Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series
The 2oth Century’s Biggest Advance In Landscape Photography
Part One: Introduction
(See the photograph large: “Hyde’s Wall, E. Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness.”)
The 19th Century’s most significant advance in photography took place with the invention of flexible, paper-based photographic film by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, in 1884. Another beginning that would grow and converge with photography in the mid 20th Century, was the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892 by 182 charter members who elected John Muir their first president. To read about how John Muir influenced pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, see the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Trubute To John Muir.”
In 1951, the Sierra Club sent a young photographer named Philip Hyde, recently out of photography school under Ansel Adams, to Dinosaur National Monument, on the first ever photography assignment for an environmental cause. To learn more about the national battle to save Dinosaur National Monument that many consider the birth of modern environmentalism, see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.” Philip Hyde’s photographs with those by journalist Martin Litton became the first photography book ever published for an environmental cause: This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And It’s Magic Rivers. Read more about Martin Litton in the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1.”
By 1960, David Brower, an accomplished climber, Sierra Club high trip leader, member of the Sierra Club Board of Directors and previously a manager at the University of California Press, helped the Sierra Club establish the Sierra Club Foundation. One of the purposes of the Sierra Club Foundation was to develop a Sierra Club publishing program. Sierra Club Books launched the Exhibit Format Series with the first volume, This is the American Earth, with text by Nancy Newhall and photographs primarily by Ansel Adams with a handful of other photographers including Philip Hyde, Edward Weston and Minor White. The new Exhibit Format Series brought Sierra Club books and the cause of conservation national recognition, while advancing the art of photography and helping to establish landscape photography as a popular and persuasive art form. To learn more about David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer And Environmentalist 1.”
In his 1971 book about David Brower, Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee described the coffee table books from the Exhibit Format Series:
Big, four-pound, creamily beautiful, living-room furniture books that argued the cause of conservation in terms, photographically, of exquisite details from the natural world and, textually, of essences of writers like Thoreau and Muir.
William Neill, in his 2006 tribute to Philip Hyde wrote:
Philip 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: Grand Canyon, Navajo Wildlands, The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, 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. 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.
To read the full tribute, see the guest blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.” Stay tuned for the next installment in this series about the launching of the Sierra Club book program and the making of This is the American Earth.
(Continued in the blog post, “Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 2.”)