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.)
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?