Artist’s Share Vision: Philip Hyde’s Tribute To John Muir
Note: This article originally titled Artist’s Share Vision by Jane Braxton Little appeared in the Feather River Bulletin, Wednesday, May 5, 1993. Jane and Jon Little are long-time friends of the Hydes. Since this article, Jane Braxton Little started writing for the Sacramento Bee and magazines such as Audubon, American Forests, Scientific American, Nature Conservancy, Sierra, Native Peoples and many others. She is now a full-time freelance writer who travels world-wide on environmental stories. The Range of Light is out of print but readily available through used booksellers. See The Range of Light on Amazon.
Artist’s Share Vision by Jane Braxton Little
Philip Hyde’s Tribute to John Muir
(To see the photograph full-screen Click Here.)
Now, in The Range of Light, they share as partners the publication of a book. Hyde’s most recent volume of photographs, with selections from Muir’s writing, was intended more as a tribute to and appreciation of John Muir than a show of friendship, said the photographer.
“I came across Muir when I first went out into the Sierra as a kid. He put my thoughts as well as they could be put, and he helped me determine my life’s work,” Hyde said.
They never met, of course. Hyde was born in 1921 and Muir died in 1914. But from his childhood discovery of the pioneering environmentalist throughout his life as a photographer, Hyde nurtured the sense of kinship.
Although Muir is known as a geologist and a naturalist, Hyde thinks of him as an artist.
“He had the spirit of an artist. He was driven by experience. I’m not an intellectual and neither is Muir. In almost every word Muir is appealing to the sense and spirit of things,” Hyde said.
Like Muir, Hyde’s career began in the Sierra Nevada. His first backpacking trip was with a group of Boy Scouts to Yosemite. It was also his first trip with a camera, a Kodak Readyset 120 he borrowed from his sister, Hyde says in his “Notes On A Life Of Photography” in The Range of Light.
As he became one of the nation’s most prominent landscape photographers, Hyde’s explorations led him beyond the high Sierra to beauty spots throughout the West. But like Muir, he always found himself returning to the Sierra, their mutual spiritual home.
For The Range of Light, Hyde pored through Muir’s vast body of published work, searching for the best blend of words and photographs to portray the sense of the majesty of the Sierra Nevada they share.
“I worked hard on getting the appropriate photograph with the appropriate Muir quotation. That was the nicest part of the whole project—reading all of the Muir I could get and picking out the right pieces,” said Hyde.
The result is a magnificent, 102-page volume of Hyde’s black-and-white as well as color photographs, each one accompanied by a few evocative words from Muir. The combination delivers a personal, often private passion for the mountains Muir called “The Range of Light.”
Despite its crimson sunsets over Mono Lake and verdant green mornings at Lake Tenaya, the book is not without clouds. Like Muir a half-century before him, Hyde warns of a crisis threatening the Sierra.
“Our culture, our institutions, our managers have not been wise stewards of the Sierra’s resources—the air, water, soil, and the creatures and plants, especially trees, on whose health nearly all the rest of the resources depend. Our so-called civilization has plundered these resources to such an extent in the Sierra… that man may be the most ‘endangered species’ of all,” Hyde writes in a reflective personal essay in The Range of Light.
Although his photographs radiate the joy of natural beauty, he is not optimistic about the future.
“Protection of nature is no longer just a matter of preserving the wellsprings of inspiration; it may well become a matter of life or death for the species who fancies himself the master of nature, but has not yet learned to master himself and his own passions,” Hyde said.
Still, his artistic vision and Muir’s boundless enthusiasm for the Sierra have produced an inspiration for backpackers and arm-chair travelers alike.
Trying to translate wilderness is just a silly thing to do,” Hyde said. “But a lot of feelings associated with nature that are part of my experience were part of Muir’s experience. That bond makes some of these juxtapositions work. It’s a good intuitive fit. Of course, I had an advantage because he wasn’t around,” said Hyde.
For another well-written tribute to Philip Hyde read the blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By Bill Neill.” For more on Philip Hyde’s process in making and selecting landscape photography of the Sierra Nevada see the blog post, “New Portfolio: Yosemite And Sierra Black And White Prints.” To read more on how Philip Hyde first visited and fell in love with Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada, read the blog post, “Lake Tenaya And Yosemite National Park.”