A Bygone Camera Records A Disappearing World: Photographer Clyde Butcher Uses Large Format in Florida Swamplands

From Ochopee, Florida comes Clyde Butcher, the award-winning black and white photographer who thinks nothing of wading into the mosquito ridden, snake and alligator filled swamps and mangroves of Florida's wetlands with a large format camera strapped to his back. Butcher's work is often compared to Ansel Adams, although he physically resembles more of a modern day Walt Whitman with his formidable white beard and paunchy build. Butcher creates images using three Deardorfs (a 5x7, an 8x10, and an 11x14) and a 12x20 Wisner. His images are haunting, surreal, dramatic, and larger than life in scope and detail.

Big Cypress National Preserve 1. Image: Clyde Butcher

Apalachicola River 1. Image: Clyde Butcher

Butcher creates huge 5' x 8' limited edition photographic images, and declares "I will be shooting film as long as I live." And he adds, "Lugging around a 60 pound backpack surely makes me wish someone could create a digital camera that can do what an 8x10 or 11x14 piece of film can do, but I don't think it will happen. I have always believed that the art of photography is a technical art form. With every generation new technology comes into the field: better lenses, better paper, better cameras, etc. Now we have this new technology in the field of photography and it is not better or worse than traditional photography. It is just different. I currently scan many of my negatives and use the digital technology of Photoshop to produce the image. In the gallery we carry prints from the wet darkroom, silver gelatin photographs, giclees, and prints from the computer".

Dead Lake 19. Image: Clyde Butcher

Butcher explains his work, "It may be just me, but I feel like the human brain is tickled by detail. The more detail the eye can see, the more enjoyable it is for the brain. I wanted my images to be sharp at just about any size that I can conceive of doing. I wanted to tickle the brain of others... You can only do that with a piece of large film. I suppose I pushed the limit on that by photographing with a 12x20" camera and then enlarging that negative. (I built a 12x20 enlarger from an old copy camera from a printing shop.) When I enlarge those images up to 5x8 feet you can see the insect holes in the blades of grass, now that is really tickling the brain!".

Butcher with his wife, Niki. Butcher in his gallery.

The Ft. Lauderdale International Airport (Terminal 3) in Florida has three images from Butcher, each 6' x 16' feet. Butcher is now working on a project documenting the Florida Everglades ecosystem, from the headwaters near Orlando all the way down to Ten Thousand Islands. When completed, the multi-media exhibit titled "The Everglades: America's Amazon" will tour the nation. Recent projects include work for Florida's "Save Our Rivers" program, Bureau of Submerged Lands and Preserves, Everglades National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, River Keepers, and the Wilderness Society.

Featured on NPR's The Picture Show at
Butcher's website at:

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Filed under: Photo Extras November 10, 2009
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