been wanting to shoot again. It's an opportunity to expose maybe a million people to the beauty of this nation.

The problem is that most of these politicians have a pretty rotten peer group. We need to get into their peer group somehow and expand it so they can understand what's happening to the Earth.

Some of the highest people in Florida government, I've asked them what sustainability means, and truthfully they answer that they have no idea.

We're so intelligent and so stupid. We know exactly what's wrong. We know exactly how to solve it. But we prefer not to. I know how to eat better too. We know we should not be driving SUVs. We know we shouldn't have 10,000-sq.-ft. houses. But we want them. And we can afford them, so we have them. People think, if I can afford it, I should be allowed to do it. I should have the right. Unfortunately, there's nobody teaching people what happens when they do these things -- that they can't really afford it.

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.