Photographer Clyde Butcher on Why the Everglades are so Important
Clyde Butcher has spent more than three decades photographing Florida’s swamps, rivers, preserves and other wild places, creating large-scale, atmospheric, black-and-white images that capture the true beauty of the Sunshine State—earning him the moniker of “the Ansel Adams of Florida.” Over those years, he’s seen the way development, population growth and other human actions (or inactions) can change these vitally important areas of the state.
“Florida is a unique and beautiful place, and hopefully we can figure out some way of keeping from destroying it,” says Butcher. “When I first started photographing Florida the way I do, nobody had any concept about what Florida was about. They thought it was just beaches, and that was what they came for. But with my photographs they were seeing that there’s more to Florida, and it’s gorgeous. People don’t realize how unique Florida is.”
One of the unique places he’s been drawn to over his long career is the Florida Everglades. “It’s probably one of the most pristine places in the world,” he notes. “It’s the only place like it. It’s fascinating and beautiful.”
Florida has now seen the impacts caused by altering the Everglades’ natural flow, and is faced making restoration efforts to address water quality and other issues. “The Everglades is important to keep our water clean,” says Butcher. “If they don’t solve the problems in the Everglades, they’re not going to solve the problems in the Caloosahatchee.”
Butcher hopes his photos will help people understand and appreciate the importance of places such as the Everglades. “The reason I make my pictures large is so that you have to experience them. Your mind is actually exploring the photograph. It’s supposed to be an experience, not just a composition.”
But he says it can be hard to show changes in water quality or quantity, or other environmental impacts, through photos. “Visually it may not change much. A lot of times you can’t show change with photographs. Some plants are pretty, so you take pictures of these pretty plants, and what’s wrong with that? You have to be careful when you take pictures.”
That’s one reason why Butcher helps people fully experience the state’s wild side for themselves through the swamp walks that set out from his gallery near Big Cypress National Preserve in Ochopee. “We’ve been giving swamp walks since 1993, and that is helping people connect with Florida,” he says.
“I think we’ve probably had maybe 12,000 people over that time, and now they’re ambassadors for me after people actually experience what Florida is and could be like. The water in Big Cypress is as clear as a mountain stream. In fact, it’s probably clearer, and that’s the kind of water you want to drink. But how many people know that?”
Despite all of the images he’s captured over the years, Butcher still has plenty of spots left to explore. “There’s so much to do in Florida and so many places to see. I haven’t even really started because there are so many places to go.”
Newer sites that he’s photographing include Myakka River in Sarasota County, St. Johns River, and the state’s springs—an ecosystem he says a lot of people don’t understand, especially as it relates to Florida’s supply of drinking water. He’s also gotten interested in photographing some of the state’s cattle ranches.
“If you’re a good rancher, you need to protect your land so it can keep producing,” he says. “So I’ve been working with ranchers to help show that they’re not the ‘bad guys.’ ”
Beth Luberecki is a Nokomis, Florida–based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media. Learn more about her work at bethluberecki.com.