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Clyde Butcher’s latest masterpiece, captured in his new book, America the Beautiful: A Monumental Landscape, has been published, along with a recent gallery exhibit of his work in spectacular large-format fashion. Here’s some insight into Butcher’s art.
Ansel Adams captured this view overlooking the Snake River west toward the Tetons in 1942. Clyde Butcher sought to not only replicate this basic scene, but to bring it home to a postmodern digital generation that often forgets that a rural and beautiful America still exists and awaits their return to see its beauty, away from the maddening urban crowds.
Adams once said that you don't get any points for being a mule. Butcher says he took this advice to heart. “It was not about toting my equipment as far as I could, but scouting for the right spot, and finding the right day with the right combination of sky, light, and clouds,” says Butcher.
In this case, Butcher used a 5x7 Deardorff large-format film camera with an orange filter, and shot for one second at f/45. What you see here is the only image captured of that particular moment.
Butcher did not have the luxury of shooting digitally, nor does he care to have the luxury of doing so. Over his lifetime, Butcher points out, Ansel Adams captured about 10,000 images. Today's digital photographer can easily capture 10,000 images in a week, if not less.
Photographers most often ask Butcher about the technical ins and outs of his work. But for Butcher, profound words of technical advice end up taking a backseat to his artistic reality, because it can be quite difficult to portray the core spirit of what makes an image work and speaks to people on a foundational, personal, and ultimately subjective level.
It's really about heart; where your heart is in relation to the scene before you, and believing in the transmission of those feelings through the viewfinder, into a negative, and out to the canvas, he explains. Technique is, at best, secondary.
There's certainly nothing wrong with getting as many shots off as possible, particularly given some of the venues in which his fellow professionals shoot. However, for the scenes Butcher is compelled to capture, the moment must be felt and taken in its time in one take, as is life itself.
From here, Butcher will develop a negative, which will be scanned at the highest resolution possible. He can, in turn, do one of three things with this negative, and he does all three… Either create a digital file to be printed on an Epson inkjet printer in just about any size desired, print it with traditional chemical processes, or take that scanned digital negative and print another, larger negative with that file for the traditional processes.
“It's amazing what you can do with that scale of film quality. The digital file created from the negative was 579 MB in grayscale; at 16-bit it would've been more like 2 GB. Needless to say, there's a lot of information on that piece of film,” says Butcher.
This image was reproduced for a presentation of Butcher’s work at The College of William & Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art this past December, in conjunction with his new book, America the Beautiful: The Monumental Landscape.
At the exhibition, Butcher’s purpose was to represent these exquisite examples of American nature in the largest and boldest format possible. Though the book itself will give some feel for the beauty and strength of America's wilderness, providing a viewing audience with large-format prints – utilizing both inkjet and traditional processes – provides a unique experience. For the exhibition printing, he used the 4800 and 9800 printers, and printed to LexJet's Sunset Fibre Elite.
An integral part of the inkjet printing process is the use of the ImagePrint RIP. If you print, particularly if you're doing black and white, and you don't have something as robust as ImagePrint you're likely to waste a lot of time and materials, not to mention the frustrations that simply shouldn't be part of the art form.
Though Butcher certainly doesn’t consider himself a slave to the process and the technicalities of printing, he wants to make absolutely sure that any digital process completely captures the essence of the scene. Plus, he enjoys the post-capture process and seeing the print roll off the printer.
“Sunset Fibre Elite not only yields an image that is true to what I love about darkroom prints, it has its own unique look and texture,” says Butcher.
Clyde Butcher is one of the most decorated and awarded photographers in American history, being recognized not only for his art, but for his dedication to preserving America's remaining wilderness. His latest book, America the Beautiful: The Monumental Landscape by Clyde Butcher, was published in conjunction with his major exhibition at The Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary in December 2007. Butcher's studio is located in Venice, Fla., and his website is www.clydebutcher.com.