Focus on Florida: Finding beauty in black and white

Renowned photographer Clyde Butcher raises environmental awareness

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – For almost four decades, photographer Clyde Butcher has ventured deep into Florida's swampland with his large format camera to capture the raw beauty of the Sunshine State's landscape in black and white.

"Because it's black and white, you're really seeing the image," he said. "You're not being distracted by the color."

His iconic work has won numerous photography and environmental awards. Although he first picked up a camera in childhood, Butcher didn't envision a career as an influential photographic artist.

"The thing that's interesting about me is I don't know what the word 'no' means. I get a vision or an idea of what I want to do and I work toward it," he said.

Butcher started taking pictures of landscapes while he was working as an architect in California.

When he got laid off in the late 1960s, a friend convinced him to sell some of his work.

"We were selling, but we could barely pay the rent," he said with a wry smile.

He credits television, in part, with his move from California to South Florida. 

"I was captivated by shows like 'Flipper' and 'Sea Hunt,'" Butcher said.

During a visit to Big Cypress National Park in the early 1980s, Butcher's vision of the Everglades expanded.

"In California, you can see beauty from the car. In Florida, you have to get out of your car and go into it, whether by foot or boat or canoe. You have to become one with Florida's landscape," he said.

That's exactly what he did, and when his son, Ted, was killed by a drunken driver in 1986, he found solace in the Everglades.

"This is one of the first pictures I took after Ted died," he said while pointing to an image called "Moon Rising." "The moon was starting to come up and the clouds were coming in."

Over the course of his career, Butcher has won numerous awards. His work adorns the walls of private homes and public spaces, but getting that image is far from easy.

"You have to be really careful in spring because the gators and snakes are really defensive. They're defending their holes," he said. 

But nothing can stop him, not even a stroke in 2017.

"I take my walker in the water. I'm on my second walker because the bearings go out quite often," he chuckled.

Visitors to Butcher's Homestead art gallery on Tamiami Trail can get the same experience with his guided swamp walks.

"After they take a swamp walk, they say, 'Wow, this is better than Disney World,'" he said.

At the heart of his work is a desire to preserve and protect Florida's delicate ecostructure.

"It's a pretty place," Butcher said. "I want to keep showing it to people." 

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