Archive for ‘Photography Masters’ category

Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion and Exhibitions

July 7th, 2011

Split Boulder Near Lake Ediza, The Minarets, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California, 1950 by Philip Hyde. First exhibited in the original "Perceptions" exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1954 with the work of the members of Group f.64, Minor White, his students and a few other Bay Area photographers. This exhibition many consider one of the foundations that defined what became known as the West Coast tradition.

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

In reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams from the Center for Creative Photography’s publication, The Archive, it quickly becomes apparent that the times then were quite different. The first exchange of letters between the two photographers in 1933 occurred during the Great Depression, when photography was almost unheard of and even other forms of art were comparatively scarce in relation to the volumes produced today.

To compete and be heard in the market today, a photographer must not only make good photographs, but also promote tastefully. Writing well online also helps to develop a following. One of today’s photographers succeeding in all three is Guy Tal. I have mentioned him before on this blog and I mention him again, because what he writes often relates to what I am learning about the history of photography and because he recommended my blog to his readers. I like Guy Tal’s blog, not because I always agree with him, but because he has a knack for stirring up ideas, thoughts and opinions and getting people to participate. Recently he wrote a blog post called, “Small Confession,” in which he acknowledges the necessity of self-promotion but confesses that he respects photographers who do it reluctantly more than those who revel in it.

Shortly after reading this post, I started reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. These two pioneers, despite what it appears to us now, were also reluctant self-promoters. However, they lived in a time when people were looking for something new artistically and there wasn’t all that much being created of note. Along came people like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others. These people offered something that had never been seen before.

Straight photography was not a stuffy, constraining, self-contradicting notion as it is seen by some today. It was a huge Wow, and also freeing and energizing to the medium. Also, these artists did not have to promote themselves as loudly to be heard, because there was much less noise then and fewer voices vying for the public’s attention. People mobbed most of the events of the straight photographers. Perhaps those who look at straight photography as out-dated and old-fashioned, will have justification for that opinion when their events are packed because they have invented something striking and new enough to draw hoards of people.

The first time Ansel Adams wrote to Paul Strand, he reminded him of their meeting and mentioned meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in New York City. Then Ansel Adams told Paul Strand that he had opened a small gallery…

My place is most decidedly not an imitation of Stieglitz’; I wrote him at great length and outlined my plans—I told him I was going to alternate my exhibits between photography and painting or graphic arts, that I was not a missionary or a promoter, and that I did not care if I made anything out of the gallery or not—I only hoped it would pay its own rent. I am trying to bring things to San Francisco that should have come many years ago.

Ansel Adams went on to ask Paul Strand if he would be interested in exhibiting his photographs at Ansel Adams’ gallery. Paul Strand wrote back…

Actually I have little interest in exhibitions—because at the basis they seem to be un-American—just a mean and meaningless affair; mean in that they exploit the artist to entertain the public free of charge—meaningless in that they seldom establish any standards.

I turned down three museums last year in just the above terms—Their impudence and complete ignorance of what they are doing is just disgusting—They think that flattery is a substitute—but they can all go to hell as far as I am concerned—for I refuse to be part of that racket—that is my general feeling about exhibitions—I can never get used to the idea that pictures are free entertainment in the U.S., elsewhere too, that the people who claim to enjoy a thing never support the individual who makes what gives them pleasure.

Paul Strand went on to explain that it was difficult to send his prints out of Mexico, where he was living at the time, for fear they might be damaged, and that he might entertain the idea if he could ever make it to San Francisco in person. Paul Strand told Ansel Adams of a show he had in Mexico under extenuating circumstances, that over 3,000 people came to see in 10 days. Not bad for someone who despised the whole idea. For more about the photography of Paul Strand see the blog posts, “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”

(This blog post was originally posted March 24, 2010.)

Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 2

June 27th, 2011

Landscape Photography Blogger Interviews Photographer Gary Crabbe

Part Two of a Three Part Series

(Continued from the blog post, “Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 1.”)

On Personal Style, Book Projects, Photo Editing And Working With Galen Rowell

Interview Conducted By Phone May 25, 2011

Rural Highway Below Mount Shasta, Northern California, copyright 2009 by Gary Crabbe.

(View photograph large: “Mt. Shasta.”)

HYDE: You also said that one important lesson in landscape photography you learned from Galen Rowell had to do primarily with responding to the light.

GARY CRABBE: That lesson originated with Galen Rowell and ever since I’ve become hyper-sensitive and in tune with what the light is doing and what the light is hitting, versus the subject I set out to photograph. Now I say to my student’s, “A boring subject in great light will always make a better photo than a great subject in boring light.” I may have a subject in mind, but if I see the light happening somewhere else, I am willing at a moment’s notice to drop any preconceived idea.

HYDE: That flexibility strikes me as not only the similarity between you and Galen Rowell, but also between Galen Rowell and my father, Philip Hyde. Many landscape photographers have this philosophy that they go out, scout out a location, then literally set up camp and wait for the right light, sometimes for as long as several days. My dad never did that. He would photograph in the middle of the day rather than wait. Part of it had to do with limitations of budget and time. He had to cover certain territory because he had his itinerary planned. He had obligations. He was often on assignment and someone else was paying his expenses. Certain landscape photographers like Jack Dykinga, for example, take the exact opposite approach. Jack Dykinga is sometimes on a loose assignment from a group like the iLCP, International League of Conservation Photographers. He may be setting the direction and parameters of the assignment, maybe he picks his own. He’ll wait days for the right light or weather conditions. Do you do that?

GARY CRABBE: No, I wish I could. I know a friend who does and he returns with some gorgeous images. He also has the patience to wait for something better. I don’t get it. (Laughter) I make the best of what I can because I can’t wait with my book projects. Plus I’m also a stay at home Dad. I’m the one that drops my kids off at school and picks them up in the afternoon. When I’m out photographing, I have to turn tail and get back. My time is limited. I did double back one time on my way to Lava Beds National Monument up in Northern California on my last book project. I cut from Weed over to the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and then on to Lava Beds. I looked in my rear view mirror and said, “Wow, there’s a great shot of Mount Shasta,” making a note to come back for sunrise. I circled around through Alturas into Susanville, back over to Lassen Volcanic National Park and then up again toward Mt. Shasta, making a 500 mile loop. I can’t recall many occasions where I’ve made that choice, but it was my time to make something work. That’s why I’m here.

HYDE: So looping back 500 miles was more the exception than the rule for you?

GARY CRABBE: Absolutely, and it was one nice sunrise morning. Sure, I could have said, “I wanted more clouds in the sky, or the moon setting,” but I didn’t have the luxury to do that. In that regard I’m more of an editorial photojournalist. I’m out there to document the place. I need to get this, this, this and this for my book project. I work myself to max out a set schedule. Landscape photography art does not always happen like it did at Lava Beds National Monument. Two mornings later I also shot a wonderful sunrise in Susanville, but, the morning in between was crap. (Laughter) Nothing came out. It wasn’t the right weather. I couldn’t just stay there and hope that the next day was going to get better and miss all the other photographs I needed. In that regard, it sounds trite, but it’s a job. My work dictates my schedule and then my creative instincts guide what I do within the confines of that schedule. I just spent two days in Yosemite National Park. I had to get Vernal Falls for my next book project, Where to Photograph in Northern California. I’ve rarely ever tried to take, for lack of a better word, cheesy, iconic photos like the rainbow and Vernal Falls. But it’s the kind of photograph that provides the reason to go up to Yosemite National Park and face the crowds. It’s ironic to dread Yosemite Valley, but that’s summertime. In the text I’ll explain that to photograph the rainbow your best chance of seeing it is at ‘this time’ and ‘this time.’ Sure, my photograph was of Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail, but I am always happier as in this case when I came back with my own personal vision of the scene as opposed to the same image that has been on a post card for the last 35 years in every gift shop in Yosemite National Park.

HYDE: Speaking of waterfalls, I really like your “Sunlight on Berry Creek Falls.” You know my dad made a well-known photograph of Berry Creek Falls. Your photograph makes it look even more picturesque now. Berry Creek is a really nice waterfall. The way you framed it, that’s one of the best waterfall photographs I’ve ever seen.

GARY CRABBE: Wow, I’m beyond flattered. I just wrote about it. I put up an article at a place called Pro Photo Resource. It was called, “Seeking Out Definitive Moments In Outdoor, Nature And Travel Photography.” Berry Creek Falls was one of my examples.

HYDE: I want to talk to you about each of your book projects, maybe a spattering of what was interesting about each project. It’s important for people to know that you have illustrated six coffee table books. Also, there is one more question about your experience with Galen and Barbara Rowell that I want to ask you. It is personal to me because of my process working with my father’s photographs. Carr Clifton helped me all along in choosing images and many other people helped too, various gallery owners and other experts. I had consulting work by Ryan Baldwin, who at one point ran Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery in Emeryville. Did you work there when he did?

GARY CRABBE: Yes. I know him very well.

HYDE: OK. He actually did a little consulting with me in the very beginning when I really didn’t know anything about anything. He helped me start choosing images. I feel like my vision and my ability to choose photographs grew exponentially over the years since then. Ryan Baldwin’s good advice was to choose images of my dad’s at first that no other photographer could have done. He suggested that later I could mix in some that my dad did first and everybody else has done since. My question to you is, in managing Galen Rowell’s stock department of 300,000 images, you must have learned a lot about photo selection from Galen and also from editors. You stepped into it with no idea of what makes a good photograph. Tell me a little about your learning curve, what was that like?

Stormy Sunrise Over Lava Beds National Monument, Siskiyou County, California, copyright 2009 by Gary Crabbe.

(View the photograph large: “Lava Beds.”)

GARY CRABBE: Interesting question. I feel bad that at one point I fibbed to Galen, some people might call it a lie. I was so green, that when I first started working at Mountain Light and he asked me, “You know what a dupe is, right?” I said, “Sure.” (Laughter) I asked another employee later, “What is a dupe?” He said, “Oh, you know, a duplicate slide.” “Oh yeah,” I said. That’s how green I was. First I learned the basic technical points of what editors need. For a magazine cover, you need to have some negative space where your text can go, your subject needs to be centered in this area, you need to have space at the bottom of the frame where they can add the mailing label and bar code and so on. When you’re selecting a double page spread, be sure the most important part of the subject is not in the middle of the frame where the seam of the paper goes. I would go through slides and pull out what I thought might be appropriate and Galen would tell me what was good for what reason, “Yes this is good, this is good, no this one wouldn’t work.” Galen obviously had his own preferences. As part of the interview process, we started having people do light test submissions. You were put in a situation where an editor called you from National Audubon or National Wildlife Federation and you needed to send 20 images of polar bears or penguins. We would give the applicant the entire penguin folder or the entire polar bear folder and we’d see what they would choose to send. It was a great litmus test to see how people responded to what a photo editor wanted and how they responded to Galen’s images as well. Over time I got to where I could usually look at a sheet of 20 slides in approximately one second and know whether there were any images on that page worth taking a second look at for any given project. We’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of images. For example: you know you need a shot of the Marin County Coast. Galen didn’t have separate organized folders other than every shot from Marin County going into one folder. So I’d be looking at images of Point Reyes next to Mount Tamalpais next to Bolinas next to Fairfax, somewhere in that jumble of 35 mm frames was the photograph you needed. It always seemed that there was one or two images that would stand out. Those were the ones I found where the story and the light came together in the best way possible. That’s what I use to guide the editing of my own images. (For more about how Gary Crabbe edits photographs see his post on Jim M. Goldstein’s Blog, “Pro Tips: Photo Editing With Gary Crabbe.”) You want the viewer to instantly know what your photograph is about, if there is confusion, you’ve lost them. If something in the composition creates an emotional or bio-physiological hiccup, you’ve lost them. And this is what I said in this recent article I wrote is, you want every photograph you take to be a headline and an exclamation point for whatever you are photographing. You want the story to come across that quick, with no ambiguity whatsoever.

HYDE: Of course that is for editorial stock photography, but to play devil’s advocate, Paul Strand and my father even, at times, made images that when you look at them at first you have no idea what you are looking at, you can’t figure out what it is. (Find out more about the history of abstract photography and Paul Strand in the blog post, “Straight Photography And Abstraction.”)

GARY CRABBE: That’s true. That is where art photography is different. I love doing abstract photography myself, but that wasn’t the sort of work that Galen did. I used to judge local camera clubs. And they’d have a category that was called “Contemporary,” which meant it had to be some kind of abstract or manipulated photo. I would stand in front of 30 or 40 amateur photographers and say, “The faster I can figure out what you did the less I like it.”

HYDE: But it’s the opposite for magazine submissions or other types of stock photography, correct?

GARY CRABBE: Yes, but you are still trying to generate instant emotional impact, even from an abstract. You are trying to create some kind of subconscious emotional reaction. You don’t have to know what it’s about, but you need to know how it feels. And that’s where art becomes personal and subjective. Some people say, “That doesn’t do anything for me.” Others say, “I could spend a week looking at all the detail in that photograph.” All you can do as an artist is put out what you find interesting.

HYDE: When you first started working for Galen Rowell, your article said something like you had seen only two photography exhibitions, but was there an educational process for learning about the work of other landscape photographers?

GARY CRABBE: Looking through photography magazines, who pays attention to photographer credit lines? Other photographers. That’s how you learn. Every time I saw an image that made me say, “Wow,” I noticed the name. I began to recognize the names Galen’s work was published with right up through the evolution of outdoor photography. I certainly have developed my own personal preferences for the sort of work I like seeing.

HYDE: I’d like to hear how each of your book projects came about.  So how did Backroads of the California Coast: Your Guide to Scenic Getaways & Adventures published in 2001, which won Book of the Year 2002 from the California Outdoor Travel Writers Association, how did that book come about?

GARY CRABBE: Way back when, trying to get your work in front of people, you would buy these source book ads and they would be like $1000 or $2000 a page. And the publisher would send these big books out to all the advertising agencies and publishers and whatever. I went into one of those books my first year as an independent photographer. One of the images I put in was of a twisting road below the Grand Tetons. One day a publisher sent me a note, “Do you have more good road shots like that? We’re doing a book called, ‘The Back Roads of Northern California.’ We would like you to submit some photographs for the cover.” They already had the whole book photographed and written, they were just looking for a different cover. They went through my submission and they didn’t choose any of my photographs. They went with a photo by the photographer for the book, but the quality of the images I submitted stuck in their mind. From that one failed submission, when a well-published travel writer approached them to do a book on the California Coast, they asked, “We need a photographer for this project, are you interested?” That’s how it started. Voyager Press has been the publisher for five out of my six published books.

HYDE: So were Our San Francisco and Yosemite & The Eastern Sierra, similar books?

GARY CRABBE: All of them except for Yosemite & The Eastern Sierra, that’s the one that was published by a different publisher as its own stand-alone project. The editor for that book was Peter Beren, the foremost publisher for Sierra Club books. Peter knew me from Mountain Light. I worked with him as kind of a liaison. I had also done some freelance projects for him as a photo editor. I remember this vividly, it was my daughter’s first birthday, a Saturday afternoon, the house was packed with friends and relatives. My office phone rang. I was thinking I’m not going to bother answering. The phone rang once, twice, a third time, “Oh I can’t stand it.” I raced back to my office as fast as I could go, grabbed the phone, and I hear, “Gary, this is Peter Beren. You’ve got a bunch of Yosemite images, right?” I said, “Hi Peter, yeah.” “Great. I’m going to recommend your photos for a book project.” “OK, thanks.” “Alright, bye.” That was the entire extent of the conversation. A couple weeks later, the publisher called me from her office in New York, “Can you have images to us by next Wednesday?” “Sure.” I never needed to take another picture for that book. Every image came from my existing slides. I sent them 300. They did a beautiful job. Unfortunately the book is out of print now, but I remember approving all the color proofs. On their third or fourth go around, I said it was great, but they still went two more rounds with some of the images. They did an impeccable job with the printing. Peter did the editing of the book. He gathered quotes from Ansel Adams, John Muir and others, which they matched up with my images and boom, the book was done that fast.

Continued in the blog post, “Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 3.”

Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 1

June 21st, 2011

Landscape Photography Blogger Interviews Photographer Gary Crabbe

Part One of a Three Part Series

On The Arts, Photography, Working With Galen Rowell And Personal Style

Interview Conducted By Phone May 25, 2011

Full Moon Setting Over Rock Outcrop Near Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park, California, copyright 2010 Gary Crabbe.

(See the photograph large Click Here.)

DAVID LELAND HYDE: I read your articles on working with Galen Rowell on Naturescapes.net and on your Enlightened Images blog. In your website bio it said you started taking photographs while you were going to college at Humboldt State University.

GARY CRABBE: That’s correct. It was one of those art electives to make me a more well-rounded square. It was basic black and white photography 101 and an introduction to composition, how to use the enlargers in a darkroom, process film and all that fun stuff.

HYDE: Did you make your own prints?

GARY CRABBE: I certainly did for that class. Also, I started taking photos for the Theater Department in 1988 or 1989. I bought a bathroom darkroom setup. I’d literally shoot photos of a stage production in dress rehearsal. I would get up on stage with a little old manual Minolta X-370 camera, some 3200 speed Tri-X film, shoot without flash, hand held. Because I was also an actor and director I had a sense of what to shoot. Then I’d run home and print 20 or so 8X10 RC prints that night and give them to the theater department the next morning. The art department mounted them on mat boards and by 5:00 pm the Theater Department would have a full exhibit of my prints in the lobby of the theater for opening night of the play.

HYDE: When did you start photographing in color?

GARY CRABBE: Not at all until much later. I had been working as a breakfast cook all through college and after, flipping pancakes, cooking omelet’s, all that. I was so sick of it. I was screaming profanities every morning and my wife said, “Just go for a different job.” I looked through the newspaper and applied for everything I could. One of the ads I applied for in that time just said, “Outdoor Photo Agency,” and, “must like dogs.” I didn’t know what an “Outdoor Photo Agency” was, but I like photos, dogs and the outdoors. I sent in an application, got called for an interview, showed up to the place in Albany, California, before they had the gallery in Emeryville and there was Galen Rowell’s name and the Mountain Light Gallery logo hanging over the front door. I instantly recognized it because one of the very few photographic exhibitions I’d ever gone to on my own was Galen’s Mountain Light exhibit, when it showed at the California Academy of Sciences. I got the job. I was immediately thrust in as this $7 an hour file boy, where my job was to take the slides that were coming back from magazines and publishers and put them back in their spots in the file drawers. It was an intensive sudden exposure to Galen’s work. Then I went off for three weeks on my honeymoon to Hawaii.

HYDE: Your article said that when you came back the woman that had been running the stock department for Galen Rowell had been fired. Why did they choose you? For the filing job, they didn’t want someone who was a photographer. But you would think that for the stock job they would want a photographer.

GARY CRABBE: You’d think that, but they had been very badly burned by some photographers that they had previously had in their employ. They wouldn’t hire another photographer.

HYDE: How did they get burned?

GARY CRABBE: One photographer actually had the gall to take Galen Rowell’s Rainbow Over The Potala Palace photo out of the office and make his own prints of it. One photographer was caught submitting his own images to clients and making sales through Mountain Light, of his own stuff, when they were supposed to be selling Galen’s work.

HYDE: How do you feel your background in theater and what you learned there ties into photography? And the second part of the question is: Did Galen and Barbara Rowell believe your experience with theater might be an asset to choosing photographs or being the stock manager?

GARY CRABBE: I think it was the idea that I had a broader exposure to the Arts, with a capital “A.” I had some basic interest in photography, but I had absolutely zero interest in being a photographer. When I graduated college, if someone said in five years or ten years, I would be a professional photographer, I would have said that they were out of their gourd. I think probably my specific directorial talent and theater background translates into photography in that it was a form of visual storytelling. We had text, granted, that we don’t have in photography, but the idea was that you would use actors and sets to create a composition of a particular moment. When I was photographing the actors on stage, I’d be waiting for that decisive moment. I would be able to communicate the emotional content of the scene, without the text, but still get it across so when the people were walking into the lobby that night, they would be able to build some anticipation. When the photos were used for publicity, it would hopefully spark interest.

(For more on the decisive moment in photography see Gary Crabbe’s recent article on Pro Photo Resource, “Seeking Out Difinitive Moments In Outdoor, Nature And Travel Photography.”)

HYDE: You wrote that Galen Rowell encouraged the use of a tripod and approached 35mm photography with the same deliberate, meticulous set up of the shot as they call it, as people who use a large format camera. I thought, maybe that’s key to why Galen’s compositions look like he could have made them with a larger camera. At the same time you wrote, “Watching Galen’s approach to a scene was like watching a creative dynamo. I always likened it to the cartoon of the Tasmanian Devil with a camera.” When Galen Rowell came on a scene and he decided to make a photograph, what did he do?

Sunrise Light On Coastal Fog Over Hills Near The Mouth Of The Klamath River, Redwood National Park, California, copyright 2010 by Gary Crabbe.

GARY CRABBE: Galen would often tell his students in a workshop that when they were shooting landscapes they should take their time and treat it as deliberately as someone setting up a large format camera. His own way of pursuing photography was a bit different. Galen, in semi-jest, described photography as an action sport. His brain was turbo charged. His experience allowed him to work and recognize things at a quick pace. When it becomes innate, you walk up on a scene and you know if you need to change lenses and when. You know which filter you want to use. You know you need a fast shutter speed. These thoughts are coming almost instantaneously. You are reaching in the bag and you’re not even thinking about it, your body is doing it. That’s because you have absorbed the skills and the science of your art to a point that it is deeply engrained. That’s the way Galen approached and did his own work, but for students who hadn’t reached that level, he taught the deliberate landscape. Galen would say, “Oh, I like this,” and he would set up and make the shot. Then he’d say, “Ooh, I like this,” and he’d go get that shot. “Ooh, I like this over here,” and he’d run 100 yards and set up another shot. He was doing what he advocated the student‘s to do, but at 8X speed. That’s the Tasmanian edge. In one of his video’s he’s literally running by the shore of Mono Lake going from one spot to another. His landscape photography was an action sport, because he was so active getting to the right place at the right time, or trying to connect whatever was happening here with whatever was happening over there.

HYDE: My father, Philip Hyde, had a more contemplative approach. I don’t know if you’ve seen my blog post, “Galen Rowell And Outdoor Photographer Style.” It compares my dad’s style, which was very yin, meditative and receptive to Galen Rowell’s approach, which as you say and as he wrote was much more of a yang, create the photograph you want style: “I’m visualizing. I’m going to go out there and based on the situation I’m going over here and I’m getting this and going after that.” I also notice there are differences between the approach that comes out of using a large format camera and using a 35 mm camera. For example, I’ve only ever photographed with a 35mm camera, I guess I did actually take a few photographs with a medium format, but I’ve never photographed with a large format camera… I notice if I’m photographing a car, I’ll make 30 photographs of that one car. Whereas, my dad used to sort of frown on that approach to photography. He frowned on just going out and banging away, making loads of photographs, roll after roll after roll. But I find that’s what I do. The smaller camera’s more conducive to that, but is that what Galen did?

GARY CRABBE: I think as you point out the key to the difference in approach was format. Galen would say to students, “Oh, there’s too much foreground,” or “Oh, how come you didn’t see this ugly stick down here,” or “You’ve got all this nasty stuff going along the edges.” You’re right, with large format, you only have one frame. You may shoot five frames your whole afternoon out. You have to be very deliberate about things like: Is there anything along the edges that I don’t like? Is there a nice visual pathway? Is the composition right? Is it better from here or is it better over there? That’s the approach Galen was trying to encourage his students to take. He was bringing them to a better level of photography through a more deliberate cognitive awareness of what they were doing. With Galen though, he would go out with one, two or three primary guiding ideas that set his compass needle and the rest of it was responsive. Once he got out to the spot where his pre-visualization took him, active visualization took over. That’s when he would turn on his little dynamo. So it was a little bit of both. He’d have a very strong idea with elements A, B, C and D. He would go to the field at this time, somewhere in this general angle and then he’d start looking at, “OK, there’s A and there’s B and there’s C. And if I want to get A, B and C together I need to move myself over there.” And that’s how I learned to do it too. With the 35 mm format, he bracketed exposures and composition. He might go out on an afternoon run with his camera and he might take one photograph or he might take six rolls. If nothing stopped him in his tracks, he’d just keep going. If something went, “Wow, this is pretty good,” he’d stop and work it.

HYDE: How is your approach similar to Galen’s and how is it different?

GARY CRABBE: My approach is very similar to Galen’s in that it is responsive to what I am seeing. I use a general idea to get me where I want to be. I’ve got this picture in my mind with this and that. That to gets me to the place. Then, much like Galen I hop from “Oh, I like this, I like that, I like this.” The primary difference is that Galen was so incredibly driven, working each scene, active, like a sport and a lifestyle. I’m a little more relaxed and Buddhist. I like taking my time on trails and I like to stop. I have a personal, slower pace, not only out on the trails, but in life in general. Galen was a dynamo. Sometimes I’m just happy to be a cow under a shade tree in the middle of summer.

Continued In the blog post, “Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 2.”

Monday Blog Blog: Lewis Kemper

February 14th, 2011

Master Landscape Photography And Photoshop Teacher Lewis Kemper

What in the world is “Monday Blog Blog? Find out in the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog Celebration.”

Backlit Icebergs, Jokalsarlon, Iceland, 2007 by Lewis Kemper.

After I wrote the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros,” I had a strange feeling that I had forgotten at least one or perhaps more professional photographers who are important to mention in any discussion about Photoshop or Photoshop training. Sure enough, one of those who I inadvertently left out was landscape photography master Lewis Kemper.

Lewis Kemper lived in Yosemite National Park for 11 years. From 1978 to 1980, he worked at the Ansel Adams Gallery. This gave him the opportunity to meet many influential photographers of the time including Philip Hyde. In the summer of 1979, Philip Hyde led the Color Landscape Photography Workshop for the Ansel Adams Gallery. His two assistant instructors were Jeff Nixon and Lewis Kemper.

“It was a dream come true to meet and teach under one of the photographers I had admired since I was a kid,” Lewis Kemper said. He continued:

I remember growing up looking at Sierra Club Books, Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter’s photographs, Navajo Wildlands, Slickrock, and the Sierra Club Calendars. Prior to Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter, landscape photography was limited to the big general scene. Eliot Porter sort of stole the title for ‘intimate landscapes’ but that was what I admired about Philip Hyde’s work too: the close-ups and the smaller and mid-sized scenes. Originally landscape photography was about trying to photograph everything. Now the Sierra Club photographers were showing us that you could take pictures of part of everything and still convey everything.

Part of what landed Lewis Kemper the job at the Ansel Adams Gallery was his B.A. in Fine Art Photography from George Washington University. In photography school, Lewis Kemper studied black and white photography and the zone system, but even earlier, starting in high school, he was more drawn to color. While helping Philip Hyde teach the Ansel Adams Gallery Color Landscape Photography Workshop, Lewis Kemper showed the lead instructor his Color Cibachrome prints of “Sand Dune,” “Cedars In Snow” and others. See more of Lewis Kemper’s photographs at LewisKemper.com.

“Philip liked my prints,” Lewis Kemper said. “He kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re getting this with a 35 mm camera.’” Subsequently, with a friendly push from Philip Hyde, Lewis Kemper began to use a large format 4X5 view camera. Listen to Lewis Kemper’s podcasts that mention Philip Hyde’s influence at the bottom of the page here. Later, in the early 1990s, Lewis Kemper bought an Imacon Scanner and began making high resolution digital scans of his 4X5 transparencies. He learned digital printing with the first 25 inch pigment printer, the Epson 7500. The Epson 7000 had been an ink printer, whereas with the advent of the Epson 7500, digital printers began using pigment. Lewis Kemper also printed commercially for other landscape photographers.

In 1992, Photoshop came out with version 2.5.1. Lewis Kemper said he remembered the instruction manual being very hard to follow. He said, “I had been screaming and struggling for 45 minutes with the clone tool and the instructions that came with Photoshop 2.5.1, when my wife came in to help. She started pushing buttons with the mouse and playing with the keyboard and all of a sudden the program cloned. I asked her, ‘What did you do?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ Then she tried to repeat the steps she had made when it cloned and it cloned again. Finally we had figured out how to make the clone tool work.”

Lewis Kemper began teaching photography workshops including Photoshop classes in 1995 at the Palm Beach Photographic Center, the same year Photoshop came out with version 3.0, the first version with layers. Read more of Lewis Kemper’s articles and tips: go here. When Lewis Kemper first started writing for PC Photo Magazine, he was using a small point and shoot digital camera, but through his work with the magazine he became enthusiastic to step up to a Canon 1DS, which had an 11 megapixel sensor. Lewis Kemper made his first serious digital capture with the Canon 1Ds in January 2004. He now represents Canon as one its Explorers of Light, an elite group of only 62 photographers around the world including Art Wolfe, Barbara Bordnick, John Paul Caponigro, Adam Jones, Robert Farber, George Lepp, Tyler Stableford, Rick Sammon, David Hume Kennerly and Douglas Kirkland. Lewis Kemper currently uses a Canon iPF 6300 24 inch printer and his two main cameras are a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III for landscape photography and a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV for wildlife and outdoor sports.

Lewis Kemper first taught classes through BetterPhoto.com in the Fall of 2003. He has also taught at the Santa Fe Workshops, Light Photographic Workshops, Aspen Workshops, and George Lepp Digital Institute. He is the author of The Yosemite Photographer’s Handbook, The Yellowstone Photographer’s Handbook and his latest Photographing Yosemite Digital Field Guide, which was voted in the top 20 of all such field guides. He also produces the acclaimed Photoshop training DVD’s, The Photographer’s Toolbox for Photoshop. His photographs have been published in numerous other books including those published by the Sierra Club, The National Geographic Society, Little and Brown, Prentice Hall and many others. Besides having his photographs appear on the cover of many of the best magazines, currently Lewis Kemper is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer and Digital Photo magazines and NANPA Currents magazine.

Edward Weston’s Landscape Philosophy

November 15th, 2010

Edward Weston And The Revelation Of Nature

Cypress Trunk And Roots, Stonecrop In Bloom, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, 1948 by Philip Hyde. Curators have said this Philip Hyde photograph at Point Lobos shows the influence of Edward Weston. It was made the same year Philip Hyde met Edward Weston. Also, Edward Weston may have been present while it was made on a California School of Fine Arts field trip with Edward Weston and Minor White.

(See the photograph full size Click Here.)

(To view more Philip Hyde vintage black and white prints see information about the Camera Obscura Gallery exhibition in the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Mountain Landscapes Extended.”

Edward Weston’s photographs exhibit a strong sense of location, of place, of physicality and yet a universality. He showed us the extraordinary in the ordinary. Through details, textures, tactile sensations and the undulating forms of rocks, trees, nudes, ocean waves, vegetables and shells, he brought us the world.

In Edward Weston: On Photography edited by Peter C. Bunnell, Edward Weston explained his philosophy of photographing landscapes, at least at that time in his life:

I am not trying to express myself through photography, impose my personality upon nature (any manifestation of life) but without prejudice nor falsification to become identified with nature, to know things in their very essence, so that what I record is not an interpretation—my idea of what nature should be—but a revelation or a piercing of the smoke-screen artificially cast over life by irrelevant, humanly limited exigencies, into an absolute, impersonal recognition.

Creating Or Allowing

It can of course be argued that all photographers, indeed all artists, impose their personality on their creations. The “art as expression of the artist” argument holds aspects of truth, yet is not the whole story. A landscape photographer, or landscape philosopher, could go to the opposite extreme and say that once he or she reaches the proper state of attunement or union with nature, that he is no longer in the creation process at all. The landscape photographer then becomes a conduit through which creative forces flow. He has let go of attachment to his own ego and is moved, no longer acting as the mover. Some might say he is divinely inspired.

On a practical every-day level, each of us works in a range somewhere between these two opposites. Yet, is it healthier for the photographer to believe he is the one who has made the creation? I know of many photographers who believe they are the reason for their success, when there are thousands of factors and happenstances every day that could tip their career one way or the other. My father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde had his own particular method for keeping his ego in check. He attributed his photographs to God, or Nature, rather than taking the credit himself.

Check Your Ego Before You Go Out To Photograph…?

Odds are good that some manner of narcissism enters into either end of this continuum, while a healthy creative perspective is best maintained somewhere in the balance. Yet when photographing nature, is it not therapeutic to seek the purity of perception that Edward Weston and my father pursued? Some might say it is too idealistic, too filled with romanticism and self-delusions of a nature made enlightenment; but it seems a more attractive notion, in my opinion, than the puffery expressed by photographers who think their work is all about them. Perhaps ultimately either can lead to the other. Eastern philosophers say that one studies the self to eliminate the self.

Edward Weston is now considered by many the father of modern photography. He was an important inspiration to many of the world’s greatest photographers and his importance as a teacher of photography cannot be overstated, yet he only taught photography for a short period of time. Edward Weston had a great impact on Minor White, the lead instructor of Ansel Adams’ photography program at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. For more on Edward Weston’s influence on Minor White see the blog posts, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12,” and “Minor White Letters 1.” Minor White and Ansel Adams invited Edward Weston and other members of Group f.64 such as Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham to guest lecture for Ansel Adams’ new photography department. This time period from 1945 to 1955, when Group f.64 members began to teach straight photography is commonly known as the Golden Decade or Photography’s Golden Era. For more about the Golden Decade of photography in San Francisco and the California School of Fine Arts see the blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 6,” “Photography’s Golden Era 7,” “Photography’s Golden Era 8,” and the rest of the posts in the series. For more information and a review of the special exhibition and reception honoring the students and teachers of the Golden Decade Golden see the blog posts, “The Golden Decade: California School of Fine Arts Photography,” and “Over 500 People Attend Golden Decade Opening.”

For more on how to avoid arrogance in the contemporary photographic world see David Taylor’s blog post, “Professionalism Tip for the Day.”

What do you think? What do you observe is the difference in outlook or philosophy between photographers who are arrogant and those who are not?

Cedric Wright And Philip Hyde On The 1950 Sierra Club High Trip

May 25th, 2010

Split Boulder Near Lake Ediza, Minarets Wilderness, Now The Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1950 by Philip Hyde. This photograph that went on to be widely collected and published and was part of the famous Perceptions Show in San Francisco, was made on the 1950 Sierra Club High Trip with David Brower and Cedric Wright.

(See also the blog post on, “A Credo For Mountain Photographers” from the book Words of the Earth by Cedric Wright.)

In 1950, David Brower invited Philip Hyde to join the Sierra Club High Trip that David Brower led in the high country of Yosemite National Park. Cedric Wright was also on the trip as a veteran wilderness photographer to serve as high country photography mentor to the young Philip Hyde just out of photography school, who would also act as ‘official photographer.’

Even in 1950, Philip Hyde was no stranger to the Sierra Nevada High Country. He had been backpacking and exploring it since he was 16 turning 17 years old in 1938. Nor was he new to outdoor photography. During the years from 1946 through 1950 while he was enrolled in photography school at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute, Philip Hyde spent every summer in the mountains. The previous summer of 1949 Ansel Adams had helped Philip and Ardis Hyde land the caretaking job at the Sierra Club’s Parson’s Lodge in Tuolumne Meadows. The young couple, just married two years, lived in the rustic McCauley Homestead cabin all summer and scrambled all over the nearby peaks and domes. While Philip Hyde photographed, Ardis Hyde had plenty of peace and quiet to study for her teaching credential and identify birds and flowers. More about this special summer in a future blog post.

By the time Philip Hyde went on his first Sierra Club High Trip, he was seasoned by a summer in Tuolumne Meadows and 12 other summers in the High Sierra. However, as soon as he met Cedric Wright, he knew that this man had a depth of knowledge about wilderness travel and wilderness photography of which he had only dreamed. Here was the ideal teacher and companion.

Cedric Wright was a childhood friend of Ansel Adams. They met through piano playing. Both of them were in training to be concert pianists but ended up as landscape photographers. Ansel Adams wrote the forward to Cedric Wright’s book, Words of the Earth, one of the early volumes in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series:

His work reveals a strange and compelling beauty; it is not obscure, oblique, mechanical, or intellectual, but is the evidence of a great insight and intuitive power. It moves the spirit; then, because it is so simple and direct, it moves the mind and conscience… What is offered here is not merely a collection of nostalgic and beautiful pictures and poetic text, but a profound revelation of a most uncommon man, who, despite avalanches of problems and distractions, held fast to the essential dream. I regret there must be a date on this work, because in essence, it is timeless.

“That first 1950 High Trip in the capacity of ‘official photographer’ was a very important trip for me,” Philip Hyde said in 2004. “I look back now and still feel that the photographs I made on that trip are among some of my best. All I had to do was sleep, eat, make photographs and walk 10-12 miles from one camp to another, unless there was a layover.” The trip started in the northeast corner of Yosemite National Park and journeyed along the Sierra Crest to Tuolumne Meadows and beyond out of the national park and into the Minarets Wilderness Area that is now the Ansel Adams Wilderness. In those days the backcountry was little traveled. Philip Hyde shared more about Cedric Wright:

One of the things I remember about Cedric is that he had certain little systems because he had been on so many High Trips, maybe 20 or more. He had special ways of pitching a tarp. Sometimes he would give lessons to other people who didn’t know how. He also had a little practice of making it to the first camp early. When the first group of hikers would arrive, he would have hot tea waiting for them. Another time he had a number 10 can full of hot water and he would bathe people’s tired feet in hot water. One time we found a note from Cedric, ‘Be sure to go out and look at this view,’ and he wrote directions. Cedric took me under his wing and taught me all his intricate details. Some were a bit overboard, like shaving off the handle of his toothbrush to save weight. He was kind of a nut about saving weight, even though he did not carry much. His outfit was a little square box about 6″ X 6″ X 15 inches that contained his extra lenses and extra film. He was shooting black and white film pack. I didn’t get into film pack on that trip. I was still using 5 X 7 cut film, a single sheet film you load into a holder in a changing bag. The holder takes two sheets on each side, for a total of four. I think I carried 18 holders and several lenses on metal plates that I could interchange. I carried a 5 X 7 camera with a 5 X7 back on a big wooden Reese tripod that I still have. I thought I was going pretty light, but my outfit was a lot heavier than Cedric’s.

More about the Summer 1950 Sierra Club High Trip in a future blog post…

Man Ray On Art And Originality

May 19th, 2010

One of the World’s Most Recognized and Unusual Artists, the Painter, Sculptor and Photographer Man Ray, Brings Insight to the Creative Process, Art and Originality

Man Ray did not pursue Recognition, Fame or Financial Success. He was broke most of his life.

Are you in it for recognition? For money? Why are you a landscape photographer?

Salvador Dali and Man Ray, Paris, 1934 by Carl Van Vechten. Public Domain image. This photograph was made in Paris while Philip Hyde was there at age 11 with his little brother Davy age 5, his sister Betty, age 16, his mother Jessie and his father painter Leland Hyde, who was studying at the world famous L' Ecole de Beau Arts, one of the art hubs of Modernist Paris.

A hot topic recently in the landscape photography blogosphere has been this variously defined idea of “copying,” that is: one photographer copying another’s photograph by standing in roughly the same place under roughly the same conditions and capturing essentially the same image. While the laws of physics prevent the making of an exact copy, many photographs come close enough to bring the intent of the “copying” photographer into question. I made a few comments on some posts on the topic.

Photography Blog Posts Discussing Copying Or Related Themes Recently:

“The Art of Copying” from Guy Tal Photography Web Journal

“Copying Other Photographer’s Images; Good, Bad, Legal?” from Pro Nature Photographer Blog

“Moving Past The Repertoire” by Greg Russell here on Landscape Photography Blogger

“Make Your Own Tripod Tracks” by David Leland Hyde on Alpenglow Images Blog

“Originality – A Matter of Perspective Revisited by Jim M. Goldstein on JMG Galleries Blog

“Creativity and Copying” posted by Kevin Schafer on the Outdoor Photographer Blog

“Iconic Locations and the Making of Art” from Little Red Tent Blog

“Copy/right and the Nature of Art” from Pomeroy Photography Blog

“Photography and Icons” from Skolai Images by Carl Donohue

“Art; an Exploration of the Unknown” also from Skolai Images

Some photographers have proposed that any photograph that is copyable is not art. Others say this is preposterous. Indeed, one could just as easily argue that any photograph that is not copyable is not art, but is merely a documentation of special effects or techniques and manipulations that go against the nature of photography to stand on real subjects. Is a clean simple, unaffected photograph of nature not to be considered art just because some smart aleck bought a topo map or used GPS mapping to find the location? Either argument may be just as theoretically vacuous and irrelevant to the actual act of making a photograph; except that the photographer’s intent and purpose behind his photography may be the underpinning not yet examined in this discussion.

This Generation Must Do Something Entirely New

As I commented on Guy Tal’s blog post, “Copying Discussion Follow-Up,” we all from time to time can benefit from some introspection. Current landscape photographers and landscape photography in general would benefit by getting away from photographing the icons in the same old ways. Here’s part of what I wrote:

…The next generation must do something else entirely. We have to ask ourselves, why we got into photography in the first place? We have to dig for our own meaning and direction. We must at all costs, eliminate anything that even hints of copying the copiers. That’s my take, anyway, for what it’s worth, and my idea of what is necessary to make any contribution to the art of landscape photography.

More on this and a related discussion on what keeps landscape photography going here on the Landscape Photography Blogger blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying.” On a similar note, a few photography bloggers recently called for discussions on the creative process. Greg Russell on his Alpenglow Images Blog raised concerns about creativity and the use of Photoshop in his blog post, “Where Does the Creative Process Stop?” You may find the comments on this post interesting as well as on the insightful post, “Was That Photoshopped?” from the Landscaping! Blog.

Man Ray’s Shocking Originality And Poverty

One of the world’s most famous photographers, a sculptor and painter, Man Ray, may be one of the most original artists ever. Man Ray was so creative that nothing he ever produced in any medium looked anything at all like any other art that ever existed. Man Ray was not interested in producing photographs that looked like previous masters to learn. He made his own style in everything. He broke all the rules and set the trends. Man Ray also had his work rejected by galleries and the public for many years. Near the end of his life he became accepted by the wealthy art establishment in Paris, France where he lived most of his life. He earlier had become known for his portraits of famous people and soon-to-be famous people such as Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud and many others. He gained a measure of success but it was not until after his death that his original Dadaist sculptures and paintings became highly sought after and sold for millions in auctions.

The point is not that landscape photographers now must be starving artists, it does not matter if you are rich or poor, only if you are unique. The point is to put originality above making money or gaining recognition. Some will starve doing this because they believe that to make money they have to do whatever everyone else is doing. Some will become wealthy through their unique vision.

In a video called Man Ray: Prophet of Avant-Garde from the PBS American Masters series, the modernist painter, sculptor and photographer said:

I never think about art and I don’t think the old masters ever thought that they were creating art. They had to express the spirit of their times and they would then start to invent. What seems to be the tricks of the day, will be the truths of tomorrow. Students ask me, ‘How do I make something original?’ I tell them, be yourself and you will be original. Who are you?

Why are you a landscape photographer?

For a blog post by Jay Goodrich that makes a similar inquiry and features some interesting responses see, “Why Do You Photograph?” To see some new, innovative photographs see also the blog post, “Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography Creations.” To learn more about a pioneer who went far beyond innovation to influence all of landscape photography see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” To look beyond creativity to photographic tools such as film and its influence on the direction of landscape photography see the blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

A Credo For Mountain Photographers

May 7th, 2010

Melting Snow Pattern, Kings Canyon National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, 1951 By Philip Hyde. This photograph shows the influence of Cedric Wright, at least Cedric Wright made several photographs of the groves and pock marks that form in deep melting snow as much as a decade before this photograph.

Master landscape photographer Cedric Wright wrote poetry, prose and illustrated early Sierra Club books with his fine art photography. In Galen Rowell’s renowned 1986 Sierra Club book, Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, Galen Rowell quoted Cedric Wright’s 1941 “A Credo for Mountain Photographers” from the Sierra Club Boook Words of the Earth by Cedric Wright with a preface by Ansel Adams, edited by Nancy Newhall:

A Credo For Mountain Photographers

The mountain photographer is interpreting the face of nature–that mysterious infinity, eternally a refuge, a reservoir, an amplifier of spirit; a mother of dreams; a positive though elusive voice in whose depth lies its subtlety. They will interpret best who are never so content as when under the influence of situations where silence is rich in the mute assurance and beauty of mountain surroundings. The quality of emotional knowing has a finer integration with our spirit than anything that comes from barren intellectual processes. This point of view only accumulates slowly, out of long experience and contact with wordless influences. Under the spell of solitude and of natural beauty the root system of this kind of awareness establishes itself. Great art is usually created under some such saturation of awareness. The work is then permeated with an inner perception of beauty and an inner personal philosophy. The hope for our photography is that it shall retain these high lights of more than beauty, that through it symbols shall be preserved of response to our mountains, keeping them to a flow, a golden thread, in our experience.

Words of the Earth by Cedric Wright was part of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. Cedric Wright and Philip Hyde both contributed a photograph to the collection of now famous photographers who joined Ansel Adams in illustrating the book This Is the American Earth written by Nancy Newhall. This Is The American Earth kicked off the Exhibit Format Series, a mastermind creation by David Brower, Nancy Newhall and Ansel Adams. This Is The American Earth was made into an exhibition and toured nationally and even in Europe. Cedric Wright’s book, Words of the Earth was also one of the early books in the series.

This Is The American Earth and Words of the Earth contained all black and white photographs. Philip Hyde’s first several books in the series were a mixture of black and white photographs and color photographs. Philip Hyde eventually had more photographs in more of the books in the series than any of the other photographers. Eliot Porter’s book In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World with quotes by Henry David Thoreau was the first all-color volume and sold more copies than all of the other Exhibit Format Series Books, including This Is The American Earth. From then on the books in the series were all in color.

Galen Rowell And Outdoor Photographer Style

April 30th, 2010

Galen Rowell, Philip Hyde And The Finding Of A Personal Outdoor Photographer Style

Lone Pine Peak, Alabama Hills, East Side of the Sierra Nevada, California, 1978 by Philip Hyde. This photograph is an example of Philip Hyde's receptive approach. He often went against the standard wisdom and made photographs in the middle of the day. He was in the vicinity at this time and had a hunch to turn off and visit the Alabama Hills because of the fresh snow on the Sierra Nevada peaks. He drove around and got out of the vehicle and walked around with his view camera. The picturesque parallel curves of the three boulders with the angular peaks in the background presented themselves to him. This image is in contrast to photographs by Galen Rowell, who lived in the area, could visit the Alabama Hills when lighting conditions or the alpenglow was at its best. Galen Rowell made a number of memorable images of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Carr Clifton was the first to photograph the Alabama Hills' Mobius Arch with the Sierra Nevada behind in March 1983. Carr Clifton's photograph was first published in the 1985 Sierra Club Wilderness Engagement Calendar. Galen Rowell made a different photograph of the arch much later in 2001, but he may have made an earlier photograph of the arch. Since then the image has been copied over and over by subsequent outdoor photographers who rather than using Galen Rowell's visioning, Philip Hyde's receptive approach, or any creative method of their own, came to the landscape looking for a specific landmark to add to their checklist.

(See the Photograph full screen Click Here. To see Galen Rowell’s photographs of the East Side of the Sierra Nevada Click Here. To see Philip Hyde’s never before seen new prints on display at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery May 8 through August 31, 2010 see the blog post, “New Philip Hyde Releases At Mountain Light Gallery Exhibition.”)

Galen Rowell and Philip Hyde differed in their process for choosing photographs. Galen Rowell observed certain elements in the natural setting and then visualized a scenario where those elements came together. By sheer will, attractive power and personal dynamic energy, he would very often vision into being the very circumstances for the photograph he had imagined.

Philip Hyde had a nearly opposite approach to finding photographs. His was a yin, receptive, and contemplative method.  He would still his own inner processes, tune into the land around him, and allow it to fill his being until a photograph came forward. He was interested in letting photographs present themselves by attaining a quiet composure and seeing carefully.

As can readily be seen in the work of these two outdoor photographers, either method can result in spectacular images. A developing outdoor photographer can experiment with these two differing styles, see which he or she prefers overall, or use each method in different circumstances. I’m sure that both Galen Rowell and Philip Hyde used an opposite approach to their standard one at times, or tried a hybrid sometimes too. In my own experimenting with the two ways, I have found that in most instances the two methods produce very different photographs, but there are instances when they produce the same photograph. Sometimes I find I am meant to make a certain image whatever process I use. At other times the two methods themselves can even end up feeling the same or merged, as opposites sometimes do.

Galen Rowell’s Vision And The Outdoor Photographer

Galen Rowell applied his visionary process when he made his most famous photograph, “Rainbow Over The Potala Palace.” He described it in his book, Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography. Galen Rowell for years studied atmospheric conditions in the Sierra Nevada, interested in discovering what caused alpenglow and how he could capture it more consistently. He also had studied the physics of light and how it affected conditions for the outdoor photographer. In the book, Galen Rowell explained that he saw the rainbow beginning to form, observed the water vapor conditions that cause rainbows and ran a great distance across the field knowing that odds were good that if he positioned himself just right, the rainbow would end on the Dali Lama’s Potala Palace. Getting these factors to line up this way not only took mental focus and determination, but also specialized knowledge and diligence in understanding the science behind the craft of the outdoor photographer.  “My vision came true as the sunlit curtain of falling rain stayed in place while the rainbow moved with me in relation to the sun,” Galen Rowell wrote. “I used a telephoto lens to magnify part of the bow as a spot of light came through the clouds onto the palace.” Galen Rowell described his whole process more in his book.

In Search of An Outdoor Photographer Style

In the book Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, Galen Rowell wrote an essay called “In Search of Style.” In this essay, excerpted here, Galen Rowell shares some of the elements that bring out this elusive thread running through a photographers work:

Every photographer has a definable style, but I spent at least a decade worrying that I didn’t. If someone asked me what my artistic goals were, I would mumble platitudes about capturing my vision of the wilderness and pursuing light. I feared that my diverse work was adrift in an ocean of outdoor photography…. I also had a disdain for externally directed photographic styles, which continues to this day. For example, I was deeply offended by work that called attention to itself by some artificial device (such as an introduced color filtration, weird lens, strange darkroom twist, or exaggerated grain) to stylistically link photos that otherwise lacked an internal message. I liked deceptively simple pictures that drew more attention to honest vision than to technique…. Ansel Adams wrote eloquently about the difference between external and internal photographic events. The most meaningful photographic styles are always reflections of the internal. We react not so much to what an outdoor photographer sees, but to how he or she sees and renders the subject for us. Personal style comes from within, from a photographer’s unconscious and conscious choices. We usually pass over a photograph devoid of emotional reaction to its subject and say, ‘This doesn’t do anything for me.’ Of course it doesn’t. The photographer didn’t have his or her heart in it. Devoting personal energy to a photograph isn’t enough unless that energy is internalized. An easy way to block the internal message is to be overly concerned about results. For example, knowing their top images will be critiqued in front of the group, workshop participants out for an afternoon shoot often wander around shooting nothing because they have created unrealistic expectations for themselves…. Pros on a major assignment can easily allow externally directed cues to block the very style that caused the client to hire them…. One solution for a blocked-up photographer is to write an imaginary letter to an internal self: Wish you were here to see this. You wouldn’t take the boring photo I’m considering right now because you’d respond by… People avoid developing a personal style by emotionally distancing themselves from their work…. However, some sort of personal stamp does sneak through, even in the most banal photography. The balance of foregrounds to backgrounds and the choice of subject matter are among the subtle clues that the images were made by a thoughtful human being rather than by a monkey or some machine. The central process of art is not to render something exactly as it appears, but to simplify it so that meaning, clarity, emotional response, and a sense of wonder combine to create a style from within.

Besides being a great outdoor photographer, you can see that Galen Rowell was also a great writer. He put into words in more than 20 books, the methods, style and inner awareness that translated powerfully to the page and produced a body of photography and texts that will endure. The Philip Hyde exhibition at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery is first time the two photographer’s work will be shown together in the same building, see the blog post, “Pioneer Photography Of Philip Hyde At Mountain Light Gallery.” To read more on Galen Rowell’s influence and how his choice of film changed landscape photography see the blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

Which of the two approaches does your own method most resemble for outdoor photography?

Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography Creations

April 2nd, 2010

Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions.”    – Henry James, 1888

Calathea #2, 2003 from the Photo Synthesis Series by Huntington Witherill. Photoshop creation from a Canon 10D original made in Huntington Witherill's Studio in Monterey, California.

Though this blog is primarily about landscape photography, it will cover other forms of interest. Landscape photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Brett Weston, and Philip Hyde were known for their landscapes, yet it is well-known that they practiced other forms. Philip Hyde, like the others above made portraits and a significant portion of his work is considered documentary. He avoided commercial work for advertising but made a large body of architectural photographs for corporate and government clients. Today no genre of photography has more merit than any other, as long as the work is produced with the same artistic rigor as taught by the early masters. (For context, see the series of blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 3,” “Photography’s Golden Era 4” and others in the category “History of Photography.”)

Calathea #2, 2003, original digital capture with a Canon 10D by Huntington Witherill in his studio in Monterey, California. (Before Photoshop "Digital Transformation" process)

In the blog post “Photography’s Golden Era 2” I drew from several authorities to address a question asked in a comment on “Photography’s Golden Era 1” about the current time period and whether it is also a “Golden Era.” The discussion heated up, but several landscape photographers pointed out that because the current conditions are not conducive to making a living from photography, the period is not liable to incubate as much great art. However, even though photography is going in a million directions and what we see now is chaos, we may be in the beginnings of a new Golden Era. See the blog post “Man Ray On Art And Originality.” Also relevant to this discussion, are the words of discretion by Paul Strand in the blog post, “What Makes A Photograph Art?”

After some looking around, I found a few striking examples of fine art photographers that are doing truly new and innovative work. One of these is a young lady, Natalie Dybisz, who calls herself Miss Aniela. Her tastefully exotic digitally re-constructed self-portraits have reportedly developed a record-breaking following on Flicker. Another fine art photographer, Huntington Witherill, has practiced straight photography for 35 years but is now breaking new ground in creative digital photography with a series he calls Photo Synthesis.

“Absent the proper self-restraint,” Huntington Witherill said, “Working with Photoshop can be a bit like using a chainsaw to make Christmas tree ornaments. Photoshop is a marvelously powerful tool. But unlike a chainsaw, Photoshop is also capable of extremely intricate and detailed work when used with finesse.” Huntington Witherill has made some remarkable creations that measure up artistically to his earlier film photography.  The steps he takes in the process of one creation can be viewed in a video by Clicking Here.

“The perpetuation and validity of straight photography has already been well established,” Huntington Witherill said. “Edward Weston’s photographs remain every bit as valid as they were prior to the digital age. However, in my opinion, it is the aesthetic quality of the work itself which will tend to perpetuate and continue to validate the practice of straight photography.” Huntington Witherill and my father, Philip Hyde, both taught photography workshops at the University of California Santa Cruz Extension, along with other luminaries such as Ruth Bernhard, Cole Weston, Morley Baer, Wynn Bullock, Al Weber, Steve Crouch, Dave Bohn, Ralph Putzker, Glenn Wessels, Milton Halberstadt, Pirkle Jones, Dick Garrod, Henry Gilpin and others. Philip Hyde and Huntington Witherill were roommates once at a workshop teachers gathering and also spent time together at the Rendezvous, a meeting of photographers organized by Al Weber. Huntington Witherill recently had more to say about my dad’s landscape photography and how people see it today:

Were I to feel it necessary to argue the validity, importance or relevance of your father’s work, I would be doing so on the basis of the overall aesthetic quality and visually unique character and style of his photographs, and to a certain restrained extent, upon the context in which they were made. I would avoid the old “us” versus “them” argument which pits “straight” photography against all other types of photography (an argument which largely centers upon the chosen tools, materials, and methods, and the relative level of perceived manipulation used to produce the work). First, I think it’s beneath the dignity and importance of your father’s work to be forced into such a seemingly shallow argument. And second, I think the argument itself is completely unnecessary. Your father’s work was made at a time when few others were producing similar work. It could be superficially categorized as “straight” photography, yet aesthetically, it stands on its own even today, regardless of the specific kind of photographic characterization or classification one wishes to apply to it.

Your father used his heart and mind to produce images that met his own unique sensibilities. He saw the world in a way that others did not. Who cares how or in what style, or even when his photographs were made? To argue the “validity” or relative “importance” of a Philip Hyde photograph based upon the tools, materials and methods he used to produce that photograph, is beneath the dignity of the work. We’re all in the same photographic boat and we’re all working on differing forms of artistic self-expression. When your father’s work is considered in the context of photographic “art,” it must be compared with all other forms and manifestations of the art, not simply advocated because it happens to be “straight” photography. Edward Weston’s photographs are great because they are great photographs. It doesn’t matter to what style or method you compare them. Edward Weston’s photographs are not great simply because they are “straight” photographs. And… neither are your father’s.

All photographers and purveyors of photography working today are in the throws of negotiating the many changes in the medium brought on by digital cameras, Photoshop and other digital era methods. Everyone has a different approach. Some photographers have not only navigated the changes, they are thriving by leading the way. “Witherill has embraced the new technique and run with it,” Rick Deragon said in 1999. Rick Deragon is a painter of the natural scene, museum curator and art teacher. Rick Deragon also said of Huntington Witherill, “He’s run right into a new reality that he is able to define, unfettered by photography’s past, but still full of his reverence for the natural source.”

Railing, Fort Stevens, Washington, 2006 by Huntington Witherill. An example of his straight photography.

One look at Huntington Witherill’s photography and anyone can see it is not to be confused with much other photography today that suffers from heavy-handed Photoshop use that has somehow tainted and made the images look slightly overcooked. He himself describes the majority of the photography displayed on the internet today as low quality. The change to be feared is not the departure from straight photography through Photoshop. Nor is there harm in exploring new ways of making images that use methods or philosophies completely different from straight photography. The degrading of the medium lies in the vast quantities of aesthetically inferior work and the overuse of Photoshop to try to save otherwise tasteless images.

Photoshop is a wonder in the hands of talented creative artists such as Miss Aniela or Huntington Witherill. The problem lies not in new forms of photography, but in landscape photography that consists of what my father, Philip Hyde, called “pretty pictures for postcards.” In his artist statement he said, “Black and White is excellent experience for color work because it encourages sensitivity to form, texture, tonal gradations and the quality of light. Color photographs that lack these qualities and rely too much on the shock value of color alone will not sustain interest.”

In a 1979 letter to retired Outward Bound river guide and landscape photographer Chris Brown, Philip Hyde wrote that many landscape photographs tend to have too many elements in them and are “not tightly enough organized.” Philip Hyde went on to say:

Because it is big in scale does not mean that it can’t have impact as an intentional photograph. The camera only sees one frame at a time, and unless you get into some of the multiple-image techniques, you’ve got to rely on one image to make the impression. I tend to be careful in my own work, not to yield to the easy temptation to over-dramatize things just to make this impression—and as a corollary, I also tend to be less impressed with the group led by Ernst Haas, who make their point by highly romantic over-dramatics. They go too far, I think, but certainly something more than pointing the camera and making a snapshot is indicated. Snapshots have their place, but I assume at the outset that you want to make a deeper impression, create something that communicates a little more powerfully. The only recipe I know for it is a four-letter word: work (experience, practice).

Take a look at the following videos of Huntington Witherill, by Douglas Ethridge, posted on John Paul Caponigro’s blog. They show not only a new vision but also a depth of mastery of the medium, that developed through many years of experience and practice in straight photography, but that has now found a new direction through new methods and techniques that go way beyond those of the past. Welcome to the future, or at least one form of it…

To read more about cutting edge Photoshop methods see the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.”