Memories Of Finally Working With Dad

March 8th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

When I Was Young, I Traveled With Dad, But Never Worked With Him Until Much Later…

This blog post is partly based on an e-mail I sent to the Philip Hyde updates list in May 2009. (Read more about the Hyde’s 1971 trip to Alaska and see the photograph below full size: Click Here.)

Lake Near Susitna River, Alaska Range, Alaska, 1971, by Philip Hyde. David was with his father when he made this photograph. Ardis, David and Philip Hyde spent June, July and August in Alaska. The Hydes celebrated David's sixth birthday in their Avion Camper.

Someday I would love to start a foundation for the archives of photographers. Many have died and their name and work just fades away.

Only the photography of the few who are the most recognized continues to be seen by the public. Even many of those who are well-known have their works locked away in some climate controlled vault, never to be seen again. There should be an organization that continues to circulate exhibitions and promotes the work of photographers who had an impact.

I will eternally regret that I didn’t get more interested in my dad’s photography earlier. The main obstacle was that he never thought his work was worth extra promotional effort, or that it would be profitable. Isn’t that silly. I talked to him about it several times but he never thought his work could earn more than a living for he and my mother. Hard to imagine now, he actually said it was not worth my time. I never had anything as worthwhile going in my life, even when I made a lot of money.

Because he spent his whole life working hard to develop his own voice as separate from his father, Leland Hyde, who was a painter, Dad thought I would want to do the same…and I did. However, while I was growing up, somewhere along the trail I learned to love the natural world and the western landscape as much as he did. For years I went in a completely different direction, but I carried a love of the mountains and the desert latent inside me. Eventually one day in 1992, when I was living in Los Angeles, during the Rodney King Riots, I just threw everything in my Mercedes and headed out of town. I did not stop driving until I made it to New Mexico. In the pinon smoke and pueblo dust of New Mexico, I reconnected with the land.

Around that time I started writing again. I wrote often and much. I wrote in my journal. I wrote about my youth. As I developed as a writer I realized that photography and writing are complementary. Dad and I could work together. I wrote a short book that I wanted to have Dad’s photographs illustrate. I do not know why I never tried to publish that little book. I even picked out photographs and Dad made me 4X5 contact proofs. Maybe it was not time yet. I still have it.

He and I did have the chance to spend more time together again in the last four years of his life. I am grateful that we did finally work together starting in 2002. I interviewed him for a book about his life and work. We made nearly 40 tapes. The interviewing gave him a reason to get up in the morning after he had lost his eyesight and my mother, the two loves of his life. He was very happy I was going to write a book about him. He was glad he did not have to do it. He loved the sections I read to him. We had a great time talking about his life as he answered my questions on tape.

His short-term memory had become quite poor, though his long-term memory stayed solid for several more years. After that though, even the long-term memories started to get twisted up with each other and mixed up in time. One day he confused bike riding in his youth at Point Reyes with a bike ride he and my mother and I took at Point Reyes. After that I phased out the interviewing because the facts were no longer adding up. Everything was getting muddled. I wish I had kept interviewing right to the last day of his life, even when he did tell conflicting stories. It would have kept more wind in his sails.

For a long time I have been struggling with his life’s story and it’s incredibly productive story arc, but tragic ending. Yet as I am looking deeper now, I realize it was not a tragic ending except only on the surface. His was a story of triumph over adversity throughout and especially at the end. His spirit is one that anyone could be proud to emulate. He had his bad days, but most of the time he stayed cheerful even in the darkest times. He did have his days he did not want to get out of bed, but we all do. The point is that he did keep getting up. For a heartfelt tribute to Dad see the blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.”

In 2001, I remember thinking after he lost his eyesight, “Well it can’t get any worse.” Then we lost my mom in March 2002. I thought it could not possibly get any worse because he still had great memories of his incredible life traveling in and defending the wilderness, but by the end he could not even find his way around his own house that he designed, built and lived in for 50 years.

I still miss him more than anything, but I like to imagine that in some way he is perhaps still with me, watching as I am inspired again by his words and images. One of the most worthwhile endeavors in my life has been going through his photographs. It is a joyful, uplifting experience that no amount of challenges, setbacks and expense can blight. Making the transition of the work to digital is not easy but I feel it is important. Of course, I am his son. Yet I imagine that almost anyone in my position would feel as strongly as I do about the work getting out to the world. For more on how Dad helped to expand Canyonlands National Park and a tribute to his life, work and contribution to future generations see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.”

I greatly appreciate those who have contacted me through the website or blog and added their comments to the discussions, shared an anecdote about a trip they had with Dad, or related a story that happened on a workshop. I have done some of my best interviewing through e-mails written back and forth over months. Sometimes I hear the wind rustle the leaves and I can almost hear Dad’s laughter in his studio. Or I stop for a moment, breathe deeply and observe the warm sunshine flooding through the tall windows he put in by hand. In those moments I remember his whole face twinkling with enthusiasm as he tracked down the next “picher.” I look at photographs of our trips together and I think how lucky I was to have the childhood I did.

What are your favorite nature or childhood memories?

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27 comments

  1. Ed Cooper says:

    This is a very moving story! Ed

  2. Guy Tal says:

    Very touching post, David. I can relate in so many ways. Every so often I open “the box”; the one with all the old photographs and letters and little mementos. An evening with “the box” is always followed by a week or two of contemplation, self examination, and emotional outbursts. It’s not for the faint of heart and not something that can be endured often, but it is important to keep me grounded, to keep me thinking and wondering and feeling. I have an immense love for my family and I’m eternally grateful for my childhood days, but there’s so much more to it. I’m sure you understand.

    Guy

  3. Thank you, Guy. Great point about lifting the lid off the box, it is necessary, but difficult. Of course it is what people who are writing must do to create compelling work. Also, even though we don’t know it, it takes a lot of energy and studies are now saying that it ages our bodies to keep the lid on the box. It seems like it takes more energy to take the lid off, but this is freeing, or so they say, and I agree for the most part. Usually we lift the lid as much as we can handle, as much as we have time to process, considering the present is very full too. Most of us have a tangled up mess in there of “good” and “bad” that is difficult to sort out, that’s for sure.

  4. Derrick says:

    That photograph is simply outstanding.

    I’ve been working on some of my own stuff of the desert and to look at how lush and green and wet that photo is just takes my breath away.

    Thank you for sharing it, and your memories. I believe you do your father justice by sharing them both.

  5. Thank you, Derrick. You probably saw the link at the top of the post that goes to a larger version of the photograph on philiphyde.com, where I describe the conditions a bit in the “Image Info.” It was very wet and lush and wet and green and soaking wet. It had been pouring rain the whole day previous to that photograph. Even the ground was squishy and we sunk in several inches in the grasses around that unnamed lake. Dad made some photographs with his Hasselblad earlier but the rain lifted a bit, just long enough for a view camera landscape. As soon as Dad clicked the shutter it started to rain again and was pouring by the time we reached the Camper. I remember that day and many others that summer, we were soaked to the bone regardless of raingear and we ran out of room on the many clotheslines strung various directions in the camper. There were wet, dripping clothes hanging everywhere. We took turns standing by the propane wall heater. All the while the windows fogged up, ran with rivulets on the outside and the rain drummed steadily on the roof.

  6. Ivan Rimanic says:

    Hi David,

    That was an awesome story about your dad. The only landscape photographers I have ever heard of were the masters themselves – Adams and Weston. To read that your dad is mentioned in the same sentence as Adams is truly amazing! I am so happy that you are on a mission to spread his gospel about the preciousness and beauty of our landscape. We all seem to be preoccupied with our status and appearances in society, which are truly superficial. As mentioned in your story, your dad Philip Hyde clearly had no need for that. However i am truly excited that you have the passion to educate people about this most amazing man and the wonderful planet which we take for granted.

  7. Hi Ivan. Thank you for stopping in and for your perspective. I guess you are used to having good perspective, being an architect. Joking aside, I appreciate your comment and support. It is an honor coming from someone with innovative talent and creative sensibilities such as yourself. As you may have heard or read by now, Dad was mentioned in the same sentence as both Ansel Adams and Edward Weston often in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. However, as his career progressed he became more interested in defending wilderness than in booking exhibitions and talking to curators. Philip Hyde photographs were more often exhibited at natural history and natural sciences museums than at art museums. Nonetheless, Dad was not only mentioned in the same sentence as Ansel Adams, they had a life-long friendship and correspondence, he and my mother used to visit Virginia and Ansel Adams at their home in Carmel, I remember Virginia and Ansel Adams visiting our home in the mountains, and Dad taught Ansel Adams workshops in Yosemite and in Carmel side-by-side with Ansel Adams.

  8. Richard Wong says:

    This a really touching, deeply personal post David. Your connection later in life with him reminded me of my relationship with my grandfather who passed away when I was 18. I often wish I could talk to him now at 30 when I have some direction in life. I have never had that sort of relationship with my own dad though he is still alive so I think that is one reason why I miss my grandfather so much.

    As for favorite nature experience, it was of my parents taking me to the Canadian Rockies as a child. I have never seen anything like it since but that experience has always been deeply ingrained in my mind.

  9. Hi Richard. I appreciate your sharing too. I was very close with my parents my whole upbringing. Though we definitely had our issues, especially when I became more rebellious in my teens. I was always a trouble maker, but in quite benign ways compared to kids today. I just didn’t like when people told me what to do and I wasn’t afraid to explain it, a lot like my dad. I think he was secretly proud of my coming-of-age rebellion and could relate to it. At age 26, when I moved to New Mexico and reconnected with nature, my parents and I were closer than ever. They loved that I finally went back to college in my 30s, made top grades and graduated. They were very supportive of my writing.

  10. Richard Wong says:

    Where in New Mexico did you live? The first time I went there on a cross-country trip I wasn’t impressed but kind of fell in love with it the 2nd time around, then went for a 3rd visit last year.

  11. Cuyamungue, Santa Fe, Pecos, Rowe Mesa, and Albuquerque in that order. I lived in NM for nine years. Cuyamungue is a small area of mostly Spanish-owned land between the Tesuque Pueblo and the Pojoaque Pueblo. Rowe Mesa is southwest of Pecos. New Mexico has a subtle beauty. In my opinion, there are parts of it that are as beautiful as anywhere else, but it takes time for the place to work on you. Because I started visiting Santa Fe when I was in the womb and saw it for the first time when I was three, it had plenty of time to work on me. It is definitely “The Land of Enchantment” as the state slogan says. Where did you visit?

  12. Beautiful story, David. My dad died 25 years ago and I often wish I had recorded his stories. There isn’t a second chance.

    Sharon

  13. Thank you for your comment, Sharon. I imagine you would want to try to keep anything you could to help remember your father after he was gone 25 years. I already have noticed certain details getting fuzzy for me of events over 25 years ago, though some are vivid and completely intact, as far as I can tell anyway.

  14. Richard Wong says:

    Hey David. You’ve definitely been around. I’ve been to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos with stops near the Arizona side and in Tucumcari on the way to Amarillo.

  15. You would think that talking about New Mexico like this has nothing to do with my dad, but my parents loved New Mexico. My dad did a project for the New Mexico Historical Society where he photographed all of the historical sites, which were mostly old churches and Pueblos, with a few government buildings and museums. My father also extensively photographed Chaco Canyon. He also taught workshops with Dick Arentz in southern New Mexico. My parents visited me in New Mexico many times. We went to many of the pueblos then too. We also celebrated Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, New Mexico at the Plaza Hotel one year and my father photographed birds at Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. On your cross-country trip you probably went through on I-40, along which generally are the most boring parts of New Mexico. What area or aspect did you fall in love with on your second visit?

  16. Richard Wong says:

    I agree that I-40 was very boring, hence why I never wanted to visit New Mexico again after that first experience. I had to go back a year later for some freelance work in Albuquerque and spent a day in Santa Fe driving up the turquoise trail to get there. Santa Fe was really vibrant and also had a war protest which was exciting. The combination of scenic and old architecture is what appeals to me.

  17. Santa Fe is one of those eclectic, cultural, and progressive mid-sized towns that there are only a handful of in the whole country. It is a bit claustrophobic in some ways, nearly everyone is new age, (which has its pluses and minuses) has been in therapy for many years, and likes to talk about it. However, it also has one of the best art markets in the world, which is unusual for a small city. It probably has the most photographic galleries per capita of any place in the world. The surrounding country in nearly every direction, particularly to the north, is incredibly interesting and beautiful.

  18. Merg Ross says:

    David, a very touching story and tribute to your father. He was an idol of mine from an early age, when we exhibited in a group show at the old SFMOMA in 1954. I was only 13, and just starting my long career in photography.

    Many years later, your parents visited my parents at their home in Mexico.I have a nice thank you note in my Dad’s archive from them. My father, Donald, as you may know, was an excellent photographer in the West Coast tradition. He and Brett Weston were best friends, and they traveled and photographed together for four decades; in the early years, I was fortunate to tag along and photograph with them.

    To see something written about your father is truly a treat. I recall the trials of his last years, and thought how very sad. Fortunately, he still lives through his work, and such splendid work it is.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Best,
    Merg

  19. Hi Merg, Thank you for writing. I am writing a book about my dad and would be appreciative if I could talk to you some time about your early days in photography, your dad, my dad and of course Brett Weston and Edward Weston. I just looked at your site. I intend the ultimate compliment when I say your work has similarities to Brett Weston. Your work is fantastic. You sure started young and among good company. Your bio sounds as though you have had a very interesting life. Appreciate your input here, hope you will come back and if you would like, potentially be the subject of a blog post. Many blessings.

  20. Lisa Cameron says:

    David, I just read this post for the first time as I have just learned of your fathers wonderful artwork (I am the photo student doing the paper on him). This discription about your times shared is truely beautiful I see you inherited his ability to create with words as well. That sun that shines through the window that warms you is your father, his love and passion of nature is still shining to earth to be shared, and he knows you are sharing his beautiful photographs with the world and is happy! Thank you for sharing again Lisa Cameron

    ps you made mention in your message to me about being young and noticing natures beauty haha well I am a adult returning student !

  21. Hi Lisa, thank you for this beautiful comment. I believe you are right about him still shining his love and passion for nature and being around in some way. I wrote a note recently to a collector who mentioned something along these lines. The collector said something about Dad’s spirit or life force still being present when the collector looked at the photographs. I replied, “Our perspectives on certain things may be similar because I get a sense on a regular basis that my father and mother are around in some form and still involved in my life and this work. It might sound hokey to some, but I personally would not doubt for a second that my father might choose to connect to you through his photographs. There are many ways to look at this. Another possible way to see it is that he felt so strongly about the places and his photographs of them, that those intense emotions are built into the very print itself and of course visually conveyed through the image. He left a piece of himself with the photograph for each of us to enjoy if we choose to see it. There is evidence of this kind of thing being real and even measurable in modern physics.”

    As for youth, as you probably know, it does not always correspond to a person’s age one way or another.

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