Fragile Environments: The Photographs of Roger Craton and Clyde Butcher



Fragile Environments: The Photographs of Roger Craton and Clyde Butcher explores the two distinct ecological environments of the lush, humid Florida wetlands and the icy continent at the South Pole.  Though observably and geographically polar opposites, these environments share the same threats — global warming, pollution, overfishing, and human intrusion — to their fragile systems.  These contrasting views provide visual testament to the diversity and beauty of this planet.

The Artists

Roger Craton

A successful photographer’s vision defines their work.  My vision is particularly attracted to images that contain strong graphic design elements.  When combined with light, color, texture, and an overlay of emotion, they show the world “as I see it”.

I have a long relationship with great natural environments—the Great Lakes where I grew up and have lived for many years, spending extensive time on the water, Alaska where I lived for several years in the 1950’s, the Mountain West where I lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and hiked, skied, rode, and camped in wilderness areas, and Antarctica where I traveled by ship and zodiac in 2005.  These experiences, and many others, have nurtured a love and respect for nature, the wilderness, and wild things. Hopefully, my photographs of Antarctica will help convey the beauty, mystery, solitude, danger, and awe that we behold in wild places.

                                                                                                                                  ~ Roger Craton

Roger Craton is a fine art photographer who travels widely looking for unique images. He has photographed on all seven continents and in over 40 countries.  After retiring from his business career in 1993, he began pursuing photography seriously and has studied with a number of well-known photographers. His work has been exhibited at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Crooked Tree Arts Center, the Dennos Museum and in other venues and galleries around the country.

Clyde Butcher

Wilderness, to me, is a spiritual necessity.  When my son was killed by a drunk driver it was to the wilderness that I fled in hopes of regaining my serenity and equilibrium.  The mysterious spiritual experience of being close to nature helped restore my soul. It was during that time, I discovered the intimate beauty of nature.  My experience reinforced my sense of dedication to use my art form of photography as an inspiration for others to work together to save nature’s places of spiritual sanctuary for future generations.                                             ~Clyde Butcher

Clyde Butcher is a graduate in architecture from Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University) in San Luis Obispo.  His interests in spatial relationships and presentation of architectural designs led him into the field of photography. From these early formal interests, he became attracted to the landscape.

Mr. Butcher's award-winning black and white photographs explore his personal relationship with the environment.  For more than thirty-five years, he has been preserving, on film, the untouched areas of the landscape.

The Environments

The Last Southern Stop — Antarctica

Antarctica, the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on earth, is covered with a continental ice sheet and is permanently frozen year round.  With little to no precipitation, except at the coasts, the interior of the continent is technically the largest desert in the world. Seemingly uninhabitable, Antarctica is home to many animals and plants — whales, sea lions, penguins, seals, birds, lichens, mosses, and many types of algae thrive in this arctic environment. As documented by Roger Craton, life on this frozen continent is abundant.  

Today, the earth supports six times as many people as it did two hundred years ago.  With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which brought about a major shift of technological and cultural conditions in the 19th century, came an increasing demand to supply energy for the earth’s ever-increasing population.  The burning of wood, coal, oil, and natural gases generated the necessary energy to sustain the growing populace, but it also generated an excessive amount of carbon dioxide. Today, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are now more than 30 percent higher than they were two hundred years ago.  With this glut of greenhouse gas, the earth’s atmosphere and climate are rapidly changing.

Antarctica, which contains 90% of the world’s ice, is a major player in this game of high stakes global gambling.  By the end of the 21st century, scientists predict global temperatures will be between 2.5 - 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are now. Sea levels would drastically be affected, should this large icy continent melt away.

The Florida Wetlands

Wetlands are a particular ecosystem typically found in the transition between terrestrial and aquatic systems.  In the past, these areas have been regarded as a hindrance to productive land use. Swamp lands, bogs, and other wetland areas were considered wastelands to be drained or filled in "produce" useful land.

Recently, wetlands have been recognized as vital areas that constitute an invaluable public resource and home to a unique diversity of wildlife and vegetation.  Wetlands are important for providing fish and wildlife habitats, for maintaining ground water supplies, for protecting shorelines from erosion, for storing flood waters and trapping sediments, and for modifying climatic changes.

During the last 200 years, the continental United States has lost 53% of its wetland acreage.  Florida has lost the most acreage totaling over 9.3 million acres and California has lost the largest percentage of original wetlands— 91%.5  Thankfully, since the wetland management plans of the 1980s, wetland restoration appears to be on the rise.  

The Photographs

Roger Craton stands in direct contrast to Clyde Butcher in his approach, technique, and the way in which he realizes his final images, but both artists share the commitment to preserve and document the fragile environments of this remarkably diverse planet.  Craton’s process is unconstrained—each work captured with a hand held technique and printed entirely uncropped from the original images. Traveling to the Antarctic with his high resolution digital camera, Craton had only a few weeks to capture the nuanced hues of the icy terrain and the colorful inhabitants that exist in seemingly unlivable conditions.  In some of his large-scale pigment prints, the vastness of that landscape, surrounded by freezing waters, stands in sharp relief to the delicate pastel palette of the sky; in others, the dazzling white of the snow is made even more brilliant and graphic in the company of the gray and nearly black penguins. The tonal range expressed in some of the images is photographically breathtaking.

Clyde Butcher has explored the aquatic preserves of Florida for the better part of three decades.  Often up to his waders in water with the tripod of his large format sheet film camera rooted in the water bed, Butcher has captured every aspect of the complex Everglades habitat in exquisite detail.  His black and white images, with their crisp definition and elegant range of tone, bring to mind the primordial and the elemental. His images seem to offer a glimpse into a past of untouched and untamed wildness.  Some images exude a lush verdure while others reveal starkly dramatic climatic contrasts. Clyde Butcher is expanding his explorations to other places throughout the United States, but it is in his beloved swampland that he feels at home.

Foreword from the Director

Photography is an increasingly important expressive medium in today’s art world, and the number of good nature photographers in America is staggering.  As the Wildling Art Museum organizes only one photography exhibition a year, we can afford to be very particular. The result has been a series of stellar photography exhibitions: Ansel Adams on Yosemite; Subhankar Banerjee on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Diane Orr on Native American rock art sites; John B. Weller on the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. And now Roger Craton and Clyde Butcher on Antarctica and the Everglades.

In our selection of these outstanding photographers, we have been guided by Karen Sinsheimer, Curator of Photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and a member of the Wildling’s Collections and Exhibitions Committee. We are extremely grateful for the curatorial expertise she provides the Museum on a regular basis. As the guest curator for the current exhibition “Fragile Environments: Photographs of Antarctica and the Everglades by Roger Craton and Clyde Butcher,” she was assisted by Amanda Resch, an intern at SBMA. I also want to thank Roger Craton, a part-time resident of Santa Barbara, for his assistance in fund-raising and for his generosity in speaking about his work on several occasions during the run of the exhibition.

Through the ironic juxtaposition of Craton’s color photographs of a land we think of as monochromatic and Butcher’s black and white photographs of a land we think of as lush and verdant, “Fragile Environments” provides us with an opportunity to appreciate both the unique vision of each photographer and their shared achievement in capturing for us the beauty of the wild places they love.

Elizabeth P. Knowles


Clyde Butcher

Big Talbot Island 6
Nassau River, St. Johns River Marshes Aquatic Preserve, Big Talbot Island State Park, Florida, 1989

Cape Romano 10
Cape Romano, Ten Thousand Islands Aquatic Preserve, Florida, 2003

Cayo Costa Island 3
Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, Cayo Costa Island State Park, Charlotte Harbor, Florida, 1991

Dead Lake 1
Apalachicola River, Florida, 2005

St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve, Cape San Blas, Florida, 1983

Ghost Orchid 1
(Polyrrhiza Lindenni)   Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Florida, 1999

Little Butternut Key 2
Everglades National Park, Florida Bay, Florida, 1997.

Big Cypress Gallery
Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, 2000

Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge 1
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, 1999

Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, 1986

Shell Key
Shell Key Coast, Florida Bay, Florida, 2001

Fakahactchee 3
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Florida, 1999

Roger Craton

Adorable Adelie
Paulet Island, Antarctica, 2005

Clarence Island
Clarence Island, Antarctica, 2005

South Georgia Islands, Antarctica, 2005

Half Moon Rising
Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, 2005

Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, 2005.

Mirror Image
Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, 2005.

Oakums and Friends
South Georgia Islands, Antarctica, 2005