In Keeping with the vision of publisher Bill Kemsley, Jr., Backpacker Magazine writers interviewed landscape photographers who were significant in the fledgling modern environmental movement. For background on Bill Kemsley, Jr., the founding of Backpacker Magazine and on how the original Backpacker Magazine became a force for wilderness conservation and a voice for environmental photographers, read the blog post, “The 1970s Backpacking Boom, Conservation and Photography.”
The following interview helped inspired Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Jack Dykinga to leave photojournalism and the city of Chicago, move to the West and take up landscape photography for conservation. The interview was first published in the Spring 1975 issue of Backpacker Magazine. Interviewer, Gary Braasch is an environmental photojournalist who went on to attain the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography, “Outstanding Nature Photographer” from the North American Nature Photography Association and “Legend Behind the Lens” from Nikon. He was also a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers of which Philip Hyde and Galen Rowell are the only honorary members. Click Here to read about his latest book, Earth Under Fire, and previous books he has written about nature photography and the environment. The following article is republished with the permission of Gary Braasch and Bill Kemsley, Jr., founder of Backpacker Magazine.
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE: The world is so full of beautiful places. How do you, with a drive to photograph them all, decide when and where to travel?
PHILIP HYDE: My trip planning evolves out of a combination of wanting to go back to places I really liked where I find a lot of subject matter, and the need to see new territory. Sometimes when I go to a new place I get certain images that I will never again get just because of the newness and the excitement of being in a place that’s different.
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE: What kind of kit do you take backpacking?
PHILIP HYDE: This is always a great debate. Should I take the Hasselblad and have a lot of 2 ¼ X 2 ¼ inch exposures, or should I take the view camera and make a few good 4 X 5s? It depends on the situation and the place and how vigorous I feel. If I backpack the view camera for three or four days, I can carry three or four film magazines—36 or 48 sheets—and two or three lenses. My tripod weighs about five pounds. By the time I have it all thrown in I’ve got 30 pounds. The Hasselblad, with a lot of rolls, will add up to about half that.
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE: But what kind of sacrifices to you make in the rest of your dunnage to survive the weight when you’re going into the wilderness for any length of time?
PHILIP HYDE: Everything else is minimal. We backpack with just a piece of plastic for tent, tarp and groundsheet combined. A down bag. We survive on stuff like muesli, and the cooking is pretty simple. I find that if I carry too much, I just don’t have the energy or inclination to take pictures.
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE: One answer, of course, is to go to a smaller camera. Why do you continue to use a 4 X 5 primarily rather than a 35mm, which is so much lighter?
PHILIP HYDE: The basic reason is that I can’t get the detail I want on 35mm. A 35mm original boosted up to 20 X 24 inches or even 8 X 10 doesn’t have the sharpness I’m looking for. I’m always trying to compromise with the Hasselblad because with it I can go farther, faster and lighter. But then I get something I really like on the 2 ¼ X 2 ¼ inch film and wish I had taken my view camera along and done a little more struggling to get the picture on 4 X 5. Maybe that’s pure stubbornness, but I still think there’s a difference, and the difference, as far as I’m concerned, is crucial. There’s something else too: the view camera is a terrific discipline. I don’t have nearly the discipline with the Hasselblad because I know the film’s cheap and there’s a lot of it. Expense-wise, I can shoot only about two exposures of 4 X 5 for a roll of 120 film or about 20 exposures og 35mm film. If I get one or two really good 4 X 5 pictures, I’m way ahead of the game because I often don’t get that many on a roll of Hasselblad film.
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE: The discipline you talk about—is it mostly a discipline of time? Waiting, walking around, getting the right angles and the right light?
PHILIP HYDE: What I do is form a scene with my eyes and mind before exposure, rather than inside the camera. As an art-school-trained photographer, I have an axe to grind about getting people to look harder. I don’t think the small camera does much for that because it’s too easy. As for waiting, I don’t wait. In fact it’s almost always the other way around. A fellow who was here the other day looked at a photo of a meadow with a cloud up above it. He remarked, “Gee, you must have waited a long time until that cloud got just the way you wanted it.” I had to laugh because that wasn’t what happened at all. The cloud was already there when I saw it, and I had a hell of a time getting the view camera set up before it was gone. There are photographers who claim to work the other way. They know there’s going to be a picture at a certain place and certain time of day, so they go there. But I can’t imagine doing that, because the world is too full of pictures to wait a long time for any one of them. Also, it’s very difficult for me to visualize a picture if it’s not already there. It becomes something that’s kind of put together—constructed. And if I were going to do that, it would be much more efficient to be a hand artist and paint the scene. Photography is the art of getting what’s there, not creating something.
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE: Are you saying that photography isn’t creative—isn’t a fine art?
PHILIP HYDE: What I want to say about creativity in photography is that it is analyzing what is there, rather than constructing something out of one’s imagination. Analysis consists of seeing strongly. If you define creativity as the expression of individuality, then the kind of photography you’re talking about is “creative” when it communicates the maker’s viewpoint and individual vision. This may be more subtle than in other mediums, and our audience, despite Marshall McLuhan, still isn’t very educated about appreciating photographs, which explains why there are still people around asking, “But is it art?” It’s safe to say that photography can be art, and I see more and more evidence of individual expression by a growing number of photographers.
(CONTINUED IN THE BLOG POST “Backpacker Interview: Conservation Photographer 2“)
To hear from Paul Strand and other photographers about creative photography and how a photograph becomes art, see the blog post, “What Makes A Photograph Art?“