By Elam Stoltzfus
February 26th, 2015
In 1989 I was part of a film production working on a documentary on fine art photographer, Clyde Butcher. The documentary featured him as an artist who told stories about Florida’s natural beauty through his iconic large format black and white photos. The program was titled “Visions of Florida: the Photographic Art of Clyde Butcher” and was produced for Silk Purse Productions with WFSU Public Television and later went on to play on PBS stations nationwide.
One of the first “on location” film assignments was traveling down the north fork of the Loxahatchee River, a National Wild and Scenic River known for its mythical cypress trees and canopies. Our crew met Clyde and his wife Niki at the local county park for a canoeing expedition. The couple paddled around the first bend and Clyde spotted a swamp lily. He dipped his paddle in the water to stop the canoe. Once stopped, he jumped out of the canoe, landing deep in the mucky banks of the river. He pulled his camera and tripod out of the canoe. The water lapped at his beard as he schlepped towards the lily. Eyes wide, I thought to myself, “What is this guy trying to do? Isn’t he concerned about his camera getting wet and dirty?” Clyde struggle to place the camera and tripod in the flowing waters of the river. Niki kept the canoe close by and assisted Clyde with accessories and camera support. A wordless rhythm flowed between the two of them, a process repeated so often it was intuitive. Click. With the scene burned into the film negative, Clyde turned around to look at me, swamp sludge painted on his bearded cheeks and smiling ear to muddy ear. A regular swamp Santa Claus, I thought. “Wow, this must be a cool experience to bring about a smile, of all things, after enduring the sticky Loxahatchee muck. I need to get closer, but does he expect me to join him in the sludge with my shining new broadcast video camera? Oh no.”
Clyde and Niki climbed back into the canoe and we meandered further down the river. We rounded another bend that opened up into a beautiful scene. In the background was a majestic cabbage palm. In the foreground cypress knees jutted out of the still water. Again, Clyde jumped out of his canoe eager to capture another image. This time I knew I needed to put my camera into action and document this effort of photography. As Clyde was setting up his camera, I gingerly stepped out of the canoe and brought my camera with me to stand next to him. As I waded in the muck, I felt as if I had been baptized and saw the world around me anew: this is how you see Florida! What I experienced within the deep swamp that day was an immersion of life, the touch of beauty, and nature at its best. As I accomplished my task of capturing video of Clyde and the surrounding area, I too was smiling with satisfaction and a sense of connection to the natural world.
Thank you Clyde for introducing me to the swamps of Florida on that special day in 1989. I have been smiling and hopping off boats ever since.
Since then, Clyde has been featured in many of my film productions including six that were featured in Public Television stations nationwide—Living Waters: the Aquatic Preserves of Florida, Apalachicola River: an American Treasure, Big Cypress: the Western Everglades, Kissimmee Basin: the Northern Everglades, and Emmy award-winning Florida Wildlife Corridor: Everglades to Okefenokee.
After 25 years of friendship, I am honored to say that I have the chance to tell Clyde’s story through a feature-length documentary on Clyde. This is something we both have wanted to do over the past few years, but now it is happening. We will be using never-before-seen photos, video, and interviews to tell the story of his life and Clyde became who he is today.
We are raising funds for the film starting next week using Kickstarter, an online fundraising site. This crowd-funding model is completely new to our production company, but I am excited about the opportunity for a group of people to come together and bring this creative project to life.
Link to the Kickstarter page