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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Noted in passing—Clyde Butcher

I recently traveled to Florida with my family, a short stint in the sun, running from the darkness of Fairbanks in winter.  We flew into Miami, then traveled across the Everglades to visit Sanibel Island near Fort Myers.  One stop we made was at the Clyde Butcher Gallery, to look at the photographs there.  I had been familiar with Butcher’s work through a photo magazine article several years ago, but had never seen any of his original prints.  His gallery was filled with images of the Everglades—my favorites were of the Cyprus swamps—and noted that he is selling both silver prints and “gilcee” prints (aka ink jet images).

Clyde Butcher Loxahatchee River 14

I don’t think that Clyde Butcher is a great photographer—he borrows much too heavily from the past–he seems to encourage constant comparisons to Ansel Adams—but he also has taken influences from Atget and Edward Weston.  But there is no denying that his work resonates with a knowledge and love of the landscape of south Florida, and that his work has found an audience that appreciates his work.

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Before Timothy O’Sullivan, most easterners had no idea what the west looked like, and the overblown romantic paintings of Bierstadt and Catlin did little to help.  Part of what may have kept O’Sullivan honest was the fact that his employer, Clarence King, was a scientist, though the core of King’s theories based on cataclysmic events shaping geography have been largely discredited.   But the scientific nature of the work led to documentation of the ordinary as well as the beauty of the landscape, and his pictures, as a whole, feel more honest than many of those who came after him.

FingerMountain, Dalton Highway, June 1994

FingerMountain, Dalton Highway, June 1994

And while the expeditions that O’Sullivan worked on were difficult compared to my modern trips in my battered RV, I often find myself staring at mountains or rock formations that are strikingly beautiful, but not over photographed.   This land has not yet been adequately described, either by scientists or artists–and part of my job is to try to see this place as clearly as possible, and to make photographs that carry what I see.  Part of what makes O’Sullivan’s photographs so wonderful is the space that remains in the west–a space that remains in Alaska.

Pipeline, Near the Yukon River, 2005

Pipeline, Near the Yukon River, 2005