Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Photography and Living: Lessons from Clyde Butcher

On Saturday I posted a quote from a photographer whose work I saw in a museum. Thinking about photography reminded me of an exhibit I saw last year of Clyde Butcher's photographs.

Butcher takes huge black and white photos, mostly of nature. (You can see lots of them at his website.) I know very little about the technical aspects of photography, so the detailed descriptions of how Butcher took each photo were lost on me. However, I was struck by the comments on how he sees the world.

Butcher wrote about getting up in the morning at three or four and going out to look. He might end up taking only three or four pictures, waiting for the exact moment when the light is perfect. Sometimes he goes to national parks or other places where people go to enjoy nature, and is astonished to hear people bragging about how fast they have "done" a particular walk or sightseeing experience, as though "there and back" was the whole story. Destination has become their only focus, whereas to him, every single step is full of beauty, and he can't imagine rushing it.

People come up to Butcher while he is setting up or taking a photo, and squint at what he is doing. "What are you taking a picture of?" they ask, because to their eyes there is nothing in front of them worth recording. They can't see what he sees. People, he says, don't know how to look.

Visitors to Butcher's gallery in Florida ask him where the best place is to take good photos of the Everglades. He says "Out in the parking lot," and they think he's joking, but he isn't; there's no magical spot to make a perfect photo. You just have to know how to look.

Paying attention, looking, enjoying the journey instead of focusing on the destination. Good advice for taking pictures, for writing, for living.

Here's the link again. Go on, go look at some of Butcher's photos.


Janet said...


From my too-amateur-to-be-on-the-scale perspective, I agree. It's one of the things I love about a camera -- it helps me to look.

Matsu said...

As an amateur photographer who aspires to be just a little bit like Clyde Butcher, I completely agree with your post.

Thanks for sharing the "secret insights" of good photography and how to find the best shots.