Archive for ‘Photography History’ category

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15

July 9th, 2013

Technical Aspects of Visualization

Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s 1947 Class Notes

California School Of Fine Arts, Now The San Francisco Art Institute

Photography Program Founded By Ansel Adams, Minor White Lead Instructor

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 14.”)

Landscape Photography Blogger Note:

Bristlecone Pine Snag Against Sky, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. 8X10 Deardorff Large Format View Camera.

Bleached Juniper Trunk On Ridge Above Parson’s Lodge, Cumulus Clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. 8X10 Deardorff Large Format View Camera.

(View the photograph large: “Bleached Juniper Trunk, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite.”)

Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White were all proponents of visualization or pre-visualization as it is sometimes called. Ansel Adams wrote about visualization, as did Minor White to some extent. However, few, if any, of their students ever published any lecture notes sharing the contents of lectures on the subject. Here for what is likely the first time ever published, are the notes from star photography student Philip Hyde on a lecture by Minor White during the summer session, on August 19, 1947. Today is Minor White’s birthday. He was born on July 9, 1908.

Half way through the class lecture in 1947, Minor White shifted into a technical discussion regarding film density, exposure, the Zone System, film testing, tonal reproduction, tonal separation, contrast control by underdevelopment, various aspects of darkroom processing, waterbath formulas, and other details of film darkroom photography. The purpose of the lecture was to applying darkroom post-processing tools to carry out and complete the process of visualization as begun at the point of exposure in the field with the camera. This technical discussion consisted mainly of graphs and charts that do not apply to today’s digital photography and in some cases not even to today’s film photography. This complex portion of Minor White’s lecture is omitted here, for the most part, with some portions summarized, leaving us with the non-technical core of the subject.

These lecture notes are presented here mainly as a historical record, more than for teaching or learning purposes, though they may serve the latter two purposes as well, with certain readers. More on the theory and philosophy of visualization will follow in future articles and blog posts. Yet this lecture, may put into perspective how relatively easy making good photographs has become, due to technology replacing many of the processes mentioned below. Photoshop is certainly not simple, nor do we now merely press one button that eliminates all visual distractions and turns our images into artistic masterpieces, as many uninformed people seem to believe. Nonetheless, the lecture below puts into perspective the level of diligence involved in darkroom black and white photography. Which of these two post-processing methods do you feel took more skill? Or if the skills are different, how do they compare?

Technical Aspects of Visualization Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s Notes August 19, 1947
Visualization

Visualization is the basis of creative photography as taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) photography school. Visualization is simply visualizing, imagining in the mind, the final print while looking at the scene you are photographing. The approach to applying visualization is to place tones on a scale, in the 10 gradations of tone in the Zone System and internalizing the relationship of exposure to development taking into consideration the relationship between exposure and density of the film being used.

Any tone in nature can be reproduced with exposure control exactly as is with normal development. This is considered a normal exposure to development relationship. The relationship of tones remains the same with normal development. Less than normal development will compact the relationship, that is, it will compact the scale of tones. More than normal development will stretch the scale.

A full-scale print is one in which all the values of the 10 Zone scale are present including white and black, Zones 0-9. When exposure is graphed against density, there is a portion of the curve at the beginning, or toe, where the curve gradually increases steepness. This toe portion of the curve is preferred for enlargement, but can cause loss of accuracy of tonal relationships in darker areas. The curve then straightens out. This part of the curve is where tonal reproduction is accurate. The top, or shoulder, of the curve, where it gradually decreases steepness, is the least desirable for photographic enlargement and printing.

The lightest Zones, Zones I, II and III are on the toe portion of the graph and will be less dense than expected. Contrast can be controlled by underdevelopment. This must be determined by testing of the film to see whether upper or lower values will contrast more and in what relation to development. When lower values are in the toe, they can suffer serious loss of tonal quality. A good waterbath helps to increase separation in the lower tones, or the toe of the curve(s) and decreases or diminishes this effect in the upper Zones. Testing is done with a gradated step wedge.

Lens testing is also related to the success or failure of visualization efforts. Testing lenses determines the differences between theoretical and actual light transmission, due to flare, aberrations in the lens and technique of the photographer.

For those of you who did both post-processing in a film darkroom and now use Photoshop, Lightroom or some equivalent, do you feel traditional film black and white photography or digital photography post-processing is more difficult? In what ways are the challenges of each different?

The History Of Photography Collecting 1

November 29th, 2012

The History of Photography Collecting 1

Photography Has Proven One Of The Most Profitable And Satisfying Of All Art Forms To Collect…

While Photography as an art form has matured and found substantial space in most major museums, more people make and share photographs than ever before with the proliferation of digital cameras and camera phones. Interest in collecting photography has also grown dramatically, not to mention the value of some photographs. The art of collecting photography has followed the medium in an upward climb in popularity throughout its existence. But how did photography collecting begin? Who were the first collectors? What types of photographs were the first collected? Why were daguerreotypes so popular?

>> Read More >>

 

Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 2

October 4th, 2012

Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series

Part Two: The Making of This Is The American Earth

(Continued from the blog post, “Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 1.”)

Aspens, East Side of the Sierra Nevada off the Tioga Road near Yosemite National Park, California, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. A close variation on the photograph of Philip Hyde’s that appears in “This Is the American Earth.” Made with an 8X10 Deardorff large format view camera.

“The Exhibit Format Series put the Sierra Club on the map,” Philip Hyde said in a 2004 interview. The Sierra Club Foundation, founded by David Brower, had the central purpose of operating the Sierra Club publishing program that published all Sierra Club Books and the Exhibit Format Series as it’s mainstay. For more on David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer And Environmentalist 1.” The Sierra Club Books’ Exhibit Format Series not only popularized the coffee table photography book, but brought an awareness of land conservation, wilderness preservation and environmental ethics into the national and eventually worldwide limelight.

The oversize photography books in the Exhibit Format Series spearheaded conservation campaigns to create Redwood National Park, North Cascades National Park, to save the Grand Canyon from two dams, to expand Canyonlands and many others causes. Photographer Ansel Adams, Museum Curator, Writer and Art Critic Nancy Newhall and Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower invented the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series.

Life Magazine Photographer, Joe Munroe, interviewed David Brower in 1967 for Infinity, the magazine of the American Society of Media Photographers or ASMP, regarding the new Exhibit Format Series. Joe Munroe asked David Brower, “You’ve called the Sierra Club’s Exhibit Format Series ‘Books with a bias.’ What is the central bias behind these books?”

David Brower answered:

We make it perfectly clear that we like this wild country we’re portraying in our books. We want it saved and we don’t want it paved, or logged, or dammed, or sprayed, or polluted. Our point is that there’s only 5 or 10 percent of the country left in its un-messed-up wildness. If our economy cannot operate on the 90 or 95 percent that has already been changed, that other 5 or 10 percent won’t save it; so our big effort must be in doing better with the land we’re already on. We say let’s pretend this 5 or 10 percent just doesn’t exist, so we can save it for itself for whatever answers there are to questions we haven’t learned how to ask yet. This has got to last for all the generations we expect to be aboard this planet. We’d like to have some of the wild spots left and we’ve been trying to stress this in several ways, one of which is through these books with an extra measure of physical size, the best of reproduction quality, and photographic and literary excellence.

This is the American Earth, the first book in the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, was a perfect example of just these attributes. This Is The American Earth offered text by Nancy Newhall and photographs primarily by Ansel Adams joined by some of his photographer friends such as Ray Atkeson, Werner Bischoff, Wynn Bullock, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Garnett, Philip Hyde, Pirkle Jones, Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, Minor White, Cedric Wright and others. All in black and white, the book has both literary and visual eloquence unparalleled in books containing photographs.

The front flap of the Sierra Club Centennial edition published in 1992 said:

First published to acclaim in 1960, This Is The American Earth launched the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, creating a revolution in publishing and in conservation action and attitudes. “This Is The American Earth is one of the great statements in the history of conservation,” proclaimed Justice William O. Douglas… Called “terrifying and beautiful” by the New York Times, This Is The American Earth presents eighty-five powerful black and white photographs—fourty-four by Ansel Adams and others by such eminent American photographers as Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, Edward Weston and Margaret Bourke-White. Accompanying the images is a luminous text in blank verse by Nancy Newhall. Reprinted in rich duotones from new prints supplied by the Ansel Adams Trust, the pictures exhibit the stark contrast between those spaces forever altered by the forces of development and those left unscarred by human presence. As Nancy Newhall explores the intricate threads that unite the earth as an ever-shifting whole, and Adams exults in Yosemite’s rocky peaks, and Porter reveres a single tern in flight, William Garnett despairs at waves of smog and frantic mazes of tract housing that forsake all of nature’s singularity. The images, so bold in their divergence, are an eloquent call for the preservation of wilderness. This Is The American Earth compels us to ask what is the value of solitude, the cost of freedom, the legacy of our ingenuity—and the peril of our unwavering march from nature.

Ansel Adams first conceived This Is The American Earth as an exhibit of photographs, in response to the Natioal Park Service suggestion that something more functional be done with the Joseph LeConte memorial building in Yosemite Valley.  Ansel Adams asked Nancy Newhall to bring in her skill with exhibits and text she gained as curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The exhibition that opened simultaneously at the LeConte Memorial in Yosemite Valley and at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, gained a world-wide audience through the Smithsonian Institute, while a number of prominent publishers and foundations helped the show become a book. The idea of the project was to educate the public about conservation. Ansel Adams said in brainstorming sessions with his wife Virginia Adams and Nancy Newhall later quoted in Modern Photography Magazine:

What about a show on the whole of conservation?… Clear up the confusion in people’s minds, show them the issues at stake, and the dangers… Show the importance of the spiritual values as well as the material ones by making the most beautiful exhibition yet… A lot of people think Conservationists are a bunch of long-haired cranks and wild-eyed mystics. It’s about time they were given a chance to understand the broad principles and the full scope for which we’re fighting…

Ansel Adams raised the money to mount the exhibition himself. Nancy Newhall reviewed thousands of photographs, designed the overall concept and layout of the show and wrote the text. Beaumont and Christi Newhall’s new introduction to the Sierra Club Centennial edition described how the printing and organization of the show came together:

Six photographers made their own prints [including Philip Hyde] for the show, and Ansel Adams, with the help of his assistant Pirkle Jones, made the rest from the photographer’s own negatives. These images were attached to fourteen panels, each seven by four feet. Some of the photographs were mounted with spacers, making them stand out from the panels, and giving a certain visual liveliness to the show. Also displayed were natural objects and geological specimens such as butterflies, mushrooms coral, crystals, and shells, as well as small Egyptian and Greek artifacts. These objects added color, variety, a sense of life, and a sense of immediacy… Labels made from Nancy Newhall’s text were placed together with the photographs where they seemed appropriate, giving the exhibition an even broader scope. Immediately, the show received an overwhelming enthusiastic response.

An article in the November 1955 issue of Modern Photography Magazine stated:

This Is the American Earth is one of the most beautiful and remarkable photographic exhibitions ever put together… Various organizations have proposed to circulate it in reproduction to every community, to make it into a movie for TV and ordinary theater showings, to publish it as a book for distribution in this country and throughout the world. Why all the excitement? There are two answers, one is the theme of the show, the other its execution. The theme stresses the need, the history, the purpose of the conservation of America’s resources. The execution includes the display of some of the most penetrating and beautiful photographs ever made…

Nancy Newhall completely revised the text as the exhibition became a book, “to reflect new thinking and expansion of the original ideas.” Beaumont and Christi Newhall’s introduction explained:

The exhibit had focused on conservation and the “national park idea.” The theme of the book is avowedly ecological and environmental. It embraces an understanding of the interrelation of all resources including man, and the need for reverence and preservation of these resources. The impassioned, poetic text also deals with the tragic effects of man’s greed and ignorance throughout history upon this planet. The book was an instant success. It was chosen as one of the forty-six “Notable Books”  of 1960 by the nation’s librarians, and was selected Best Book of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. It was reviewed in newspapers and periodicals throughout the country, often accompanied by photographs from the book and large sections of the text.

In Ansel Adams’ last living interview by Art News in 1984, he said, “…It boils down to the fact that the world is in a state of potential destruction. There’s no use worrying about anything else.”

(Continued in the blog post, “Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 3.”)

How Color Came To Landscape Photography

April 19th, 2012

Photography For Art’s Sake, For Earth’s Sake Or Both?

Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 1972 by Philip Hyde. This photograph was first published in the revised second edition of Island In Time, 1972.

(See photograph full screen, CLICK HERE.)

Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde were the three primary landscape photographers of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. The Series influenced a generation of landscape photographers as it redefined the photography book and brought international attention to the protection of wild places through photographs. While Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter were both Sierra Club Board Members and committed conservationists, Philip Hyde dedicated his life to the portrayal and protection of wilderness chiefly through landscape photography.

Both Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter considered the art of photography their foremost reason for making landscape photographs. Ansel Adams went so far as to say that he did not want people to view his photographs as propaganda for any cause. If his images were used in environmental campaigns that was all for the good, but he did not want that to be thought of as the motive for their creation. In contrast, Philip Hyde expressly stated that his reason for being a landscape photographer was to “share the beauty of nature and encourage people to preserve wild places.”

David Brower Sent Philip Hyde On The Projects That Made National Parks And Designated Wilderness

Though he had fine art training in Ansel Adam’s photography department at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art institute, a fair portion of Philip Hyde’s landscape photography was documentary. Dorothea Lange had a significant impact on Philip Hyde and his classmates. She spent significant time in classes at CSFA as a guest lecturer, assistant and advisor to Minor White and the students. Dorothea Lange showed the power of photography in affecting social awareness. Philip Hyde applied what he learned to conservation photography as it transformed into modern environmentalism in the 1950s and 1960s. He became the “go-to-guy” for Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower and at times for other leaders such as the Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser, primary author of the Wilderness Act.

Eliot Porter was a doctor early in his photography career and later he came to the Sierra Club with his own completed ideas. Ansel Adams was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships to photograph the national parks. Meanwhile, Philip Hyde, young, motivated, talented, willing to work for little besides expenses, could take off on short notice wherever David Brower and other conservation leaders sent him to bring back images that would show them the beauty each place had to offer. Between the Exhibit Format Series and other photography books of the same era published by the Sierra Club, Philip Hyde had more photographs in more of the volumes than any other photographer.

This is the American Earth By Nancy Newhall and Ansel Adams Launched The Exhibit Format Series

The Exhibit Format Series was conceived in 1960 by Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and David Brower. The first book in the Series, This is the American Earth, mainly consisted of Ansel Adam’s landscape photographs and Nancy Newhall’s eloquent prose. The creators also invited a few other landscape photographers to participate such as Edward Weston, Minor White, Philip Hyde, Cedric Wright, William Garnett, Wynn Bullock, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eliot Porter, Pirkle Jones and others. An accompanying exhibition of the photographs toured nationally and internationally.

In Island In Time Is The Preservation of The First Master of Black and White, and Color Landscape Photography

In 1962, the Sierra Club published Eliot Porter’s In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.  It outsold all of the other books in the Exhibit Format Series including This is the American Earth. Eliot Porter became known as the photographer who introduced color to landscape photography. However, the same year the Sierra Club also published Island In Time: the Point Reyes Peninsula text by Harold Gilliam and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde. Island In Time was not a well-planned art project like In Wildness Is The Preservation Of The World. Island In Time was rushed through to have a book to show in fund raising efforts to buy the ranches of Point Reyes before developers bought the land and began to build homes. It had a more documentary look and purpose, but it also showed the world the impact of color and helped establish color photography as the new trend in publishing and printing. Island In Time: the Point Reyes Peninsula contained beautiful color landscape photographs as well as black and white images together for the first time. While Philip Hyde became the first landscape photographer to master both mediums, Island In Time helped establish Point Reyes National Seashore and color photography. For more on Philip Hyde’s black and white printing and transition to color printing see the blog post, “Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde.” To read more about today’s trends and concerns in color landscape photography see the blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying?” and “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?” To read about Color Magazine’s feature article about Philip Hyde see the blog post, “Color Magazine Feature Out Now.”

References:

Sierra Club Records at Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley, California

Taped Interviews of Philip Hyde by David Leland Hyde

Taped Interviews of Martin Litton by David Leland Hyde

Notes from Conversations with Ken Brower

The History of the Sierra Club 1892-1970 by Michael P. Cohen

This is the American Earth by Nancy Newhall and Ansel Adams

In Wildness is the Preservation of the World photographs by Eliot Porter with quotes by Henry David Thoreau

Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula text by Harold Gilliam, photographs by Philip Hyde

Ansel Adams: An Autobiography

Ansel Adams: A Biography by Mary Street Alinder

For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower by David Brower

Work In Progress by David Brower

Originally posted August 16, 2010

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 14

February 16th, 2012

Space Analysis Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s 1947 Class Notes

California School Of Fine Arts, Now The San Francisco Art Institute

Photography Program Founded By Ansel Adams, Minor White Lead Instructor

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13.”)

(View the photograph large: “Ship ‘China Victory,’ Fishing Boats, San Francisco Waterfront.”)

Ship "China Victory" And Fishing Boats, San Francisco Waterfront, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. The fishing boat hulls on the left are an example of planes parallel to the focal plane.

Landscape Photography Blogger Note:

Perhaps one of the most renowned, yet mysterious concepts that Minor White taught was Space Analysis. Few of Minor White’s students gave any indication that they understood the idea completely. Interviews with Philip Hyde, William Heick, Ben Chinn, Stan Zrnich, David Johnson and others bear this out. Little has been written or described anywhere regarding the definition of Minor White’s Space Analysis. Now, here, published for the first time ever are Philip Hyde’s class notes from August 1947 covering Minor White’s lecture on Space Analysis.

Space Analysis Lecture By Minor White

August 26, 1947

Philip Hyde’s Class Notes

Introduction

  • Composition in the Graphic Arts consists of organization and construction; as contrasted with photography. Composition in photography consists of analysis and organization of existing elements.
  • In photography, the frame of the viewfinder or ground glass isolates or selects elements desired.
  • Closeness –> Restraint;  Distance –> Freedom
  • Implication of horizontal plane (as viewed from above) from Vertical Plane is part of Space Analysis. Arises from conventions, knowledge and due to the third dimensional effect inherent in a photograph.

The subject can dictate the organization of the rest of the photograph and the rest of the photograph should conform to the subject.

Space-Depth Concept

  1. Planes (or a plane) which are parallel to the focal plane
    1. Perhaps the simplest type of subject is one single plane photographed. For example: a wall.
    2. Parallel planes in depth—a series of objects without an intervening horizontal plane. For example: a series of stage sets. Sometimes called banding.
    3. Horizontal plane with lines of demarcation. For example: waves on the ocean photographed from a high cliff.
    4. Vertical lines open the space up a little more. For example: a series of planes in depth with vertical edges.
  2. Planes at an angle to the focal plane.
    1. Diagonal or Receding Planes. For example: a road going away from the camera.

Negative Space

The space between objects or around objects has existence and weight. This volume or space is exceptionally important in photography, as is the control of this space, as effected by the tone of respective objects, lighting of objects and placement of the horizontal plane—in tonal values. For example: Screens are placed near each other; the space between may be expanded or contracted by the control above.

(Continued in the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15.”)

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13

December 5th, 2011

Summer School 1946 With Ansel Adams

Description And Outline

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12.”)

Cumulus Clouds Over Indian Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada, copyright 1948 Philip Hyde.

Summer School, as Ansel Adams referred to it, first started in 1946. The course ran for six weeks of intensive instruction based on the regular day school in photography at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute. Minor White first taught with Ansel Adams in the Summer of 1946 with students including Philip Hyde, Benjamen Chinn, William Heick, Ira Latour, Pirkle Jones, Ruth-Marion Baruch, Don Whyte, Pat Harris, David Johnson, John Rogers, Al Richter, Bob Hollingsworth, Walter Stoy, Helen Howell and others.

In preliminary descriptions of the course for the CSFA School Board, Ansel Adams suggested: “It should be considered as part of the full day school year rather than… supplementary…” The Summer Session became what Ansel Adams described as “a ‘screening course’ for the main student body of the day school.”

Ansel Adams further described the proposed course:

It should be made very intensive and should reveal within its six weeks span the abilities – or lack of them – of the students. Only those should be admitted who have definite intention to take at least the first year of the main school sessions. The exact topics to be considered in the summer school will be basic but of course should not be too extensive. The first summer school period in 1946 will enable us to clear up various ‘bugs’ in the studio, lab, and general operation. The summer school of 1947 should be designed, I believe, as a buffer course to enable the regular day students to perfect their work and to round out missing or weak aspects of their knowledge.

Outline Of Ansel Adams’ Summer Session 1946

Department of Photography

California School of Fine Arts

Day School:

Week 1

Period:

1:            Organization, outline of study and general assignments, etc.

2:            Functions of the Camera and Lens

3:            Demonstration of above

4:            Photographic Visualization

5:            Demonstration

6:            Basic Photographic Esthetics

Week 2

Period:

1:            Resume of Photographic History and Esthetics

2:            Philosophy of Exposure and Development of the Negative

3:            Demonstration Including Darkroom Mechanics

4:            Demonstration Including Orthochromatics

5:            Problem: demonstration-Visualization through execution

6:            General Discussion

Week 3

Period:

1:            Presentation of a photographic problem  (1st assignment)

2:            Execution of the problem – exposure and development of the negative

3:            Printing

4:            Demonstration

5:            Printing of the negatives of the above problem

6:            Discussion and criticism of problem-assignment results

Week 4

Period:

1:            Elements of photographic Composition

2:            Presentation of 2nd Photographic Problem (2nd assignment)

3:            Field or Studio work under direction

4:            Printing under direction

5:            Toning of prints

6:            Discussion and criticism of second assignment

Week 5

Period:

1:            Expressive fields of photography

2:            Presentation of the 3rd Photographic Problem (assignment)

3:            Field or Studio work under direction

4:            Mounting and spotting of prints (presentation)

5:            Philosophy of Artificial light in photography

6:            General Discussion and criticism of assignment 3

Week 6

Period:

1:            Assignment using artificial light and analysis (4th assignment)

2:            Assignment: Three interpretations of the same subject (5th assignment)

3:            Minor darkroom techniques (reduction, intensification, bleaching, etc.)

4:            Survey of contemporary directions in photography, Critical basis.

5:            Resume of philosophy of technique

6:            General discussion, exhibit work and criticism.

Four periods devoted to work in addition to the six periods outlined above are required. The exact assignments will be worked out well in advance. An emphasis on regional subject material to be maintained throughout. Full demonstration of all work required. Laboratory assistants will be on constant duty five or six periods out of the total of 10 periods per week.

Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 1

October 20th, 2011

Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series

The 2oth Century’s Biggest Advance In Landscape Photography

Part One: Introduction

Hyde’s Wall, East Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1968 by Philip Hyde. One of the most renowned photographs from the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. “Hyde’s Wall,” originally titled “Juniper, Wall, Escalante” was first published in the Sierra Club book “Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah” with Edward Abbey. For more about Edward Abbey, “Hyde’s Wall,” “Slickrock” and how the wall originally became known as Hyde’s Wall, see future blog posts in this series.

(See the photograph large: “Hyde’s Wall, E. Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness.”)

The 19th Century’s most significant advance in photography took place with the invention of flexible, paper-based photographic film by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, in 1884. Another beginning that would grow and converge with photography in the mid 20th Century, was the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892 by 182 charter members who elected John Muir their first president. To read about how John Muir influenced pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, see the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Trubute To John Muir.”

In 1951, the Sierra Club sent a young photographer named Philip Hyde, recently out of photography school under Ansel Adams, to Dinosaur National Monument, on the first ever photography assignment for an environmental cause. To learn more about the national battle to save Dinosaur National Monument that many consider the birth of modern environmentalism, see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.” Philip Hyde’s photographs with those by journalist Martin Litton became the first photography book ever published for an environmental cause: This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And It’s Magic Rivers. Read more about Martin Litton in the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1.”

By 1960, David Brower, an accomplished climber, Sierra Club high trip leader, member of the Sierra Club Board of Directors and previously a manager at the University of California Press, helped the Sierra Club establish the Sierra Club Foundation. One of the purposes of the Sierra Club Foundation was to develop a Sierra Club publishing program. Sierra Club Books launched the Exhibit Format Series with the first volume, This is the American Earth, with text by Nancy Newhall and photographs primarily by Ansel Adams with a handful of other photographers including Philip Hyde, Edward Weston and Minor White. The new Exhibit Format Series brought Sierra Club books and the cause of conservation national recognition, while advancing the art of photography and helping to establish landscape photography as a popular and persuasive art form. To learn more about David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer And Environmentalist 1.”

In his 1971 book about David Brower, Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee described the coffee table books from the Exhibit Format Series:

Big, four-pound, creamily beautiful, living-room furniture books that argued the cause of conservation in terms, photographically, of exquisite details from the natural world and, textually, of essences of writers like Thoreau and Muir.

William Neill, in his 2006 tribute to Philip Hyde wrote:

Philip Hyde was the workhorse for the Sierra Club book series, providing images for nearly every battle of theirs in the 1960s and 1970s.  When David Brower, the director of the Club and creator of the book series, needed images to help preserve an endangered landscape, Philip and camera went to work.  Books in which his photographs are instrumental include: The Last Redwoods, Slickrock, Island in time: The Point Reyes Peninsula, Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon, Navajo Wildlands, The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, and This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers. I have little doubt that every published nature photographer of my generation has been inspired by Philip’s efforts.  The large number of photographers, professional or not, working today to use their imagery to help preserve wild places, both locally and on national issues, owe Philip a great debt. The success of the Sierra Club books not only gave a great boost to its own membership, but also showed publishers that such books had commercial value, thus spawning the publication of thousands of books modeled after them.  The resulting nature book industry allowed many photographers to develop careers, and brought to light many issues of preservation.  Even those not familiar with the full extent of Hyde’s accomplishments can trace their roots to his efforts.

To read the full tribute, see the guest blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.” Stay tuned for the next installment in this series about the launching of the Sierra Club book program and the making of This is the American Earth.

(Continued in the blog post, “Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 2.”)

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12

July 26th, 2011

Minor White Meets Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Paul Strand And Other Photography Greats All In One Year

Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 11.” The title of this series of blog posts has been changed from “Photography’s Golden Era” to “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series following this will be called, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 13.”

Rock Formations Detail, Weston Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, California, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. Many of Philip Hyde's early close-ups and landscape photographs showed the influence of Edward Weston. Edward Weston and Minor White may have been present when this original large format 5X7 black and white photograph was made. Widely published and exhibited with Group f.64. Planned to appear in the forthcoming book: "The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-55."

See the photograph large, “Rock Formations Detail, Weston Beach, Point Lobos.”

In January 1946, the same year he began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, Minor White met Alfred Stieglitz and in December he met Edward Weston. Alfred Stieglitz had a profound effect on Minor White and his photography and other photographers impacted Minor White’s thinking, but the influence of Edward Weston became the greatest of all.

As a member of Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall’s social circle on the East Coast, that year Minor White also met Berenice Abbott, Harry Callahan, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Todd Webb, and Brett Weston.

Then in July 1946, with the help of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Minor White accepted a teaching position on the West Coast under Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute in California. Minor White started by teaching the Summer Session as Ansel Adams’ assistant, but Ansel Adams recognized right away that Minor White had teaching talent and knowledge, besides he related to the students well. Within a few weeks, Ansel Adams left Minor White in charge and within a few months his job title changed to lead instructor. Arriving on the West Coast for the first time, Minor White moved from Princeton, New Jersey to a house owned by Ansel Adams at 129 24th Avenue in San Francisco, where Ansel Adams had his darkroom. Minor White would soon be as impacted by Edward Weston on the West Coast as he was by Alfred Stieglitz in New York City.

Parallels Between Minor White And Alfred Stieglitz

James Baker Hall wrote in his biographical essay in Minor White: Rites And Passages (Aperture Monograph):

Some of the parallels between Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White are more apparent than others. Much of White’s best work, both as a photographer and as an editor, came directly and consciously out of Stieglitz’s idea of the Equivalent, the photographic image as a metaphor, as an objective correlative for a particular feeling or state of being associated with something other than the ostensible subject. Each man in his day embodied and promulgated that controlling idea by editing journals of comparable impact, Stieglitz with Camera Work, White with Aperture. Just as Stieglitz and Edward Weston—the other principle influence on White—fairly dominated a significant portion of the photography world during the second quarter of the century, so White, along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and Robert Frank, dominated it during the third. Ideas play a role in the influence of Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Adams and Frank, but not nearly as important a role as they do with Stieglitz and White. Their work as teachers and editors has reached far fewer people than their photographs, and it has been less well understood, but both men’s lives testify in no uncertain way to the fact that it was every bit as important to them as their camera work.

Minor White’s Most Profound Influence, Edward Weston

In December 1946, Minor White traveled south from his living quarters in one of Ansel Adams’ houses next to Ansel Adams’ darkroom near Baker Beach in San Francisco to Carmel and Point Lobos to meet Edward Weston for the first time. Edward Weston also lived in a cottage with his darkroom in Carmel Highlands on Wildcat Hill. Peter C. Bunnell, in the biographical chronology accompanying the exhibition The Temptation of St. Anthony Is Mirrors, wrote that Minor White began “a profound attachment to the man, his ideals, and the place.” For the next few years Minor White took his students from the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, on field trips to Point Lobos where they observed Edward Weston photographing with his large format view camera. The classes would then proceed to Edward Weston’s home on Wildcat Hill where they reviewed Edward Weston prints and student’s portfolios.

In Jeff Gunderson’s essay in The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, he wrote regarding Minor White’s meeting with Edward Weston for the first time in December 1946:

This proved to be not only a personal, creative, and photographically significant milestone in his life, but it would also be of immense importance to the future of the school’s photography program and its students. Over the next couple of years, White and his students took numerous field trips to Point Lobos, where they met with Edward Weston.

Peter C. Bunnell, in Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, wrote:

Edward Weston, who will have the most profound influence on White of any artist, develops a rapport with the younger photographer, and they meet many times before Weston’s death in 1958. Based on White’s deep admiration for Edward Weston and his work, Point Lobos will become for him a kind of quintessential photographic site, and it is in relation to his understanding of how Edward Weston gained his inspiration here that White will approach Point Lobos and other landscape sites for his own creative purposes.

Minor White And In Turn Philip Hyde, Both Mentored By Edward Weston

Philip Hyde also kept up a correspondence and regular visits to Wildcat Hill to see Edward Weston until his passing in 1958. Philip Hyde and four other California School of Fine Arts classmates, Bob Hollingsworth, Bill Heick, Al Richter and John Rogers, originally became more acquainted with Edward Weston than their other classmates by camping on his lawn in tents when the class visited Wildcat Hill on field trips. The tent campers would talk and review prints with Edward Weston into the night, but not too late as Edward Weston was an early riser. Then with Edward Weston’s blessing, they would sleep a short time, wake up very early and lie awake waiting for signs of life in the house, whereupon they would rush inside and resume their discussion of photography with Edward Weston. This practice begun in 1947 continued for Philip Hyde for a number of years before Edward Weston’s health failed. Ardis and Philip Hyde camped on Edward Weston’s lawn and arose to show Edward Weston a new batch of prints, a number of times after Philp Hyde earned his certificate of completion from photography school in 1950. Read more on interactions between Edward Weston and Philip Hyde in future blog posts. For more on interactions between Minor White and Philip Hyde see the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

California School Of Fine Arts Field Trips, With Edward Weston On Point Lobos And At Edward Weston’s Home In Carmel, Boosted Class Intensity

Minor White looked forward to his visits to see Edward Weston with great enthusiasm. Jeff Gunderson wrote that Minor White sent a letter in 1948 to Beaumont and Nancy Newhall just before his July 25 return to see the master:

Minor White considered the pilgrimage to Point Lobos “the climax of every year,” so important that at one point he made the “generous proposal” to “forgo his own salary in favor of Mr. Weston.” He waxed that “on this trip the intensity rose like a thermometer held over a match flame.” He wanted to make sure that students had the opportunity “to study the working methods of artists” on the week-long trip with Weston “in his home territory.” Weston and the students roamed “over Point Lobos for an afternoon without cameras.” Only then would they photograph, while Weston would “climb around to each student and discuss what is on the ground glass.” They would sit on the rocks at Point Lobos, gathered around Edward Weston, “all trying to figure out what makes an artist tick.” After hiking and taking pictures, the students would drive to Carmel for dinner, then regroup at “Weston’s cottage to see the man and his photographs.” Weston “selected carefully, put them one at a time, on a spot-lighted easel. He talked quietly or not at all,…purred to his cats and kittens…He never belittled his work, never boasted, but let each picture speak for itself…And we looked. With the sound of the sea,…the smell of a log fire around, many of the seeds, planted during the year, sprouted.” White, as well as the California School of Fine Arts students, benefited from the trek to Carmel. White was effusive about what he learned at Point Lobos in correspondence to Edward Weston. The students were familiar with Edward Weston by the time of the field trip to Carmel. His books were in the school library, his work talked about in classes, and one student, Ruth-Marion Baruch, had written Edward Weston: The Man, The Artist, and the Photograph as her master’s thesis while a student at Ohio University…the cachet of Edward Weston’s name on the roster of instructors would increase the schools profile.

All of it arranged by Minor White and to his credit as lead instructor of Ansel Adam’s new photography program.

This series was to continue in a blog post called, “Photography’s Golden Era 13,” but the series will take the new title “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series can therefore be found under the name, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13.”

References:

Minor White: The Eye That Shapes by Peter C. Bunnell

The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts by Jeff Gunderson, Stephanie Comer and Deborah Klochko

Minor White: Rites And Passages (Aperture Monograph)

Photography’s Golden Era 11

May 26th, 2011

California School of Fine Arts Fall 1947 Photography Class

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 10,” about the California School of Fine Arts Photography Department application questions.)

Windswept Pass And Clouds, Yosemite High Country, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

“In the early classes with Ansel Adams, we were with him all the time, day and night,” said Ira Latour, photographer and a co-author of “The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-1955.” Ira Latour enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, in the first classes Ansel Adams offered in 1945. Ira Latour also took the first full-time class that started in the Fall of 1946.

“We were in class with Ansel and in the field with him,” Said Ira Latour. “In the evenings we either printed in the darkroom or got together at Ansel’s house in San Francisco.” The Summer Session 1946, besides being an intensive round-the-clock photography experience, was also an opportunity for students to either show they were ready for the full-time professional training classes or were to continue in the evening classes for amateurs that served as a basis for a semi-professional training.

By September 1947 there were 20 full-time students for the new fall professional class. Nearly all of the students in the Fall 1947 photography class were World War II veterans enrolled using their G.I. Benefits. Ansel Adam’s photography department at the California School of Fine Arts had been inundated with applications from soldiers recently discharged from the armed services. The 20 full-time students selected out of hundreds that applied were as Minor White described them, “Full of plans after the long futility of no planning; older, most of them experienced in photography… and in school because they chose to be.”

The Class Of 1947′s Major Names In Photography

In his book “The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts,” Jeff Gunderson wrote that the majority of these students had learned photography in the armed services. He added that the Fall 1947 Class included an African American student, David S. Johnson, later famous for his Jazz era photographs of San Francisco’s Fillmore District, two Chinese American students, Charles Wong and Benjamen Chinn, who both became noted photographers. The class also included celebrated documentary and portrait photographer Pirkle Jones, who worked with Dorothea Lange, as well as Pirkle Jones’ future wife who also became a well-known photographer Ruth-Marion Baruch. In letters to Ansel Adams, Minor White praised the work of a number of students, in particular the nature photographs of Philip Hyde and the portraits and natural scenes by Bill Heick. Don Whyte, Ira Latour, Bob Hollingsworth, Helen Howell, Pat Harris, Walter Stoy, John Rogers, and Al Richter all started at the California School of Fine Arts in the Fall 1947 photography class and went on to become prominent photographers in the West Coast tradition.

Who Were The Advanced Students And When Did The Students Socialize?

Philip Hyde later said that some of the students started the class with more advanced photography skills than he did. He said that the more advanced students headed out into the field right away. “Some were more interested in taking pictures of people and some more interested in the outdoors,” Philip Hyde said. “Each student’s preferences were indulged fully. Ben Chinn and many others were independent types. Ben had been photographing since he was 10 years old.”

Benjamen Chinn concurred that many students were more advanced, but did not include himself in that group. He said that Philip Hyde had taken photography classes since high school. He pointed out that Philip Hyde went to Polytechnic High School, a technically oriented high school. Benjamen Chinn also said that Philip Hyde took photography classes at San Francisco City College. The student-instructor Bill Quandt and Benjamen Chinn had both been photographers at Gabriel High School and at San Francisco City College as well. Benjamen Chinn gave more background and explained why he did not get as much feedback as some of the other students:

The rest of the students sometimes would gather around and B. S. about photography and what they photographed. I had my own darkroom. Usually I attended class then came home and did my own work. So, I never knew, I never had any feedback on my own photography from Minor or Ansel until after I turned my work in. I never did know how I was doing. Philip, your dad, only lately told me, maybe 10 years ago, that the people in class would talk about me and wonder what I would come up with for my assignment. I did everything at home. They never knew what I was going to do. They were always interested. They were surprised when I turned in my assignments or they saw my prints at the print exchange parties. The print exchanges were the only times when Minor and Ansel and some of the other instructors saw my work.

Benjamen Chinn explained further about student efforts to understand Ansel Adams’ concepts and how it brought them together:

Maybe I would just skip and go home. Another classmate, George Wallace, and I became friends when Ansel was giving the zone system. It was very, very complicated. George and I and anther guy by the name of Jerry Seward had engineering training. George Wallace was an engineer for US Steel. The way he got into photography was that his family owned US Pipe and it went down after World War II. George made a deal with his brother to sell him his share of the company. George offered his brother $500/month plus his brother would also pay for tuition for him at photography school. Because of his technical and engineering background George sort of understood what Ansel was talking about. Ansel talked about graphs and exposure care, exposure relationship with density, and a lot of people didn’t know what he was talking about. Somehow George Wallace knew, I don’t know how he knew that I could not understand it. I invited him home to my darkroom and we discussed it among the three of us, including Jerry Seward. We talked about the problem of how to explain it to other students. We also used to get together with other students at homes. The student-teacher Bill Quandt used to get the students to go down to North Beach to a cafe called Vesuvio. It was right across from the Save Right Book Shop. We used to get five cent beers and hang out. Now we have all known each other for 60 years or more.

Vesuvio Cafe And The Rise Of North Beach As  A Hip Artist’s Hangout

Benjamen Chinn held that the lifetime friendships that developed in photography school started with discussions about photography, efforts to solve homework problems for class and otherwise just enjoying each other’s company down at Vesuvio. At Vesuvio they sometimes drank beer or other alcoholic beverages, but just as often they had sodas or something to eat. North Beach in the late 1940s and early 1950s already had become an interesting part of town with artists, musicians and the beginnings of what would become the epicenter of the beat generation on the West Coast.

By the mid to late 1950s, just down off Russian Hill where the California School of Fine Arts would soon become the San Francisco Art Institute, many beat generation writers such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg made their homes in North Beach. Today the North Beach neighborhood “overflows with independent literature cafes, old-world delicatessens, jazz clubs and gelato parlors,” reads the San Francisco Art Institute website. Besides the cultural experience of North Beach that developed after World War II and is still thriving today, “Close enough to hear the sea lions barking at Pier 39” is Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco’s most visited neighborhood.

As far as developing a vibrant art culture like New York City, San Francisco was just starting to blossom after World War II. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMoMA, did not have much space. “They were located on the third and fourth floors of the Veterans Hall,” Benjamen Chinn said. “They didn’t do much for photography then yet.”

To read more about the forthcoming book, Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955, and the special exhibition to honor Golden Decade photographers see the blog post, “The Golden Decade: California School of Fine Arts Photography.”

This series was to continue in a blog post called, “Photography’s Golden Era 12,” but the series will take the new title “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series can therefore be found under the name, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12.”

Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

May 12th, 2011

Did the “over-saturation” of landscape photographs start with digital printing and Photoshop, or did it originate well before that in the film era with the advent of Fuji Velvia Film and Kodak Ektachrome E100VS Film? Is “over-saturation” a myth?

Urban Railroad Distortion, Reno, Nevada, copyright 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. Post-processed in Photoshop.

In his 1993 book Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, Galen Rowell wrote a chapter called Velvet Media in which he extolled the virtues of Fuji Velvia film, with some cautions. Galen Rowell wrote:

After twenty-five years of using Kodachrome film whenever sharpness was of the utmost importance, I abruptly gave up on it in February 1990 after seeing tests of an amazing new slide film from Japan…. Fuji’s introduction of ISO 50 Velvia at the Photo Marketing Association show in Las Vegas… After I returned home, I ran controlled comparisons of Velvia against Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64 and Fuji Pro 50. On my own light table the next morning, I clearly saw the end of an era. Velvia was the best of all existing worlds. Its resolution exceeded that of Kodachrome 25 and the other test films in high-contrast tests simulating daylight and equaled Kodachrome 25 in soft light. Its color saturation and separation of tones exceeded those of Fuji Pro 50 and the other films. I was aware that many photographers would prefer Kodachrome’s relatively muted colors, but I believed much of this was due to a conditioned constancy illusion that Kodachrome slides accurately represented the natural world. I knew better and fully expected Velvia to establish a new constancy illusion with picture editors and the public… I wanted to see the world freshly through this new tool and to push it to the limit to see what it would do. Over the years, the limitations of other films had caused me to consider certain kinds of subject matter and lighting as impossible. Murky renditions of greens in shadow under a blue sky on Kodachrome became vivid on Velvia. Fuji Pro 50 renditions of delicate foliage have very strong color, but also a lack of resolution that calls attention to itself, especially when compared with Kodachrome 25. Velvia holds both color and sharpness.… I soon began asking, ‘Is anything wrong with this film?’ not only to myself but to other users. The few negative answers had to do with too strong colors and a slower film speed than the advertised ISO 50.

In early 2010, in the comments on Steve Sieren’s blog post, “Ever Wonder About The History Of Landscape Photography?” large format landscape photographer Michael Gordon commented about how Fuji Velvia film had changed Landscape Photography. Michael Gordon first did a blog post about Velvia in 2008. In his 2010 comment, Michael Gordon said, “Want to be shocked? Compare Hyde’s “Drylands” photos to the current crop of Velvia-ized desert landscape photographs. Porter too. Not many years have passed, and despite the drying climate, the desert sure got a lot more vibrant in photographs!” Other comments on Steve Sieren’s blog post addressed the effect Velvia film had in the hands of various landscape photographers and its general impact on all landscape photography.

Many galleries, museums, photographers and others blame “over-saturation,” if it exists and can be defined, on the advent of the digital age and Photoshop, but here we see much evidence that “over-saturation” began long before. Also in 2010, outdoor, documentary and landscape photographer Carr Clifton offered his thoughts and possible explanation as to what happened in landscape photography from 1990 through the early years of the new millennium. Carr Clifton said, “When we first started printing digitally, we were used to trying to get the richest and even the hottest color out of whatever film we were using. Many films didn’t have the rich color palette that we now see. The same thing happened back in the 1990s with Velvia. Velvia was different because for the first time, it offered too much color, more than you see in nature. When everybody started scanning film and making digital prints, even the scans of Velvia were too gaudy.”

On reading Galen Rowell’s Outdoor Photographer features, Sierra Magazine articles and several of his books I discovered that he wrote more eloquently about photography than perhaps just about anyone else ever, with the possible exception of Robert Adams, Charis Wilson, Edward Weston, Minor White and Ansel Adams at times. That puts Galen Rowell at the top of all writers on photography. He is also admirable as a landscape photographer because he was self-taught. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde has been said by many of the who’s who of photography today to have influenced a generation of photographers. See the blog posts, “How Color Came To Landscape Photography,” “The Golden Decade: California School Of Fine Arts Photography,” and the series beginning with the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism.”

Notwithstanding, Galen Rowell also influenced a generation, the next generation, our generation, the landscape photographers just coming into prominence now. Galen Rowell was also one of the most talented photographers who ever lived. He was the master of “fast and light” and capturing unusually powerful landscape photographs. When we showed the Philip Hyde exhibition at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery, I found through talking to guests and staff that Galen Rowell was also known as a life-changing mentor, a generous mountain guide, a driven activist for various conservation and social causes and a dynamic leader of an organization of top quality people who continue to inspire the world. However, some segments of the art establishment hardly recognize him because they feel he overdid the color. Carr Clifton, who also greatly admired Galen Rowell put forward the theory that when Velvia film first emerged on the scene and also in the early days of digital printing, that Galen Rowell went a little far with the color, but never lived to rein in when other photographers did.

“It was around 2003-2004 that everybody started to pull back some and bring their color back into the realm of reality,” Carr Clifton said. “All except for a few blatant examples that remain. Galen, unfortunately for all of photography, died in the plane crash in early 2002. We were all very sad about it. Now Galen’s prints are frozen in a state of too much syrup. He never made it to the time in 2003-2004 when everyone backed their color off.” Because Galen was so admired, there are now many photographers who try to do what he did with sunrise-drenched mountain tops, brilliant reflections and ultra-vivid colors. Other landscape photographers agree with Carr Clifton. They believe that Galen Rowell might very well have pushed his own work back down the color saturation scale if he had lived. It’s all conjecture, but an interesting theory and something to consider in view of how much landscape photographers try to emulate Galen Rowell’s work. For more about other concerns over the direction of landscape photography today see the blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying?” For a new way to look at it and other remedies see the blog post, “What Urban Exploration Photography Learned From Nature.”

Travel and landscape photographer Richard Wong wrote on this subject in November 2010:

…Galen did have a large audience probably due to several factors, one of which was a long relationship with Outdoor Photographer Magazine dating back to the beginning from what I understand, but even before that he had “street cred” in the outdoor community for being a prolific adventurer and rock climber. There were photographers just as good if not better out there at all the different things he did but he was able to connect with and convey his philosophy to his audience much more effectively than most. He was a great writer. And also someone who was always striving to innovate. Looking at his body of work, you can clearly see the evolution over the years. You also have a good point about the color. I was told that his staff worked on those digital masters from his slides in the years prior to his death and probably against advisement, he wanted to push the envelop on the saturation. You can tell by looking at some of his prints up close at his gallery and also in some of his books that some highlight detail was probably sacrificed due to saturation. His Evolution Lake image for example. With that said, I have always overlooked that phase of his career because that doesn’t define his body of work. One thing I’ve always pondered is what Galen would be doing now on the Nikon D700 if he were still around. Breaking new ground for photography I would imagine.

Fuji Velvia film was not the only film that amped up the saturation. Galen Rowell provided a warning against overdoing the color saturation in this quote also from the 1995 book, Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography:

 

Much of what people were saying when Velvia first came out applies to Kodak E100VS today. Sometimes it looks garish, sometimes it looks great, and much of the time it will produce the image that editors will choose. Kodak E100VS often produces bright colors closer to what you believe you saw in flat light or at a distance, but if you use it all the time, you risk having the sum total of your style appear garish and suspect. In direct light this film doesn’t just come near the edge of the color saturation envelope; it moves beyond into a realm that requires the same sort of restraint as the use of color-enhancing filters does.

Probably the same could be said for the color saturation adjustment slider in Photoshop. What do you think? Is “over-saturation” an overblown issue? Is it a myth? Is over-saturation a problem in landscape photography today?