Posts Tagged ‘Cataract Canyon’

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

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 1

January 24th, 2010

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, 1951, by Philip Hyde, published in “This Is Dinosaur” edited by Pulitzer Prize winner, Wallace Stegner.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

The Campaign to Keep Dams Out of Dinosaur National Monument and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism in the United States 1

Revised April 5, 2006

San Francisco emerged from the Depression before World War II and flourished as the financial hub for development of the Western United States. In 1945 Bank of America became the largest bank in the world. Bechtel built Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in the early 1960’s, and by the 1970’s developed into the largest privately held corporation in the world.

Just up the hill from Kaiser, Bank of America, Bechtel, Utah Mining and Construction and others in San Francisco’s financial district, stood the Mill Towers headquarters of what developers called the “enemies of progress,” the Sierra Club. Before the 1950’s the Sierra Club had only a few thousand members, but in just two decades its numbers soared into the hundreds of thousands. While the West boomed after the War, the conservation movement transformed into modern environmentalism; adding the twist of public pressure through media, tourism, letter writing and lobbying on the national level of politics to the land protection ideals of the early conservationists such as writer and activist, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, explorer, author and founder of the Sierra Club. Those who knew him said John Muir died of heartbreak over the loss of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to the dam builders. Hetch Hetchy, sister Valley to Yosemite, before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioned a dam and flooded it, once contained waterfalls and verdant grottos lush with native grasses, trees, waterfowl and wildlife. The Sierra Club leaders after John Muir vowed to never let such a tragedy happen again.

Today, in the new millennium, an international trend toward removing dams is gaining momentum because dams rarely pay for themselves economically. Most dams, especially the larger ones, are economic losers without even factoring in the tremendous cost to ecosystems, fishing, tourism and other industries. Today scientists know that Rivers are the heart of the limited fresh water cycle on planet Earth. My dad, landscape photographer Philip Hyde, often ranted about “Big Dam Foolishness.” He said tomorrow’s wars would be over water and other limited resources. Dad came of age in the same era as the Sierra Club and corporate America.

After the Japanese dragged the U.S. into World War II by attacking Pearl Harbor, Dad, like many young men then, enlisted in the Army Air Corp. He did not begin service until the fall of 1943 because he had been enrolled in San Francisco City College. He took photography classes, but he was much more inclined toward his flight training courses because he wanted to be a pilot.

In the days leading up to the War, Martin Litton, later a prominent Sierra Club leader, famous river guide and pilot, wrote travel and editorial features for the Los Angeles Times. Martin Litton today is still an activist at age 94. He travels, speaks and writes articles for the campaign against logging Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Monument, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service, and is next to Sequoia National Park. He said that before World War II, “the entire region of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River all the way up to the town of Escalante was proposed as Escalante National Park by FDR and the sexy-movie-star-turned-U.S. Congresswoman from California Helen Gahagan Douglas.”

In A Story That Stands Like a Dam, Russell Martin explained that the Roosevelt administration planned to “establish an enormous new preserve straddling the Colorado River and reaching from Lee’s Ferry, near the Utah-Arizona border, north and east all the way to the town of Moab, Utah, on the main stem of the river, and up the arm of the Green almost as far as the town of Green River, Utah. It would encompass 280 miles of the Colorado’s winding canyons, including all of Glen and Cataract canyons, 150 miles of the San Juan River, 4.5 million acres in all.”

The political climate changed during World War II and Escalante National Park died before it could become more than a proposal. “A lot of dirty work was done during the War,” Martin Litton said. “Various parts of government had projects up their sleeve that they wanted to do, but the public would not let them. They waited until the public was distracted or away and then they did things like the road through the paradise that was Malibu Canyon.” Michael Cohen in The History of the Sierra Club explained that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1943 had obtained “permission to survey a dam site within Dinosaur National Monument, on the grounds of national security and the need for power.” Dinosaur National Monument straddled the Utah-Colorado border at the upper end of the Colorado basin on the Green River and Yampa River, tributaries to the Colorado River. During the War 134 potential dam sites on the Colorado watershed became part of a study the Bureau of Reclamation published in 1946 called The Colorado River: A Comprehensive Report on the Development of Water Resources.

The same year, Dad freshly “separated” from the Army Air Corp and safely back in San Francisco, enrolled in the first summer class of Ansel Adams’ newly founded Photography Department at the California School of Fine Arts, later renamed the San Francisco Art institute. Also in 1946, Dad took classes at the University of California Berkeley where he fell in love with my mother, Ardis Marie King, of Sacramento. They married at the Clairmont Hotel in Berkeley on June 29, 1947.

Meanwhile three states away, in the remote northeast corner of Utah…

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 2“)