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Ansel Adams and Clyde Butcher hang next to each other at The James Museum in St. Petersburg

“Ansel Adams: The Masterworks” and “Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful” are on display through July 31.
Guests at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg can explore "Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful" (in the background) as well as "Ansel Adams: The Masterworks" (foreground). The exhibitions, which pair the two widely acclaimed photographers, are on view through July 31.
Guests at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg can explore "Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful" (in the background) as well as "Ansel Adams: The Masterworks" (foreground). The exhibitions, which pair the two widely acclaimed photographers, are on view through July 31. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 8

ST. PETERSBURG — “It is easy to take a photograph, but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium.”

Yet that is what American landscape photographers Ansel Adams, who said the above quote, and Clyde Butcher have done throughout their careers.

Their works are currently showcased in two exhibitions locally, at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. “Ansel Adams: The Masterworks” and “Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful” are presented side by side.

Adams, who died in 1984, has been called the father of American landscape photography. Butcher has been referred to as Adams’ successor, pushing the genre forward with monumental scale and distinct clarity.

Protecting the environment is another passion Adams and Butcher share. Adams was on the board of directors of the Sierra Club and the council of the Wilderness Society. Butcher has been recognized as a conservationist and says in his artist statement: ”My hope is to educate ... to let people know our land is a special place, and to inspire others to work together to save nature’s places of spiritual sanctuary for future generations.”

Related: Enter a photo and essay contest inspired by Butcher’s work

The exhibitions are differentiated by paint color on the walls — a gray-green for Butcher and a pale mauve for Adams. The colors are subtle backdrops that set off the stunning black-and-white landscapes.

“Ansel Adams: The Masterworks” contains works from an edition called The Museum Set, which Adams and gallery owner Margaret Weston created to meet the demand for his prints. In the 1980s, Adams selected, printed and signed his favorite photographs for his family. The 32 prints on view belong to his granddaughter, Virginia Adams Mayhew, who loaned them to Georgia’s Booth Western Art Museum. That museum organized the St. Petersburg exhibition.

Among the pieces on display are famous works including “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” “Aspens, Northern New Mexico” and “Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada.” The exhibit also features photographs of people; a still-life, “Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco, California”; and “Church and Road, Bodega, California,” which shows a landmark that can be seen in the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds.”

“Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful,” created by Window of the Eye, Inc., features large-scale photographs that you feel like you could walk into. Butcher is famous for lugging heavy equipment for large-format cameras into difficult terrain and patiently waiting — sometimes for years — for the perfect light to capture a composition.

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Florida viewers are used to seeing Butcher’s terrific photographs of the Everglades, some of which are included in the exhibition, but “America the Beautiful” also takes the viewer across the country, displaying another layer of appreciation for his eye. In “Cascade Falls #3 Yosemite National Park, California,” Butcher waited for fog to roll in to capture a waterfall dramatically tumbling down a mountain and into a valley.

A fun thing to do is compare Butcher’s “Sand Dunes #1, Glamis, California” to Adams’ “Sand Dunes, Oceano, California,” which is also on display.

There are glaciers, canyons and beaches. The photographs are accompanied by wall labels with recollections from Butcher about the places he captures. And one of his big cameras is on display, inviting the viewer to put their head under the cloth and see what Butcher does while he patiently waits for the perfect shot.

For those who are still hesitant to travel in a pandemic world, these exhibitions provide a vantage to some of the most stunning vistas in the country. Consider them a safer escape.

If you go

“Ansel Adams: The Masterworks” and “Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful” are on view through July 31. $10-$20, free for members, children 6 and younger and guests eligible for the Museums for All program. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except Tuesday, when the hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and adult admission is reduced to $10. The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, 150 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-892-4200. thejamesmuseum.org.

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