Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades

Photo by Jim Goldberg and Jordan Stein: Fire, 2014 Color transparency in lightbox 40 x 60 in.

A cultural oasis, The Norton Museum of Art houses a collection of more than 7,000 works from a seventh century Tang dynasty Colossal Head of Buddha to a 20th century Jackson Pollack painting entitled Night Mist.

This month, The Norton Museum of Art exhibits: Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades. In display until July 12, when you visit the museum it would be your chance to appreciate the works of five photographers the Norton commissioned to photograph the Everglades during the past year.

The Everglades may be America’s largest subtropical wilderness, but little is spoken about it. Shedding light and providing fertile ground for future conversations, Imaging Eden features commissioned work by five international artists whose art practices are photo-based. The photographers are: Amsterdam-based Bert Teunissen; American photographer and artist Gerald Slota; Korean-American Jungjin Lee; and Magnum photographer Jim Goldberg working in collaboration with Jordan Stein. They were all asked to respond to and expand beyond the physical, ideological, and aesthetic boundaries of the Everglades, advocating on behalf of this unique environment. They discovered the Everglades on their own terms, through their widely differing sensibilities, and with their distinctive visual vocabularies.

Photo by Clyde Butcher (United States, b. 1942) Moonrise Number Two, 1986 Gelatin silver print, ed. 20/250 14 x 10 in. (35.6 x 25.4 cm) Gift of Mildred and Herbert Lee, 2000.21

The Florida Everglades has been a vital ecosystem both environmentally and economically since the “River of Grass” was ceded to the federal government in 1821. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, however, that the Everglades were systematically depicted in photographs. The Norton Museum of Art’s special exhibition, Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades, on view March 19 through July 12, 2015, presents a unique look at the pictures that have formed our understanding of one of
the most contested and unique environments on the planet, and adds new views to this
photographic legacy.

The exhibition, organized by Tim B. Wride, the Norton’s William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography, features more than 200 images, including early maps, post cards, Audubon prints, and works by celebrated photographers Walker Evans, Marian Post Wolcott, Eliot Porter, James Balog and Clyde Butcher, who ventured into Florida’s wilderness over the years. These images provide context for the work of five photographers the Norton Museum commissioned to add contemporary points of view to this visual history of the Everglades.

The Everglades cannot be discussed enough. As both place and idea, it has driven the formation and expansion of Florida’s identity, prosperity, and growth. It has been an economic, environmental, political, social, and cultural battleground throughout history. Within days of Florida’s admission to the Union as the 27th State in 1845, Congressional discussions were being held to initiate a large-scale drainage of the Everglades to accommodate population growth and agriculture. The last half of the 19th century saw repeated military campaigns to purge the region of its native and escaped-slave populations; land speculation schemes in the first half of the 1900s signaled cycles of boom and bust; and reclaimed Everglades land became the exemplar of the post-war American Dream gone bust. Unlike every other region of the United States, however, the Everglades were never systematically imaged until the 20th Century. And yet, photography has played an important role in the construction of the myth and reality
of the Everglades.

The Everglades originally comprised 8,000,000 acres of watershed that stretched from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee from which a slow-moving “River of Grass” moved to Florida Bay. It is a complex system of inter-related environments that provides a home to more than 350 species of birds and 1,000 forms of plant life. It is home to 67 threatened or endangered species.

UNESCO has designated the Everglades as a World Heritage Site. It is also the site of approximately 400,000 acres of sugarcane production and supports more than 1.1 million head of beef cattle. By juxtaposing historic and contemporary components, Imaging Eden, paints a clearer portrait of what is still a mystery to most, but crucial to all, and, ultimately, provides fertile ground for future conversations about one of the most unique and contested landscapes on the planet.


Contribution to this article by Scott Benarde, Director of Communication at the Norton Museum of Art. The Norton is open Tuesday through Sunday at is location on 1451 S. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. More information about current and future exhibits at the Norton can be found here:

Learn About the New Exhibition at The Norton Museum of Art from March to July. Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades, Florida.