Clyde Butcher moved with his family into the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve in 1993. He purchased 13 acres of swamp with a two-story dwelling surrounded by wild orchids and irises in the middle of a cypress strand. Today, you can sit on his back porch and watch alligators. Clyde has recently been named a Guardian of The Everglades and through his photography he lets people see the natural places of wild Florida in a new way. We sat down at Clyde’s studio and gallery in Venice, Florida for this conversation in February 2013, the day before the 20th anniversary cele- bration of his Big Cypress Gallery.
PT: The dedication in “Portfolio I” mentions your first camera; mine was a little plastic Brownie. What kind was yours and what did you photograph?
CB: I had a Kodak Brownie, and still own it. My first shots were some Grand Canyon negatives while on a vacation, I was about nine years old—they weren’t very good!
PT: How did you gain your initial skills in photography?
CB:In school studying architecture, I would build models of my designs and after I discovered I couldn’t draw, I used a cardboard pinhole camera I built to photograph them. I bought HO Scale people to populate the buildings and then photographed them in the woods so trees were included. I later borrowed the Dean’s 35mm Exacta camera and eventually customized a Canon so I could fit the lens inside the model’s spaces.
PT: What is the best way to learn photography? How do you teach photography?
CB: Study different books, images and techniques and then just go do it. Shoot a lot. Try different things. These days digital makes it much easier due to the lower cost and instant feedback. I tried it (teaching) but people seemed to be more interested in being around ‘Clyde’ than learning photography, so I stopped. For the really serious, an apprenticeship method would be far better. I did a workshop in Death Valley, and when I turned around all the people were scattered about. If I ever did another workshop, I would require people to leave their cameras home. I believe the biggest issue is that people need to learn to see.