New Releases: The History Behind Philip Hyde Desert Icons
Philip Hyde began photographing the desert Southwest with large format film in 1951. At that time, he used primarily black and white film, but did expose some large format color transparencies too. The Sierra Club book, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park and It’s Magic Rivers, with introduction, one chapter and editing by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner, included as many color plates as black and white, but editor, journalist, conservationist, pilot and river guide Martin Litton also made nearly as large a share of these images in the book as Hyde. To read more about the making of This Is Dinosaur see the blog post series, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism.” To read more about Martin Litton see the blog post series, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience.”
While on his way back and forth from his Northern Sierra home in California to Dinosaur National Monument, Philip Hyde explored and photographed much of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of New Mexico. For more on his early travels in the deserts of North America, see the blog post series, “Toward a Sense of Place,” and the blog post, “Images of the Southwest Portfolio Foreword by Philip Hyde.” Below is the history of three Philip Hyde signature desert photographs that both exemplify his style of photography and inspired two generations of photographers.
Based on the photograph locations in Hyde’s Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series volumes Navajo Wildlands: As long As The Rivers Shall Run (1967) and Slickrock: Endangered Canyons of the Southwest (1973) with Edward Abbey and in other Hyde books for Sunset and the prominent travel and natural history magazines of the day, large format film photographer Tom Till said that Hyde was the first to photograph areas of The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park and Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park. Large format photographer David Muench, who was 15 years younger than Hyde, a little later was also the first to photograph some iconic desert landscapes.
Evening Light on West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley
Possibly one of the most emulated American classics of all-time, Philip Hyde’s 1963 “Evening Light on West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley,” came into the public eye just as the quality of color printing in books developed enough for such books to become popular. “Evening Light on West Mitten Butte” enjoyed much recognition when it first appeared in the Exhibit Format Series book, Navajo Wildlands in 1967. Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of similar photographs have been made and many published of this view of Monument Valley. Navajo Wildlands helped the Navajo Nation, now more correctly called by their own name Diné Nation, to form seven Navajo Tribal Parks to preserve some areas of the reservation for all generations.
Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert
Two other Philip Hyde desert landscape icons have been emulated much since their creation, but they were neither the first, nor even early in the evolution of similar images, merely the most widely known and observed for inspiration. Ridges and ripples on sand dunes had been famously photographed by Brett Weston, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and many others well before Philip Hyde made the color photograph, “Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California” in 1987. Hyde’s photograph perhaps was early in relation to all color images of this type of scene. Regardless, it was not until after “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” appeared in Drylands: The Deserts of North America that close up images of ripples on sand dunes flooded the photography market. Hyde’s original photograph was an unusual vertical that showed the ripples on the sand dunes in the foreground with the ripples fading into the distance at the horizon. Yolla Bolly Press, the packagers of Drylands, who also packaged Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, convinced Hyde to crop “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” to a horizontal for the front pages of Drylands. This version only showing the bottom half of the original vertical, the close up part of the image, became popular for its abstract qualities. Many still today find the Drylands crop of “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” a stronger image than the original vertical.
Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
The second signature desert landscape that Hyde made as late as 1982 was “Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah.” This photograph also graced the pages of Drylands. Photography historians have found earlier photographs with vague similarity to this image, but it was not until after 1987 that similar images showed up in numerous magazines and other publications and now on the internet on various websites of photographers of the American Southwest.
So what? What is the point of researching who came first and who came later? This kind of tracking is not necessarily done for further recognition in and of itself, but it does serve to further establish and educate scholars, art historians and the public in this regard: it is important for determining the influence of an artist like Philip Hyde on his medium. Influence has a great deal to do with the perception of the significance of the life’s work of any artist and how his or her work is positioned in the historical record. These three photographs play a consequential role in the history of photography, particularly of landscape photography and photography of the Western US and Colorado Plateau. Similar photographs of a location do not necessarily emulation make, but in Hyde’s case, many of the who’s who of nature photography today acknowledge having been influence by his work.
Philip Hyde made six or fewer original dye transfer or Cibachrome hand made color prints of each of these four images. Only three original dye transfer prints remain of “Havasu Falls,” two of “Chinle Shales” and none of “Evening Light, West Mitten Butte” or “Ripples on Kelso Dunes.” Please consider acquiring our new archival chromogenic prints of these images, produced in a special numbered open edition, while they are at a special introductory price for a limited time. For more about new release pricing, see the blog post, “New Releases Now at Special Introductory Pricing.” For more information about the difference between archival digital prints and archival chromogenic prints, see the blog post, “About Archival Fine Art Digital Prints.” To purchase prints, see the images large and read more descriptions see the New Releases Portfolio on the Philip Hyde Photography website.
Have you ever seen photographs similar to any of these three?