Posts Tagged ‘Alabama Hills’

Book Review – Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks

April 27th, 2018

Book Review

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks by Q. T. Luong

The Ethics of Protecting and Promoting Our National Parks

Cover of Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks by Q. T. Luong. (Click to view large.)

Americans invented National Parks and in return, National Parks and other wild lands of the new continent shaped Americans. Yet the influence of cities and automobiles has eclipsed that of the national parks in all ways except through our collective imagination and grandest vision of all that makes up an ideal civilization. We must be careful to perpetuate these fragile image ties to our wilderness past, or forever lose our identity as part of nature. Maintaining this vision will also ensure our national parks remain wilderness untrammeled. Otherwise, we lose the piece of our core selves closest to our heart.

The age-old debate still rages over whether to invite more people out to enjoy nature and thus develop a larger fan base, or keep quiet and try to stop people from increasing the wear, tear, vandalism and man-made infrastructure necessary to simultaneously maintain access and protect our national treasures.

“For every place there will always be people that want to exploit it,” my father, pioneer conservation photographer Philip Hyde said. “And, there will always be people—hopefully—that want to save it and keep it as it is. Even with the risk of inviting the crowds into paradise, better to publish your photographs and rally the troops. What’s in the frame of the photograph matters artistically, to be sure, but what’s outside the frame can destroy it.” Later in life, in the early years of the millennium, after hearing how overrun and trampled certain locations had become, Dad said he still wondered whether his books benefitted or harmed nature.

The Advantages of Large Format Film and of a Well-Written Text

Grand Teton from Schwabacher Landing, Midday, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming by Q. T. Luong from Treasured Lands. (Click to see large.)

If this best in class large format book, Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, with text and photography by Quang-Tuan Luong were a film, it would win multiple Academy Awards as one of the best efforts ever for recruiting new national park fans and encouraging old fans to renew themselves through new visits. My impression is that Mr. Luong accomplished such a masterpiece through sheer will, discipline and diligence.

When you open Treasured Lands for the first time you revel in the sublime realism and beauty that can only be achieved by large format film or a $40,000 digital camera rendered through the subtle, well-balanced color palette of a well reproduced photography book. To be fair, Tuan Luong informed me that the photographs in the book were not all made with a large format camera. Nonetheless, they all exhibit large format acumen by the photographer and they all have an unmistakeable large format aesthetic, portraying the full spectrum of nature, rather than nature dressed up only on her best day.

To accompany this colossal collection of effective and moving illustrations, Q. T. Luong wrote a text that flows and delivers just as well as the images. His punchy prose keeps your interest. It is loaded with facts, but not everyday facts, novel, captivating facts, figures and surprising observations that give you the feeling of having smartly and efficiently obtained the essence of each place. Just starting at page one and turning a few pages to the contents showing all the parks, I felt like I had already embarked on an adventure. I was learning, absorbing and celebrating our national heritage. I held in my hands all the parks in one monster volume.

Art, Propaganda and Photograph Location Disclosure

Cannonball and Badlands at Night, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota by Q. T. Luong from Treasured Lands. (Click to see Large.)

But is it art? Critics and others might ask. I would say the book itself is a work of art, the photographs are mainly documentary but contain artistic elements, some of them more than others. Some art critics might say the book is propaganda. They might perceive it as a kind of glorified guide book because Luong provides specific directions to each of his compositions in each park. Some art connoisseurs, gallerists and museum curators consider any art that is not solely for the sake of art itself is propaganda. This traces back to critics John Szarkowski and Nancy Newhall, as instigated by Ansel Adams and Beaumont Newhall around the time they co-founded the first museum photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Ansel Adams in workshops and his student and teaching associate Philip Hyde in a number of places, both in writing and in interviews spoke against giving directions to image locations. Both photography mentors felt the practice inhibited student resourcefulness and creativity, as well as hobbling the development of individual vision. I usually tend to agree with Dad and Ansel and believe these details are a flaw in Treasured Lands.

However, times have changed and photography in many cases is self-taught or no longer taught with the same rigor. Many photographers today find location specifics an asset and have praised Treasured Lands most of all for this reason. Either way, still today the best guidebooks offer suggestions and ideas, but do not give exact specifics. Nonetheless, even for purists like me, Luong somehow gets away with providing specific directions because the sheer scope of his undertaking and achievement force us to take him seriously as more than a mere tour guide. To go with the directions, I would have liked to see an outdoor ethics statement, or the Leave No Trace Principles. However, between the photographs and text, Luong portrays and describes these natural places with such reverence and admiration that his readers will hopefully take on at least some of his tone and outlook, which will hopefully cause them to treat our amazing national treasures with respect.

With new adventures on every page turn, my resistance to location disclosure fell away almost immediately under the sheer power of what I was seeing and reading. Unfortunately, I did find the maps a bit hard to read due to their tiny type font. However, I enjoyed reading how to reach a smattering of the photo locations. Meanwhile for the most part I became caught up in reading other content, which while obviously extensive and geologically rich, came accessibly served up in one to two page bytes. These are rewarding and satisfying because each section acts in part like a mini-tour of the park it covers. The text is well thought out, well-organized, captivating, diverse and packed with actionable instructions and tips to make your travels more enjoyable and photographically productive.

The Many Reasons Treasured Lands Is Not Propaganda

Haleakala Crater from White Hill, Midday, Haleakala National Park, Hawaii by Q. T. Luong from Treasured Lands. (Click to see Large.)

Regardless, I have other reasons not to dismiss Treasured Lands as mere propaganda. At face value, rather than feeling commercially viable at all, Treasured Lands feels so heavy in weight, so chock full of striking imagery and so bulging with smart information that once you have it in your hands you feel that you have made a great deal to have it for under $100. The publisher’s retail is $65 for an autographed copy from TreasuredLandsBooks.com. Currently you can even get it for as little as $44.19 with free shipping from Amazon.

Large two-page evening panoramas sprinkled across the pages bring the parks depicted into vivid awareness while taking us partially into abstraction with the extreme light and shadows of dusk. Sweeping vistas throughout the book give a sense of place and overwhelm us with the vastness and remoteness of wilderness. Luong visited many of the parks multiple times, which translates to years of hard work, days and nights of grinding travel in all conveyances and over all manner of terrain, which also translates into daunting logistics and planning.

By no means did Q. T. Luong make the expected photographs of each or even many of the national parks. In Lassen Volcanic National Park, as one example of many, he skipped the most popular views, especially of the mountain, but with the exquisite detail and texture of large format film he captured frames that showed the character of the park just as well without being cliché. In discussions with other photographers, I found most of them said that the book has a good balance between more innovative images and what some might call “the obvious shots” that are all but required to identify certain landmarks in some parks. Besides, in the visual arts people are drawn to at least a nuance, if not a good amount of familiarity, as Atlantic editor Derek Thompson points out in his book, Hit Makers. Hits are made from images that look new, but also remind us of other images before in some way.

Some of the Best Illustrative Landscape Photographs Ever Made

Cove of Arches and Cove Arch at night. Arches National Park, Utah by Q. T. Luong from Treasured Lands. (Click to see Large.)

Speaking of hits, in some of the national parks, Luong managed to make what I consider some of the best photographs ever made of certain areas. This was true in a number of unexpected places such as in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite, where Luong shows us the only photograph I have ever seen that lives up to the early 1900s Bureau of Reclamation vision of what the reservoir would look like, as sold to the American public. Pinnacles National Park is challenging to photograph. Perhaps his many visits enabled Luong to do something extra special there by knowing the most striking compositions and capitalizing on the best possible light. In the Sierra, he photographed snow caked on Giant Sequoia trunks, but did it better than it has been done before, with more majesty and more mood. I love Luong’s photograph of Alabama Hills. It is more about the Sierra Crest and the terrain, than any gimmicky cliché pseudo-arch foreground window framing the distant peaks. Luong omits the Merced River altogether in Yosemite, except in the higher elevation roaring cascades below Vernal Falls.

The differences between documentary and art photography are blurring anyway, but Luong is perhaps one of those who push the two definitions inward toward each other. His photographs for Treasured Lands overall are documentary, but even the most representational and least creative works are artistically strong and well seen from a design perspective with luscious forms and beautiful lines. It is quite evident that Luong has studied the great works of photography and art and applied what he has observed. Documentary, almost standard issue images that essentially say, “Ok, here we are at Joshua Tree,” are the best working basis for a large book on all of the national parks. However, Luong keeps his book fresh by mixing in nighttime photographs, ridge silhouettes, a few wildly tilted horizons and other Pictorialist effects such as slow shutter speeds for silky water, movement blurs and wind blurs. Luong also puts in the extra effort and expense to provide variety in other ways by getting up in airplanes, scaling mountain peaks, climbing walls, swimming underwater, chartering various boats horses, burros and other unusual transportation. Meanwhile, he also mixes in enough expected imagery such as the lava dripping into the ocean in Hawaii, Tunnel View from Yosemite, the Teton Barn, Mt. Denali and Wonder Lake and the circular petroglyphs on Signal Hill near the Tucson Mountains in Saguaro National Park.

Realism, Hard Work, Diligence, Feedback, Revisions and Quality

Margerie Glacier from Tarr Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska by Q. T. Luong from Treasured Lands. (Click to see Large.)

Another significant reason large format film was the ideal medium for this national parks project lies in how the high fidelity gives reflections, textures and details a much more interesting and realistic look. With large format, a nature photographer can go after and make ordinary objects extraordinary. The resulting photographs also work better when they contain flaws and extra grit, rather than having to be sterilized by over retouching in Photoshop. For example: I love that Luong left the house in his Zion photograph of Towers of the Virgin. Many digital photographers take it out of their images of this iconic location. The large format color is also so lush and true without any false-rendering of tones or over-saturation.

Part of what lifted up the text and images to far above average, was the amount of advice and feedback Quang-Tuan Luong asked for along the way. He was wise to get Gary Crabbe to help him edit the photographs and to get advice from many other experts at each stage in the production process. The first time Tuan and I met in San Jose, he asked me for ideas on how he could come out with yet another national parks book and make it different from any that had been done before. This was a smart question to ask about such a book and a good place to start in attracting my interest and participation. My first answer was that we do not need another book on the national parks. However, as I began to think about how Tuan opened himself up to input and ideas, I felt I had to offer more. Besides, when he asked me about making it a guidebook for photographers as well as a picture book for everyone else, I told him I did not like guidebooks. Some help I was. Yet he patiently and gently persisted in asking more questions and asking me to read some of his text. I agreed to do so, somewhat reluctantly. It took me a long time to offer much feedback, but as I began to, I saw that Tuan had put a great deal of thought and effort into the project, the text no less than the photography. As the book took shape and began to emerge from the realm of ideas, the quiet strength of what he was doing became evident. Let this be a word of caution to all aspiring creative people out there: never give up on what you love or on your big idea just because it has been done before. Do it better. Q. T. Luong certainly did and the world and the field are far richer for it. However, he did it not by force of will or ego, but through good listening. Remember that too, above all else. He also did it with kindness and generosity. My copy of Treasured Lands is the limited edition version that Tuan personally sent me. He numbered it by hand 77 of 150, signed it and wrote me a personal note. How cool is that?

A Tribute to the American Land, the Art of Place and Our National Heritage That Will Live On

Cypress trees Reflected in Cedar Creek from Canoe, Congaree National Park, South Carolina by Q. T. Luong from Treasured Lands. (Click to see Large.)

It may be due to the large format camera, or perhaps Luong and his sensibilities, or all three, regardless an outstanding sense of place permeates every page of Treasured Lands. Many are close behind, but the national park depictions deserving the most recognition in establishing place in my opinion are Cuyahoga Valley, Death Valley, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Great Sand Dunes, Guadalupe Mountains, Haleakala and Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, Luong includes Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs and a fairly unique framing of Yellowstone Falls, but also shows us many locations with which we are not familiar. In Death Valley, Luong gives us perhaps more of the usual images than in other places, but the additional images show us so much more as to render the place very well overall. Luong exhibits a certain flair for Alaska as his images in each of the parks there for the most part are both unexpected and extraordinary in the lexicon of all landscape photographs.

Q. T. Luong’s massive work consists of not so much a single unity of style, but of several style themes that run throughout the book. This cohesiveness is quite an accomplishment for a project that took so many years to complete. With all of the elements that went into making the book creating a synergy that lifts it above other work in the genre, it also transcends its minor shortcomings, or perceived structural flaws that we readers bring to it based on our own biases.

The sheer volume of work, in and of itself is impressive, but the consistent quality and exemplary execution make Treasured Lands a truly monumental achievement. Even as the son of Philip Hyde, or perhaps especially as the son of Philip Hyde, I am going to go out on a limb and say that Treasured Lands is one of the greatest large format landscape photography books ever published. It will live on and influence photographers for years and perhaps even generations to come. These statements, considering what has been accomplished in the genre before, hopefully transcend anything else I could say, or have said above, whether critical or supportive.

Galen Rowell And Outdoor Photographer Style

April 30th, 2010

Galen Rowell, Philip Hyde And The Finding Of A Personal Outdoor Photographer Style

Lone Pine Peak, Alabama Hills, East Side of the Sierra Nevada, California, 1978 by Philip Hyde. This photograph is an example of Philip Hyde's receptive approach. He often went against the standard wisdom and made photographs in the middle of the day. He was in the vicinity at this time and had a hunch to turn off and visit the Alabama Hills because of the fresh snow on the Sierra Nevada peaks. He drove around and got out of the vehicle and walked around with his view camera. The picturesque parallel curves of the three boulders with the angular peaks in the background presented themselves to him. This image is in contrast to photographs by Galen Rowell, who lived in the area, could visit the Alabama Hills when lighting conditions or the alpenglow was at its best. Galen Rowell made a number of memorable images of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Carr Clifton was the first to photograph the Alabama Hills' Mobius Arch with the Sierra Nevada behind in March 1983. Carr Clifton's photograph was first published in the 1985 Sierra Club Wilderness Engagement Calendar. Galen Rowell made a different photograph of the arch much later in 2001, but he may have made an earlier photograph of the arch. Since then the image has been copied over and over by subsequent outdoor photographers who rather than using Galen Rowell's visioning, Philip Hyde's receptive approach, or any creative method of their own, came to the landscape looking for a specific landmark to add to their checklist.

(See the Photograph full screen Click Here. To see Galen Rowell’s photographs of the East Side of the Sierra Nevada Click Here. To see Philip Hyde’s never before seen new prints on display at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery May 8 through August 31, 2010 see the blog post, “New Philip Hyde Releases At Mountain Light Gallery Exhibition.”)

Galen Rowell and Philip Hyde differed in their process for choosing photographs. Galen Rowell observed certain elements in the natural setting and then visualized a scenario where those elements came together. By sheer will, attractive power and personal dynamic energy, he would very often vision into being the very circumstances for the photograph he had imagined.

Philip Hyde had a nearly opposite approach to finding photographs. His was a yin, receptive, and contemplative method.  He would still his own inner processes, tune into the land around him, and allow it to fill his being until a photograph came forward. He was interested in letting photographs present themselves by attaining a quiet composure and seeing carefully.

As can readily be seen in the work of these two outdoor photographers, either method can result in spectacular images. A developing outdoor photographer can experiment with these two differing styles, see which he or she prefers overall, or use each method in different circumstances. I’m sure that both Galen Rowell and Philip Hyde used an opposite approach to their standard one at times, or tried a hybrid sometimes too. In my own experimenting with the two ways, I have found that in most instances the two methods produce very different photographs, but there are instances when they produce the same photograph. Sometimes I find I am meant to make a certain image whatever process I use. At other times the two methods themselves can even end up feeling the same or merged, as opposites sometimes do.

Galen Rowell’s Vision And The Outdoor Photographer

Galen Rowell applied his visionary process when he made his most famous photograph, “Rainbow Over The Potala Palace.” He described it in his book, Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography. Galen Rowell for years studied atmospheric conditions in the Sierra Nevada, interested in discovering what caused alpenglow and how he could capture it more consistently. He also had studied the physics of light and how it affected conditions for the outdoor photographer. In the book, Galen Rowell explained that he saw the rainbow beginning to form, observed the water vapor conditions that cause rainbows and ran a great distance across the field knowing that odds were good that if he positioned himself just right, the rainbow would end on the Dali Lama’s Potala Palace. Getting these factors to line up this way not only took mental focus and determination, but also specialized knowledge and diligence in understanding the science behind the craft of the outdoor photographer.  “My vision came true as the sunlit curtain of falling rain stayed in place while the rainbow moved with me in relation to the sun,” Galen Rowell wrote. “I used a telephoto lens to magnify part of the bow as a spot of light came through the clouds onto the palace.” Galen Rowell described his whole process more in his book.

In Search of An Outdoor Photographer Style

In the book Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, Galen Rowell wrote an essay called “In Search of Style.” In this essay, excerpted here, Galen Rowell shares some of the elements that bring out this elusive thread running through a photographers work:

Every photographer has a definable style, but I spent at least a decade worrying that I didn’t. If someone asked me what my artistic goals were, I would mumble platitudes about capturing my vision of the wilderness and pursuing light. I feared that my diverse work was adrift in an ocean of outdoor photography…. I also had a disdain for externally directed photographic styles, which continues to this day. For example, I was deeply offended by work that called attention to itself by some artificial device (such as an introduced color filtration, weird lens, strange darkroom twist, or exaggerated grain) to stylistically link photos that otherwise lacked an internal message. I liked deceptively simple pictures that drew more attention to honest vision than to technique…. Ansel Adams wrote eloquently about the difference between external and internal photographic events. The most meaningful photographic styles are always reflections of the internal. We react not so much to what an outdoor photographer sees, but to how he or she sees and renders the subject for us. Personal style comes from within, from a photographer’s unconscious and conscious choices. We usually pass over a photograph devoid of emotional reaction to its subject and say, ‘This doesn’t do anything for me.’ Of course it doesn’t. The photographer didn’t have his or her heart in it. Devoting personal energy to a photograph isn’t enough unless that energy is internalized. An easy way to block the internal message is to be overly concerned about results. For example, knowing their top images will be critiqued in front of the group, workshop participants out for an afternoon shoot often wander around shooting nothing because they have created unrealistic expectations for themselves…. Pros on a major assignment can easily allow externally directed cues to block the very style that caused the client to hire them…. One solution for a blocked-up photographer is to write an imaginary letter to an internal self: Wish you were here to see this. You wouldn’t take the boring photo I’m considering right now because you’d respond by… People avoid developing a personal style by emotionally distancing themselves from their work…. However, some sort of personal stamp does sneak through, even in the most banal photography. The balance of foregrounds to backgrounds and the choice of subject matter are among the subtle clues that the images were made by a thoughtful human being rather than by a monkey or some machine. The central process of art is not to render something exactly as it appears, but to simplify it so that meaning, clarity, emotional response, and a sense of wonder combine to create a style from within.

Besides being a great outdoor photographer, you can see that Galen Rowell was also a great writer. He put into words in more than 20 books, the methods, style and inner awareness that translated powerfully to the page and produced a body of photography and texts that will endure. The Philip Hyde exhibition at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery is first time the two photographer’s work will be shown together in the same building, see the blog post, “Pioneer Photography Of Philip Hyde At Mountain Light Gallery.” To read more on Galen Rowell’s influence and how his choice of film changed landscape photography see the blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

Which of the two approaches does your own method most resemble for outdoor photography?

The Santa Monica Experience

April 28th, 2010

Billboard And Sign, Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, California, 2009 by David Leland Hyde, Nikon D90 hand held.

People have asked me to give a little tasty taste of what I photograph, ponder and write about while I’m on the road on the way to a Philip Hyde exhibition opening, or while I’m lugging around framed prints.

I did write something called “The Santa Monica Experience,” that I sent as an e-mail to my list of friends of Philip Hyde Photography on November 7, 2009. I wrote it at a friend’s beautiful house, not even close to the largest in the neighborhood, but way above my status. I wrote the e-mail sitting in my friend’s guest suite looking out at the swimming pool, lawns, orange trees, lemon trees, and several other fruit trees while the smell of exotic flowers filled the air. I was visiting Pacific Palisades, between Santa Monica and Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway, in my Dad’s tan 1984 Ford Van, with a dent on the right side and the paint peeling off, parked in the driveway. I had just returned from leaving 30 framed archival fine art digital prints at Santa Monica College for the upcoming exhibition.

Wow, SUNSHINE! I love L. A….

Not a drip of smog, blue skies, warm days, scantily-fashionably clad beautiful people everywhere…

Waves, Beach, Santa Monica, California, 2009 by David Leland Hyde, Nikon D90 hand held.

…The speed limit is 45 on the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica and I’m doing 60. Mercedes, BMW’s, Porsches blasting past me like I’m standing still. The last mad race of a race madly running like lemmings into the sun… On the radio of the convertible Mustang ahead of me, Madonna scintillating, “You might be my lucky star…” The girl in the white Saab looks at me, like, “You have a lot of nerve to drive that old jalopy van along here and look at me.”

The van is a quiet tan from an era gone by, but not lost at Santa Monica College. They teach cutting edge digital photography and old fashioned darkroom black and white print making. It is the only college in the United States that still teaches Ilfochrome printing. Santa Monica College has millions of dollars in photography equipment. In the new and high tech business building on the second floor there’s this beautiful gallery space with top quality lighting, completely straight white bare walls, where the work of a quiet man who loved nature will hang for an instant in time. And this quiet show starts tonight. It is the “Road Less Traveled…”

Come see…
Tonight is the night.
Santa Monica College.
It will be good for your soul…
Love,
David Leland Hyde
Philip Hyde Photography
Fine Art For Earth’s Sake Since 1942

http://www.philiphyde.com/

This next time the show will be at Mountain Light Gallery. A different show. Come see. It will be good for your soul…

And, maybe somewhere along the way, in Reno, Carson City, Mono Lake, Mammoth, Bishop, Lone Pine, Alabama Hills, maybe Death Valley National Park, maybe even Yosemite National Park, I will write another experience. There is always plenty to write about and photograph on the road…