Sample Essay on Photography: Clyde Butcher

Photography: Clyde Butcher


            Clyde Butcher was born in 1942 in Kansas City. He was an only child to a sheet metal worker. His inclination to art was evident from an early age, as he spent his child years drawing boat designs and crafting ship models from scrap metal. Butcher studied architecture at California Polytechnic Institute. It was during this period that he discovered that he could not draw architectural designs as well as his peers. In order to solve this problem, he resorted to building models of his designs and taking photographs of the them under different light condition for presentations at the institute (Congdon and Kelley 43). The adjusted lighting made his models appear natural during the presentations.  The department in the faculty was impressed by the photography skills demonstrated by Butcher and consequently made him the supervisor when a dark room was made in the department. Butcher read widely about photography and the different aspects of it and also shared this knowledge with other students in the department.

His Inspiration

The unique thing about the photographs taken by Clyde Butcher is that a majority of them are in black and white. Butcher claimed that the inspiration to take such photographs was from a visit to Yosemite National Park, where he had the opportunity to see Ansel Adams Photography. So, impressed by Adams work, Butcher left the architecture field in 1970 and began to photograph landscapes in black and white. He then began exhibiting his landscape black and white photos in art festivals that he soon became a sensation in that field.  He is a lover of the environment and the landscapes. The sereneness of the nature has a calming effect on him and he used his walks in nature to comfort him when he lost his teenage son to an accident caused by a drunk driver. The photographs taken by Clyde Butcher are not meant to be small, and he has created rather large prints of about 8 X 5 feet (Congdon and Kelley 45). This has made some of the patrons question the logistics of his works. His rebuttal has been that his photos are meant to be large so that they can be experienced. According to him, the eye has to scan the photo so that the brain can piece it together. Some of the most prominent photos of his that been exhibited include the Cayo Costa Islands #1 (1988), Cuban Banao OE (2002) and Ghost Orchid #1(1999)

Cayo Costa Islands #1 (1988)

            In this photograph, there is a coastline of pristine sand and is partly covered by reflective waters of the ocean. The palm trees in this photo are very tall, are in a row and towards a cloud filled sky (Congdon and Kelley 45). This not a photo that can be taken just randomly, and it must have required the photographer to study the landscape over a period of days, ensure that the cloud, sunshine, wind and other environmental conditions are just perfect (Thibault and Walbert par 3). In addition to the trees the sand and the ocean, there are other bushes and grasses in the background that appear to not have been affected by human activity. In fact, all of the objects that are found in the photo are devoid of human interference. This photo has a natural and authentic feeling to it. It is the nature at its most extreme beauty and serenity. Given the background that Butcher has had in desiring to conserve the environment, one is impressed that this photo is trying to communicate just how nature can be beautiful and satisfying to the eyes if humans could only desist from trying to modify it or change it to suit their selfish needs.

The transition from the ocean to the sand, from the sand to the vegetation and from the vegetation to the sky is observed to be seamless. This can be indicative of the oneness found in nature and that an effect on one aspect of nature has the likelihood of affecting the other parts of nature that are connected to them. It is unusual for such a spot to not have any persons or animals roaming around. This leads to the postulation that the photo was taken either very early in the morning or very late in the evening (Thibault and Walbert par 4). These are the times when there are not many people on the beach. The presence of the clouds is also indicative of the possibility of the time that this photo was taken being immediately before a storm hit the shores. The lack of color in the photo makes disguised from the natural pictures that are found in conventional photographs, the objects in the photograph are not in numerous shades of color as would be the case with a colored photograph. There is a certain uniformity of grains in the photo, and the observer needs to be very keen in order to deduce what is contained in the photo. This ability to grab the attention of the observer is what makes this photo special.

Cuban Banao OE (2002)

This is one of the rare photos by Clyde Butcher that does entail of man-made objects in the form of graves. It is a photo of a cemetery in Cuba, and this is not just any cemetery. The area where this cemetery is located has an elevated sea level, and this forces the graves to be built above the ground (Congdon and Kelley 46). The numerous graves give the impression of a sea of concrete and in yet in the distance, there is a hilly outline and puffs of clouds that reverts the observer back to nature. The cemetery can be indicative of the sorrow that the activities of humans are causing mother nature. This is again derived from the background information that the observer has regarding the attitude that Butcher has towards conservation. This is a photo that was taken after the artist had studied the landscape closely and determined the moment at which it looked most eerie. This photo can be considered a prediction of the things that are likely to result if the conservations efforts made by the artists and a few other individuals are not followed through. The earth will basically become a graveyard. The photograph is taken from an elevated point, with the concrete graves in the foreground and the hills, a line of trees and the puffs of clouds in the background (Thibault and Walbert par 5). The elevate point ensures that more of the graveyard area is covered by the photographer.

Ghost Orchid #1(1999)

This came from a series of close up photos of orchids that were made by Clyde Butcher. This one in particular shows the sharp outline of the delicate flower in the dark background. The photo, being in black and white, makes the flower appear white in a solid black background. The artist had to tinker delicately with the light in order to get such a perfect shot (Congdon and Kelley 47). This shot makes the orchid appear as a ghost in the dark background, making the name have some deeper meaning as opposed to the conventional one (Thibault and Walbert par 6). There is also a conservation significance in the photo, as the variety of Ghost orchid is among the endangered plants that are possibly facing extinction. This photo will remain a reminder of the beauty that these plants used to possess, if the orchids do indeed become extinct. The close-up nature of the photo has the drawback of ensuring that there is neither a foreground or a background objects (Thibault and Walbert par 7). One may, however, consider the orchid as the foreground and the darkness as the backgrounds. The object of focus in this work of art is the orchid itself. The photo, in its black and white has a calming effect in the observer, as he/she does not get bombarded by the chaos that would result visually from many colors on such a photo.



            In conclusion, it is rather hard for one to connect the photographs taken by Clyde Butcher with the conservation efforts that he campaigns for unless one has some background information on him. This is why it is important to have the context of the photograph that one is observing at hand. The photographs taken by this artist are phenomenal, especially in the present digital age, where he has insisted on the continued use of the black and white photos. These pieces of art will represent the unique talent possessed by Butcher for a long time to come.



Works cited

Congdon, Kristin G. and Kara Kelley. Twentieth Century United States Photographs. 1st ed. Hallmark. Print.

Thibault, Melissa and David Walbert. “Reading Photographs”