Posts Tagged ‘Alaska’

Book Review: Sacred Headwaters By Wade Davis And Carr Clifton

March 12th, 2019

Book Review of The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save The Stikine, Skeena, and Nass by Wade Davis with Principal photography by Carr Clifton, Foreword by David Suzuki and Afterword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Including Other Leading Conservation Photographers such as Paul Colangelo, Sarah Leen, Claudio Contreras, Gary Fiegehen, Brian Huntington, Tom Peschak, Joe Riis and Florian Schulz.

Landscape Photography Reader Note on Process, Life and Persistence:

Graystone Books released the first US Edition of The Sacred Headwaters in March 2012. In June, I wrote a rough draft of this review and by December I had written over five completely different drafts. Carr Clifton asked me to publish what I had on Landscape Photography Reader, but I told him I did not want to put up a blog post of the review as I still wanted to submit it to newspapers and magazines. Most publications of any significance will not publish work that has been previously published in any form elsewhere. I began work on a sixth draft in early 2013, but by then I decided it was too late to submit to newspapers or magazines. Most of them only accept reviews of books that have been out for less than six months. With life and other concerns and obligations intervening in the meantime, I also began reading a much larger body of books on the world water crisis and books about saving rivers. I have collected over 70 volumes about water and rivers to date, over 20 are large format coffee table style, and nearly a dozen are books with photographs by my father, pioneer conservation photographer Philip Hyde.

My idea was to someday publish a large review for a major publication. While that dream still exists in one form or another, it has simultaneously turned into a book-length project about books that have saved rivers to potentially include the work of such greats as John Muir, Wallace Stegner, David Brower, Edward Abbey, Ansel Adams, Dad, Eliot Porter, Martin Litton, Ken Brower, Wade Davis, Carr Clifton and many others. Please pray, do a dance, send good vibes and think supportive thoughts for me that life, death, or hard times will not intervene first. Despite external factors getting in the way and myself getting in the way, from time to time I am happy to find that my skills are improving. While I struggled with this review for more than a year the first time I tried to write it and abandoned that sixth draft only a bit over half finished, when I came back to it this week, all the disjointed, jumbled pieces either discarded easily or flowed together surprisingly well in just a few days. Sometimes once the old karma is worn out, the obstacles just melt away. My sincere apologies to Wade Davis and Carr Clifton for the delay in getting this in front of the world. Blessings and a thank you to my readers. Please enjoy the review and email or comment with any questions or thoughts you may have…

Threats to the Native Homeland and the Salmon Headwaters ‘Yosemite of the North’

Cover of The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass by Wade Davis and Carr Clifton. (Click image to see larger.)

Harvard trained anthropologist-ethnobotanist and bestselling author Wade Davis represents National Geographic in up to 50 countries a year studying vanishing indigenous cultures. Indicators such as a decrease in the usage of the native language or loss of home through displacement signal the decline of a culture. Davis has seen the loss of a few houses in a native village, the loss of a whole village, or even a people’s entire homeland, but he never thought that his own home would be threatened.

Besides his house in Washington DC and his residences during research abroad, for 25 years Davis has considered his true home a fishing lodge on Ealue Lake at the edge of one of the World’s largest remaining intact wildernesses called the Sacred Headwaters in Northern British Columbia. Born in British Columbia, Davis also worked as a park ranger and hunting guide in the Sacred Headwaters during the 10 years before he built his fishing lodge. The native tribes of the Sacred Headwaters, the Tahltan First Nations, refer to their hunting and fishing lands as hallowed ground because by a wonder of geography three of the greatest salmon rivers of the Pacific Northwest, the Skeena, the Stikine and the Nass all are born in remarkably close proximity to each other in a land of jagged peaks, verdant valleys and forests abundant with wildlife and rushing water. In 2006, IBM Business Consulting sponsored an independent study that found the value of the salmon industry in the Skeena River alone to be $110 million annually.

The Tahltan could still lose this homeland to any of 41 different industrial proposals including large-scale fracking, open-pit mining and coal mining. Wade Davis’ fishing lodge on Ealue Lake lies just under Todagin Mountain, which would lose it’s top to Imperial Metals’ proposed Red Chris Mine. This open-pit copper, gold and silver mine would process 30,000 tons of rock ore per day for 28 years and pour toxic mine tailings directly into Black Lake, one of the nine lakes that form the headwaters lake chain of the Iskut River, the principal tributary of the Stikine. Besides the Red Chris Mine threat, Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration of coal bed methane gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, with gas wells, access roads and pipelines, would criss-cross approximately 10 million acres. Also, Fortune Minerals’ open pit anthracite coal mine on Mount Klappan is currently in the environmental assessment process for a three million ton per year operation. Anthracite is an extra dense, extra hard, rare and energy rich type of coal. Because of these threats, the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine is number one on British Columbia’s Most Endangered Rivers list.

A National Geographic Explorer Unites With the Voices of the Tahltan Elders and Conservation Photographers

Woodland or Osborne Caribou on the Upper Slopes of Klappan Mountain, Skeena Mountains, British Columbia, Canada by Carr Clifton. Fortune Minerals seeks to locate an open-pit coal mine here to produce between 1.5 and 3 million tons of anthracite a year. (Click image to see larger.)

To protect their common home, Wade Davis gathered the voices of the Tahltan elders, his own moving narrative and photographs by some of the world’s leading conservation photographers today to publish The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save The Stikine, Skeena, and Nass. While Davis has authored dozens of books, a handful of which have been bestsellers, he had never before produced a photography book, let alone a large format conservation book. To plan his book Davis researched the most significant coffee table landscape photography books.

Large format nature photography books became popular after 1960 when photographer Ansel Adams, conservationist David Brower and curator Nancy Newhall launched the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, which they intended to serve as “battle books” to defend US wilderness and help found national parks. The idea for the book series began in 1955 with This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers, the first book published for an environmental cause with two chapters by Pulitzer-winning novelist and conservationists Wallace Stegner with photographs by journalist Martin Litton and my father Philip Hyde. In the 1960s, my father, Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter became the primary illustrators of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series that brought the beauty of America onto coffee tables around the world, helped advance the momentum of modern environmentalism, saved the Grand Canyon from dams and helped establish Redwood National Park, Everglades National Park, North Cascades National Park and many others.

Many proponents including photographer Eliot Porter and David Brower, the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director, said that the large format books were largely responsible for the massive increases in the club’s membership. Other Sierra Club leaders, including Ansel Adams, worried that the Sierra Club might go bankrupt if it continued to publish such extravagant volumes. David Brower was asked to resign for overspending on publishing and other endeavors deemed reckless by a slight majority of the Sierra Club Board. The books were downsized and all but discontinued. Few volumes of similar quality were mass published until the digital era.

Today, 20 years into the digital revolution, photographic reproduction and book production quality have both advanced dramatically since the 1960s. With the right combination of participants, The Sacred Headwaters now shows it is possible to produce a book of similar quality to the classics in the genre from the 1960s.

The Need for A Large Number of Sweeping Landscape Photographs to Match the Terrain

Black Lake, Kluea and Todagin Lakes in Distance, Skeena Mountains, British Columbia, Canada by Carr Clifton. Three of the nine lakes that form the headwaters lake chain of the Iskut River, principal tributary of the Stikine. If the Red Chris mine went forward, the entire valley would be buried beneath a mountain of toxic tailings and waste rock, which would leach into one of the world’s most pristine and productive salmon watersheds below. (Click image to see larger.)

Wade Davis knew he could write a good text. He had done it before. He had also made good photographs for National Geographic before too, but he knew that to make the strongest statement possible, he would be wise to obtain help. He turned to the International League of Conservation Photographers, also known as the iLCP. The iLCP is a collection of leading photographers with a mission to “further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography.” Trevor Frost, iLCP photographer and home office staffer, helped Wade Davis raise funds for and organize a multi-photographer team to go to the Sacred Headwaters on what the iLCP calls a R.A.V.E. or Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition. R.A.V.E.s aim to achieve a full visual assessment of a threatened ecosystem in a short period of time.

The photographers represented in The Sacred Headwaters who initially joined the RAVE included Paul Colangelo, Sarah Leen, Claudio Contreras, Gary Fiegehen, Brian Huntington, Tom Peschak, Joe Riis and Florian Schulz. Most of these photographers are well known. They made a good number of high-quality images, but the project was still short on enough strong, cohesive photographs for a book, not to mention that it was heavy on wildlife and short on the giant, open and sweeping landscapes that characterize the Sacred Headwaters more than almost anywhere else on Earth.

Wade Davis decided to call on landscape photographer Carr Clifton, who had learned the art of the large format photography book as a protégé of my father and had produced a dozen photography books of his own, not to mention more magazine covers than any other living nature photographer. Most importantly large landscapes have always been Carr Clifton’s specialty. He has been photographing nature for over 40 years. He was one of the primary photographers during the heyday of the Sierra Club Desk Calendars that helped to popularize nature photography. He is also the primary illustrator of nearly a dozen books including Wild By Law, The Hudson, New York: Images of the Landscape, Wild and Scenic California, Justice on Earth, Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature and others. Clifton is now one of the all-time most published landscape photographers.

In The Sacred Headwaters, Carr Clifton’s work from the helicopter, in particular, produced giant scenes that explode with color and show off Clifton’s awareness and mastery of how to capture light. The viewer of these pages is awakened to new possibilities in beauty, beginning with the cover photograph. These images depict the proverbial land of plenty, perhaps the last of its scope on Earth. The way Clifton uses unusual camera angles shows more of the land and more of the sky when it is interesting. Even in his Caribou image, he is not at their eye level, he is down at the height of their flanks…

Wildlife is not my forte. I was looking for landscapes when I saw those Caribou. I thought to myself that I had to photograph them as part of the story, but they are not something I would have gone after because I do not believe in bothering wildlife just for my own sake to get pictures. They are already pushed enough. Probably I crouched to hold the lens steady. It was a long lens. With landscapes, it’s not like I do it as a trick or a method. It’s just the way I see. Sometimes I get down really low and close to the subject. Otherwise, with a wide angle lens it looks like the object is down below the picture. When I get down low I can include more. I can get more of the sky and maybe something interesting in the foreground. With the Cotton Grass to show it properly you need to get close. If I shot it standing up, the grass heads would all be the same size. By getting down low and close to the nearest ones, you’re filling the frame with the Cotton Grass. If you are far back you are not going to have as much converging perspective. Still, I don’t think about all of that when I’m doing it. I’m just feeling. Just paying attention and tuning in to what surrounds me. At the same time, I don’t want the subject to take over the image, which is what happens a lot in wildlife photography. I like the design of the rectangle and that’s my art form. Just what is going on in the rectangle. I’m not trying to tell a story, though in this project the combination of the photographs as a grouping and the writing do together tell a story. But with individual pictures, I’m more concerned  with the composition and the makeup of the rectangle, the deisgn of the whole, the feeling it portrays.

A Wildlife Garden of Eden or ‘Serengeti of the North’

Paul Colangelo, besides his also unusually arranged frames of moose, bear and other wildlife, also photographed the landscape and water features from the chopper. “The land has one of the largest intact predator-prey systems in North America,” said Colangelo. He said this earned the area the nickname, ‘Serengeti of the North.’ Canadian also call the large remote and roadless part of British Columbia simply, “’The North.’”

Canoeing, rafting and of course backpacking for miles were needed to access other locations, but the newest method for me was traveling by horseback. I stopped into a cabin to ask directions to a fishing camp and the next thing I knew I was joining the cabin’s owner on an eight-day horseback trip.

Todagin Creek, Todagin South Slope Provincial Park (right side of creek), Skeena Mountains, British Columbia, Canada by Carr Clifton. Todagin Creek flowing beneath the south slope of Todagin Mountain down valley toward Tatogga Lake and the Iskut River. (Click image to see larger.)

Carr Clifton logged thousands of four-wheel-drive miles on an old railroad grade that is the only ground access to the Sacred Headwaters. By air, on foot and in his truck, he covered a vast roadless wilderness of approximately 150,000 square miles. He not only participated in the summer 2011 RAVE, but also drove from California back to Northern BC in the Fall of 2011 with no compensation besides reimbursement for his expenses.

For perspective, Wade Davis compared the Sacred Headwaters to wilderness in the US:

In the lower 48, the farthest you can get from a maintained road is 20 miles. In the Northwest quadrant of BC, an area the size of Oregon, there is only one road, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, a ribbon of asphalt that goes along the side of the coastal mountains to Alaska. It is a region where distances are measured by numbers of boots worn out, and on the roads in terms of the number of axles broken during the journey.

Wade Davis wrote that in the US only one river flows more than 600 miles uncompromised by dams, whereas the rivers of the Sacred Headwaters all run free. Davis opens The Sacred Headwaters with beautiful descriptions of the country supplemented by select observations from John Muir’s 1879 voyage up the Stikine River on his first journey to Alaska. By the end of his side trip, Muir was so moved by the country that he named his dog after the Stikine. He also gave the name to his most well known semi-autobiographical short story. In his smooth effortless prose, Davis vividly summarized Muir’s observations of hundreds of glaciers a day, eagles gathering by thousands to feast on salmon runs so rich they colored the sea, immense hemlock and Sitka spruce forests, mountains dazzling with waterfalls and ice, and how Muir climbed one rocky crag, Glenora, that rises 7,000 feet directly above the river. Muir’s journals described the Stikine River valley as a Yosemite 150 miles long.

Wade Davis sprinkles his text with concrete and entertaining statistics, his writing easily rising into the tradition of such greats as Marc Reisner, Aldo Leopold or John Muir himself.

The biggest canyon in Canada, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, which most Canadians cannot even name, less than 100 people have gone through in all written history. No raft has ever made it. The first Kayakers survived it in 1985. Nobody has ever walked the rim of it. It is far less known than Utah’s Glen Canyon, ‘the place no one knew.’

Shell Used the Standard Ploy of Promising Jobs, but Coal Bed Methane Extraction is Nearly All Automated

Cascade Falls on The Iskut River, Natadesleen Lake, Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park, Skeena Mountains, British Columbia, Canada by Carr Clifton. Beyond and out of sight are Kinaskan, Tatogga, Eddontenajon, Kluachon, Ealue, Kluea, Todagin, and Black Lakes. (Click image to see larger.)

The corporations proposing the development of the Sacred Headwaters, as well as other mines and natural gas fracking elsewhere, often claim keeping oil development in North America is good for jobs. Davis disagrees:

Shell’s coal bed methane extraction proposal of over 10 million acres, would result in hundreds, probably thousands of wellheads connected by multiple pipelines. That system, once in place, would be virtually automated. This is not about job creation. That’s just a red herring. Even if you look at the Golden Bear Gold Mine owned by Goldcorp, Inc, that is now exhausted, but operated in Tahltan territory for a decade, they extracted $25 billion worth of gold and silver. In the Iskut community, none of the infrastructure improved. A few people have hockey rinks or swimming pools, but there is still no fund for the kids to go to school, no health center and so on.

Shell used the jobs ploy to help obtain approval in the U.S. for the lower half of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The company represents itself in the media as becoming more socially conscious, but spends millions annually to defeat clean energy legislation, said a Natural Resource Defense Council press release. In 2002, Shell moved toward being greener by buying Siemens Solar, the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the world. Rather than staying involved in the solar industry, Shell sold its solar manufacturing division in 2006. Shell is also presently suing 12 environmental groups including NRDC and Earthjustice over proposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“Shell has never commercially produced coal bed methane in British Columbia, not to mention in salmon-bearing ecosystems or vulnerable alpine environments,” said Shannon McPhail, Executive Director of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. “I don’t think the Sacred Headwaters and our wild salmon should be their guinea pigs.”

Tahltan Nation Briefly Divided, but Ultimately Standing United in Evicting Shell, Fortune Minerals, Imperial Metals and All Other Industrial Development

Davis tells the story of how a split in the Tahltan Nation led to the threats of mining and fracking on tribal lands. A construction company called the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation, founded in 1985 by Jerry Asp, stood to gain from industrial development by building the necessary roads and other improvements. Jerry Asp through deception got himself elected chief of the Tahltan and welcomed in Shell and other corporations. The Tahltan had to withstand lawsuits by Shell, remove Asp from office and set up a blockade to keep Shell out of their lands. The Tahltan have been largely alone in the fight, but because of the continued efforts of iLCP photographers, Davis and groups such as the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, Big Wild, Forest Ethics, the Suzuki Foundation and many others, momentum shifted before time ran out.

Sunrise and Rainbow Over The Headwaters of the Skeena River, Skeena Mountains, in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters, British Columbia, Canada by Carr Clifton. (Click image to see larger.)

Spearheading the campaign’s momentum, The Sacred Headwaters remained on the Canadian bestseller lists for over a dozen weeks, a remarkable result for a $50 large format photography book. Davis is known in Canada as a “real-life Indiana Jones,” though he is less of a swashbuckler and more a poetic writer, humanitarian, researcher and naturalist. He speaks to sold-out venues wherever he tours to support his most recent bestsellers. His meticulously researched Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest also came out in 2011 as Sacred Headwaters did. The Everest account also quickly became a national bestseller both in Canada and the US.

A reader of Davis’ Sacred Headwaters narrative does not so much begin to read, as dive into the fast-moving current of a river of ideas already established in his other bestselling books including The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest, The Lost Amazon, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, Light at the Edge of the World, Passage of Darkness, Rainforest, The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire, Nomads of the Dawn, River Notes and many others. In his research and reporting on native cultures around the globe, he had already excavated a rich channel of knowledge and stories about the loss of native languages, herbal medicines, healing and customs under the advance of cultural domination. In Into the Silence, about the British first attempt to conquer of Mount Everest, Davis obtains a certain redemption by both chiding imperialism and making the compassionate realization that it is still within him, that it came from a less evolved self, his forefathers, our ancestors. In The Sacred Headwaters, he gave the Tahltan natives an opportunity to raise their own voices against economic imperialism as well, in addition to the many photographers and other collaborators he brought on board.

The combination not only worked as a book project, it also became the linchpin of a successful conservation campaign. By the end of December 2012, the Canadian Government, Shell Oil, and the Tahltan Central Council announced protection of the Sacred Headwaters from all oil and gas prospecting and drilling. In 2013 the British Columbia Liberal Party included a “Protection Plan for the Sacred Headwaters” in its election platform. Once the BC Liberal Government won the election, they succumbed to pressure and allowed Fortune Minerals a permit to continue coal exploration in the Sacred Headwaters. However, in July 2013, the Tahltan Central Council passed a unanimous resolution to protect their homeland from all industrial development. In August of that year, Tahltan community members gave Fortune Minerals an eviction notice from their exploration camp and blockaded their road access. In 2015, the Tahltan also blockaded Imperial Metals’ Red Chris Mine access on Todagin Mountain above Ealue Lake. Wade Davis’ lodge home and the sacred earth of the Tahltan are safe for now, but the threats will continue. My father, Philip Hyde, once said, “Environmental battles are never victorious. They have to be fought and won over and over and can be lost only once.”

For the announcement of Carr Clifton’s largest Sacred Headwaters Exhibition see the blog post, “Carr Clifton at Mountain Light Gallery.”

To read a guest feature by Paul Colangelo about his work in The Sacred Headwaters, the original iLCP RAVE and how NANPA, or North American Nature Photography Association honored him with the prestigious Philip Hyde Grant in 2010 see the guest blog post, “Big Wild, iLCP RAVE Sacred Headwaters by Paul Colangelo.”

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.

Outdoor Photographer Special Feature: Philip Hyde and the Art of Making National Parks

June 9th, 2016

Outdoor Photographer June National Parks Centennial Special Issue

Centerpiece Feature: Philip Hyde and the Art of Making National Parks by David Leland Hyde

Outdoor Photographer Cover, June 2016 National Parks Centennial Special Issue, cover photograph Mount Deception, Brooks and Silverthrone, Wonder Lake, the Alaska Range, Denali National Park by Carr Clifton.

Outdoor Photographer Cover, June 2016 National Parks Centennial Special Issue, cover photograph Mount Deception, Brooks and Silverthrone, Wonder Lake, the Alaska Range, Denali National Park by Carr Clifton. (Click on image to see larger.)

Outdoor Photographer magazine has come a long way lately. The magazine is under new ownership, Madavor Media, L.L.C. out of Braintree, Massachusetts. Wes Pitts, who worked for the previous owners for more than 17 years and apprenticed under Rob Sheppard, is the new Editorial Director/Editor. The articles and headlines now appeal as much to seasoned photographers as to beginners.

There are still many articles about gear and locations, but these are done more tastefully, while more articles about the art and craft of photography are appearing. Some of the best writers from the Rob Sheppard and Steve Werner eras are back like Lewis Kemper, Carr Clifton, James Kay, Mark Edward Harris, Art Wolfe and others. Columnists such as Amy Gulick, Frans Lanting, William Neill, David Muench and others continue to produce excellent advice and insight. David Leland Hyde has been named on the masthead as a Contributing Editor.

The reproduction quality still has a ways to go, but they are working internally on improving this and other aspects of the magazine to make gradual refinements over the coming months and years. The editor has expressed the objectives of bringing in more conservation photography and more quality coverage by the experienced professionals in the field.

Currently for June, the Outdoor Photographer editors and staff put together a National Parks Centennial Special Issue with cover photograph and personal experience feature article about the “Wildlands of the National Parks” by Carr Clifton. They invited David Leland Hyde to write the issue’s centerpiece feature article called, “Philip Hyde: The Art of Making National Parks.” Ben Horton wrote an excellent article about getting off the beaten path in the parks and long-time contributor William Sawalich wrote a fascinating feature profile of George Grant who, “Toiled in obscurity for nearly three decades as the first official photographer of the National Park Service.”

The Philip Hyde centerpiece feature immerses the reader in the conservation campaigns that made many of our Western National Parks. From Harvey Manning, author of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series book Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, to David Simons, long-time resident, explorer, photographer and land conservationist in the North Cascades of Washington, from David Brower, Ansel Adams and Martin Litton to Eliot Porter, Point Reyes National Seashore, Dinosaur National Monument, Edward Weston, Minor White, the Bureau of Reclamation, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, Howard Zahniser, Edward Abbey, Slickrock, Canyonlands National Park, The Last Redwoods, Gary Braasch, Jack Dykinga, Backpacker Magazine, William Neill, Chris Brown, Lewis Kemper, Carr Clifton, Alaska: The Great Land and Wade Davis author of a new book, The Sacred Headwaters, this is an in-depth look at Philip Hyde’s career, his influences and those he influenced in the field of conservation photography.

The Outdoor Photographer June National Parks Centennial Special Issue is on newsstands now and is one of the best issues of Outdoor Photographer yet. Do not wait because the special editions of Outdoor Photographer often sell out. This is not just a sales pitch. You can go online now and read Philip Hyde: The Art of Making National Parks, but if you want the special issue in the paper version, I would get it as soon as possible. Find it at Barnes and Noble and other booksellers and magazine racks, wherever magazines are sold.

To read more about the George Eastman Museum Exhibition America’s National Parks, see David Leland Hyde’s guest post on the Outdoor Photographer Blog. To read an in-depth overview of the exhibit including special programs and lectures see Philip Hyde in Photography and America’s National Parks Exhibition–Programs and Lectures.

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 2

February 4th, 2016

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log: June 14-September 14, 1971 by Ardis Hyde

(Ardis, David and Philip Hyde in Their Camper. Continued from Blog Post, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 1.”)

Part Two: Kelsey Bay, British Columbia to Ketchikan, Alaska

Ridge of Wonder Pass Peak, Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada, 1995 by Philip Hyde.

June 20:  The Canadian ferry at Kelsey Bay depends on tides for its arrival and departure times. When we arrived at the dock under a heavy gray sky around 9:30 am, the ferry called the Queen of Prince Rupert was just unloading cars. We pulled into the parking lane to wait. They measured our rig. Including the Avion Camper and Utility body 1968 GMC Pickup, we measured 21 feet in length. They let us drive on at about 12:50 pm. The car deck is arranged for two stacks of cars on the outer edges. Campers, motor homes and small trucks park in the center lanes. We watched the closing of the car deck drawbridge, then climbed the stairs to the upper deck to see the bow lowered into place for the voyage. Next we went to our stateroom. David was glowing over “my own top deck.” He climbed up for a nap. Philip and I also had a brief nap on the bottom bunk. The dimensions of the stateroom precluded any possibility of sleeping on the floor, which we would prefer over a soft, sagging bed. The wash basin and seat reduced the area available.

When David woke up we went out on deck. The sky was full of clouds, but they were pretty ones. The air was mild, but we needed to be bundled up when walking the bow deck due to wind. We were excited to see numerous schools of killer whales, cavorting and spraying, emerging with high dorsal fins showing. We went in to dinner at 6 pm. The food was very ordinary but the service was good. The notable feature of this passage is the closeness to islands all the time. The islands are wooded with bare gray rock bases up to the high tide line. We finally got away from logging evidence but logs still occasionally floated by. We headed away from Vancouver Island during dinner and into the open ocean. Experienced a slight choppiness at times, but the whole voyage was generally smooth. Philip went out to the camper for the night to have more sleeping room. He said it was 70 degrees and too warm. Our stateroom was well ventilated. David and I slept well.

June 21, Monday:  Over an ordinary breakfast, we visited with a young couple from Toronto. They were headed back to Toronto by way of the Prince George Highway. Before breakfast we had the experience of searching for David. We had left him in the stateroom to go to the car deck. He had gone down a stairway, made a few turns and couldn’t find his way back. We retrieved him via the purser, who called the room to tell us David was at his office. We went out on deck after breakfast: rain and a low ceiling. We were close to shore and coming into Prince Rupert. We were the first ones off the ferry after the big bus at 9:15 am. First we drove to the local museum, then out to a view point overlooking a tidal rapid, Butze Rapids Park. Dreary and rainy all day. Lunch and naps. On out to Prince Edwards to the pulp mill. Stopped for pics. Small fishing port, nets drying on dock racks. Back into town and down to the ferry dock. Still early but many cars already parked in line up. I baked cornbread for dinner. Rain began in earnest and continued hard all night. Drove to get gas and oil supply in town and then back to parking area for the night.

June 22:  Philip woke up at 5:20 am, dressed and went to inquire about lining up for Customs. Turned out to be very routine. We passed onto the ferry Wickersham promptly. It was immediately apparent the difference in the way the two ferry systems operate. The Canadian ferry was immaculate, run with great efficiency and good service. The Alaska lines ferries were just the opposite. We settle down for the five and one half hour passage to Ketchikan, Alaska. David was occupied with Sesame Street Magazine until noon. We tried the cafeteria which was very poor, ugh. Weather continued wet with low clouds. Only a slight inkling of the high mountains along the inside passage. We were never away from the sight of land. We pass large and small islands and the passageway widens and narrows as we progress. At Ketchikan harbor the water had frequent jelly fish near the surface, pale orange and round.

The ferry Taku was at the dock when we arrived. As it pulled out we pulled in broadside to the dock with the exit door on the side. We were among the first to leave and drove onto Tongass Avenue. After getting our bearings and local information we drove right out to Saxman Village to see the Cape Fox Indian Dancers. They perform when a cruise ship comes in like the one this time called the Halia. We got there for the last two dances. Donations were asked for and we were appalled to hear that only $8.00 was collected from three bus loads of tourists. I bought souvenir leather doll pins. Next we spent some time at the adjacent Totem Park. A light rain fell but Philip took pictures anyway. In the yard of the Pentecostal Church across the street native forget-me-nots, Bachelor Button and wild roses grew in lush profusion.

We continued along South Tongass Avenue to the point where two islands just off shore caught our attention and stopped us. They were so like those we have seen in photographs of the Inland Sea of Japan, up-tilted strata, moss, bonsai conifers topping them. It was low tide so we could walk onto the smaller one. We broke out all of our rain gear. Philip photographed under the umbrella I held for him. David had a marvelous time exploring the tidal zone, pretending he was an Eskimo harpooner after whales, seals, dolphins, walruses, etc. On our way back he invited us into his house, a beautiful shelter provided by a huge overturned tree, the roots in a beautiful cross-work pattern overhead. Indeed, we entered a little room. He had found a piece of plywood drift, placed two rocks on it and offered us coffee. “The best coffee I’ve had,” Philip said. Literally and figuratively it was, our most hospitable moment so far.

We drove on out the road past the end of the pavement at eight miles. Beyond that we stopped for a photograph of a bald eagle perched on a snag. He was immature and wouldn’t fly away even when Philip moved close in. Soon we stopped at a wide pull off for the night and went to bed exhausted right after dinner. The drying line hung full of wet clothes. It poured hard outside as we fell asleep to the low roar of a roadside waterfall.

June 23:  It rained hard all night. We arose at 7 am to find…

CONTINUED IN THE BLOG POST, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 3.”

Originally posted April 7, 2010 6:22 am

Monday Blog Blog: Mark Graf Up Close, On Ice Or Underwater

March 16th, 2015

Mark Graf: Notes From The Woods PhotoBlog

Lessons On How To Make Captivating Nature Photographs Almost Anywhere

Coral Reef, Little Cayman, Caribbean, Nikon D700, Nauticam underwater housing, dual Inon Z240 strobes. This photograph represents a lot of what I enjoy about the underwater world. Everything you see is animal life. Animals familiar, and some very foreign to land dwellers. All of which make the ocean a fascinating place to explore, and deserving of our attention to preserve the highly complex chain of life that exists within it.

Coral Reef, Little Cayman, Caribbean Sea, Nikon D700, Nauticam underwater housing, dual Inon Z240 strobes. “This photograph represents a lot of what I enjoy about the underwater world. Everything you see is animal life. Animals familiar, and some very foreign to land dwellers. All of which make the ocean a fascinating place to explore, and deserving of our attention to preserve the highly complex chain of life that exists within it.” (Click on image to enlarge.)

(What in the world is Monday Blog Blog? See the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog Celebration.”)

Learning about photography online is richest and most rewarding not in attending tutorials, photo schools, forums or other large blog or magazine sites, but in finding talented single photographers who have a distinct voice or a specific niche, something in common with you, or the type of advice or specialty you seek, or something different you admire, then developing a blog relationship with them.

One photoblog I discovered five years ago in my first month of blogging was Mark Graf’s Notes From The Woods. Not only do I admire the way Mark Graf approaches photography and blogging, he is one of the best at encouraging discussion and creating community, yet he appears to do it nearly effortlessly, with nonchalance and a lack of blowing his own horn that is pleasant and surprising in today’s often ego-driven photo social media world.

Graf makes his home in Detroit and has photographed and specialized in the natural places and wildlife of Michigan, Alaska, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as other states and bodies of water since the year 2000. His photography has been widely published in magazines and books and used by a long list of commercial clients in the financial, travel and education spheres. He specializes in placing large fine art prints in hospitals and other medical facilities to provide a calming, tranquil atmosphere for patients. Part of his core philosophy as an artist is the idea that everything is connected in the web of nature. Mark’s short biography and artist’s statement are well worth reading.

One day a few years ago I visited the New York Times Opinion Pages Dot Earth online and suddenly there was a photograph by Graf called “Fracked,” as well as a commentary on the image and his other photographs he makes by photographing mineral laden rocks up close. Abstract photography is one of his specialties. To learn more about the photograph from the artist’s perspective see Mark’s blog, Notes From The Woods and the original blog post about “Fracked.” Also, take a Google at some of the many other blogs and websites that published articles about the innovative image “Fracked,” including StateImpact a reporting project of NPR, National Public Radio.

Fracked, Nikon D800, Nikon 105 f/2.8 Macro lens, cross-polarized lighting. "This abstract of Cherry Creek Jasper was photographed during a time when natural gas fracking was fresh on my mind from a number of news stories. The red cracks symbolized the wounds we are creating in the Earth. The appearance of them above and below a horizon symbolized what we do below the Earth can have an impact on the atmosphere above. This image was referenced in the New York Times Dot Earth Blog.

Fracked, Nikon D800, Nikon 105 f/2.8 Macro lens, cross-polarized lighting. “This abstract of Cherry Creek Jasper was photographed during a time when natural gas fracking was fresh on my mind from a number of news stories. The red cracks symbolized the wounds we are creating in the Earth. The appearance of them above and below a horizon symbolized what we do below the Earth can have an impact on the atmosphere above. This image was referenced in the New York Times Opinion Pages Dot Earth Blog.” (Click on image to enlarge.)

Graf has written about how Michigan, for the most part, has less dramatic landscapes than many Western or other states and countries. As a result he has developed his macro and underwater photography and diving. He also finds nature in small areas and preserves, often owned by the Michigan Nature Association, which he supports and works with. The Michigan Nature Association, Mark said, “Buys sensitive plots of land and prevents any development or recreational use other than hiking and education.” They are a non-profit working to protect Michigan’s threatened and endangered species through habitat preservation. Since 1952, they have established more than 170 nature sanctuaries, the largest network of such natural areas in Michigan.

When Graf writes for Notes From The Woods, he sometimes states his opinion, but he writes his posts in such a way as to leave plenty of room for other viewpoints. He shares the various sides of any given discussion or method and asks his readers for their thoughts. I will discuss certain aspects of blogging here because I feel Notes From The Woods is one of the most accessible and easy to relate to examples of how to run a photography weblog around.

There are subtle issues that come up in commenting on blogs and receiving comments. The two biggest complaints I hear from bloggers about comments are: 1. “Most of the people who comment only do so hoping I will return comment on their blog” or conversely, 2. “Some blogs I comment on never reciprocate by commenting on my blog.” As a photoblogger, if you comment right back each time anyone comments on your blog, you tend to get into a lot of “tit for tat” relationships. If one day you do not maintain the chain of exchanging comments, comments tend to dry up on your blog. If you never reciprocate by commenting on other blogs, you will not receive many comments on your blog either. There are a few blogs that are extraordinary exceptions to this pattern. Also, at least some comments come from those who truly appreciate the writing or photography.

Graf has found the happy middle between the two opposites of never reciprocating and constantly reciprocating. He comments back selectively and intermittently. Mark visits and comments on Landscape Photography Blogger when I write something that catches his interest, but there is no noticeable correlation to when I comment on his blog. Thus, with his lead, we have avoided the rut of an endless half-sincere comment trade. This alone sets Notes In The Woods apart in my mind and causes me to think of Graf Nature Photo in a favorable light. When I get very busy, his blog is one of those I visit first, while I may not get to many of the others I usually read. More fundamentally, I have been following and commenting on Notes In The Woods now for five years because I found Mark’s writing and photography intriguing and ideas provoking. His blog was also rated highly by blog ranking websites, which meant to me that he knew what he was doing and would be interesting to learn from. I was not disappointed.

Ice Sheets at Twilight, Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm lens. "Photographed on Lake St. Clair, Michigan - which is about a 25 minute drive from where I live.  I only photograph here in winter because of the dynamically changing conditions of the frozen lake.   I am always surprised at what the lake offers up to me in terms of compositional elements."

Ice Sheets at Twilight, Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm lens. “Photographed on Lake St. Clair, Michigan – which is about a 25 minute drive from where I live. I only photograph here in winter because of the dynamically changing conditions of the frozen lake. I am always surprised at what the lake offers up to me in terms of compositional elements.” (Click on image to enlarge.)

Graf has a way of sharing often small, yet vital photography pointers sometimes through his own mistakes and with a humility, friendliness and real-world insight that can be lacking in other photographers who have as much experience. I always look forward to reading what he has to say, or what I can learn, or be reminded of, in his blog posts. Many aspects of digital photography that were different from film, I discovered there.

Not only does Graf’s blog provide an excellent learning experience, but his photographs have much to teach those who care about nature and wish to capture it with integrity. At the same time, with many innovations that go beyond the literal image, we see in his work the cutting edge of artistic expression in digital photography today. Mark began this journey by using double exposures and other effects with film photography. See his article about it on NatureScapes called, “Departing from the Literal Image.” Today we see in Graf’s photographic art various blurs, pans, movement of objects and other effects, all executed with taste, often in camera rather than in Photoshop, giving natural places dignity. He still makes multiple exposures in camera, which is one reason he uses Nikon digital cameras: they make it possible. His use of special effects adds to and helps bring out the beauty around us, rather than supplanting it in a gimmicky way like much of the awkward pictorialesque imagery seen online today. To a number of his images he adds a circular blur either in post-processing or in camera. The images in which he chooses to use this whirl effect, or any other technique for that matter, help us see the details and patterns in nature, rather than covering them up. For an education in digital photography, be sure to study his online photography gallery of portfolios. You will be glad you did.

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 21

January 29th, 2015

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log: June 14-September 14, 1971 by Ardis Hyde

(Ardis, David and Philip Hyde in Their Camper. Continued from the blog post, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 20.”)

Part 21: Traveling Inside Denali National Park, Alaska. (Formerly McKinley National Park.) Savage River Campground to Mt. Denali, Wonder Lake Campground (Mt. McKinley, Wonder Lake Campground.)

Mt. Brooks, Alaska Range near Mt. Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska, copyright Philip Hyde 1971. Previous digital image was a Creo flatbed scan of a 10x 12 dye transfer print. This image is from a newer higher quality drum scan just being optimized for print making.

Mt. Brooks, Wonder Lake, Alaska Range near Mt. Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska, copyright Philip Hyde 1971. Previous digital image was a Creo flatbed scan of a 10×12 dye transfer vintage print. The image above is from a newer higher quality Tango drum scan of the original Kodak 4×5 color transparency just now being optimized for digital print making.

(See the photograph large: “Mt. Brooks, Alaska Range, Denali National Park.”)

Tuesday, July 20, 1971: Rain. The sky was fully clouded over again this morning. We made it over to the service station by 7:45 a.m. It opened at 8:00 a.m. and immediately had a jam of gas customers. We got the tire fixed again by 9:30 a.m. They replaced the large boot, which had been applied twice unsuccessfully, with a smaller patch. Finally, we were on our way west toward Wonder Lake. At Mile 16, 10:35 a.m., we stopped to look at a bull moose willow grazing up slope too far away to photograph. At Mile 17 we saw a Ptarmigan. Philip got photos of two adults with their young. At Mile 18 we looked for foxes as reported to us by photographer Charlie Ott, whom we had met at the Post Office before we left Savage River. No foxes were at home. We reached Teklanitka in time for lunch beside the Teklanitka River in the same spot as we did before. After lunch, we ran into some excitement along Igloo Mountain, where Philip spotted some mountain Dall sheep. We stopped to look long at them, passing the binoculars between the three of us. They were in three groups, 13 sheep in total. We also saw another small group closer down on the far side of Igloo Creek. We stopped again about 4:00 p.m. on the climb up to Highway Pass. Philip made a Hasselblad 2 ¼ image looking back at Polychrome Pass with a foreground of dryas flowers, as on the hillside. The sky continued heavy with clouds and temperatures remained cool. We caught not a single glimpse of Mt. Denali all day. We reached Ellison Visitor Center after it closed at about 5:45 p.m. I cooked a cornbread and beans dinner while Philip photographed Sunset Glacier with the 4×5 view camera. Thorofare River was beautiful with Muldrow Glacier and lower colorful slopes of grey and gold rock and talus. I put David to bed before we left. Philip took a 2 ¼ picture of an interesting effect of light falling on Sunset Glacier behind a grey cloud curtain with a straight line bottom. Onward slowly we drove, while admiring the beautiful delicate colors of what was visible. Rain started and continued all the way to Wonder Lake. When we arrived, the campground was pretty well filled with campers. So, we parked with permission over near Wonder Lake, for which they charged us $2.00. It was still raining when we went to sleep.

(Continued in the next blog post in the series, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 22.”)

Has it ever rained for days on any of your travels? Were you able to photograph or do other activities?

Ed Cooper: Mountaineer, Rock Climber And Large Format Photographer

January 22nd, 2015

Rock Climber And Mountaineer Ed Cooper Packed A Large Format Camera To The Top Of Many Of North America’s Highest Peaks

Now He Speaks Out About His Explorations, First Ascents, Sierra Club Books, Conservation And Philip Hyde’s Contribution

Short Bio of Ed Cooper

Ed Cooper, author and photographer, working with a newly acquired 5x7 Gundlach Bundschu view camera, top of Mt. Reynolds, Glacier National Park, Washington, copyright Ed Cooper Collection 1964.

Ed Cooper, author and photographer, working with a newly acquired 5×7 Gundlach Bundschu view camera, top of Mt. Reynolds, Glacier National Park, Washington, copyright Ed Cooper Collection 1964. Cooper nearly always carried all of his own medium and large camera equipment to the tops of many of North America’s highest peaks. The only exception Cooper could remember was once on a pack trip into the Ramparts where grizzly bears were plentiful and a horse carried his view cameras.

Ed Cooper is a pioneer mountaineer and fine art photographer who lives in the California wine country. At age 16, he climbed Mt. Rainier, 14,411′ (4392 meters), one of Washington’s most formidable peaks and photographed the experience. He has climbed and photographed mountains ever since, nearly always with a large format camera. His collection of summits includes Mt. Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska (20,320) the highest peak in North America and the 3,000 foot vertical face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park.

In December 2003, the film, In the Shadow of the Chief: The Baldwin and Cooper Story came out telling the tale of Ed Cooper and Jim Baldwin’s unusual scaling of the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief near Squamish, British Columbia, Canada in 1961. The climb was sponsored by the town and the film features vintage footage of the original ascent, as well as new footage of a re-enactment.

Clouds wreathe Mt. Robson, 12,972', 3954m, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies in Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Original is an 8x10 black and white negative using Tr-X film and a red filter, taken 8-18-1968 about 10 am. An 8x10 Eastman view camera and a 36" Dallmeyer lens, weighing over 10 pounds, were used in a set-up requiring two tripods. Some burning and dodging was required to bring this print to completion. Copyright Ed Cooper, British Columbia.

Clouds wreathe Mt. Robson, 12,972′, 3954m, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies in Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Original is an 8×10 black and white negative using Tr-X film and a red filter, taken 8-18-1968 about 10 am. An 8×10 Eastman view camera and a 36″ Dallmeyer lens, weighing over 10 pounds, were used in a set-up requiring two tripods. Some burning and dodging was required to bring this print to completion. Copyright Ed Cooper, British Columbia.

His new book, Soul of Yosemite: Portraits Of Light And Stone (2011) consists of a selection, from his collection of Yosemite images dating back to 1962, which best represents the area and fits into the organization of the book entering Yosemite National Park from El Portal, progressing through Yosemite Valley on Southside Drive and on to Tuolumne Meadows, including a short section on the Hetch-Hetchy area, now a reservoir, once a valley flooded in 1914. It also includes a short section on the author climbing a new route on El Capitan in 1962.

His previous book, Soul of the Heights: 50 Years Going to the Mountains (2007) offers glimpses into mountaineering and rock climbing in the 1950s and early 1960s during the highly competitive era of first ascents, through his own experiences, photographs and exclusive firsthand accounts by climbers of the era about their first ascents of now top destination climbs. Ed Cooper’s 4×5 and 5×7 photographs include portraits of many of the best-known peaks in North America. His earlier books are Soul of the Rockies: Portraits of America’s Largest Mountain Range, The American Wilderness in the Words of John Muir, Grand Canyon: Shrine of the Ages and Early Mining Days – California Gold Country: The Story Behind the Scenery. Ed Cooper’s photographs graced the famous Sierra Club Desk Calendars for many years, as well as many other prominent publications including many of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series books and other Sierra Club Books and publications.

Climbing Mountains, Photographing For Sierra Club Books, Glen Canyon And Conservation

By Ed Cooper, March 2012

Date: Sometime in late 1956 or early 1957

Place: Washington State

Climber on cornice at about the 12,000' (3650m) altitude on Mt. Robson. Mt. Resplendent, 11,240' (3426m) is in the left background. Copyright Ed Cooper Photo 1961. British Columbia.

Climber on cornice at about the 12,000′ (3650m) altitude on Mt. Robson. Mt. Resplendent, 11,240′ (3426m) is in the left background. Copyright Ed Cooper Photo 1961. British Columbia.

Back then I was about 20 years old, busying myself with climbing the volcanoes and other peaks in the Pacific Northwest. These activities were carried on when I was not occupied with my studies at the University of Washington, or perhaps I should say, I went climbing when I should have been occupied with my studies. I had aspirations to visit other mountain areas also, such as the Sierra Nevada. One day I walked into a bookstore and spotted the following book: The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierrawritten by Hervey Voge and published by the Sierra Club. Immediately I purchased the book from the meager funds I had available at that time.

At the first opportunity, I sat down to look through the book and began to plan climbing objectives in the Sierra Nevada for the time when my financial situation would allow me to go there. At the front of the book were 17 black and white photographs. Six of the photos were by Ansel Adams, whose name I had heard only recently at that time. However, as I looked at all the images, my gaze quickly settled on one that was my favorite–the   now iconic black and white photograph of Lake Ediza and the Minarets with the rock slabs on the left side of the picture. All the elements fall into place perfectly. It turned out that the photographer was Philip Hyde. Years later I heard that Ansel Adams had remarked that he liked Philip Hyde’s rendition of the Minarets better than his own.

It was to be a number of years before I made it to the Sierra Nevada, but it was not nearly so long before I learned more about Philip Hyde and his outstanding contribution–through his photography–to the conservation movement.

I remember looking with fascination at This is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers(1955) with an introduction and chapter by Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner and photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton. Somewhat later I pored over Island in Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula(1962) by Harold Gilliam and Philip Hyde. Philip’s books were all aimed at protecting diverse wilderness areas in the Western US. He provided more photography for the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series than did any other photographer.

Igloo Camp at about 13,500' (4115m) at Windy Corner on Mt. Denali (was Mt. McKinley) 20,320' (6194m) June, 1958. Climber Fergus O'Connor is on the right. Copyright Ed Cooper Photo. Alaska.

Igloo Camp at about 13,500′ (4115m) at Windy Corner on Mt. Denali (was Mt. McKinley) 20,320′ (6194m) June, 1958. Climber Fergus O’Connor is on the right. Copyright Ed Cooper Photo. Denali National Park, Alaska.

In these years my climbs became increasingly difficult, but I found that I had a penchant for photography myself, progressing from an Ansco Panda box camera, to two 2 ¼ square folding cameras, and finally to my first 4×5 camera—a Speed Graphic in 1962. Later I progressed to actual view cameras, 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10. I found myself becoming more interested in capturing images on film than reaching summits or climbing large cliff faces.

I made what might be considered a pilgrimage about 1969 to meet Philip in his home in the northern Sierra Nevada. He was gracious; there was no air of pretentiousness about him. He wowed me by showing me his studio work area and many samples of his darkroom prints.

The Exhibit Format Series packed a powerful punch. How powerful it was I did not realize until February of 2012, when I received a letter from Bill Douglas in Annapolis, Maryland. I had done photography for The Alpine Lakes, a de facto wilderness area in the Cascade Mountains not far from Seattle. This book was published in a large format edition, similar to the Sierra Club Books, by the Seattle Mountaineers in 1971. The pressure by the mining, logging, and other interests to exploit this area was intense.

Bill described how President Ford had been persuaded to sign the bill to protect the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Washington’s then Governor Dan Evans had flown to Washington for an appointment with President Ford to try to persuade him to sign the bill, but had forgotten to take a copy of The Alpine Lakes book with him. Bill Douglas and Dan Evans were hiking buddies who had talked about the importance of this meeting. Bill ended up taking his own copy of the book to the White House, where Dan showed the book to President Ford. Words were not needed. Ford exclaimed something like “This is beautiful country – it’s gotta be protected,” and signed the bill. Bill still has that book with the inscription “To Bill Douglas, with warmest best wishes, Gerald R. Ford.” That is the power of conservation photography.

Photographer Ed Cooper with special telephoto set-up for large format. An 8x10 Eastman Kodak view camera was attached to a 36" Dallmeyer lens (former aerial spy lens). Two tripods were required to support this set-up. Ed Cooper installed a Packard shutter triggered by a red bulb. September 1970 in the White Mountains looking towards the Sierra Nevada. Copyright Debby Cooper Photo. California.

Photographer Ed Cooper with special telephoto set-up for large format. An 8×10 Eastman Kodak view camera was attached to a 36″ Dallmeyer lens (former aerial spy lens). Two tripods were required to support this set-up. Ed Cooper installed a Packard shutter triggered by a red bulb. September 1970 in the White Mountains looking towards the Sierra Nevada. Copyright Debby Cooper Photo. California.

While Philip’s books resulted in the protection of many wild areas, conservationists will always remember with regret the place that got away. I refer to Glen Canyon, flooded when Glen Canyon Dam was built to create what is now Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona. I am sure Philip felt this regret acutely, as he had spent time capturing one-of-a-kind images of this now flooded national treasure. On a visit there just recently in 2011, I saw large areas of ugly mud flats left behind by receding Lake Powell with the reservoir level at that time down more than 100 feet.

Philip Hyde said: “For every place there will always be people that want to exploit it, and there will always be people—hopefully—that want to save it and keep it as it is. Even with the risk of inviting 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.” Truer words were never spoken.

We are fortunate to have David Leland Hyde, Philip’s son, continuing to bring his father’s legacy to us in digital restorations of many of Philip’s images that were crucially important to the conservation movement, as well as the stories behind them. Both the stories and images might otherwise be lost.

Keynote Speech At Escalante Canyons Art Festival

September 11th, 2014

Escalante Canyons Art Festival and Everett Ruess Days

David Leland Hyde Keynote Address

Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Escalante High School Auditorium, Escalante, Utah

Why Escalante, Utah? Why Was David Leland Hyde Invited To Speak?

Hyde's Wall, East Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1968 by Philip Hyde. One of the most renowned photographs from Sierra Club Books. "Hyde's Wall," originally titled "Juniper, Wall, Escalante" was first published in the Sierra Club book "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah" with Edward Abbey. Search for "Hyde's Wall" on this blog for more about Edward Abbey, "Hyde's Wall," "Slickrock" and how the wall originally became known as Hyde's Wall.

Hyde’s Wall, East Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1968 by Philip Hyde. One of the most renowned photographs from the early large format Sierra Club Books. “Hyde’s Wall,” originally titled “Juniper, Wall, Escalante” was first published in the Sierra Club book “Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah” with Edward Abbey.

My father, American landscape photographer Philip Hyde, (1921-2006) even more than his mentor and teaching associate Ansel Adams, explored and photographed remote areas of the Western US, helping to establish national parks and wilderness lands. Dad’s photographs, along with those of Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Martin Litton, David Brower and others, were the backbone of the Exhibit Format Series that popularized the coffee table photography book and helped to make or protect national parks and wilderness in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and beyond. Iconic locations that receive millions of visitors a year now were protected with the help of Dad’s images.

Projects included books and other photography assignments that were central to preventing dams in the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument, establishing North Cascades National Park, Redwood National Park, Pt. Reyes National Seashore and many others. For the 1971 book Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah with Edward Abbey, Dad was the first to photograph remote areas of Waterpocket Fold and the Escalante River canyons in what is now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; as well as parts of the Dolls House in the Maze in Canyonlands National Park.

In the heart of canyon country, the small town (pop. 783) of Escalante, Utah for 12 years now has hosted the Escalante Canyons Art Festival and Everett Ruess Days. For a much longer time, Artists have come from all over the West and the world to photograph, paint, sculpt and otherwise portray the beautiful sandstone landscapes of the Escalante River Canyons, a tributary of the Colorado River. This artwork is often seen in galleries, on TV and in magazines and other media all over the world. During the Escalante Canyons Art Festival, the Plein Air painting competition allows artists a full six days to explore the canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation and other areas limited to Garfield, Wayne and Kane counties in the lower center of Southern Utah. Judges bestow a number of awards and the art from the competition is offered for sale as part of the weekend festival that includes an Arts and Crafts Fair, artist in residence and featured artist exhibitions, a speaker series, staged musical entertainment, special show presentations, workshops, demonstrations, open studios, tours, films, yoga, quilt exhibition, an art installation from Brigham Young University and my Keynote Address on Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7:30 pm.

Part Of Why Philip Hyde’s Approach To Art Matters Today

In my speech, I will show slides and tell stories of travels with my father and mother, Ardis, in the backcountry by 4X4, horse, burro, airplane, train; hiking, backpacking and boating. I will also share an overview of my father’s work, with an emphasis on the Southwest.

On seeing the giant topographic contour maps of the canyons of the Colorado Plateau that my father pinned up in his studio, with his travels drawn on them in various pen colors, and after more urging by Dad, John Mitchell, the editor of Sierra Club Books in the early 1970s, decided to develop a large format book project, that became the now classic Slickrock just as Edward Abbey signed on to write the text. Mitchell, in the introduction, told the story of how Abbey and Hyde first met. Abbey had hiked with a friend into a remote area of Canyonlands. Abbey’s friend scrambled ahead of him up to the rim where he ran into a photographer with a large format camera on a tripod poised on the sandstone:

Cameraman explains he is doing a book. Funny, Friend says, so is my buddy. Cameraman asks identity of buddy. Ed Abbey, says Friend. Funny, says Cameraman, same book. Friend hollers down canyon: Hey, Ed. Guy up here says you’re collaborators. Abbey scrambles up. Ed Abbey, says Friend, meet ‘Doctor’ Hyde.

Such a chance crossing of paths, deep in the heart of The Maze that was then roadless, fit well these two desert wanderers and their collaboration. The two creative personalities differed in their approach to social pastimes: Abbey was a wild party lover and Hyde was a subdued teetotaler. Yet they both had an unsurpassed love of deserts—sandstone, sage and open sky—and they each had an unparalleled gift for expressing this love and similar feelings about preserving the wilderness, as much as possible like it was, for generations to come. In addition to the list of areas Dad photographed first and beyond his accomplishments in helping to make national parks and wilderness, exhibited in his photographs and writings, was Dad’s warmth toward lands that many considered inhospitable or useless.

Often photographers today are in a hurry. They may not be “allowing” or “making” photographs, but rather they are “blazing” or “blasting away.” When I was a boy, I remember Dad on the lookout for photographs. Mom and I were often quiet in anticipation of the true silent time, which began as soon as Dad pulled over, or we hiked away from pavement, and he took out his Zeiss wooden tripod and 4X5 Baby Deardorff view camera, or his Hasselblad with Bogen tripod. For Dad’s own explanation of the Quiet Mind see the blog post, “Toward A Sense Of Place By Philip Hyde 2.”

When Dad first arrived on any scene he would look in every direction many times and at each detail of the countryside around him. He would bend down and look up at a Juniper, crouch and look at a cactus between two rocks, scramble up a nearby mesa top, all in the interest of seeing every angle. He did some of this in his mind and some physically. By the time he planted his tripod, you knew he had checked all other possibilities and chosen one. There were exceptions to this longer process such as when he saw one isolated point of interest or when the light was fading or the situation was changing quickly for some other reason. Then he moved swiftly and silently.

At the same time, Dad never waited for special lighting, weather, rainbows, sunsets, moonrises or other special effects of nature all dressed up on her best day. His goal was to capture the subtle beauty of nature as is, in her everyday wardrobe. Some of his work is dramatic, but much of it is more refined and delicately subdued. He studied geology, archaeology and the natural and human history of an area before photographing it. His photographs were invocations honoring place, rather than art for art’s sake. Dad’s goal was similar to that of his mentor and friend Edward Weston, the father of modern photography: to take himself out of the picture as much as possible, limiting the always present imposition of the photographer’s own interpretation.

Family Travels And Philip Hyde’s Love For The Escalante And Colorado River Tributary Canyons

Dad had a particular fondness for the canyons of the Escalante, including the portions now and from time to time under Lake Powell in Glen Canyon. He traveled through Glen Canyon by boat before the reservoir formed in 1958 and 1962 and as the waters were rising in 1964. His photograph, “Cathedral in the Desert, Glen Canyon,” on an Escalante River tributary, Clear Creek, was named one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century.

In 1980, when Lake Powell finally filled to capacity for the first time, 16 years after the US Bureau of Reclamation closed the dam gates, Dad published a lament for Glen Canyon, Coyote Gulch and the lower Escalante in Wilderness Magazine, see the series of blog posts beginning with “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.” For other writings and to read about and see Dad’s Glen Canyon Portfolio see the series of blog posts that start with “Glen Canyon Portfolio 1.” With the reservoir full, the mouth of Coyote Gulch was effectively cut off from hiking and backpacking access. Ten years earlier when I was five years old, a guide from the town of Escalante horse packed our gear into Icicle Springs, where my father, mother and I could establish a base camp for exploration and photography of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante Canyons. However, it was two years earlier in 1968, trekking down the river with another party, yet by himself for the day, that Dad found a canyon with a hidden entrance few people had seen, and discovered the place in East Moody Canyon now unofficially called “Hyde’s Wall,” by photographers who have had what it took to hike that far on foot.

In my Keynote Presentation on September 26 at 7:30 pm in the Escalante High School Auditorium, I will elaborate on these stories and tell others. I will share how Dad prepared for his travels, how he recorded not just the scenery on the surface, but dug into the geology, history and archaeology of each place he photographed, and how he applied what he learned in photography school with the greats of the medium, to see more profoundly. I will share how his legacy lives on, through many of the who’s who of landscape photography today, through my own photographs and through the application of his life’s work and images to current conservation campaigns.

To read about the Hyde’s travels in the Escalante River Canyons see the blog post, “58 Years In The Wilderness Intro 1.” For more about Hyde’s Wall see the blog post, “The Naming Of ‘Hyde’s Wall’ By Writer And Photographer Stephen Trimble.” For a rundown on the controversy over the Lower Escalante River, the Colorado River, Lake Powell and new solutions to the problem see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Book Review: Resurrection by Annette McGivney With James Kay,” as well as the blog post series beginning with “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.”

Have you ever been to Escalante, Utah?

Philip Hyde Explored Wilderness In Photographs

February 18th, 2014

Philip Hyde Speaks Out About Respecting And Defending The Five Deserts of North America

By Jane Braxton Little

Note: This article originally titled “Philip Hyde: Exploring World In Photos” by Jane Braxton Little appeared in the Feather River Bulletin on October 7, 1987 just before the release of Drylands: The Deserts of North America. Jane Braxton Little now writes for the Sacramento Bee and magazines such as Audubon, American Forests, Scientific American, Nature Conservancy, Sierra, Native Peoples and many others. She is a full-time freelance writer who travels the world on environmental stories. Drylands is out of print but readily available through used booksellers. See Drylands: The Deserts of North America on Amazon.

Anvil Cloud Over Badlands, Death Valley National Park, Mojave Desert, California, copyright 1975 Philip Hyde. A Drylands image. Philip Hyde was aided in image selection for Drylands by Jim and Carolyn Robertson of Yolla Bolly Press, who packaged the book for publishing by Harcort, Brace, Jovanovich. Yolla Bolly also packaged Galen Rowell's famous book Mountain Light. The Yolla Bolly archive with Drylands and Mountain Light now resides at Stanford University.

Anvil Cloud Over Badlands, Death Valley National Park, Mojave Desert, California, copyright 1975 Philip Hyde. A Drylands image. Philip Hyde was aided in image selection for Drylands by Jim and Carolyn Robertson of Yolla Bolly Press, who packaged the book for publishing by Harcort, Brace, Jovanovich. Yolla Bolly also packaged Galen Rowell’s famous book Mountain Light. The Yolla Bolly archive with Drylands, Mountain Light and others now resides at Stanford University.

Traveling The West

Philip Hyde glanced around his studio lined with full-color landscape photographs in various stages of framing and confessed a yen to travel.

“I haven’t taken any kind of trip for 18 months and I’m beginning to feel it,” Hyde said. “My feet are itchy.” The Mojave, Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Great Basin and Painted Deserts are what have kept Philip Hyde, age 66, at his studio in his home in the Northern Sierra. His new book, Drylands: The Deserts of North America, will be published this month.

Sculpted sand dunes, multicolored lava flows and the surreal cracks of a sun-parched mud patch are among Philip Hyde’s 95 photographs that convey, often with stark simplicity, the complex beauty of North America’s five deserts. Hyde also wrote the text of the new large format coffee table book.

Hidden Complexity In Deserts

“To the casual eye, deserts look like simple places: scattered sage brush, the occasional lizard, bare rock…” Hyde wrote in his introduction. “Yet deserts are not really simple places and the bareness can be deceptive.”

With the publication of Drylands nearly behind him, Hyde has been kept in his studio readying the photographs reproduced in the book for shows at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, opening October 23, and at Lightworks in Sacramento, scheduled to open December 2.

Drylands is the most recent of the many books and calendars that have helped to establish Hyde as one of America’s most respected and experienced landscape photographers. His work has been exhibited nationwide and is represented in major photography collections. While Hyde’s work reflects the diversity of vegetation and topography from Alaskan tundra to the mountains of central Mexico, it projects a singular attitude towards his subject.

Reverence And Discovery In Nature Photography

“I photograph nature with great respect for it,” Hyde said. “I want people to appreciate wilderness and I would like to think that I have had a hand in making them more conscious of nature.” A perfectionist, who chooses his words with precision, Hyde refolds his lunch napkin into its brass ring and labels his studio typewriter with the date he installed a new ribbon. His photographs are the products of a fine eye distinguished by an appreciation for the subtly unusual.

“Photography for me is a discovery process,” Hyde said. “I don’t go to a place and wait. In a place that’s full of pictures, it doesn’t make sense to wait for them to happen. There are too many other pictures waiting to be taken.”

Philip Hyde and his wife Ardis spend an average of three months a year on photographic trips. They have climbed the mountains of Baja California, Mexico, rafted through the Grand Canyon, Rio Grand and many other river canyons, and camped on a glaciated beach in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Before each trip, Hyde studies the geology and geography of the area and researches it pictorially. Hyde explained, “Basically I’m dealing with the land. I find out what I can about it in advance. When I get there I explore it—and see what happens.”

Environmental Activism And Politics

His travel far from the conventional tourist beats is in step with his environmental politics. An outspoken conservationist, he served as a photographer for the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series that originally popularized the large format coffee table book. Hyde produced numerous books for the San Francisco based Sierra Club and worked with many other environmental organizations. He was a major contributor to the first Sierra Club desk calendar and his work continues to appear regularly in new editions, as well as numerous other publications. His pictorial record of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by Lake Powell is just one example of his use of photographs to make political statements.

“My photographs are my voice,” Hyde asserted. “They haven’t hurt people as much as I would have if I got mad and hit them over the head.” He is generally critical of the direction of national politics and specifically critical of the Reagan administration and James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior.

“The whole idea of conserving things is more liberal than conservative,” Hyde said. “Conservatism, as practiced in this country is exploitation. It’s big business privilege. It doesn’t jibe with conservation or true conservatism.” Hyde has devoted a lifetime to photography out of a belief in communicating conservation ideals.

Art As Communication More Than Expression

“My philosophy of photography is communication,” He explained. “That rules out getting too far out and too personal—where the communication is so obscure you go to a show and the most banal photograph has three paragraphs of text to explain it. That’s not the true medium of photography. If it needs to be explained, it’s something else.” He also does not advocate art that is different merely for the sake of being different.

“There’s so much talk about creativity,” Hyde said. “Philosophically, I don’t know about creation. It seems to me there is no real need to make nature into something else. If you make a tree into something other than a tree, that’s not photography.”

“The picture doesn’t have to communicate just what the photographer is thinking,” said Hyde. “Let people play around with it. That’s part of the fun.” The best of Hyde’s photographs leave space for the viewer to complete the scene.

Self Made, Self-Reliant And Simple

Hyde does almost all of his own photographic printing in his studio, keeps all of his own clerical records and markets the bulk of his work by himself. Despite the challenges of running a one-man business, he prefers the simplicity of being self-contained to the complexities of being an employer.

“The hardest thing I do is to make things simple,” he said. Hyde recently simplified his printing process by replacing color dye transfer printing with Cibachrome, a color printing process manufactured in Belgium and marketed by an English company. Cibachrome has complexities in the chemical and manufacturing process, not in the print making methods.

When he is at home in the Sierra, Hyde maintains a disciplined schedule, working regular hours in his studio. The house where he and Ardis have lived since 1959 is decorated with clean, understated elegance: hand-made earthenware, Navajo rugs, books, rugs, wall hangings and brass trays from when the Hydes lived in Morocco for a year.  Their food is often picked from Ardis’ garden just up hill from Indian Creek, complimented by her homemade whole wheat bread.

His photographs bear a quest for simplicity, conveying a strong sense of the individuality of a single stone or the moment of a sunset over the Grand Canyon. They are images that may accurately reflect a point in time selectively plucked from a world in constant flux.

“Every day different things are happening. Every day the sun is in a different position… Photography is an exploration more than anything else.”

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 20

October 15th, 2013

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log: June 14-September 14, 1971 by Ardis Hyde

(Pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, his wife Ardis and son David in their Avion Camper on a 1968 GMC Utility Body Pickup. Continued from the blog post, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 19.”)

Part 20: Layover Denali National Park (Formerly McKinley National Park) Back to Riley Creek Campground, Denali National Park, Alaska, from Toklat Road Camp and Finally on to Savage River Campground.

Kittiwake Bird Rookery Near Whittier, Alaska, copyright 1971 Philip Hyde.

Kittiwake Bird Rookery Near Whittier, Alaska, copyright 1971 Philip Hyde. Flatbed scan of vintage silver gelatin print. See PhilipHyde.com for full sun photos of Mt. Denali and others of Alaska.

Monday, July 19, 1971: Philip woke up first again. We were back in the sunshine of Riley Creek Campground, where we also camped a few nights ago. Night before last we tried Toklat Road Camp, but crowds there drove us back here. Philip at the wheel, took us out of Riley Creek Campground, while we ate breakfast en route toward Denali National Park Headquarters. We made our first picture stop at Toklat Bridge for the view upstream at the Toklat River with the 4X5 View Camera. The wind was stiff and the sky again beautiful with scattered clouds; an utterly different type from yesterday. A short distance on we stopped for our first view of the day of Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). This view was not visible yesterday afternoon. By 6:40 am the sky had become cloudless.

On the climb up the road toward Polychrome Pass a red fox trotted across the road. Philip stopped and pulled out his 35 mm camera. David and I remained in the camper cab. Next thing we knew, the fox was trotting toward us with a half consumed ground squirrel in his mouth. Philip pursued the fox. The fox, while indifferent to us, occasionally stopped and looked back at Philip. He said he thought he had made several good photographs of the fox. As we climbed Polychrome Mountain, we stopped again for a picture across the green valley with tawny lower slopes and snow and rock contrasting higher ridges. We made another stop at Mile 47 for a cold breakfast and another photograph of Mt. Denali in the full sun without a cloud. (See PhilipHyde.com for more photographs of Alaska.)

We proceeded to the next photo stop for the braided pattern of a partially dry stream to the North and another to the East of the braided water streams reflecting in the light. By Mile 46, Mt. Denali was beginning to haul in a few clouds. Just beyond Mile 46 and at the top of Polychrome Pass, Philip stopped again for photographs with the view camera and the 2 ¼ Hasselblad. The next stop at around 9:30 am was for a Hasselblad photograph of Caribou on the skyline of green bald hills climbing to Sable Pass, followed by a 35 mm photograph of a bill Caribou on a snow patch at the top of Sable Pass.

Flat tires had become somewhat routine and we had another one at Sanctuary River. We then drove on to the service station at Park Headquarters. After the tire repair, we went over to the train depot to pick up our mail. We met Celia Hunter of Camp Denali, who was there to pick up her group of guests. After lunch and business taken care of, we drove back to Denali Lakes to visit Ginny Wood and Celia Hunter. As we arrived at Denali Lakes, we heard the hiss of air escaping from the tire we just had fixed. We turned around and retraced our progress back to the service station to have it fixed again. We pulled over to the Train Station area for dinner in the Camper. Off again we went, this time to Savage River Campground. On arrival at Savage River, we heard the familiar hiss of air escaping again. On returning to the service station a third time, we found it closed. Thus ended what was fortunately an unusually clear and warm day in Denali National Park. “Big Muh,” as David called Mt. Denali, was in view the entire day.

(Continued in the next blog post in the series, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 21.”)