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(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “58 Years In The Wilderness Intro 1“)
Why did the pair spend one third of their lives pursuing this unusual brand of adventure?
As the 1950s became the 1960s, groups like the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Izaak Walton League, the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation brought public attention to protecting and enjoying nature. Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society authored the Wilderness Act legally defining wilderness. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came out in protest of chemical spraying and exposed corporate environmental negligence. The same year, Sierra Club Books released In Wildness Is The Preservation of the World with color photographs by Eliot Porter with quotes from Henry David Thoreau and Island in time: The Point Reyes Peninsula by Harold Gilliam with photographs by Philip Hyde. These were the first two widely distributed books with large color fine art landscape photographs sharing the beauty of nature. While Eliot Porter’s book was all color, Philip Hyde mixed beautiful vintage black and white photographs with large color plates. Dad was recognized as a master of both mediums, though as color caught on, Porter’s book sold more copies. A handful of photographers, through the Sierra Club and its leader David Brower, brought wilderness right to the United States Congress and Senate and into living rooms across the country. The Sierra Club had reinvented the large picture book as the Exhibit Format Series. These high-quality coffee table volumes represented, as never before, the wild places the Sierra Club wanted to protect.
Photographs first helped preserve wilderness in 1864, moving President Abraham Lincoln to establish Yosemite as the world’s first scenic land preserve. Yet in the 1950s and 1960s the use of the camera to defend wilderness reached its zenith. More preserves, wildernesses, National Parks and Monuments formed out of campaigns by environmental groups than ever as America’s leaders and people saw natural landscapes through a “new” medium. During the heyday of the Sierra Club publishing program, Club membership grew exponentially. The first book in the series, This Is The American Earth featured primarily the work of Ansel Adams though other well-known western photographers such as Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, Edward Weston, Pirkle Jones, Minor White and Cedric Wright had one or two photographs. Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde became the primary illustrators of the series. Dad’s photographs in particular, appeared in eight out of the sixteen books published in the sequence. Several volumes in the series became bestsellers and this combined with Washington DC lobbying, brought the Sierra Club into national prominence.
After marrying in June 1947, Dad and Mom joined the Sierra Club later that year while Dad started photography school. The Club had just over 900 members, but within the next two decades the ranks swelled to over one million. Other conservation organizations like the Wilderness Society also grew exponentially and many new organizations formed.
Photography itself had undergone a transformation as well. Soft focus pictorialism dominated the first third of the 1900s. Few photographers successfully bucked the trend toward printing on canvas and other art papers, soft focus and special effects that made photographs resemble paintings, until Alfred Stieglitz published a magazine called Camera Work in which he began to encourage what he called “straight photography.” Photographers in the Western United States increasingly made photographs of landscapes without people. Only a few pioneers had captured landscapes previously, they were not common. In 1932 photographers Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Henry Swift, Sonya Noskowiak, John Paul Edwards and Ansel Adams formed Group f.64 in San Francisco. Named after f.64, the smallest lens setting enabling the most detail in a photograph, the group composed a manifesto limiting “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… Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.”
In the mid 1940s, Group f.64 member Ansel Adams founded a fine art Photography Department, the first ever of its kind, at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Arts Institute. When Ansel Adams first started the department, students of painting, sculpture and other disciplines erupted into a school-wide protest against photography being part of a fine art school. In those days, photography was not considered an art form, let alone a fine art. Yet Ansel Adams persisted with encouragement and support from San Francisco art patron Albert Bender and other California art movers, as well as fellow photographers such as Paul Strand in the Midwest, whose work appeared in Camera Work, and from Alfred Stieglitz himself. Group f.64 members Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham helped teach at the California School of Fine Arts. Besides Philip Hyde, the program turned out such notable photographers as Pirkle Jones, Ruth-Marion Baruch, Charles Wong, Bill Heick, Cameron Macaulay, Benjamen Chinn, Don Whyte, Rose Mandel, Bob Hollingsworth, Stan Zrnich, Pat Harris Noyes, David Johnson, Ira Latour, Gerald Ratto, John Upton, Walter Stoy, and others.
With three years of photography school and a certificate of completion, Dad built on what became known as the west coast tradition and went on to influence a generation of nature photographers with his simple, understated forms and subtle desert and mountain landscapes.
“Dear Phil,” Minor White, lead instructor at CSFA, wrote in a letter to Dad in 1950, “Your pictures are as clean as Ansel’s, with a slant of your own seeing. You are starting your career as few of my students have done. In a way I envy your present mastery of the medium…”
By 1971, Ansel Adams wrote that Philip Hyde was “one of the very best photographers of the natural scene in America.” Ansel Adams said he liked Dad’s photograph, “The Minarets from Tarn Above Lake Ediza,” better than his own photograph of the Minarets in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. In 1999, American Photo Magazine named Dad’s “Cathedral in the Desert, Glen Canyon” one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century. Dad’s work appeared in more than 75 books, 130 newspapers, 100 exhibitions and over 60 magazines including Audubon, Wilderness, Life, National Geographic, Aperture, Newsweek, Time and Reader’s Digest. He has received many awards including one for lifetime achievement from the North American Nature Photography Association in 1996 and the Albert Bender Award in 1956. The principal artist in over a dozen books, he also wrote magazine articles and an autobiographical essay to accompany his photographs and the writings he selected of John Muir’s in The Range of Light (1992). Dad wrote the text for Drylands: The Deserts of North America (1987), which won three literary awards. Beginning in the 1970s he taught photographic workshops for more than 30 years for organizations such as the Museum of Northern Arizona, John Sexton Workshops, Ansel Adams Gallery Workshops in Yosemite and many other schools of photography.
Dad and Mom stand as examples of how to tread lightly on the earth and find satisfaction in a simple self-sufficient lifestyle. Early in Dad’s career he made a decision to live in the mountains of Northeastern California far away from the photography marketplace. By living in such a remote place, he also gave up the opportunity to be more involved in the Sierra Club and other organizations. With fewer book signings, gallery openings and connections he sacrificed greater financial success to live close to nature.
Mom worked by his side from the beginning. While he attended the California School of Fine Art she worked as the receptionist at the school. Later she became known as an excellent kindergarten teacher and was renowned in the mountain valleys of Plumas County for her knowledge of birds, plants, organic gardening and natural cuisine long before it became popular. Dad thought he would go on working and making photographs his entire life, but in the summer of 1999 he began to lose his eyesight, and within a year he was completely blind.
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Yet Dad proved there is more to vision than eyes and more to seeing than vision. He was one of the first to visualize a civilization in harmony with all life rather than exploiting the Earth as a commodity. In his photography training, as in any good art training, he learned to see deeply. Photography is the art of seeing patterns, forms, relationships that the untrained eye would not see. One day in 1987 he slowed his gait as he passed through our yard at home. He stared at the Virginia Creeper Vines against the weathered gray cedar siding of the house he built. Besides autumn reds, yellows and oranges contrasting with unturned green leaves, some of the leaves reflected blue from the sky. Most eyes do not notice the blue because we automatically edit it to green, the expected color for leaves without the reflected sheen. He ran inside and gathered his wooden Reis tripod and 4X5 Baby Deardorf view camera and set up on our front lawn for one of his most widely-published and exhibited photographs.
By late 2001, his 58-year photography career ended suddenly as his sight fully faded to black and he could no longer make photographs or even print them in his darkroom. Mom acted as his guide, business manager and constant companion. She tried to do the work of two people, keeping up with the photography business and finances as well as maintaining the grounds, house and kitchen. Then the second devastation arrived, Mom died suddenly in March 2002.When she passed on, I moved back to the mountain home where I was born, from my place across the country in upstate New York. We cried, reminisced and cried some more. Sometimes we screamed into the lonely woods, at the sky, at the stars, but the night absorbed it all. In time we began to talk on tape about the many wilderness miles we walked together. Dad described his adventures with Mom seeking the “Good Life” while helping to protect such places as Dinosaur National Monument, The Grand Canyon, The California Redwoods, and many other seashores and wilderness areas of the American West.
Until his death in 2006, I read him the environmental news almost daily. He relied on dreams for glimpses of the natural world he spent a lifetime defending. We sought to make sense of the loss of my mother; the loss of Dad’s eyesight and the state of environmental decline and violence the world is in today. Dad sometimes wondered why he worked so hard. Unfortunately environmental battles are never won, they are merely postponed. The dam site is still there, the mineral resources are still in the ground, the trees are still uncut, the road plans may some day yet destroy the pristine meadow. The beaches are always ripe for new hotels and condominiums. Nonetheless Dad saw clearly two possible visions for the future. In one we continue to poison our home until we destroy ourselves. In the other we learn to live in harmony with life and sustain ourselves on this planet perpetually. In the chapters that follow, I retrace the wanderings of Ardis and Philip and sometimes me tagging along, throughout the wilds on an odyssey through remote terrain from Alaska to Switzerland to Mexico to Southern Utah, my dad’s favorite state besides his home in the mountains of Northern California. All with the purpose of offering a glimpse of how one family lived and did what they could to make a difference and inspire others to do the same, to bring about the future with the most possibilities.