Escalante Canyons Art Festival and Everett Ruess Days
David Leland Hyde Keynote Address
Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7:30 pm
Escalante High School Auditorium, Escalante, Utah
Why Escalante, Utah? Why Was David Leland Hyde Invited To Speak?
My father, American landscape photographer Philip Hyde, (1921-2006) even more than his mentor and teaching associate Ansel Adams, explored and photographed remote areas of the Western US, helping to establish national parks and wilderness lands. Dad’s photographs, along with those of Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Martin Litton, David Brower and others, were the backbone of the Exhibit Format Series that popularized the coffee table photography book and helped to make or protect national parks and wilderness in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and beyond. Iconic locations that receive millions of visitors a year now were protected with the help of Dad’s images.
Projects included books and other photography assignments that were central to preventing dams in the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument, establishing North Cascades National Park, Redwood National Park, Pt. Reyes National Seashore and many others. For the 1971 book Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah with Edward Abbey, Dad was the first to photograph remote areas of Waterpocket Fold and the Escalante River canyons in what is now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; as well as parts of the Dolls House in the Maze in Canyonlands National Park.
In the heart of canyon country, the small town (pop. 783) of Escalante, Utah for 12 years now has hosted the Escalante Canyons Art Festival and Everett Ruess Days. For a much longer time, Artists have come from all over the West and the world to photograph, paint, sculpt and otherwise portray the beautiful sandstone landscapes of the Escalante River Canyons, a tributary of the Colorado River. This artwork is often seen in galleries, on TV and in magazines and other media all over the world. During the Escalante Canyons Art Festival, the Plein Air painting competition allows artists a full six days to explore the canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation and other areas limited to Garfield, Wayne and Kane counties in the lower center of Southern Utah. Judges bestow a number of awards and the art from the competition is offered for sale as part of the weekend festival that includes an Arts and Crafts Fair, artist in residence and featured artist exhibitions, a speaker series, staged musical entertainment, special show presentations, workshops, demonstrations, open studios, tours, films, yoga, quilt exhibition, an art installation from Brigham Young University and my Keynote Address on Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7:30 pm.
Part Of Why Philip Hyde’s Approach To Art Matters Today
In my speech, I will show slides and tell stories of travels with my father and mother, Ardis, in the backcountry by 4X4, horse, burro, airplane, train; hiking, backpacking and boating. I will also share an overview of my father’s work, with an emphasis on the Southwest.
On seeing the giant topographic contour maps of the canyons of the Colorado Plateau that my father pinned up in his studio, with his travels drawn on them in various pen colors, and after more urging by Dad, John Mitchell, the editor of Sierra Club Books in the early 1970s, decided to develop a large format book project, that became the now classic Slickrock just as Edward Abbey signed on to write the text. Mitchell, in the introduction, told the story of how Abbey and Hyde first met. Abbey had hiked with a friend into a remote area of Canyonlands. Abbey’s friend scrambled ahead of him up to the rim where he ran into a photographer with a large format camera on a tripod poised on the sandstone:
Cameraman explains he is doing a book. Funny, Friend says, so is my buddy. Cameraman asks identity of buddy. Ed Abbey, says Friend. Funny, says Cameraman, same book. Friend hollers down canyon: Hey, Ed. Guy up here says you’re collaborators. Abbey scrambles up. Ed Abbey, says Friend, meet ‘Doctor’ Hyde.
Such a chance crossing of paths, deep in the heart of The Maze that was then roadless, fit well these two desert wanderers and their collaboration. The two creative personalities differed in their approach to social pastimes: Abbey was a wild party lover and Hyde was a subdued teetotaler. Yet they both had an unsurpassed love of deserts—sandstone, sage and open sky—and they each had an unparalleled gift for expressing this love and similar feelings about preserving the wilderness, as much as possible like it was, for generations to come. In addition to the list of areas Dad photographed first and beyond his accomplishments in helping to make national parks and wilderness, exhibited in his photographs and writings, was Dad’s warmth toward lands that many considered inhospitable or useless.
Often photographers today are in a hurry. They may not be “allowing” or “making” photographs, but rather they are “blazing” or “blasting away.” When I was a boy, I remember Dad on the lookout for photographs. Mom and I were often quiet in anticipation of the true silent time, which began as soon as Dad pulled over, or we hiked away from pavement, and he took out his Zeiss wooden tripod and 4X5 Baby Deardorff view camera, or his Hasselblad with Bogen tripod. For Dad’s own explanation of the Quiet Mind see the blog post, “Toward A Sense Of Place By Philip Hyde 2.”
When Dad first arrived on any scene he would look in every direction many times and at each detail of the countryside around him. He would bend down and look up at a Juniper, crouch and look at a cactus between two rocks, scramble up a nearby mesa top, all in the interest of seeing every angle. He did some of this in his mind and some physically. By the time he planted his tripod, you knew he had checked all other possibilities and chosen one. There were exceptions to this longer process such as when he saw one isolated point of interest or when the light was fading or the situation was changing quickly for some other reason. Then he moved swiftly and silently.
At the same time, Dad never waited for special lighting, weather, rainbows, sunsets, moonrises or other special effects of nature all dressed up on her best day. His goal was to capture the subtle beauty of nature as is, in her everyday wardrobe. Some of his work is dramatic, but much of it is more refined and delicately subdued. He studied geology, archaeology and the natural and human history of an area before photographing it. His photographs were invocations honoring place, rather than art for art’s sake. Dad’s goal was similar to that of his mentor and friend Edward Weston, the father of modern photography: to take himself out of the picture as much as possible, limiting the always present imposition of the photographer’s own interpretation.
Family Travels And Philip Hyde’s Love For The Escalante And Colorado River Tributary Canyons
Dad had a particular fondness for the canyons of the Escalante, including the portions now and from time to time under Lake Powell in Glen Canyon. He traveled through Glen Canyon by boat before the reservoir formed in 1958 and 1962 and as the waters were rising in 1964. His photograph, “Cathedral in the Desert, Glen Canyon,” on an Escalante River tributary, Clear Creek, was named one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century.
In 1980, when Lake Powell finally filled to capacity for the first time, 16 years after the US Bureau of Reclamation closed the dam gates, Dad published a lament for Glen Canyon, Coyote Gulch and the lower Escalante in Wilderness Magazine, see the series of blog posts beginning with “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.” For other writings and to read about and see Dad’s Glen Canyon Portfolio see the series of blog posts that start with “Glen Canyon Portfolio 1.” With the reservoir full, the mouth of Coyote Gulch was effectively cut off from hiking and backpacking access. Ten years earlier when I was five years old, a guide from the town of Escalante horse packed our gear into Icicle Springs, where my father, mother and I could establish a base camp for exploration and photography of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante Canyons. However, it was two years earlier in 1968, trekking down the river with another party, yet by himself for the day, that Dad found a canyon with a hidden entrance few people had seen, and discovered the place in East Moody Canyon now unofficially called “Hyde’s Wall,” by photographers who have had what it took to hike that far on foot.
In my Keynote Presentation on September 26 at 7:30 pm in the Escalante High School Auditorium, I will elaborate on these stories and tell others. I will share how Dad prepared for his travels, how he recorded not just the scenery on the surface, but dug into the geology, history and archaeology of each place he photographed, and how he applied what he learned in photography school with the greats of the medium, to see more profoundly. I will share how his legacy lives on, through many of the who’s who of landscape photography today, through my own photographs and through the application of his life’s work and images to current conservation campaigns.
To read about the Hyde’s travels in the Escalante River Canyons see the blog post, “58 Years In The Wilderness Intro 1.” For more about Hyde’s Wall see the blog post, “The Naming Of ‘Hyde’s Wall’ By Writer And Photographer Stephen Trimble.” For a rundown on the controversy over the Lower Escalante River, the Colorado River, Lake Powell and new solutions to the problem see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Book Review: Resurrection by Annette McGivney With James Kay,” as well as the blog post series beginning with “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.”
Have you ever been to Escalante, Utah?