Florida photographer explores surrealist artist Dali’s roots
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Photographer Clyde Butcher is known for his sweeping, evocative black-and-white photos of Florida’s Everglades. But when he first arrived in the Sunshine State almost 40 years ago, he looked around and couldn’t find anything to photograph.
“Flat. No mountains. No waterfalls. Boring. I didn’t do anything for almost the first two years,” he said.
Butcher, who had previously lived in California and photographed landscapes there, wasn’t impressed by Florida as a creative subject. But in 1982, he made a trip to St. Petersburg and visited the Salvador Dali museum, where a collection of the Spanish artist’s work was on display.
“He inspired me,” Butcher said with a grin, adding that Dali’s work led him to do some “creative, outer-space type stuff.”
Not long after that, Butcher picked up his camera and began shooting photos of Florida’s cypress stands, of swamps and secluded beaches.
Butcher’s latest work is an homage to the surrealist master. It brings Butcher’s career in Florida full circle.
The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg commissioned Butcher to travel to Spain to capture Cadaques, Portlligat, Figueres and Cap de Creus — areas where Dali spent his early years, and where he died. The result is the exhibit “Clyde Butcher: Visions of Dali’s Spain,” and it’s a stark, moody show of the rugged, rocky landscapes of Spain’s Costa Brava.
In the show’s 41 photographs, viewers can see what inspired Dali — no small feat given his fantastical and often outrageous artistic imagination. Butcher’s photos are almost a starting point for Dali’s paintings across the hall in the museum. You can see how certain rocks perched on cliffs look like the skulls that Dali painted, for example, and how light and shadows influenced Dali’s visions.
Clyde Butcher (left) and curator Peter Tush enter a gallery during the opening of the “Clyde Butcher, Visions of Dali’s Spain” exhibit at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla.