Posts Tagged ‘Camera Work’

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)

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.)

Photography’s Golden Era 3

February 18th, 2010

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Photography’s Golden Era 2“)

Straight Photography and Other Early Influences

5-26-09, rev. 1-23-10

The Steerage, 1921, by Alfred Stieglitz. More than his signature photograph, it is also considered one of the most important images of the 20th Century because it helped to transform photography and change the perception of what was considered fine art. It is also one of the earliest and best examples of "straight photography" as defined by Alfred Stieglitz. Public Domain Image.

Note: Future blog posts will expand on this overview and delve into Pictorialism, documentary, straight photography and especially Group f.64 and the west coast tradition.

In August, 1921, a little known but classically trained painter and furniture maker, Paul Leland Hyde and his wife Jessie Clemens Hyde of Howard Street in San Francisco, gave birth to their third child, a boy they named Philip Jean Hyde. The year proved auspicious for fine art photography, but not for wilderness, at least not until the boy grew up.

The twentieth century’s biggest threats to wilderness and the National Park System began in 1921 when seven western states formed the Colorado River Commission, U. S. Geological Survey teams made studies of Glen Canyon, Cataract Canyon, Grand Canyon and the San Juan River Canyon and Hydrologists proposed the first dam site on the Colorado River.

Meanwhile photography thrived and took leaps forward thanks to an outspoken New York City proponent, the father of fine art photography, Alfred Stieglitz. In February 1921, Alfred Stieglitz sent shock waves through the art world by exhibiting a mixture of nude and clothed depictions of his lover, the rising painter Georgia O’Keeffe. The buzz created by the scandal and success of the show made the young Georgia O’Keeffe famous and solidified Alfred Stieglitz’ place in history both in America and Europe. Philip Hyde never met Alfred Stieglitz, but Alfred Stieglitz would indirectly impact Philip Hyde’s photography and that of all landscape photography. Alfred Stieglitz through his association with Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, influenced the west coast tradition of photography that was also born in the San Francisco Bay Area, as Philip Hyde grew up.

In 1932, an election year, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran against Herbert Hoover, whose popularity plummeted in the wake of the stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression. Roosevelt campaigned on the promise of his New Deal. He said its many programs and projects would reverse the economic collapse. In late 1932, even before Roosevelt took office his advisors started framing programs and began to employ photographers to add life to their reports. The nearly 100-year-old medium of photography conveyed the need for each program more memorably and dynamically than solely written documents. The photography originally used by government organizations such as the Farm Security Administration or FSA in the Great Depression came to be known as documentary photography and was characterized by crisp, sharp and unadorned images.

In previous decades photographers who wanted their work to be considered art, had been moving away from the plain representation of documentation. They experimented with soft focus and print manipulation in many forms including the changing of tone by various methods and printing on cotton and a variety of other art papers. These painterly forms came to be called Pictorialism and dictated what sold in galleries in New York City and the museums and art markets of the Eastern US until 1930 and beyond.

A few photographers bucked this trend, but none successfully until Alfred Stieglitz. Alfred Stieglitz produced a magazine called Camera Work in which he eventually began to encourage “Straight Photography.” When Alfred Stieglitz originally started a society he called Photo-Secession, he was still practicing many of the techniques of pictorialism, but in time he began to take the view that photography was an art form, in and of itself, and did not need to imitate other art forms to warrant public appreciation. He coined the term Straight Photography to refer to images that were sharp and printed just as they were captured by the camera on glossy non-painterly papers that brought out detail. One of the photographers Alfred Stieglitz featured in Camera Work was Paul Strand of Chicago, whose work was stark, simple and straightforward, yet possessed creative depth.

In 1930, a young pianist and photographer named Ansel Adams traveled to New Mexico to finish a book he had started on the Taos Pueblo. No rooms were available at Los Gallos Inn but the Innkeeper introduced Ansel Adams to Becky and Paul Strand who invited Ansel Adams to stay in an extra bedroom of their adobe guest cottage. Ansel Adams knew of Paul Strand from reading Camera Work and was delighted when Paul Strand offered to show him his negatives since he had no prints on hand. Ansel Adams described the negatives as “glorious… with perfect, uncluttered edges and beautifully distributed shapes that he had carefully selected and interpreted as forms—simple, yet of great power.” Ansel Adams was so inspired that he decided that afternoon, “the camera, not the piano, would shape my destiny.”

In 1932, a group of West Coast photographers met informally at photographer Willard Van Dyke’s home in Berkeley, California. Van Dyke’s guests Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Henry Swift, Sonya Noskowiak, John Paul Edwards and Ansel Adams found they were on a similar journey. When Ansel Adams described his new direction in photography inspired by Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, he discovered that the others were already at work on this new approach. All present agreed to pursue what they would call “pure photography” and work to reverse the trend of art photography toward Pictorialism. At a subsequent meeting they agreed to call themselves Group f.64, after the smallest aperture or lens opening setting that allowed for the greatest sharpness and depth. Later after World War II, Philip Hyde would study under three of the members of this group that redefined photography, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham.

(Continued in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 4“)

References:
O’Keeffe and Stieglitz: An American Romance by Benita Eisler
Two Lives, Georgia O’Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz: A Conversation in Paintings and Photographs by Alexandra and Thomas West
Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography by Mary Street Alinder, Therese Thau Heyman and Naomi Rosenblum
Ansel Adams: An Autobiography by Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams: A Biography by Mary Street Alinder

58 Years In The Wilderness Intro 2

January 18th, 2010

Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 1972, by Philip Hyde. From the Reprint of "Island In Time: Point Reyes Peninsula." (Out of Print)

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

(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.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Virginia Creeper, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, 1977, by Philip Hyde. Made more magazine covers than any other Philip Hyde photograph. Example of Straight Photography and colorful enough without amping up the saturation.

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.

58 Years In The Wilderness Intro 1

January 18th, 2010

Cathedral In The Desert, Glen Canyon, Utah, 1964, by Philip Hyde. Named One of The Top 100 Photographs of the 20th Century by American Photo Magazine

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Revised January 17, 2010
Originally written 2005

From 58 Years In The Wilderness:
The Story of Ardis and Philip Hyde Traveling, Defending and Living in the Wilderness

Introduction First Draft

Two days of rain battered our white plastic rain fly. The 20-foot-square white tarp hung from ropes tied to trees on the two diagonal corners and to stakes in the ground on the remaining corners. Under the tarp our orange four-man tent billowed in gusts of wind.

I snuggled into my down sleeping bag in the tent and listened to the drone of rain. Just outside the front flap of the tent, though well under the rain fly, squatted Mom. She held a Sierra Club cup with a decaf coffee freshly poured from the small teapot on the grate down at the fire.

It was April 1970 and we were backpacking in Coyote Gulch in the Escalante Wilderness, Utah in an area that later became inaccessible as the waters of “Lake” Powell drowned the mouth of Coyote Gulch. My dad, Philip Hyde, a freelance landscape photographer, often worked with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations such as the Wilderness Society and National Audubon. He found out about this spectacular red-walled canyon full of arches, overhangs and green seeps slipping over hidden ledges, because the area was part of a proposed wilderness and more than once put forward as a potential National Park. By 1970 Dad’s photographs had already appeared in dozens of books and before the United States Congress, Senate and many other state and local political leaders on behalf of wild lands all over the Western U.S. His photographs were applied to more environmental campaigns than those of any other photographer of his time.

Ardis and David, Camp at Icicle Springs, Coyote Gulch, Escalante Wilderness, Utah, 1970, by Philip Hyde. Baby Deardorf 4X5 View Camera taking a break, Hasselblad in operation. Ardis Hyde writing in the trip log.

The wind picked up and the rain fly pelted the tent roof, keeping me from dozing off and getting my daily nap I usually had in the afternoon at age five.

“Where’s Daddy-O?” I asked, up on an elbow to see Mom.

“He’s getting firewood.”

“In the rain?”

“He must have had to go farther than expected and decided to hole up under an overhang or something,” Mom said.

“Hmm. I hope he’s all right.”

“Now David, your father is a very capable man. Do you want more hot chocolate?”

“Yeah,” I sat up, pulled my Sierra Club cup out and held it up to her.

“Say please,” she responded.

“Please,” I said.

She carried my cup down to the fire in the rain, balanced it on a rock, lifted the larger kettle from the campfire with pliers, tilted it and poured into my cup spilling only slightly. She delivered the hot chocolate to me, safely squatting and dry still just inside the tent and without shoes.

“Let that cool again now,” she said.

“OK,” I said, balancing the cup to the side and scrunching back down into my bag. “It seems pretty dark.”

“There is plenty of light left,” she said.

The wind and rain blended into a rising roar. I was back down into my bag but up on my elbows. I shivered though I was a mummy in down. I sipped tiny scalding tastes of hot chocolate. The light from the campfire flashed and flickered dimly on the tent ceiling. The shadows deepened. Every few seconds I heard the splitting of limbs or the thunk of twigs on the tarp. The fresh smell of masses of water pounding sand and sandstone was punctuated with bursts of lightning followed by deafening cracks in the sky.

Just then Dad appeared with a large arm-full of wood.

“You sure are soaking wet,” Mom said. “Why don’t you come in and take off those wet clothes?”

“I need to get a few more armloads of wood,” he said. He began to jog off into the rain but she stopped him.

“Philip?”

“Ardis?”

“There’s hot chocolate here,”

“Ummm,” he said kissing her quickly on the lips and running. “Thank you love, I’ll have some in just a minute.”

I snuggled deeper. Mom poked the fire. The rain fell even harder. It seemed the raindrops were bunching together in torrents and falling like waterfalls on the flap bucking in the wind.

Mom never doubted Dad’s capabilities. She added her talents to the collaboration perfected and imperfected by time and exposure to a spectrum of weather conditions. Dad fixed flat tires, dead batteries and broken equipment with patience, ingenuity and often little resources. Mom planned and prepared. She managed the food and supplies. She supported emotionally, physically and spiritually. She kept the daily trip logs, read the guidebooks and for fun studied plants, animals and especially birds.

Preparing for excursions, Dad studied the geology of the area he would scour for picture possibilities. In the field he knew the weather. On his studio wall he kept a chart of more than 20 types of clouds. He could often accurately predict the weather by looking at the sky or indicators like the barometer and thermometer. He kept a constant vigil for the light and atmospheric conditions favorable to photography.

From their marriage on June 29, 1947, until Dad began to lose his eyesight in 1999, he spent an average of 99 days a year in the field. Mom accompanied him more than half the time. They traveled mainly between April and October in the Western United States camping, backpacking, driving, riding horses, mules, trains, planes and boats to access wilderness for almost one third of every year of his working life. Summers were not the best months for photographs, but that was mainly when he traveled, so that Mom could go along in her time off from teaching kindergarten.

The summer of 1955 was typical of Dad’s early career. After buying a 1954 Chevrolet Pickup in March from Brett Weston, a contemporary photographer, Mom and Dad spent 12 days in April in the California Redwoods, across the state, 300 miles west of their home in the mountains of Northeastern California. Then Dad turned around and journeyed alone 600 miles south of home, May 3-14 to photograph Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Continuously for the next three months Mom and Dad backpacked, camped, river rafted and drove thousands of miles through Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. This included three river trips: 13 days on the Colorado River through little known Glen Canyon, 26 days on the Yampa River in Utah and Wyoming inside Dinosaur National Park, and five days on the Ladore River, also in Dinosaur. By August 16, after three weeks in Wyoming in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park on a Sierra Club Pack Trip, Mom got a ride home with participants, but Dad continued on to Glacier National Park, Montana for 10 days and Olympic National Park, Washington for two more weeks. Dad did not see home until September 10.

Why did the pair spend one third of their lives pursuing this unusual brand of adventure?  (Rhetoric question. Part of the text.)

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “58 Years In The Wilderness Intro 2“)