Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill

August 26th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Celebrating Wilderness by William Neill

Landscape Photography Bloggers’ First Guest Post

Written by William Neill 4/1/06 For July 2006 Issue of Outdoor Photographer. Read more at OutdoorPhotographer.com and visit WilliamNeill.com or William Neill’s Photo Blog at WilliamNeill.com/blog/

Landscape Photography Blogger Note: Coincidentally Guy Tal posted a tribute to William Neill on his blog called, “Inspiration: William Neill’s Yosemite Volume One” the same week as this post. I am grateful to William Neill for my first guest post.

Celebrating Wilderness by William Neill

Sunset From Mt. Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, California, 2006 by William Neill.

On March 30, 2006, Philip Hyde passed away at the age of 84.  The community of photographers and nature lovers lost a true friend and pioneer. (See the June 2006 issue of Outdoor Photographer, A Voice for the Wild).  I count myself as being very blessed for having known him.

Many years before meeting Philip back in the early 1980s, I discovered his work in the Sierra Club’s famous “Exhibit-Format Series” of books.  His images opened my eyes, along with those of thousands of other photographers and wilderness enthusiasts, to the beautiful and endangered landscapes he had explored.  He helped us see the great potential use landscape photographs could have for environmental protection.  Philip’s images spoke to me quietly yet forcefully of wild nature’s value, and showed me the impact hard work, dedication and selflessness can have.

Philip’s sphere of influence has expanded outward far and wide, quietly and profoundly.  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, Navajo Wildlands, The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Wildlands, 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.

When I looked at those Sierra Club books as a college student, my wildest dream was to use my images in such books and other forums to further the cause of conservation, and to make photographs for a living.  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.

Beyond his environmental contributions, Hyde has earned an honored place for his art.  His photographs have a quality of serene reality.  His choice of camera is a 4×5 for revealing the landscape in sharp detail.  The color is not amplified.  The light he preferred was understated, and he did not favor the “magic hour” that seduces most of us.  He has a disdain for the redundant sunset motif.  He chose Ektachrome film, over Kodachrome or Fujichrome, for its more neutral reproduction of nature’s colors.  In similar fashion, Philip’s compositions and use of lenses are simple and direct.  Rarely do you see a photograph where camera position or lens exaggerates any aspect of a landscape.

Commenting on his evolution from being a black and white photographer to predominantly using color, Philip wrote in his book The Range of Light, “Black-and-white lends itself to manipulation that can dramatize a subject.  Color tends to record what is seen, so it is no coincidence that I use color for that purpose.  I don’t feel nature needs to be dramatized: it is dramatic enough! …Color photographs that…rely too much on the shock value of color alone will not sustain interest.”

Philip’s approach, which seems at first to show the landscape in ordinary descriptive terms, is his attempt to make us realize nature’s profound beauty is always there for us to see, not just during a monumental performance of light or color.  There is selflessness to this approach.  In his images, his own importance recedes in the face of nature’s beauty and need for protection.  He once wrote to me, “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care who gets the credit.”

Many years ago, I hiked up Mt. Hoffman in Yosemite.  I walked slowly upward, alone in my thoughts. I carried all my 4×5 gear to the summit, planning to photograph the sunset and then hike down in the twilight.  At the top, the views of Yosemite’s wilderness stretch out all around.  There was virtually no sign of human life below.  The sunset light warmed the surrounding peaks, and the Sierra Nevada displayed why it is called The Range of Light!  The serenity I felt was powerful.

Thanks to far-sighted pioneers, this rare form of sanctuary exists for millions to enjoy.  The initial preservation of Yosemite by President Lincoln in 1864 and subsequent the formation of the National Park System, the inspiring words and energetic crusading of John Muir, the monumental photographs of Yosemite by Ansel Adams have all contributed to the cause of wilderness preservation.

At times like this, when a great person in our field or our life is lost, we might wonder who could ever replace them?  It is an important time to stop and remember the impact each one of us can have.  John Muir saw threats to the wildness of Yosemite, and fought to preserve it.  Ansel Adams felt deeply moved by the beauty of Yosemite and the Sierra that Muir helped preserve, and used his photographs to fight further for wilderness preservation.  Philip Hyde, learning from the example of Muir, Adams and David Brower, worked tirelessly to photograph threatened landscapes. Many photographers have followed Hyde’s example.  As a ripple expanding outward in a circle, more will follow those who have followed him.  We must all acknowledge our mentors, and I am proud to count Philip Hyde as one of mine.  We honor their legacy by following their example.  Let the circle be unbroken. — William Neill

I am interested primarily in what Emerson called “the integrity of natural objects.”  They express wholeness and individuality, and it is this sense of place that is the foundation of my work.  My life in photography has been taken up in exploring natural places for their beauty and uniqueness.  It has been a labor of love, and nature has provided me the perfect object. — Philip Hyde

William Neill’s Note:  The North American Nature Photography Association offers a grant in honor of Philip Hyde.  See http://www.nanpafoundation.org/hyde_grant.html for more info and for applications.

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To sign up for newsletter updates, including info about his BetterPhoto.com online workshops, please see William Neill’s web page at WilliamNeill.com. For more about wilderness see the blog post, “Wallace Stegner: The Wilderness Idea.” For the story on how I learned more about my father’s work see the blog post, “Memories Of Finally Working With Dad.”

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24 comments

  1. Steve Sieren says:

    I remember the short article by Bill. it was my first introduction to Phil Hyde. I’ve wondered why this particular image is not on the website? Maybe I just didn’t look in the right gallery. The print looked great in the magazine it’s a little bigger there and worth looking at as well. It’s definitely one of Northeastern Yosemite’s nicer views.

  2. Hi Steve, thank you for the comment. I remember now that you are a steady reader of Outdoor Photographer. Bill and Dad were friends and mutual admirers for many years. I don’t know much about the William Neill photograph, just that it went with the article originally. I’ll have to find out more.

  3. pj says:

    Let the circle be unbroken indeed. I’m thankful that there are photographers, like Mr. Neill for one, who carry on the great tradition of working with photography to protect and preserve the wild places.

  4. Thank you PJ. Pass it on down through the generations.

  5. Greg Russell says:

    This is fantastic, David. Thanks to you and Bill for sharing it.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  6. Steve Sieren says:

    I thought the photograph was a Hyde photograph so I was just confused, I see now that it’s a Neill photograph.

  7. Thank you, Steve and Greg for your comments. William Neill just sent me a jpeg of the image and I swapped it out. Do you think it looks better now?

  8. That is a gorgeous photograph. I enjoyed the article tremendously. So nice to hear from Mr. Neill about your dad and his view of your dad’s approach to landscape photography.

    Sharon

  9. Thank you Sharon. I agree, William Neill’s article from Outdoor Photographer is written from the heart and with feeling.

  10. Thanks for the kind words. This image can be seen in my Yosemite portfolio: http://www.williamneill.com/portfolios/yosemite/index.html
    Click on the Full Screen button at the lower right side of the Thumbnail/Navigation bar to get a bigger view.
    I also have a new Yosemite ebook that includes this photo: http://www.williamneill.com/store/ebooks/yosemite-volume1/index.html
    The ebook is a collection of my best film-based images made between 1977 and 2005.

    Cheers, Bill

  11. Thank you, Bill. I appreciate your contribution to Landscape Photography Blogger.

  12. Richard Wong says:

    This is a great article about your dad. Bill is my favorite current columnist at OP.

  13. Thank you for the comment Richard. William Neill knows photography and converses about it well. Why is he your favorite columnist, Richard?

  14. Richard Wong says:

    Bill is my favorite columnist because you can tell he is a natural teacher through his writing yet it is not dumbed down for the lowest common demoninator so even experienced photographers can get a lot out of his writing.

    Galen was my other favorite columnist. The others are not really that engaging of writers in my opinion.

  15. Outdoor Photographer in the past has been the leading publication on the subject. However, I agree with Guy Tal’s post about the magazine recently http://guytal.com/wordpress/2010/04/i-dont-want-to-be-ansel-adams/. In the past Outdoor Photographer had a great team of the best landscape photographers that all pulled together to put out a quality publication. Now I get the same feeling as Guy Tal that they are using various famous names just to sell magazines. The dumbing down probably goes along with trying to hook the hoards of amateur digital photographers with flashy headlines. Any experienced landscape photographer knows no matter how you spin it, you can’t do anything in digital the way Ansel Adams did with a view camera. There is a subtle difference in the magazine, but a sense that the tone has changed. It will probably change again, hopefully for the better.

  16. Thanks for the kind words, but let’s not forget Phil’s photographs and how much inspired my generation…and on into the future.

    About OP, the biggest change I see is related to the economy. They cut back on the number of columns per issue to three. I was writing a column for every issue, so that means eleven essays a year. Now I write 3-4 per year. This applies to the other columnists as well. I feel that this has a big impact on the depth of each issue. Let’s hope they return to the “good ol’ days” but I am not holding my breath. As a counter balance to this problem, and to bring in some new blood, OP has a decent group contributing to their blog: http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/blog/

    Cheers, Bill

  17. Hi Bill, thank you for your insight into how economics has effected Outdoor Photographer. I have stopped into the blog a few times and have enjoyed it. However, I am not a professional landscape photographer making a living part or even full-time from my own photography. As a writer I might or might not recognize good material there for professional photographers. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not putting down Outdoor Photographer. Outdoor Photographer promoted my blog and has generally been good to me and great to Dad. Recently the editor said he would mention the exhibition at Mountain Light but he never did, nor did he run my article about Galen Rowell and Philip Hyde as he had expressed interest in doing. This kind of thing happens all the time but I also heard from another writer that I am not the only one who the editor did not follow-through with on communication. This is probably due to staff being stretched thinner all the time. I can see how finances have a significant impact on the depth of articles too. Unfortunately, it may not be long before many full-time pros are no longer full-time. This too is a product of economics and the ease with which we can all make top quality photographs now.

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