Clyde-Lovin’ in the Swamps

My boyfriend has a crush on Clyde Butcher (http://www.clydebutcher.com). So much so that he laid down $40 bucks for us to tromp through part of the renowned landscape photographer’s backyard in the Big Cypress National Preserve one recent weekend.

Butcher bought a slice when you still could. The swamp walk was held at his Ochopee gallery on U.S. 41, led by guides in tie-dyed shirts who told us some stuff I do not remember about orchids (we didn’t see any) and muck (we were waist-deep in it); I wasn’t sure it was worth its cost of a decent dinner.

But then, we saw Clyde. The plump master, sat sage-like with a white beard and glasses under a tent at the end of the clearing. A fan blew at his back. An aura of I’m-the-next-Ansel-Adams and awed admirers surrounded him. After hosing off our tennis shoes, my boyfriend doled out another $75 for Clyde’s new book, America the Beautiful, The Monumental Landscape, which features Butcher’s take on Adams’ Yosemite territory. He nervously shifted from one foot to another when he approached Clyde.

“Nice backyard….You’ve actually, uh, really inspired me. I have a picture here you might recognize,” he said, opening his laptop to show a shot he took of a few trees and gigantic clouds hovering over the swamps.

Very nice, Butcher said, politely looking it over and offering him some Photoshop tips on how to bring details to the trees. (Plug: Butcher’s working on a Photoshop DVD to come out before Christmas.) Butcher told us why he no longer shoots in color. Color isn’t art, he said. It’s reproduction. Black and white is interpretation. He talked about not over-shooting even when you have a digital camera. He doesn’t take a picture unless it’s good, which obviously is a lot easier for him than most people.

When he started shooting Everglades landscapes, Butcher said other photographers were shooting only alligators and birds. For his next project, he’s returning to the landscape that brought him fame, the Everglades. At least if you’re going to copy someone, you’re copying someone good, Butcher told him, with a wink.

“Look,” my boyfriend said, opening the book. “He left me his phone number.”

Not quite. But he later asked if it would be too weird to send Clyde an email. --Janine Zeitlin

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