New Releases: Philip Hyde Signature Desert Landscapes

April 9th, 2015 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

New Releases: The History Behind Philip Hyde Desert Icons

Archival Chromogenic Prints from Large Format Film

Evening Light On West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah-Arizona, copyright 1963 Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. (Click on the image to see it large.)

Evening Light On West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah-Arizona, copyright 1963 Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. (Click on the image to see it large.)

Philip Hyde began photographing the desert Southwest with large format film in 1951. At that time, he used primarily black and white film, but did expose some large format color transparencies too. The Sierra Club book, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park and It’s Magic Rivers, with introduction, one chapter and editing by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner, included as many color plates as black and white, but editor, journalist, conservationist, pilot and river guide Martin Litton also made nearly as large a share of these images in the book as Hyde. To read more about the making of This Is Dinosaur see the blog post series, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism.” To read more about Martin Litton see the blog post series, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience.”

While on his way back and forth from his Northern Sierra home in California to Dinosaur National Monument, Philip Hyde explored and photographed much of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of New Mexico. For more on his early travels in the deserts of North America, see the blog post series, “Toward a Sense of Place,” and the blog post, “Images of the Southwest Portfolio Foreword by Philip Hyde.” Below is the history of three Philip Hyde signature desert photographs that both exemplify his style of photography and inspired two generations of photographers.

Based on the photograph locations in Hyde’s Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series volumes Navajo Wildlands: As long As The Rivers Shall Run (1967) and Slickrock: Endangered Canyons of the Southwest (1973) with Edward Abbey and in other Hyde books for Sunset and the prominent travel and natural history magazines of the day, large format film photographer Tom Till said that Hyde was the first to photograph areas of The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park and Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park. Large format photographer David Muench, who was 15 years younger than Hyde, a little later was also the first to photograph some iconic desert landscapes.

Evening Light on West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley

Possibly one of the most emulated American classics of all-time, Philip Hyde’s 1963 “Evening Light on West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley,” came into the public eye just as the quality of color printing in books developed enough for such books to become popular. “Evening Light on West Mitten Butte” enjoyed much recognition when it first appeared in the Exhibit Format Series book, Navajo Wildlands in 1967. Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of similar photographs have been made and many published of this view of Monument Valley. Navajo Wildlands helped the Navajo Nation, now more correctly called by their own name Diné Nation, to form seven Navajo Tribal Parks to preserve some areas of the reservation for all generations.

Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert

Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California, copyright 1987 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California (Drylands Crop) copyright 1987 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America. (Click on the image to see it large.)

Two other Philip Hyde desert landscape icons have been emulated much since their creation, but they were neither the first, nor even early in the evolution of similar images, merely the most widely known and observed for inspiration. Ridges and ripples on sand dunes had been famously photographed by Brett Weston, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and many others well before Philip Hyde made the color photograph, “Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California” in 1987. Hyde’s photograph perhaps was early in relation to all color images of this type of scene. Regardless, it was not until after “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” appeared in Drylands: The Deserts of North America that close up images of ripples on sand dunes flooded the photography market. Hyde’s original photograph was an unusual vertical that showed the ripples on the sand dunes in the foreground with the ripples fading into the distance at the horizon. Yolla Bolly Press, the packagers of Drylands, who also packaged Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, convinced Hyde to crop “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” to a horizontal for the front pages of Drylands. This version only showing the bottom half of the original vertical, the close up part of the image, became popular for its abstract qualities. Many still today find the Drylands crop of “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” a stronger image than the original vertical.

Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

The second signature desert landscape that Hyde made as late as 1982 was “Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah.” This photograph also graced the pages of Drylands. Photography historians have found earlier photographs with vague similarity to this image, but it was not until after 1987 that similar images showed up in numerous magazines and other publications and now on the internet on various websites of photographers of the American Southwest.

Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah, copyright 1982 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah, copyright 1982 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America. (Click on the image to see it large.)

So what? What is the point of researching who came first and who came later? This kind of tracking is not necessarily done for further recognition in and of itself, but it does serve to further establish and educate scholars, art historians and the public in this regard: it is important for determining the influence of an artist like Philip Hyde on his medium. Influence has a great deal to do with the perception of the significance of the life’s work of any artist and how his or her work is positioned in the historical record. These three photographs play a consequential role in the history of photography, particularly of landscape photography and photography of the Western US and Colorado Plateau. Similar photographs of a location do not necessarily emulation make, but in Hyde’s case, many of the who’s who of nature photography today acknowledge having been influence by his work.

Philip Hyde made six or fewer original dye transfer or Cibachrome hand made color prints of each of these four images. Only three original dye transfer prints remain of “Havasu Falls,” two of “Chinle Shales” and none of “Evening Light, West Mitten Butte” or “Ripples on Kelso Dunes.” Please consider acquiring our new archival chromogenic prints of these images, produced in a special numbered open edition, while they are at a special introductory price for a limited time. For more about new release pricing, see the blog post, “New Releases Now at Special Introductory Pricing.” For more information about the difference between archival digital prints and archival chromogenic prints, see the blog post, “About Archival Fine Art Digital Prints.” To purchase prints, see the images large and read more descriptions see the New Releases Portfolio on the Philip Hyde Photography website.

Have you ever seen photographs similar to any of these three?

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6 comments

  1. pj finn says:

    Always interesting to read your historical background into your father’s work. Pioneer is an often overused word, but not in his case. He truly did pioneer much of what we’ve seen in color landscape photography for several decades now.

  2. Thanks PJ. More credentialed people than you or I have said Dad was a pioneer. Dad himself, true to character, refused to be called by the term. He said the photographers and explorers in the 1800s were the pioneers, but in relation to the industry now, Dad was certainly a pioneer of color landscape photography.

  3. Mark says:

    I have seen similar images to the first and second as they seem to be quite commonplace now as subjects that would attract many photographers. The third is a bit more contemplative to me, though one could say the theme of layers is sought out quite often now also. I really love the gradients in this image.

    How exciting it must have been to be out photographing these places, these themes in the very early years. The fact that more people and more cameras have visited them now shouldn’t diminish their importance in exploring creativity and wonder.

  4. Well said, Mark. Regardless of how many images we’ve seen of a place, it is still up to each photographer to explore for themselves and not worry about what others have done. All that we’ve seen does affect us, but it is probably wise to leave that influence to the subconscious and pursue our own work without trying to over think being unique in the field, as I catch myself trying to do sometimes. Picking something unusual is important, but it can be done in the portfolio selection process later, after the creative self has had a chance to run free range in the field. Online, various blogs and articles that give pointers may share an idea like working in depth, or looking for layering opportunities, but these ideas are sometimes presented or read as rules, rather than mentioned as an offhand added spice. This confuses learning photographers into thinking they ‘have’ to do this, or they ‘have’ to do that, which they most often do not, or only if it works.

  5. Interesting to read about this photographer. I definitely recognize some of these motifs.

  6. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by.

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