Adams, Butcher photography at the James Museum • St Pete Catalyst
Expansive, expressive and almost tactile, the large, bold black-and-white prints of master photographers Ansel Adams and Clyde Butcher are so rich in detail, so open that they seem multidimensional, inviting the viewer to walk through the frame of a scene that is both familiar and odd.
The exhibition, which opens today at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, is in two parts: one is Ansel Adams: the masterpieces; The other, Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful.
Seen through the eyes and large format cameras of two of the country’s most creative landscape designers, it really is.
This may not be the America of sun-dappled green forests, shady blue skies and waves of amber grain, but it’s just as beautiful.
“When you’re not dealing with color, there’s a lack of distraction,” says curator Emily Kapes. “There’s a pure form, of really only thinking about tone and contrast. There’s a simplicity to it, but it also goes back to the essence of the image.
Included are 27 gelatin silver prints by Butcher, who still documents the great outdoors today, and 32 by Adams (1902-1984). They are in the same (extended) gallery upstairs, but presented in a unique way.
The two never met, but they shared a common aesthetic.
“They both had similar ideas about protecting the environment and preserving our national parks,” Kapes says. “They really were champions of the environment, and they were ambassadors. So, through their efforts, as well as their art, they were able to inspire change.
Although the exhibition includes two of Adams’ exquisite portraits of human faces (set against a textured background), the majority of his work here is from the American West – mountains, forests, rolling sand dunes and lonely desert vistas. A few are even abstract and alluring combinations of natural light and shadow.
Adams’ etchings, all hand-signed by the artist, are on loan from his granddaughter, Virginia Adams Mayhew.
Butcher also signed his prints, many of which depict the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, where he has lived and worked — and worked hard in the conservation movement — since the early 1990s.
Butcher has also travelled, like Adams before him, to just about every photogenic corner of this country.
“They had to endure some pretty extreme conditions to get these shots,” Kapes says. “And they drag large format cameras, tripods and other heavy equipment – over hills and mountains, and through the swamp. They had their vision and they were able to execute it in a simply amazing way.
Ansel Adams: the masterpieces and Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful will remain until July 31.
Clyde Butcher will speak at the James Museum on May 5.
For more information and tickets, click here.