Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Stieglitz’

The History Of Photography Collecting 1

November 29th, 2012

The History of Photography Collecting 1

Photography Has Proven One Of The Most Profitable And Satisfying Of All Art Forms To Collect…

While Photography as an art form has matured and found substantial space in most major museums, more people make and share photographs than ever before with the proliferation of digital cameras and camera phones. Interest in collecting photography has also grown dramatically, not to mention the value of some photographs. The art of collecting photography has followed the medium in an upward climb in popularity throughout its existence. But how did photography collecting begin? Who were the first collectors? What types of photographs were the first collected? Why were daguerreotypes so popular?

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San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12

July 26th, 2011

Minor White Meets Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Paul Strand And Other Photography Greats All In One Year

Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 11.” The title of this series of blog posts has been changed from “Photography’s Golden Era” to “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series following this will be called, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 13.”

Rock Formations Detail, Weston Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, California, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. Many of Philip Hyde's early close-ups and landscape photographs showed the influence of Edward Weston. Edward Weston and Minor White may have been present when this original large format 5X7 black and white photograph was made. Widely published and exhibited with Group f.64. Planned to appear in the forthcoming book: "The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-55."

See the photograph large, “Rock Formations Detail, Weston Beach, Point Lobos.”

In January 1946, the same year he began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, Minor White met Alfred Stieglitz and in December he met Edward Weston. Alfred Stieglitz had a profound effect on Minor White and his photography and other photographers impacted Minor White’s thinking, but the influence of Edward Weston became the greatest of all.

As a member of Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall’s social circle on the East Coast, that year Minor White also met Berenice Abbott, Harry Callahan, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Todd Webb, and Brett Weston.

Then in July 1946, with the help of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Minor White accepted a teaching position on the West Coast under Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute in California. Minor White started by teaching the Summer Session as Ansel Adams’ assistant, but Ansel Adams recognized right away that Minor White had teaching talent and knowledge, besides he related to the students well. Within a few weeks, Ansel Adams left Minor White in charge and within a few months his job title changed to lead instructor. Arriving on the West Coast for the first time, Minor White moved from Princeton, New Jersey to a house owned by Ansel Adams at 129 24th Avenue in San Francisco, where Ansel Adams had his darkroom. Minor White would soon be as impacted by Edward Weston on the West Coast as he was by Alfred Stieglitz in New York City.

Parallels Between Minor White And Alfred Stieglitz

James Baker Hall wrote in his biographical essay in Minor White: Rites And Passages (Aperture Monograph):

Some of the parallels between Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White are more apparent than others. Much of White’s best work, both as a photographer and as an editor, came directly and consciously out of Stieglitz’s idea of the Equivalent, the photographic image as a metaphor, as an objective correlative for a particular feeling or state of being associated with something other than the ostensible subject. Each man in his day embodied and promulgated that controlling idea by editing journals of comparable impact, Stieglitz with Camera Work, White with Aperture. Just as Stieglitz and Edward Weston—the other principle influence on White—fairly dominated a significant portion of the photography world during the second quarter of the century, so White, along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and Robert Frank, dominated it during the third. Ideas play a role in the influence of Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Adams and Frank, but not nearly as important a role as they do with Stieglitz and White. Their work as teachers and editors has reached far fewer people than their photographs, and it has been less well understood, but both men’s lives testify in no uncertain way to the fact that it was every bit as important to them as their camera work.

Minor White’s Most Profound Influence, Edward Weston

In December 1946, Minor White traveled south from his living quarters in one of Ansel Adams’ houses next to Ansel Adams’ darkroom near Baker Beach in San Francisco to Carmel and Point Lobos to meet Edward Weston for the first time. Edward Weston also lived in a cottage with his darkroom in Carmel Highlands on Wildcat Hill. Peter C. Bunnell, in the biographical chronology accompanying the exhibition The Temptation of St. Anthony Is Mirrors, wrote that Minor White began “a profound attachment to the man, his ideals, and the place.” For the next few years Minor White took his students from the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, on field trips to Point Lobos where they observed Edward Weston photographing with his large format view camera. The classes would then proceed to Edward Weston’s home on Wildcat Hill where they reviewed Edward Weston prints and student’s portfolios.

In Jeff Gunderson’s essay in The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, he wrote regarding Minor White’s meeting with Edward Weston for the first time in December 1946:

This proved to be not only a personal, creative, and photographically significant milestone in his life, but it would also be of immense importance to the future of the school’s photography program and its students. Over the next couple of years, White and his students took numerous field trips to Point Lobos, where they met with Edward Weston.

Peter C. Bunnell, in Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, wrote:

Edward Weston, who will have the most profound influence on White of any artist, develops a rapport with the younger photographer, and they meet many times before Weston’s death in 1958. Based on White’s deep admiration for Edward Weston and his work, Point Lobos will become for him a kind of quintessential photographic site, and it is in relation to his understanding of how Edward Weston gained his inspiration here that White will approach Point Lobos and other landscape sites for his own creative purposes.

Minor White And In Turn Philip Hyde, Both Mentored By Edward Weston

Philip Hyde also kept up a correspondence and regular visits to Wildcat Hill to see Edward Weston until his passing in 1958. Philip Hyde and four other California School of Fine Arts classmates, Bob Hollingsworth, Bill Heick, Al Richter and John Rogers, originally became more acquainted with Edward Weston than their other classmates by camping on his lawn in tents when the class visited Wildcat Hill on field trips. The tent campers would talk and review prints with Edward Weston into the night, but not too late as Edward Weston was an early riser. Then with Edward Weston’s blessing, they would sleep a short time, wake up very early and lie awake waiting for signs of life in the house, whereupon they would rush inside and resume their discussion of photography with Edward Weston. This practice begun in 1947 continued for Philip Hyde for a number of years before Edward Weston’s health failed. Ardis and Philip Hyde camped on Edward Weston’s lawn and arose to show Edward Weston a new batch of prints, a number of times after Philp Hyde earned his certificate of completion from photography school in 1950. Read more on interactions between Edward Weston and Philip Hyde in future blog posts. For more on interactions between Minor White and Philip Hyde see the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

California School Of Fine Arts Field Trips, With Edward Weston On Point Lobos And At Edward Weston’s Home In Carmel, Boosted Class Intensity

Minor White looked forward to his visits to see Edward Weston with great enthusiasm. Jeff Gunderson wrote that Minor White sent a letter in 1948 to Beaumont and Nancy Newhall just before his July 25 return to see the master:

Minor White considered the pilgrimage to Point Lobos “the climax of every year,” so important that at one point he made the “generous proposal” to “forgo his own salary in favor of Mr. Weston.” He waxed that “on this trip the intensity rose like a thermometer held over a match flame.” He wanted to make sure that students had the opportunity “to study the working methods of artists” on the week-long trip with Weston “in his home territory.” Weston and the students roamed “over Point Lobos for an afternoon without cameras.” Only then would they photograph, while Weston would “climb around to each student and discuss what is on the ground glass.” They would sit on the rocks at Point Lobos, gathered around Edward Weston, “all trying to figure out what makes an artist tick.” After hiking and taking pictures, the students would drive to Carmel for dinner, then regroup at “Weston’s cottage to see the man and his photographs.” Weston “selected carefully, put them one at a time, on a spot-lighted easel. He talked quietly or not at all,…purred to his cats and kittens…He never belittled his work, never boasted, but let each picture speak for itself…And we looked. With the sound of the sea,…the smell of a log fire around, many of the seeds, planted during the year, sprouted.” White, as well as the California School of Fine Arts students, benefited from the trek to Carmel. White was effusive about what he learned at Point Lobos in correspondence to Edward Weston. The students were familiar with Edward Weston by the time of the field trip to Carmel. His books were in the school library, his work talked about in classes, and one student, Ruth-Marion Baruch, had written Edward Weston: The Man, The Artist, and the Photograph as her master’s thesis while a student at Ohio University…the cachet of Edward Weston’s name on the roster of instructors would increase the schools profile.

All of it arranged by Minor White and to his credit as lead instructor of Ansel Adam’s new photography program.

This series was to continue in a blog post called, “Photography’s Golden Era 13,” but the series will take the new title “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series can therefore be found under the name, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13.”

References:

Minor White: The Eye That Shapes by Peter C. Bunnell

The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts by Jeff Gunderson, Stephanie Comer and Deborah Klochko

Minor White: Rites And Passages (Aperture Monograph)

Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion and Exhibitions

July 7th, 2011

Split Boulder Near Lake Ediza, The Minarets, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California, 1950 by Philip Hyde. First exhibited in the original "Perceptions" exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1954 with the work of the members of Group f.64, Minor White, his students and a few other Bay Area photographers. This exhibition many consider one of the foundations that defined what became known as the West Coast tradition.

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

In reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams from the Center for Creative Photography’s publication, The Archive, it quickly becomes apparent that the times then were quite different. The first exchange of letters between the two photographers in 1933 occurred during the Great Depression, when photography was almost unheard of and even other forms of art were comparatively scarce in relation to the volumes produced today.

To compete and be heard in the market today, a photographer must not only make good photographs, but also promote tastefully. Writing well online also helps to develop a following. One of today’s photographers succeeding in all three is Guy Tal. I have mentioned him before on this blog and I mention him again, because what he writes often relates to what I am learning about the history of photography and because he recommended my blog to his readers. I like Guy Tal’s blog, not because I always agree with him, but because he has a knack for stirring up ideas, thoughts and opinions and getting people to participate. Recently he wrote a blog post called, “Small Confession,” in which he acknowledges the necessity of self-promotion but confesses that he respects photographers who do it reluctantly more than those who revel in it.

Shortly after reading this post, I started reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. These two pioneers, despite what it appears to us now, were also reluctant self-promoters. However, they lived in a time when people were looking for something new artistically and there wasn’t all that much being created of note. Along came people like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others. These people offered something that had never been seen before.

Straight photography was not a stuffy, constraining, self-contradicting notion as it is seen by some today. It was a huge Wow, and also freeing and energizing to the medium. Also, these artists did not have to promote themselves as loudly to be heard, because there was much less noise then and fewer voices vying for the public’s attention. People mobbed most of the events of the straight photographers. Perhaps those who look at straight photography as out-dated and old-fashioned, will have justification for that opinion when their events are packed because they have invented something striking and new enough to draw hoards of people.

The first time Ansel Adams wrote to Paul Strand, he reminded him of their meeting and mentioned meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in New York City. Then Ansel Adams told Paul Strand that he had opened a small gallery…

My place is most decidedly not an imitation of Stieglitz’; I wrote him at great length and outlined my plans—I told him I was going to alternate my exhibits between photography and painting or graphic arts, that I was not a missionary or a promoter, and that I did not care if I made anything out of the gallery or not—I only hoped it would pay its own rent. I am trying to bring things to San Francisco that should have come many years ago.

Ansel Adams went on to ask Paul Strand if he would be interested in exhibiting his photographs at Ansel Adams’ gallery. Paul Strand wrote back…

Actually I have little interest in exhibitions—because at the basis they seem to be un-American—just a mean and meaningless affair; mean in that they exploit the artist to entertain the public free of charge—meaningless in that they seldom establish any standards.

I turned down three museums last year in just the above terms—Their impudence and complete ignorance of what they are doing is just disgusting—They think that flattery is a substitute—but they can all go to hell as far as I am concerned—for I refuse to be part of that racket—that is my general feeling about exhibitions—I can never get used to the idea that pictures are free entertainment in the U.S., elsewhere too, that the people who claim to enjoy a thing never support the individual who makes what gives them pleasure.

Paul Strand went on to explain that it was difficult to send his prints out of Mexico, where he was living at the time, for fear they might be damaged, and that he might entertain the idea if he could ever make it to San Francisco in person. Paul Strand told Ansel Adams of a show he had in Mexico under extenuating circumstances, that over 3,000 people came to see in 10 days. Not bad for someone who despised the whole idea. For more about the photography of Paul Strand see the blog posts, “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”

(This blog post was originally posted March 24, 2010.)

Monday Blog Blog: Ansel Adams In The National Parks

February 28th, 2011

Book Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places

Highlights Of And About The Essays And The Photographs

 

Ansel Adams In The National Parks by Ansel Adams. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Amazon.com price $22.72.

How to add to what other reviewers have said? Ansel Adams In The National Parks has been reviewed in a number of other venues online (see list of relevant posts below), which represents a sizable marketing and publicity outlay for Little, Brown and Company. Little Brown was kind enough to send me a review copy as a gift, thank you to Little Brown and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust as well as the Center For Creative Photography. I imagine the other reviewers received advanced review copies to aid their review efforts too.

Below is what I like and dislike about this new release. I highly applaud the book and offer some criticism too. Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America’s Wild Places (Amazon) is a beautiful addition to anyone’s library. The look and feel of this new volume about Ansel Adams, pleases the senses and says quality all the way, yet the book is reasonably priced at only $40.00. Considering the book displays “more than 225 photographs” and the reader discovers “many rarely seen and 50 never before published” Ansel Adams photographs. These facts alone make it worth owning. The new binding of  Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, Ansel Adams In Color and Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places are all similar in attractive design and style: block lettering on white covers with smaller photographs on front and back.

In Ansel Adams In The National Parks I was happy to find many Ansel Adams photographs I have never seen before. The far majority of his photographs of the national parks in the book are a supreme joy to discover. There are perhaps half a dozen or less that I thought were below the standards of what Ansel Adams himself would have published. Ansel Adams was very particular about which of his photographs he printed and published. He printed only about 900 images out of his 50,000 original negatives.

I liked the notes and letters between Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall, when they either traveled together or wrote to each other about Ansel Adams’ travels and photography on his Guggenheim to photograph the National Parks.

I also enjoyed reading darkroom black and white photographer John Sexton on printing Ansel Adams photographs in the 1970s.

It is always a treat to read Wallace Stegner. His essays are well-informed and well-argued. As good as his essays are, his fiction is even better. Why not use new essays rather than reprints of essays published in previous books about Ansel Adams? Plenty of high quality credentialed essayists would love the opportunity to write about Ansel Adams in the National Parks.

The essays in the back of Ansel Adams In The National Parks, sing, especially the last essay by William A. Turnage “Ansel Adams, Environmentalist.” William A. Turnage’s prose is lyrical as he praises and passionately gives tribute to his life-long friend and partner. The two essays by Richard B. Woodward, “Ansel Adams In The National Parks” on the travels of Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall and “Ansel Adams and the Preservation of Wilderness,” each provide a well-written and fascinating short history lesson. In “Ansel Adams and the Preservation of Wilderness”  Richard B. Woodward wrote:

As our sense of what happened yesterday or decades ago is often as muddled and contentious as our plans for the future, a mechanical process that provides more or less realistic evidence of the world as it once was can be of immense practical and political value…. Architecture historians in several European countries understood this vital function of photography soon after Daguerre took credit for inventing it in 1839. In France the government had already founded the Commission des Monuments Historiques in 1837 and assigned it to compile a list of old decaying medieval and Renaissance structures—cathedrals, parks, chateaus, villages—imperiled by neglect…. In 1851, the Commission selected five photographers—Edourd-Denis Baldus, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq, and O. Mestral—for an elite unite that operated under the name La Mission Heliographique. It was perhaps the first time, though by no means the last, that photographers were hired in a noble-minded effort to preserve valuable parts of the world, in this case a centuries-old heritage that France was in danger of forfeiting unless quick action was taken to save these crumbling and irreplaceable sites….

Richard B. Woodward continued with sections on how photographs helped protect Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone, and many other conservation causes all over the world. Then he wrote about Ansel Adams’ leadership in the transformation of photography and its establishment as an art form:

By organizing the exhibition Group f.64 in 1932—with Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and others—Adams became an eloquent spokesman for “straight photography” in San Francisco and far beyond….Finally no photographer except Stieglitz did more to win acceptance for photography as a fine art. In 1940, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York created a separate department of photography, the first in the world, Adams became one of its founding fathers. Without training as a scholar or curator, he was nonetheless instrumental in the rediscovery of Watkins, Jackson, and O’Sullivan. By extolling their achievements to Beaumont Newhall and others in the museum community, he helped to construct a nascent art historical continuum for landscape photography. His own international prominence as an artist toward the end of his life altered the material conditions for those choosing to take the medium in that direction. In the 1970s, prints by Adams became one of the pillars of an emerging market for photographs as an art collectible, for sale in galleries and auction houses. The select but not inconsiderable number of photographers lucky enough to earn a living today from sales of their prints have Adams to thank for proving this could be done. Despite an altered context and a newfound respect for photographers within the realm of contemporary art, his pictures remain basic to the photography market and show no sign of diminishing in prevalence twenty-five years after his death.

Related Posts:

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Ansel Adams Gallery

“Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde” Fine Art Photography Collector’s Resource

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” National Parks Traveler

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Travel Blissful

“Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks” JMG Galleries

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Photonaturalist

Photography’s Golden Era 10

February 22nd, 2011

California School of Fine Arts Application Questions

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 9” in which Philip Hyde shared how the teaching of Minor White and Ansel Adams differed. For more on the teaching of Minor White and Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute see also the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 7.”)

Locomotive Drive Gear Parts, Northwest Pacific Railroad Yards, Tiburon, Marin County, California, 1948 by Philip Hyde. Part of a photography school project.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Ansel Adams taught the 1946 Summer Session at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute. The 1946 Summer Session, besides being an intensive round-the-clock photography experience, was also an opportunity for students to either show they were ready for the full-time professional training classes or were to stay with more of the evening classes geared more toward amateurs and semi-professional training.

In his book The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, Jeff Gunderson wrote that by the Fall 1946 class, a more in-depth application had also been devised to better determine whether students were ready for the full-time course. By September 1947 there were 20 full-time students for the new fall class. Due to a mix up, Philip Hyde’s application did not get processed for the Fall 1946 Class. He had to wait until the Fall 1947 Class to start at the San Francisco Art Institute. For the story of what he did for that year read the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 6.”

We have not yet found Philip Hyde’s application for enrollment. He must have filled out one of the forms below, either in 1946 or 1947. The following are the application questions for the Fall 1947 California School of Fine Arts Photography Department full-time student application:

CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OF FINE ARTS

800 CHESTNUT STREET

SAN FRANCISCO  11, CAL.

Because of the great number of requests for entrance in the Photography class of Fall 1947, it has become necessary to ask you to answer a few questions. It will aid us greatly in selecting students for the Fall class if you will answer them as carefully as possible.

NAME:                                                                                    DATE:

ADDRESS:

1.     Age?

2.     What schooling have you had?

3.     Are your abilities and preferences more mechanical than intellectual? Do you do things with your hands well or only moderately well?

4.     What kind of music do you like best?

5.     Why do you want to learn photography?

6.     If you have had less than two years of university or college training, why do you seek to enter a photography school rather than go to college or complete your work there? (It is recommended that all potential photographers obtain a college degree before attempting to become professionals, although this is not an essential condition of entrance to this school.)

7.     If you have finished college, what was your major and minor and what extra-curricular activities did you have?

8.     Do you intend to aim for the high bracket money reputed to be available to the top-flight commercial or journalistic photographer?

9.     Are you willing to accept a low wage standard for most of your life in order to follow photography as a means of expressing yourself? In other words, do you wish most of all to use the camera as an art medium?

10.  Briefly stated, what are your impressions of the following photographers?  Valentino Sara, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott, D.O. Hill, Alfred Stieglitz, George Hurell, George Platt Lynes.

11.  What cameras have you worked with? What experience have you had with photography?

12.  What is your opinion of the present day Salon?

(Please use separate sheet of paper for answers.)

For background on the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 8.” To read a summary of the beginnings of Ansel Adam’s photography department, the first art school program to teach photography as a full-time profession, see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 1.” To read the controversy over whether the present day is another Golden Era, see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Find an overview of the first straight photography, Paul Strand, Group f64 and Alfred Stieglitz in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 5” and the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 3.” To read about other early influences on Philip Hyde and his father’s wilderness painting, see the blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 4,” and “Minor White Letters 1.” For an overview of Philip Hyde’s black and white printing and role in the introduction of color to landscape photography see the blog post, “Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde.”

The series will continue in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 11.”

Photography’s Golden Era 9

November 11th, 2010

Ansel Adams And The First Days Of Minor White At The California School Of Fine Arts In The Summer Session

Have you ever been in love?
Only then can you photograph.
–Alfred Stieglitz
(Said to Minor White when he first visited Alfred Stieglitz at Gallery 291 in New York.)

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 8“)

Weathered White Bark Pine, Matterhorn Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, 1950 by Philip hyde. Made the summer after Philip Hyde earned his certificate from the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Minor White wrote a letter to Alfred Stieglitz on July 7, 1946 about his first few days in class with Ansel Adams in Summer Session at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. “My first class the other night was a delicious experience,” Minor White said. Philip Hyde was also in class for the first time with Ansel Adams that same summer.

“It was interesting to watch and listen to the questions of the ex-servicemen,” Minor White wrote to Alfred Stieglitz. Minor White right away in class began to address students’ questions about Alfred Stieglitz and his methods. “I am pretty darned happy to be able to give them first-hand knowledge of your kind of photography,” he wrote.

Ansel Adams Quickly Approves Minor White’s Teaching

“Within the first week, Minor White was busy teaching Alfred Stieglitz’ ‘equivalents’ as well as the Zone System,” wrote Jeff Gunderson in his essay in The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts. Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, who had originally recommended Minor White for the teaching job received a letter from Ansel Adams that said “Minor is a perfectly swell egg.” “By the third Thursday in the six-week course, Adams took a long weekend in Yosemite,” Jeff Gunderson noted. Ansel Adams “obviously felt comfortable enough to leave the class in White’s hands for a few days after knowing him for less than a week.”

Philip Hyde in a 2004 interview said, “I remember at first I said, ‘Who is this Minor White? He is an interloper. I am interested in what Ansel has to say and do.’ I got over that when I realized that Minor had a lot of things to say too and would be very helpful and interesting.” For more on how Minor White and Philip Hyde influenced each other see the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

Ansel Adams And Minor White Disagree Agreeably

“Minor was a very different person and teacher from me,” Ansel Adams said in his Autobiography. Ansel Adams said that Minor White’s teaching “involved intense ‘verbalization,’ – the talking out of creative intentions, concepts, and directions.”

Minor required maximum quality and conviction of a photographer’s images, all implying superior craft. However, it was the inner message of the photograph that most concerned him; he always wanted to know the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of the artist to his subject and his image. Many were the vigorous yet friendly arguments we endured on this subject over the ensuing years. I remain convinced that the medium must explain itself in its own terms. I agreed with Edward Weston’s frequently spoken Louis Armstrong quote, “Man, if you has to ask, ‘What is it?’ you ain’t never goin’ to know.”… For the viewer, the meaning of the print is his meaning. If I try to impose mine by intruding descriptive titles, I insult the viewer, the print, and myself. I hope to enhance, not destroy, that delicate imaginative quality that should be expected from any form of art…. In retrospect, I feel that Minor was just the right foil for the slightly Calvinistic philosophy of the Group f64 school that my friends and I professed. We stressed the basic craft as it has seldom been accented before or since. Minor taught a high order of craft as well as the introspective attitudes of personal psychology and, later, such Oriental philosophies as Zen. In a sense he added another dimension to the art of photography: perhaps controversial, but convincingly creative.

Philip Hyde Explains Some Ways That Ansel Adams and Minor White Differed

Philip Hyde observed Ansel Adams and Minor White together in the same class from Minor White’s first day at CSFA. Philip Hyde said that Ansel Adams taught much of what he wrote in his books in his Basic Photography Series: The Camera (Book 1), The Negative (Book 2), The Print (Book 3), Natural Light Photography (Book 4) and Artificial Light Photography (Book 5). “Ansel and Minor both devoted time in class to talking broadly about photography,” Philip Hyde said. “They both wanted us to understand the context. They gave us reasons for making photographs too.” Philip Hyde said that seeing was also very important:

Seeing is a process that involves much more than just looking at something. It involves analyzing what you are looking at and thinking about what you are going to do and why you are doing it. When you look at something casually, you are not really seeing it. Meaning is all part of it, but looking hard and letting your eyes go over the subject to see what its nature is and what you want to do with that, how you want to show it. That was part of what Ansel and Minor taught us. We looked at photographs, talked about them and were absorbed in photography. Whatever came across the desk we would look at and analyze.

Minor applied spirituality to his work much more than I was interested in at first anyway. I have always shied away from the word spiritual because it means so many different things to so many different people. I like to find other ways of expressing the idea. Minor and Ansel’s teaching styles were different because Minor was a much more outgoing and outspoken person. He was always surrounded by people and interested in a lot of people. By contrast I don’t think of Ansel as being like that, although Ansel was certainly outgoing and friendly, but he was more formal and Minor was more open. Form in photography was subtle to Ansel. It was not as prominent as with Minor. Minor went to considerable length to emphasize form, whereas Ansel was more interested in conveying his experience through photographs. Minor would see form in things that other people wouldn’t see. Ansel is portrayed as very social with parties at his house, the piano and heads of state visiting, but in his photographs Minor was more outward and social.

Continued in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 10.”

Straight Photography And Abstraction

November 1st, 2010

Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Philip Hyde, Straight Photography, Documentary and Abstraction

Reflections, San Juan River, Utah by Philip Hyde. This medium format 6X7 photograph exhibits aspects of abstract photography but is not entirely abstract. The shoreline sandbars, grasses and rocks help clarify what is depicted, while the cliff face is only abstract in that it is upside-down. It can be readily identified as a reflection. Philip Hyde on numerous occasions photographed up-side-down reflections, in some cases without any visual orientation of nearby right-side-up objects. He was the first landscape photographer to photograph an upside-down reflection without any nearby clues.

Some contemporary photographers believe that straight photography is documentary and limited to showing “reality” exactly as it might be seen on an ordinary day as you or I walk by it. A few photographers even try to “brand” themselves natural or straight photographers by sticking to realism and realistic portrayals of their subject. See photographer Guy Tal’s rant against this tendency, “No Lesser An Art.” The realism-only interpretation of straight photography is narrow and defeats the original purpose as envisioned by straight photography’s pioneers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

The objective of the photography of Paul Strand for example was not to appear “real” or to depict “reality.” Conversely, Paul Strand’s photography, without any manipulation, showed ordinary objects in a way that caused them to transcend reality.

The website, Ted’s Photographics, describes the work of Paul Strand:

Paul Strand fused together the two seemingly contradictory approaches of documentary and abstraction. For years he only produced contact prints, his pictures were pure, direct and devoid of trickery. His work represented the final break with the traditional concepts of photographic subject matter.

Paul Strand was both the “Father of Abstract Photography” and the “Father of Straight Photography.” Recently photographer Paul Grecian wrote a thought-provoking blog post, “Abstract? It’s All Abstract…” He said that all photographs are abstract because they are different than the objects they depict. While this may be true, a comment by Marty Golin argued that the reverse is also true, that photography is all “reality.” An interesting discussion developed.

Pool In Scorpion Gulch, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 1970 by Philip Hyde. First published in "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah" by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde. Scott Nichols of Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco has been a good advisor from time to time, helping me select images of Dad's to make into archival digital prints. He voted against this one. Paraphrasing, he said for an abstraction it was not abstract enough. He said that collectors wouldn't get it and wouldn't buy it. What do you think? I don't necessarily disagree with his conclusions, but this photograph is one of my own personal favorites, even if it won't sell. Fans of "Slickrock" probably like it. I did not respond at the time but I might have said something about Dad doing with this photograph partly what Paul Strand did. This is an example of the cross-over between documentary and abstract photography. Whether people 'get it' or not, it is a documentary recording of what was there, with a touch of abstraction.

Today some photography intentionally, some unintentionally, is going toward Pictorialism, often taking on aspects of the worst of that genre, sometimes exhibiting the best it offered. In some instances creative expression beyond and after the point of capture can be quite freeing. Extraordinary new types of work are developing. Straight photography has held back some photographers, they feel. With the advent of Photoshop and image alteration, combination, stitching, shifts in focus, and many other special effects or manipulations of color, the creative juices are flowing again. To read more on advanced Photoshop techniques see the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.” On the other hand, some photographers today take subject matter that could potentially be transcendent and render it ordinary or even cliché through photographer-imposed affectations and stylization.

Alfred Stieglitz devoted the last issue ever published of his magazine Camera Work to Paul Strand. In Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz described what constitutes an important contribution to photography:

In the history of photography there are but few photographers who, from the point of view of expression, have really done work of any importance. And by importance we mean work that has some relatively lasting quality, that element which gives all art its real significance….Paul Strand has added something to what has gone before. The work is brutally direct. Devoid of all flim-flam; devoid of trickery and of any “ism”; devoid of any attempt to mystify an ignorant public, including the photographers themselves.

In Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends 1839-1960, Helmut Gernsheim wrote:

Paul Strand brought a new vision to photography, discovering in the most ordinary objects significant forms full of aesthetic appeal. Nearly all of his pictures broke new ground both in subject matter and in its presentation…. “Abstract Pattern Made by Bowls” and other experiments in abstraction were the result of Strand’s seeing at “Gallery 291” the work of Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and others. [Modernist Abstract Impressionists.]

Paul Strand himself explained this process:

I was trying to apply their then strange abstract principles to photography in order to understand them. Once understanding what the aesthetic elements of a picture were, I tried to bring this knowledge to objective reality in the “White Fence”, the “Viaduct” and other New York photographs…. Subject matter all around me seemed inexhaustible….Yet what makes these photographs is their objectivity. This objectivity is of the very essence of photography, its contribution and at the same time its limitation. The photographer’s problem is to see clearly the limitations and at the same time the potential qualities of his medium, for it is precisely here that honesty no less than intensity of vision is the pre-requisite of a living expression. The fullest realization of this is accomplished without tricks of process or manipulation, through the use of straight photographic methods.

Alders Reflected, Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur Coast, California, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. This photograph was made in honor of a well-known vintage black and white photograph by Philip Hyde made on the far Northern California Coast in the Redwoods also called "Alders Reflected." Philip Hyde's "Alders Reflected" does not show any trees or other objects right-side-up, but frames only the up-side-down reflections of alders with a slight wind movement of the water that causes the reflections to break up into diamond-shaped bits of water surface in places. Philip Hyde's "Alders Reflected" has not yet come into the digital era and may not. We may make modern darkroom silver prints of it instead.

Abstraction, more than a technique is the result of selecting a composition that removes the objects in the frame from their context as found in “reality” and changes their nature in the photograph. Another one of the great abstract photographers was Brett Weston. Read more about Brett Weston’s influence in the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary Unabridged defines abstract as, “Expressing a property, quality, attribute, or relation viewed apart from the other characteristics inherent in or constituting an object; of a fine art: presenting or possessing schematic or generalized form frequently suggested by and having obscure resemblance to natural appearances through an ordering of pictorial or sculptural elements.” Thus, photographing a field of corn and defocusing the image does not make the photograph abstract, it merely makes it fuzzy. Photographing a corn leaf in such a way that it takes on separate characteristics from those typically associated with corn, is abstract photography.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you feel makes a photograph abstract? Are you drawn more to straight photography, Pictorialism or something in-between?

Photography’s Golden Era 5

June 7th, 2010

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 4.”)

Cover of Book on Paul Strand by Mark Haworth-Booth, Aperature, 2009.

The earliest beginnings of straight photography go back to 1915 when politics, the arts and sciences were in a state of revolution. Cubism, Freudian psychoanalysis, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the new rhythms of Jazz swept the country. “Everything was changing, but in photography the Pictorialists were still evoking foggy, romantic images of the past,” said American Photography: A Century of Images by PBS Home Video.

“One photographic artist would lead the medium into the modern age,” American Photography said. “His name was Paul Strand.” Aperture recently published a new book on Paul Strand in their Masters of Photography Series called Paul Strand by Mark Haworth-Booth.

Before Paul Strand’s work became known and for some time afterward, Pictorialists smeared Vaseline on their lenses to soften their images. They scratched their negatives to add texture. “They even painted chemicals on their prints to simulate brush strokes. The purpose was to make photography a hand-made process like other arts.” Pictorialist photographs looked like drawings or paintings with Chiaroscuro—light and dark contrasted effects, sketchiness and dreamy haziness.

Paul Strand, as part of the school of ideas and art that Alfred Stieglitz advanced, had his work published in Alfred Stieglitz’ magazine Camera Work and exhibited in Alfred Stieglitz’ Gallery 291. Paul Strand had been working for a few years on his own in 1915 when he brought his new work to Alfred Stieglitz to review. Alfred Stieglitz looked at the portfolio and said, “Young man, this is it. You have created a new and modern art.” Paul Strand used the camera to capture shapes and forms simply, directly and in sharp focus. Rather than depending on the skill of manipulation of the photograph after it left the camera, artistic quality depended on the eye of the photographer. Paul Strand’s images further revolutionized photography through the introduction of the abstract forms that he had observed in modernist paintings at Gallery 291. Paul Strand’s enthusiasm for sharp-focused realism was shared by a new generation of photographers: Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans and others.

Nonetheless, by the early 1930s, Pictorialist photographs employing soft-focus, manipulated prints and painterly visions engaged their poetic moods and romantic scenes in a lively exchange among juried camera club competitions. “In the West, large numbers of Pictorialist photographers continued to take prizes at Bay Area salons…” wrote Therese Thau Heyman in her essay “Perspective On Seeing Straight” in the book Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography. “Pictorialist thinking and theory was at its most articulate in the mid-1020s. William Mortensen, a leading and vocal Pictorialist, later explained, ‘The business of a work of art is to make an effect, not to report a fact.’ Creating effects was pictorialism’s highest calling.” Mortensen claimed that without selection and artistry, “the camera has no more artistic potentiality than a gas-meter.”

Sides were drawn up. One unnamed speaker in a debate said of Edward Weston’s work that he had “dared more than the legion of brittle sophisticates and polished romanticists ever dreamed.” Edward Weston turned away from pictorialist methods eight or nine years before a Bay Area group of straight photographers formed Group f.64. In 1930 Edward Weston commented in his Daybooks of Edward Weston, “I wrote an article, published this July with examples of my work in ‘Camera Craft,’ a photo magazine which offers its readers just what they want…. I tempered my words, fearing the editor might not stand up under full blast. But seeing some unusually awful reproductions in the same issue by one Boris, with a laudatory article by the editor, I spent an hour writing him my mind. These cheap abortions which need no description other than their titles, ‘Pray,’ ‘Greek Slave,’ ‘Orphans,’ ‘Unlucky Day,’ have nothing to do with Art, nor Life, nor Photography. So I not very gently explained. But why did I waste my time? I know the editor’s policy, his outlook from his writings and magazine in general: backing my work and opinions, his publication would fail. I am in the mood to stir things up.”

Meeting Paul Strand in Taos changed Ansel Adams’ life direction as he turned away from his development as a concern pianist, to full-time pursuit of photography as a profession. When he returned to San Francisco, Ansel Adams gave up his textured photographic papers and began using the same smooth papers used by Paul Strand and Edward Weston. This revealed more detail in his prints and allowed him to “achieve a greater feeling of light and range of tones….” For more about the photography of Paul Strand see the blog post, “Straight Photography And Abstraction.”

“My work might interest you at this time,” Ansel Adams wrote to Paul Strand. “Stieglitz, with whom I had many fine hours in New York this spring, was very helpful and encouraging.” Ansel Adams invited Paul Strand to exhibit his work in San Francisco in a modest gallery that Ansel Adams had opened, but Paul Strand turned the aspiring photographer down objecting to exhibitions in general. For more on this story and Paul Strand see the blog post, “Ansel Adams and Paul Strand on Self-Promotion and Exhibitions.” Undaunted Ansel Adams wrote back to tell the black and white photography master that he understood. However he felt that some contribution, however small, could be made to photography by putting on the right kind of exhibitions. Some of the earliest exhibitions at the Ansel Adams Gallery in San Francisco were of the work of a new group of photographers dedicated to straight photography called Group f.64.

“I certainly wish I could see what you are doing in Mexico,” Ansel Adams wrote in his second letter to Paul Strand. “I have always had things happen to me—psychologically, even physically—when I have seen your things. I believe you have made the one perfect and complete definition of photography. Stieglitz is to me the great catalyst; he has taken rare mental and emotional material and turned it into creative channels…. I have often wondered what Stieglitz would have been had he concentrated entirely on his own work.

When Ansel Adams described his response to Paul Strand’s negatives to the photographers who in their next meeting became Group f.64, he found they were all in accord with pursuing what they at first called “pure photography” and later called straight photography as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand called it. They did not meet often as a group, but provided  moral support for each other. At the second meeting the young photographer Preston Holder suggested they call themselves ‘US 256’, the smallest aperture or lens opening setting that allowed for the greatest sharpness and depth. Because the new aperture system called this smallest setting f.64, Ansel Adams wrote down f.64 and all agreed.

Group f.64 composed a manifesto that defined the group’s purpose and philosophy. It said the name “signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image…Group f.64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the “Pictorialist,” on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts. The members of Group f.64 believe that photography, as an art from, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.” The manifesto also committed the group to “present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West.”

One of Group f.64’s early supporters was Lloyd Rollins, director of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. Lloyd Rollins attended a gathering of the group at Willard Van Dyke’s home, viewed their photographs and offered them their first exhibition. This was Ansel Adams’ third major museum show and a break for the other group members as well. The group handed out copies of their manifesto at the show. The public and critical response was vigorous and often negative. Though many letters criticized Rollins for supporting a medium “that was not art,” the museum board continued to support the young pioneers.

The Group f.64 exhibitions drew both praise and criticism in the respected journal Camera Craft. A supporter of Pictorialism, reviewer Sigismund Blumann, in the May 1933 issue wrote,”The name of the organization was intriguing. The show was recommended to us as something new, not as individual work might go, but as a concerted effort specifically aimed at exploiting the trend. We went with a determined and preconceived intention of being amused and, if need be, adversely critical. We came away with several ideals badly bent and not a few opinions wholly destroyed…. The group is creating a place for photographic freedom. You will enjoy these prints. You will be impressed, astounded.” Articles by Los Angeles photographer William Mortensen in the same magazine were not so complimentary.

As part of the debate and to counter some of William Mortensen’s assertions, Ansel Adams wrote impassioned responses. These two famous photographers and proponents of their respective styles, argued so intensely in print that it expanded readership and multiplied interest in the controversy and photography in general, ultimately resulting in more supporters of the cause of straight photography. Ansel Adams described William Mortensen’s work: “His photographs were of models suggesting classic and Renaissance characters in historical and allegorical situations while in various stages of nakedness and period costume. They were just plain awful.” William Mortensen and Ansel Adams engaged in one of the fiercest debates in art history.

(The blog post to come, “Photography’s Golden Era 6” will begin to cover Ansel Adam’s Zone System and the founding of the photography department at the California School of Fine Arts that Philip Hyde attended starting in 1946.)

Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography Creations

April 2nd, 2010

Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions.”    – Henry James, 1888

Calathea #2, 2003 from the Photo Synthesis Series by Huntington Witherill. Photoshop creation from a Canon 10D original made in Huntington Witherill's Studio in Monterey, California.

Though this blog is primarily about landscape photography, it will cover other forms of interest. Landscape photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Brett Weston, and Philip Hyde were known for their landscapes, yet it is well-known that they practiced other forms. Philip Hyde, like the others above made portraits and a significant portion of his work is considered documentary. He avoided commercial work for advertising but made a large body of architectural photographs for corporate and government clients. Today no genre of photography has more merit than any other, as long as the work is produced with the same artistic rigor as taught by the early masters. (For context, see the series of blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 3,” “Photography’s Golden Era 4” and others in the category “History of Photography.”)

Calathea #2, 2003, original digital capture with a Canon 10D by Huntington Witherill in his studio in Monterey, California. (Before Photoshop "Digital Transformation" process)

In the blog post “Photography’s Golden Era 2” I drew from several authorities to address a question asked in a comment on “Photography’s Golden Era 1” about the current time period and whether it is also a “Golden Era.” The discussion heated up, but several landscape photographers pointed out that because the current conditions are not conducive to making a living from photography, the period is not liable to incubate as much great art. However, even though photography is going in a million directions and what we see now is chaos, we may be in the beginnings of a new Golden Era. See the blog post “Man Ray On Art And Originality.” Also relevant to this discussion, are the words of discretion by Paul Strand in the blog post, “What Makes A Photograph Art?”

After some looking around, I found a few striking examples of fine art photographers that are doing truly new and innovative work. One of these is a young lady, Natalie Dybisz, who calls herself Miss Aniela. Her tastefully exotic digitally re-constructed self-portraits have reportedly developed a record-breaking following on Flicker. Another fine art photographer, Huntington Witherill, has practiced straight photography for 35 years but is now breaking new ground in creative digital photography with a series he calls Photo Synthesis.

“Absent the proper self-restraint,” Huntington Witherill said, “Working with Photoshop can be a bit like using a chainsaw to make Christmas tree ornaments. Photoshop is a marvelously powerful tool. But unlike a chainsaw, Photoshop is also capable of extremely intricate and detailed work when used with finesse.” Huntington Witherill has made some remarkable creations that measure up artistically to his earlier film photography.  The steps he takes in the process of one creation can be viewed in a video by Clicking Here.

“The perpetuation and validity of straight photography has already been well established,” Huntington Witherill said. “Edward Weston’s photographs remain every bit as valid as they were prior to the digital age. However, in my opinion, it is the aesthetic quality of the work itself which will tend to perpetuate and continue to validate the practice of straight photography.” Huntington Witherill and my father, Philip Hyde, both taught photography workshops at the University of California Santa Cruz Extension, along with other luminaries such as Ruth Bernhard, Cole Weston, Morley Baer, Wynn Bullock, Al Weber, Steve Crouch, Dave Bohn, Ralph Putzker, Glenn Wessels, Milton Halberstadt, Pirkle Jones, Dick Garrod, Henry Gilpin and others. Philip Hyde and Huntington Witherill were roommates once at a workshop teachers gathering and also spent time together at the Rendezvous, a meeting of photographers organized by Al Weber. Huntington Witherill recently had more to say about my dad’s landscape photography and how people see it today:

Were I to feel it necessary to argue the validity, importance or relevance of your father’s work, I would be doing so on the basis of the overall aesthetic quality and visually unique character and style of his photographs, and to a certain restrained extent, upon the context in which they were made. I would avoid the old “us” versus “them” argument which pits “straight” photography against all other types of photography (an argument which largely centers upon the chosen tools, materials, and methods, and the relative level of perceived manipulation used to produce the work). First, I think it’s beneath the dignity and importance of your father’s work to be forced into such a seemingly shallow argument. And second, I think the argument itself is completely unnecessary. Your father’s work was made at a time when few others were producing similar work. It could be superficially categorized as “straight” photography, yet aesthetically, it stands on its own even today, regardless of the specific kind of photographic characterization or classification one wishes to apply to it.

Your father used his heart and mind to produce images that met his own unique sensibilities. He saw the world in a way that others did not. Who cares how or in what style, or even when his photographs were made? To argue the “validity” or relative “importance” of a Philip Hyde photograph based upon the tools, materials and methods he used to produce that photograph, is beneath the dignity of the work. We’re all in the same photographic boat and we’re all working on differing forms of artistic self-expression. When your father’s work is considered in the context of photographic “art,” it must be compared with all other forms and manifestations of the art, not simply advocated because it happens to be “straight” photography. Edward Weston’s photographs are great because they are great photographs. It doesn’t matter to what style or method you compare them. Edward Weston’s photographs are not great simply because they are “straight” photographs. And… neither are your father’s.

All photographers and purveyors of photography working today are in the throws of negotiating the many changes in the medium brought on by digital cameras, Photoshop and other digital era methods. Everyone has a different approach. Some photographers have not only navigated the changes, they are thriving by leading the way. “Witherill has embraced the new technique and run with it,” Rick Deragon said in 1999. Rick Deragon is a painter of the natural scene, museum curator and art teacher. Rick Deragon also said of Huntington Witherill, “He’s run right into a new reality that he is able to define, unfettered by photography’s past, but still full of his reverence for the natural source.”

Railing, Fort Stevens, Washington, 2006 by Huntington Witherill. An example of his straight photography.

One look at Huntington Witherill’s photography and anyone can see it is not to be confused with much other photography today that suffers from heavy-handed Photoshop use that has somehow tainted and made the images look slightly overcooked. He himself describes the majority of the photography displayed on the internet today as low quality. The change to be feared is not the departure from straight photography through Photoshop. Nor is there harm in exploring new ways of making images that use methods or philosophies completely different from straight photography. The degrading of the medium lies in the vast quantities of aesthetically inferior work and the overuse of Photoshop to try to save otherwise tasteless images.

Photoshop is a wonder in the hands of talented creative artists such as Miss Aniela or Huntington Witherill. The problem lies not in new forms of photography, but in landscape photography that consists of what my father, Philip Hyde, called “pretty pictures for postcards.” In his artist statement he said, “Black and White is excellent experience for color work because it encourages sensitivity to form, texture, tonal gradations and the quality of light. Color photographs that lack these qualities and rely too much on the shock value of color alone will not sustain interest.”

In a 1979 letter to retired Outward Bound river guide and landscape photographer Chris Brown, Philip Hyde wrote that many landscape photographs tend to have too many elements in them and are “not tightly enough organized.” Philip Hyde went on to say:

Because it is big in scale does not mean that it can’t have impact as an intentional photograph. The camera only sees one frame at a time, and unless you get into some of the multiple-image techniques, you’ve got to rely on one image to make the impression. I tend to be careful in my own work, not to yield to the easy temptation to over-dramatize things just to make this impression—and as a corollary, I also tend to be less impressed with the group led by Ernst Haas, who make their point by highly romantic over-dramatics. They go too far, I think, but certainly something more than pointing the camera and making a snapshot is indicated. Snapshots have their place, but I assume at the outset that you want to make a deeper impression, create something that communicates a little more powerfully. The only recipe I know for it is a four-letter word: work (experience, practice).

Take a look at the following videos of Huntington Witherill, by Douglas Ethridge, posted on John Paul Caponigro’s blog. They show not only a new vision but also a depth of mastery of the medium, that developed through many years of experience and practice in straight photography, but that has now found a new direction through new methods and techniques that go way beyond those of the past. Welcome to the future, or at least one form of it…

To read more about cutting edge Photoshop methods see the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.”

Photography’s Golden Era 4

March 15th, 2010

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Photography’s Golden Era 3.”

Early Influences on Philip Hyde Before Photography School: Leland Hyde, Modernism, Rural Europe, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Group f.64, Ansel Adams and Western National Parks.

Tomales Bay, Point Reyes, Marin County, California, Oil on Canvas, circa 1925 by Leland Hyde.

In the first third of the 20th Century, Modernist Painting came into prominence. It had swept from Paris across the Atlantic in 1913 with the Armory Show in New York. However, the Beaux Arts classical approach that had influenced architecture and art across the US, remained the dominant form and the preferred way of teaching until the student uprisings of 1932. Student activism at the University of California, Berkeley and on other college campuses, led to a shift away from the traditional Beaux Arts methods of teaching. At UC Berkeley in particular, the uprisings instigated a search for a Modernist architect to take over the design program. Modernism waxed and waned but eventually took hold.

In the visual arts, the Modernist movements—Dadaism, Cubism, Fauvism, and Surrealism had faded from public notice and moved into private drawing rooms in the late 1920s and early 1930s. For a time, the new forms were of less interest to the American people. Isolationism and concern over domestic issues brought on the development of American Regionalism, whose proponents often painted the rural countryside. Philip Hyde, age 11 in 1932, had yet to use a camera, but his father Leland Hyde’s favorite subject to paint was nature. He took his family camping in a lean-to tent in the National Parks of the West such as Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. In 1932, Leland and Jessie’s children, Betty, Davey and Philip, first looked down from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Philip in particular began to dream of some way he could spend his life in the outdoors.

Photography at the time until 1932 and after, was dominated by pictorialism, based on special effects and techniques that altered photographs to resemble paintings. However, straight photography as led by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others eventually took over the medium and became the core of Modernism. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and five other talented California photographers founded Group f.64 in protest to the pictorialist photography that was then broadly exhibited by museums, galleries and camera clubs, as well as widely published in periodicals because it resembled paintings. Academic painters and the art establishment, thought their livelihood might be lost to photography and therefore had for years refused to consider any form of photography art, but in time they for the most part tentatively accepted pictorialism.

Alfred Stieglitz first founded the Photo-Secession society as a pictorialist group. Alfred Stieglitz circulated in the heart of the modern art scene in New York City and followed the European Impressionist Art movement. Many of his most famous photographs were in the pictorialist tradition. They were blurry, atmospheric and employed at least partial soft focus. He usually did not soften the focus in his whole image, but subscribed to the “naturalist” theory that emphasized a photograph’s primary elements by letting background or less important elements remain out of focus, as it was thought the natural human eye did.

European Impressionists painted the steam engine as a symbol of the Industrial Revolution and of the modern city. Alfred Stieglitz in turn photographed steam engines. Alfred Stieglitz never used a special soft focus lens, but used snow or other weather conditions to soften his images and add atmosphere. All along Alfred Stieglitz used real world conditions to create pictorialist effects, rather than the manipulations that were typical of most pictorialist photography. He was the master of capturing real life moments. In the early 1920s, Alfred Stieglitz began to leave behind the idea that photographs need to look like paintings to be art. He had led the movement to have photographs exhibited besides paintings, but his photographs looked more and more like camera work than brush work. He did not cover up that he had changed his outlook. He instead instigated a revolt against pictorialism.

Even before West Coast photographers formed Group f.64, Alfred Stieglitz had started promoting what he called Straight Photography. More on Straight Photography and Group f.64 in the next blog post. Also see the previous blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 3” for more on Alfred Stieglitz. Beaumont Newhall wrote in the Foreward to Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography that by the time of the founding of Group f.64, pictorialism “had long been abandoned by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and other members of the Photo-Secession society.”

Photographs such as Alfred Stieglitz’s “Steerage,” of working class people on board a ship, marked a new direction for Alfred Stieglitz’s and brought in what became known as the Modernist vision. Edward Weston, who had begun as a pictorialist, destroyed all of his early negatives. Modernist photography discarded the romanticism of the pictorialists and looked deeply into commonplace subjects for hidden beauty. Straight photography and the Photo-Secession decried soft-focus and sought sharpness and precise detail. The Modernists minimized darkroom manipulation, though even Edward Weston, who primarily printed contact prints, was known on occasion to dodge and burn prints, thereby lightening shadows and darkening highlights.

Most agreed with Beaumont Newhall when he named Edward Weston as the spritual leader of Group f.64, even though the independent Edward Weston did not found Group f.64, or pay much attention to its operation. Edward Weston lived a simple, unadorned lifestyle and made fundamental, elegant photographs of common and natural subjects such as garden vegetables, nude poses of his wives and lovers, and western landscapes, particularly those in California and around his home in Carmel. Point Lobos State Reserve was Edward Weston’s favorite outdoor place to photograph. Point Lobos is the perfect example of a straight photography location. Its scenery is not dramatic, not colorful or spectacularly beautiful. Point Lobos has a subtle, hard to define beauty that can only be discovered by looking closely, by getting to know the place, and by creatively framing common appearing rocks, trees, grasslands and beaches.

As Edward Weston did with photographs, Leland Hyde, in the same era and before, depicted the natural scene with oil paintings and pastel sketches. Leland Hyde’s painting style had elements of rural regionalism but he clearly disagreed with one of the primary representatives of the movement, Thomas Hart Benton, once a student in Paris, who wanted to rid America of what he called “the dirt of European influence.” However, Leland Hyde did agree with the social activism and politics of the New Deal that sought a public and useful art. In America, as the 1930’s opened, the merits of  Modernism versus more traditional figure painting became a heated debate. Leland Hyde dreamed of studying in Paris at one of the world’s most famous and selective art schools, L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. He wanted to explore the various forms more deeply, knowing that his course of study would primarily be rooted in classical training but would also incorporate elements and whole courses on the Modernism that flourished in pre-war Paris.

When Jessie Hyde’s favorite uncle passed away, with the family’s sorrow came a blessing: Uncle George Hair left the Hydes a small inheritance. At the height of the depression, Jessie wanted to be practical and buy a house, but Leland Hyde saw it as his chance to go to art school in Paris. L’Ecole des Beaux Arts had offered free tuition since the 17th Century but the application process had always been extremely difficult and competitive. Leland Hyde quietly applied and when he was accepted, Jessie quit arguing for more conservative uses of the money. She told him to go to Paris and enjoy. She would stay in San Francisco and keep the children in school. However, Leland Hyde would not hear of it and insisted that the entire family come with him to Europe. Philip Hyde was 11, his brother Davey only five years old and his sister Betty was 15.

European Countryside, Alps, Pastel Sketch, 1933 by Leland Hyde.

Paris, the capital of Modernism, had a profound impact on the young Hydes and affected Philip Hyde’s photography later. They learned French and listened and watched their father work and talk about his assignments in the evenings at home in their rented artist’s studio-flat. Modernism became a part of Leland Hyde’s work and he incorporated classical training with the new directions in art just as he had imagined. Philip Hyde watched his father paint in the field and listened to him expound at the dinner table about the lectures and class projects from L’Ecole. After school let out, the Hydes bought a car and drove around the European countryside while Leland Hyde painted. They spent three days of the trip on the celebrated French Riviera, where even during the Great Depression, August was the peak tourism month and crowds overran the coast. This was Philip Hyde’s first realization that he preferred wilder places such as the French and German rural countryside and the Austrian Alps where his father also found the most joy and more opportunities to paint what he liked.

When Leland Hyde took his family back to San Francisco, he took fine art painting commissions, hung art exhibitions, entered contests, designed and painted furniture, drew plans and perspective drawings of government buildings and huge factories. He developed a fine reputation as a furniture designer, builder and finisher, a fine art painter and industrial designer. Dad said that his father was gainfully employed the entire Great Depression and the family of five never went hungry. Dad said there were a few slim dinners of perhaps a can or two of food, but they never went hungry, even though Leland Hyde worked solely as an artist. This example of success in following an artistic calling during the worst of times, kept Philip Hyde going in tough times later and gave him the faith and work ethic to become a full-time landscape photographer, a choice even Ansel Adams thought economically unsound for even the most talented photographer in the 1950s.

While the Hyde family was in Europe, a meeting and an exhibition that would change photography forever was taking place back in New York City. On their way home from Europe to San Francisco, the Hydes passed through New York City at about the same time that Ansel Adams traveled there for his first New York exhibition at the Delphic Studios. Philip Hyde and Ansel Adams did not cross paths until over a decade later, when they met at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1946. Philip Hyde first saw Ansel Adams’ prints at the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island just before the War. However, earlier in 1933, a meeting that would affect all of photography occurred when Ansel Adams came to New York on a pilgrimage to meet Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer whose life and work Ansel Adams most admired. Ansel Adams said that when he told Alfred Stieglitz of his concept of visualization, Alfred Stieglitz “responded with his explanation of creative photography.”

Ansel Adams’ definition of visualization became one of the cornerstones of the training in photography that Philip Hyde would participate in later. Ansel Adams wrote in Modern Photography magazine, “The photographer visualizes his conception of the subject as presented in the final print. He achieves the expression of his visualization through his technique—aesthetic, intellectual, and mechanical.”

Alfred Stieglitz’ replied to Ansel Adams’ statement on visualization with the same explanation he had given someone questioning the validity of art produced by a camera. A patron asked Alfred Stieglitz whether a “machine could be creative?” Alfred Stieglitz replied, “I have the desire to photograph. I go out with my camera. I come across something that excites me emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically. I see the photograph in my mind’s eye and I compose and expose the negative. I give you the print as the equivalent of what I saw and felt.”

This process as described by these two primary teachers of photography, turned out to be vaguely familiar and readily understandable by Philip Hyde a dozen years later. Perhaps this had to do with a similar process that he watched over and over throughout his upbringing and in extended duration and repetition, during his boyhood months in Paris, the World’s hub of Modern Art, and throughout his travels in the countryside of Europe, with his family, watching Leland Hyde paint the natural scene. Thus, in the early 1930s, while Alfred Stieglitz and Group f.64 transformed photography and the west coast tradition was born, Philip Hyde started his training in composition and seeing, and began forming his early feelings about wild places that became the heart of his life and work. Ultimately, all of these influences and others we will explore in this blog, helped shape landscape photography. What influences do you know of? What are your feelings and thoughts about the beginnings of straight photography?

References:
Interviews of Philip Hyde by David Leland Hyde 2002-2005
Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography by Mary Street Alinder, Therese Thau Heyman, and Naomi Rosenblum
Ansel Adams: A Biography by Mary Street Alinder
Get the Picture” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Art Across the Ages DVD Series by Ori Z. Soltes, The Teaching Company

(Continued in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”)