I’ve lived long enough to know that it’s easy to take for granted the beauty of where we live here in Florida. For 20 years, I lived on one of the Keys in the area and in those last five, made it to the beach maybe 10 times, if that. And I LOVE the beach.
World famous photographer Clyde Butcher is not one of those people. A Missouri native, he moved with his family to Florida in 1980 for good, and in 1983 began photographing Florida beaches.
But it was in 1984 that his professional future as the premier landscape photographer in the country was determined. He met a man named Oscar Thompson, a Florida native, who introduced Butcher to the interior of the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades by taking him on his first walk into the swamp.
Today, Butcher and his work are national treasures, but we are fortunate that his residence is here on the Suncoast. Even better, he has a gallery and studio just east of the KMI Bridge, in Venice.
On the day I went to tour the gallery, I was especially lucky, because Butcher’s daughter Jackie was there working on setting up a new exhibit. She was incredibly busy, but briefly showed me around the rooms, pausing in one of them to tell me what the next exhibit there was going to be.
In 2017, the Dali Museum, in St. Petersburg requested that Butcher go to Spain to take photographs of sites that had inspired Salvador Dali and his paintings. Butcher’s photos he took on that trip were displayed in the Dali Museum for some time, and after making a couple of more stops, will be displayed in Butcher’s Venice gallery through the end of April. Accompanying the photographs will be a video explaining the trip to Spain and showing Butcher at work.
Another room at the museum is called the “Florida Room,” because that is where the majority of the artist’s Everglades photos reside. It is Butcher’s belief that black and white film brings out the textures and features of the images, and when you take a look at the depth and detail of his swamp photos, you will see exactly what that means.
There is also a room in the gallery devoted to Butcher’s wife Niki, who is an artist specializing in hand painted photographs. She paints black and white photos in lovely, soft pastel shades of oil, so that just a ghost of the photo shows through. It’s a beautiful technique, and one that I’ve never seen before.
In the back of the gallery is Butcher’s 2,000 square-foot darkroom, which holds a fascinating array of antique developing equipment, all of which he still actively uses. Behind that room is another one, where he keeps all the pans of developing solution.
If you visit the gallery, you will be able to peek into the darkroom, but twice a year, it is opened up to the public for a more detailed tour.
The Clyde Butcher Gallery is right in our backyard, and he has two more — one in the Big Cypress Preserve and the other on St. Armands Circle, in Sarasota. Don’t be like me and not take advantage of the beauty around you. A trip to this gallery will give you a new appreciation for wild, wonderful Florida.
Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at email@example.com.