Posts Tagged ‘film photography’

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 20

October 15th, 2013

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log: June 14-September 14, 1971 by Ardis Hyde

(Pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, his wife Ardis and son David in their Avion Camper on a 1968 GMC Utility Body Pickup. Continued from the blog post, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 19.”)

Part 20: Layover Denali National Park (Formerly McKinley National Park) Back to Riley Creek Campground, Denali National Park, Alaska, from Toklat Road Camp and Finally on to Savage River Campground. Monday, July 19, 1971:

Kittiwake Bird Rookery Near Whittier, Alaska, copyright 1971 Philip Hyde.

Kittiwake Bird Rookery Near Whittier, Alaska, copyright 1971 Philip Hyde. Flatbed scan of vintage silver gelatin print. See PhilipHyde.com for full sun photos of Mt. Denali and others of Alaska.

Philip woke up first again. We were back in the sunshine of Riley Creek Campground, where we also camped a few nights ago. Night before last we tried Toklat Road Camp, but crowds there drove us back here. Philip at the wheel, took us out of Riley Creek Campground, while we ate breakfast en route toward Denali National Park Headquarters. We made our first picture stop at Toklat Bridge for the view upstream at the Toklat River with the 4X5 View Camera. The wind was stiff and the sky again beautiful with scattered clouds; an utterly different type from yesterday. A short distance on we stopped for our first view of the day of Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). This view was not visible yesterday afternoon. By 6:40 am the sky had become cloudless.

On the climb up the road toward Polychrome Pass a red fox trotted across the road. Philip stopped and pulled out his 35 mm camera. David and I remained in the camper cab. Next thing we knew, the fox was trotting toward us with a half consumed ground squirrel in his mouth. Philip pursued the fox. The fox, while indifferent to us, occasionally stopped and looked back at Philip. He said he thought he had made several good photographs of the fox. As we climbed Polychrome Mountain, we stopped again for a picture across the green valley with tawny lower slopes and snow and rock contrasting higher ridges. We made another stop at Mile 47 for a cold breakfast and another photograph of Mt. Denali in the full sun without a cloud. (See PhilipHyde.com for more photographs of Alaska.)

We proceeded to the next photo stop for the braided pattern of a partially dry stream to the North and another to the East of the braided water streams reflecting in the light. By Mile 46, Mt. Denali was beginning to haul in a few clouds. Just beyond Mile 46 and at the top of Polychrome Pass, Philip stopped again for photographs with the view camera and the 2 ¼ Hasselblad. The next stop at around 9:30 am was for a Hasselblad photograph of Caribou on the skyline of green bald hills climbing to Sable Pass, followed by a 35 mm photograph of a bill Caribou on a snow patch at the top of Sable Pass.

Flat tires had become somewhat routine and we had another one at Sanctuary River. We then drove on to the service station at Park Headquarters. After the tire repair, we went over to the train depot to pick up our mail. We met Celia Hunter of Camp Denali, who was there to pick up her group of guests. After lunch and business taken care of, we drove back to Denali Lakes to visit Ginny Wood and Celia Hunter. As we arrived at Denali Lakes, we heard the hiss of air escaping from the tire we just had fixed. We turned around and retraced our progress back to the service station to have it fixed again. We pulled over to the Train Station area for dinner in the Camper. Off again we went, this time to Savage River Campground. On arrival at Savage River, we heard the familiar hiss of air escaping again. On returning to the service station a third time, we found it closed. Thus ended what was fortunately an unusually clear and warm day in Denali National Park. “Big Muh,” as David called Mt. Denali, was in view the entire day.

(Continued in the next blog post in the series, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 21.”)

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15

July 9th, 2013

Technical Aspects of Visualization

Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s 1947 Class Notes

California School Of Fine Arts, Now The San Francisco Art Institute

Photography Program Founded By Ansel Adams, Minor White Lead Instructor

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 14.”)

Landscape Photography Blogger Note:

Bristlecone Pine Snag Against Sky, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. 8X10 Deardorff Large Format View Camera.

Bleached Juniper Trunk On Ridge Above Parson’s Lodge, Cumulus Clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. 8X10 Deardorff Large Format View Camera.

(View the photograph large: “Bleached Juniper Trunk, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite.”)

Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White were all proponents of visualization or pre-visualization as it is sometimes called. Ansel Adams wrote about visualization, as did Minor White to some extent. However, few, if any, of their students ever published any lecture notes sharing the contents of lectures on the subject. Here for what is likely the first time ever published, are the notes from star photography student Philip Hyde on a lecture by Minor White during the summer session, on August 19, 1947. Today is Minor White’s birthday. He was born on July 9, 1908.

Half way through the class lecture in 1947, Minor White shifted into a technical discussion regarding film density, exposure, the Zone System, film testing, tonal reproduction, tonal separation, contrast control by underdevelopment, various aspects of darkroom processing, waterbath formulas, and other details of film darkroom photography. The purpose of the lecture was to applying darkroom post-processing tools to carry out and complete the process of visualization as begun at the point of exposure in the field with the camera. This technical discussion consisted mainly of graphs and charts that do not apply to today’s digital photography and in some cases not even to today’s film photography. This complex portion of Minor White’s lecture is omitted here, for the most part, with some portions summarized, leaving us with the non-technical core of the subject.

These lecture notes are presented here mainly as a historical record, more than for teaching or learning purposes, though they may serve the latter two purposes as well, with certain readers. More on the theory and philosophy of visualization will follow in future articles and blog posts. Yet this lecture, may put into perspective how relatively easy making good photographs has become, due to technology replacing many of the processes mentioned below. Photoshop is certainly not simple, nor do we now merely press one button that eliminates all visual distractions and turns our images into artistic masterpieces, as many uninformed people seem to believe. Nonetheless, the lecture below puts into perspective the level of diligence involved in darkroom black and white photography. Which of these two post-processing methods do you feel took more skill? Or if the skills are different, how do they compare?

Technical Aspects of Visualization Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s Notes August 19, 1947
Visualization

Visualization is the basis of creative photography as taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) photography school. Visualization is simply visualizing, imagining in the mind, the final print while looking at the scene you are photographing. The approach to applying visualization is to place tones on a scale, in the 10 gradations of tone in the Zone System and internalizing the relationship of exposure to development taking into consideration the relationship between exposure and density of the film being used.

Any tone in nature can be reproduced with exposure control exactly as is with normal development. This is considered a normal exposure to development relationship. The relationship of tones remains the same with normal development. Less than normal development will compact the relationship, that is, it will compact the scale of tones. More than normal development will stretch the scale.

A full-scale print is one in which all the values of the 10 Zone scale are present including white and black, Zones 0-9. When exposure is graphed against density, there is a portion of the curve at the beginning, or toe, where the curve gradually increases steepness. This toe portion of the curve is preferred for enlargement, but can cause loss of accuracy of tonal relationships in darker areas. The curve then straightens out. This part of the curve is where tonal reproduction is accurate. The top, or shoulder, of the curve, where it gradually decreases steepness, is the least desirable for photographic enlargement and printing.

The lightest Zones, Zones I, II and III are on the toe portion of the graph and will be less dense than expected. Contrast can be controlled by underdevelopment. This must be determined by testing of the film to see whether upper or lower values will contrast more and in what relation to development. When lower values are in the toe, they can suffer serious loss of tonal quality. A good waterbath helps to increase separation in the lower tones, or the toe of the curve(s) and decreases or diminishes this effect in the upper Zones. Testing is done with a gradated step wedge.

Lens testing is also related to the success or failure of visualization efforts. Testing lenses determines the differences between theoretical and actual light transmission, due to flare, aberrations in the lens and technique of the photographer.

(Continued in the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 16.”)

For those of you who did both post-processing in a film darkroom and now use Photoshop, Lightroom or some equivalent, do you feel traditional film black and white photography or digital photography post-processing is more difficult? In what ways are the challenges of each different?

Grand Canyon Book Review: “Path Of Beauty” by Christopher Brown

June 19th, 2013

Review Of Christopher Brown’s New Coffee Table Photography Book On The Grand Canyon: Path of Beauty

"Path of Light" Book Cover: "Colorado River In The Grand Cayon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright Christopher Brown.

“Path of Beauty” Book Cover: Colorado River In The Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright 1986 Christopher Brown.

Wilderness Guide, River Captain and Photographer Christopher Brown has given the world a photography book that highlights the Grand Canyon as grand vista, secret garden and old friend. Certainly great craft and care are evident in Brown’s intimate images of luminous side canyons, but his big scenes of the Grand Canyon show us the Canyon’s vast size like never before.

Chris Brown’s well-written text also puts the reader right into the canyons of sun-drenched rock, rampaging white water and hidden oasis gardens. We feel the desert heat and the cold wave spray. We sense the weight of time drifting slowly by as we descend into the deep gorges that Brown has explored for more than 50 years.

Christopher Brown gets into Path of Beauty by showing us various ways to get into Grand Canyon National Park. His discussion of Geography and the forces that shape the canyon is more wild than dry, the wildest forces being the raging of water in the river and the dumping of water from the sky in Monsoons and flash floods that choke the Colorado River with sticks, boulders and other material from side canyons. Brown vividly illustrates with active, interesting language and his powerful photographs how debris flows from side canyons produce increased excitement and danger in the rapids on the river.

Crystal Rapid is an example of this rapid building process. When Major John Wesley Powell navigated the Grand Canyon in 1867, “Crystal was a small riffle spread across the canyon bottom. It was mentioned only in passing in river journals for almost 100 years. Until 1966.” That year, a major flash flood “pushed several thousand tons of rocks and boulders” into the Colorado River, changing it’s course and raising the pool level above the rapid, making the rapid’s drop much more precipitous, concentrated and swift, as well as adding a giant hole created by an immense new underwater boulder. Brown describes how the rapid is run now:

A boat caught in the hole can surf around for a moment on the wave, do a pirouette, flip back into the hole, sometimes with a half or full twist, and can window shade, flipping over and over. A swimmer going into a big hole can be driven to the bottom of the river by the strong down current, and tumbled along the rocks on the bottom while being thrashed around in every which direction by the water currents trying to break her arms and legs and pound the air out of her lungs. It’s dark down there too. On a good day, which is most of the time, she will come to the surface a hundred or more feet downstream, gasp for air, and wonder for a second if she is alive or in boatman heaven, and which would be preferable. Hopefully she won’t be tangled up with her boat, which usually comes out of the hole just behind her. This is one of life’s longest 15 seconds.

Chris Brown goes on to share sometimes scary, sometimes humorous accounts of other mishaps and adventures he witnessed or participated in during his many decades rafting the wild Colorado River. Few men alive today know the Grand Canyon the way Brown does and it shows in his hard-won river wisdom and in his astonishing and vivid photographs.

Path Of Beauty And The Photography Of Natural Landscapes

In the back of the book, Brown includes a chapter on his approach to photography:

To begin I ask myself: “Where do I want to be today; what is calling me?” There may be a favorite place I want to revisit, or a new place I want to see. I don’t expect to see anything in particular, or to take a specific photograph. Mostly I want to photograph in a place where I enjoy being, and that is sufficient. I begin right there, and I go where I am drawn. I might wander off in one direction, and for no apparent reason, go off in another. I follow the slightest impulses and urgings, wherever the moment pulls me. I generally end up in a good place, and sometimes I wonder how I got there. Over the years I have learned that the intuition that guides me works well, so I trust it… When I hear someone espousing rules of composition I divert my eyes and cover my ears… If I have the desire to take a preconceived photograph, one that is in my head, or to find a certain light, I will feel this expectation and will see only this imaginary photograph, and nothing else. If I don’t find what I desire, I will feel nothing but frustration… The desire to create a good photograph can tie me in a knot of anxiety and paralysis. If it has to be good, this is an invitation for the gremlin of judgment and criticism to sit on my shoulder, just out of sight. He questions if something is really good, suggests it has been done better before, and tells me it’s not worth the time and effort. This is the kiss of death for any creative endeavor. I have learned to simply ignore this voice when I am working on anything creative, and the decision to ignore it is actually quite simple, and totally freeing. I have to remind myself of this every time I go out, because desire and expectation creep up unnoticed. I find that the less I expect, the more things will reveal themselves to me.

Brown’s photographs, while spontaneously found, also exhibit a thoughtful, deliberate method once in process. His selection in the field and his processing of the image at home is carefully orchestrated, sometimes right down to each individual pixel. He spends at least many hours and most often many days working on each image in post-processing to get it exactly right. His images capture the context and character of the Grand Canyon, like few have ever done for any place. Brown took his friendship and insights from Philip Hyde seriously in that he has shown the world sights and insights that they might not have ever seen or realized otherwise. Through Path of Beauty, you can treat yourself to a whole new, more lifelike version of the Grand Canyon, the next best thing to being there. Though be hereby warned, Brown’s book will most certainly entice you to go there and perhaps inspire you to photograph the place yourself from a different perspective than you might have before.

The only aspect missing from the book, in my opinion, is at least some mention of the grave threats to the ecosystems and doubts as to the very survival of the river itself, as it is known, going into the future. Nonetheless, keeping in mind this is not an environmental activism project or a book for a cause specifically, except perhaps the cause of natural beauty and the enjoyment of an unparalleled visual journey through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, this canyon and this river cannot receive too much praise or recognition for aesthetic and wilderness qualities alone. Feast your eyes on Path of Beauty. You will not be sorry, but you may be changed by the experience.

About Christopher Brown’s Friendship With Philip Hyde And Learning Photography

The North Canyon Pool, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright Christopher Brown.

The North Canyon Pool, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright 1990 Christopher Brown.

In the last 40 years, Christopher Brown has become a leading and award-winning full-time “professional” creative photographer and master print maker. He teaches photography and print making in Boulder, Colorado. His work is displayed in many private and public collections across the United States, including the Denver Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Brown was a guide and boatman for Outward Bound for over 30 years, during which time he began to make photographs of the natural landscape.

In the early 1970s, Brown decided to become more serious about photography and wrote a note to Galen Rowell, Eliot Porter, Bill Ratcliff and to Philip Hyde. He received a reply from all of them, but the reply from Philip Hyde was in Chris Brown’s words, “by far the longest and most thoughtful.” Not long after, Brown asked Hyde and Porter to review his portfolio. Porter wrote back to say that he was very busy and that Brown ought to do what he, Porter, had done and study the work of the masters. Hyde wrote Chris a letter that was “six pages, single spaced, both sides.” Brown, in a taped interview in 2005, said that he and Hyde in many ways had a similar approach to the world:

If somebody wrote me today, I would just send them a copy of that letter because what Philip said is what I would say to aspiring photographers now. He talked a lot about that if you are going to be an artist, you make your own path and you design your own life. I’ve always been that kind of person, a do it yourself guy. It was good to hear from him and realize that the struggles I was having, in terms of how to do this, were basically what it was going to be like. Nothing was going to change and that was ok.

Christopher Brown and his wife Elizabeth Black, a painter, went to visit Ardis and Philip Hyde in their mountain home in the Northern Sierra of California. “It was like we were on the same river trip. He was just a lot further downstream.” Brown and Hyde went on to travel together many wilderness miles, including self-guided river trips down the Rio Grande and the San Juan Rivers, in the Needles and Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park.

Early in their correspondence Brown wrote to Hyde that he occasionally felt the need for the perspective controls and depth of field possible with a large format camera. He saw switching to a 4X5 film camera as an inevitability that he was not ready for at the time. Hyde wrote back regarding many of the advantages and disadvantages of large format photography. (Stay tuned for future blog posts that will include portions of these letters.) Brown at first used his medium format camera more, then converted to large format for several decades. Brown described his relationship with Hyde in Path of Beauty:

Photographer Philip Hyde let me be his friend, and we hung out together on the Rio Grand and in Canyonlands, laughing at each other fumbling with lens caps, debating whether an exposed piece of film was empty or full, while we searched for the next “snap.” Phil refused to be a guru or give advice, and steadfastly lived the belief that each artist has to find his own path.

In another section of Path of Beauty where Brown discusses the “art of seeing,” he recalls,

Photographer Philip Hyde said to me: “If you see a picture, better take it.” Life is always uncertain, so why not take yet another chance? You can debate the merits back in the studio. I try to save my analysis and critique for later. It is a distraction while I am photographing. “Shoot first and ask questions later.”

This may not be good advice for the use of guns, but it probably is the best policy for the use of cameras.

(More of the Philip Hyde—Chris Brown correspondence, the merits and drawbacks of color versus black and white photography and David Leland Hyde interviewing Christopher Brown in future blog posts.)

What is your process for making photographs? 

Why Photography Galleries, Curators And Collectors Like Limited Editions

March 12th, 2013

Important Announcement: Philip Hyde Authorized Archival Prints, Largest Sizes Converted To Limited Editions

Misty Morning, Indian Creek, Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1983 by Philip Hyde. The original color transparency went missing and this image has not been printed or published for over 20 years. With the digital age it can again be printed. West Coast Imaging produced the new file from a scan by their Creo CCD Flatbed Scanner of a Philip Hyde original dye transfer print.

Misty Morning, Indian Creek, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, 1983 by Philip Hyde. Because the original color transparency was missing, this image has not been printed or published for over 25 years. With the digital age it can again be printed. West Coast Imaging produced the new file from a scan by their Creo CCD Flatbed Scanner of a Philip Hyde original dye transfer print. This is another Philip Hyde photograph that is close to selling 10 prints, at which point it will go up in value $100 in all sizes. Because this photograph is not available as a 32X40 print, the limited edition is only available in the 24X30 size.

(See the photograph large: “Misty Morning, Indian Creek, Northern Sierra Nevada, California.”)

After much research and deliberation, I have decided to take the advice of many photographers, photography gallery owners, collectors, museum curators, archive collection managers, appraisers, connoisseurs, critics and nearly every other established expert in the art of photography that I have spoken with: to change the largest Philip Hyde authorized archival lightjet or digital prints to limited editions of 50.

That’s right, you read correctly, from now on the two largest sizes, 24X30 and 32X40 Philip Hyde archival lightjet or digital prints will be offered in limited editions of only 50 prints from either size of each image. Not 50 24X30’s plus 50 32X40’s, but 50 prints total in either size. The remaining Philip Hyde archival print sizes: 8X10, 11X14, 16X20 and 20X24 will still be offered in an open numbered edition called the Philip Hyde authorized “Special Edition.”

In my research I found that only photographers were against limited editions and only a minority of photographers at that. One talented and prominent photographer and writer, who I agree with on many other subjects, Guy Tal, has even gone so far as to suggest that limited edition prints are unethical because he believes they manipulate the market, creating a false scarcity and an “inflated value.” His reasoning is that “manufacturing scarcity” through limiting editions goes against the goals of artists “to inspire, to share, to make accessible, to celebrate and other noble causes often associated with photography of natural things.” He proposes that “artificial scarcity” is not the same as “real scarcity.” If you read his blog post, “The Ethics of Limited Editions,” you may understand why he looks at it this way. The comments on his blog post are many and diverse. In my observation, some photographers who dislike limited editions look at it mainly from their own perspective and not that of the collector or even casual print buyer. For primarily this reason, these photographers overlook the real benefits of limited editions.

Who Brought Limited Editions To Landscape Photography?

Is it not ironic then, that it was Ansel Adams and later Galen Rowell, who did the most to popularize both landscape photography and limited editions in the genre? Some landscape photographers who do not like limited editions claim that Ansel Adams did not produce limited edition. This may be true of the prints he made himself, but his Special Edition prints made in his darkroom by an assistant and other editions were limited. Some early well-known landscape photographers also invented the now ethically questionable practice of size specific limited editions. They would offer 16X20 prints of a certain image as a limited edition of say 200. Once the edition of 200 sold out, they would then offer a limited edition of 15X18 prints of the same image. Fear and mistrust of these types of limited editions are what caused collectors to be wary of limited editions of digital prints when they were first introduced. When digital prints originally began to appear, Photography galleries and collectors believed that it was easier to make digital prints than traditional color or black and white prints. They feared that photographers would break their own self-imposed edition limits, or work around the limits by issuing different sizes or implementing some other ploy.

Certainly limited editions of 250, 500 or more than 1,000 are mirages. Print runs of this size only create the perception and carry the name of “limited editions.” They are not truly limited because few nature or landscape photographers will ever sell that many of one image out of their many prints offered.

What Photography Gallery Owners And Collectors Like

I remember a conversation I had with Terry Etherton, an esteemed photography dealer and owner of the Etherton Gallery in Tucson, Arizona. I asked his opinion whether I ought to offer my father’s photographer authorized archival digital prints in limited editions or not. I explained that the current numbered Special Edition was not a limited edition, but would be limited by its pricing structure. That is, each time 10 prints sell in each image, that image goes up $100 in all sizes. For example, we have already sold more than 10 prints of “Virginia Creeper, Northern Sierra.” It is priced at $275 for an 8X10, $425 for 11X14, $575 for 16X20 and so on rather than the regular pricing of the rest of Dad’s photographs of $175 for 8X10, $325 for 11X14, $475 for 16X20, etc. After “Virginia Creeper” has sold 100 prints, the 8X10s will sell for $1175, the 11X14s will sell for $1325, the 16X20s will be $1475 and so on. Terry Etherton said that was OK, but limited editions would be simpler. I said that if I did switch to limited editions, I would probably limit them to perhaps 75, 100 or even as much as 200. He said, “I was thinking maybe 25 or 50. Collectors want something rare.” Most of the other photography galleries whose owners I talked to concurred with Mr. Etherton.

Collectors not only like, but purposely seek out vintage prints and even modern photographs that are printed in limited editions or are rare for some other reason. Photography galleries, museum curators and archivists like limited editions too. Why? Very simply, because whenever there is less of anything valuable, the less of it there is, the more valuable it becomes. This is not “manufactured” or “artificial” and even if it were, whenever there is less quantity, regardless of the reason or the cause, there is more value. Collectors want to have the satisfaction of knowing that what they have is something unique or nearly unique. They want to pay more to obtain art that they know will not be mass-produced. It is no more complicated or psychologically involved than that.

Black And White Magazine On Digital Print Values

Lorraine Anne Davis MA, MFA, a fine art photography appraiser since 1984 and columnist for Black and White Magazine, has managed, curated or consulted with many of the world’s most significant photography collections including the Paul Strand Archive. She wrote an article in the April 2009, Issue 66 of Black and White Magazine titled, “Concerning Digital Reprints.” Her article explained that digital prints are becoming more accepted and collectible, but that “posthumous” digital reprints of an artist who mainly printed with other processes are ubiquitous, but sometimes questionable in appraisal value. Indeed, according to Davis, the intent of the artist or the print maker is what determines value. For more about her article see the Fine Art Photography Collectors Resource Blog post called, “Photography Galleries, Collectors, Appraisers And Digital Prints.”

Having learned to print from Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White, my father produced his own fine art gelatin silver prints, dye transfer prints from color film and later Cibachrome color prints. He had Wally McGalliard in Los Angeles print all of his large exhibition prints using a C-print process. In 1998, master landscape photographer Carr Clifton restored two of Dad’s photographs. From then on Dad authorized Carr Clifton to print for him. Wally McGalliard retired around the same time and Carr Clifton’s new archival digital prints became the preferred printing process for Philip Hyde Photography. When Dad was making his own prints from color film, he only made 2-8 prints of each image. Thus, I no longer have many prints left of many of his most well known photographs. We expanded the line of digital prints offered mainly to Dad’s top images that have nearly or completely sold out and those that have been damaged in some way. Peter Fetterman, the number one photography dealer in Southern California, said producing any digital prints at all might confuse the market, but I imagine “the market” would rather be confused than not able to obtain any of Dad’s best photographs at all.

Are All Digital Prints Equal?

These archival lightjet or digital prints are very different from most digital prints. First of all they are made from high resolution Tango drum scans of large format 4X5, 5X7 or 8X10 color film. The resulting raw file is 800 MG to 6 Gigs in size and contains far more detail and a much wider range and depth of color than any digital camera capture today. A good analogy is why music lovers like vinyl LP records better than CDs. Analog sound is fuller, richer, more melodious and less metallic sounding because the sound curve is smooth, containing a continuous breakdown of all the sound, whereas the digital sound curve, when magnified, is a stairstep of sound with little pieces of the sound missing all along the “curve.” Tango drum Scans of large format original color film transparencies contain a much smoother color curve and much more of the colors in the continuum. Because of this, at first a drum scan comes out appearing dull in color, also due to adjusting the settings to obtain as much detail from the highlights and shadows as possible. The huge raw file must then be “developed” or “post-processed” in Photoshop by a seasoned restoration expert to most effectively match the way my father printed the image.

Carr Clifton’s expert Photoshop work is expensive and time consuming for both of us as we print a proof, change the digital file, print another proof and change the digital image again. Also, since many of Dad’s original color film transparencies and black and white film negatives are beaten up with scratches, pock marks, fading and all sorts of other damage due to age and being sent out to publishers so often, a great deal of restoration and cleanup work is necessary as each image gets printed larger and larger. The archival digital prints Carr Clifton and I have made are not considered posthumous prints because Dad authorized them eight years before his death in 2006 and two years before he lost his eyesight in 2000. Also, they are not technically even digital prints any more at all because they are now printed on a lightjet printer. The lightjet printing process does not produce the image on the paper with 11 inks the way the fine art digital printing process does, the lightjet process is actually a chromogenic or full color spectrum, photographic process whereby the paper is exposed with light much like the old darkroom printing processes. This produces a richer, even more full-spectrum color emulsion with better definition and contrast, even more like an analog vintage print. Lightjet prints are also more environmentally friendly not using toxic inks and wasting less paper and ink due to fewer printing mistakes. Some tests claim inkjet digital prints will outlast lightjet prints, but some tests claim lightjet prints will outlast digital prints. Either way, lightjet prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper when placed side-by-side with digital prints win hands down in their aesthetic appeal, print consistency and print quality.

What A Professional Appraiser, Some Photography Dealers And A Few Museum Curators Said

I contacted Lorraine Anne Davis in December 2009 and wrote that I enjoyed her informative article in Black and White Magazine. I also explained what Carr Clifton and I were doing and how we had enjoyed compliments from top photography galleries and major museums including the Oakland Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, whose head photography curators had seen the archival digital prints. I told her that I planned at some point to write about the subject and would she offer her expert opinion on what we were doing, even without seeing the prints. I explained that I wished to overcome the stigma sometimes attached to heirs making prints and be sure to bring out the archival digital prints in such a way that they would be accepted, respected, collected and go up in value.

I quote her reply in full:

I am afraid I am too busy to answer in depth. Just limit the editions and it doesn’t matter what the process is. Not any more – but collectors want to think what they have is “rare” –

You can make large editions of small prints and very limited of larger prints –

Blind stamp or holograph to protect originality –

A certificate or sticker of authenticity can be reproduced by anyone – certificates of authenticity are often issued with fakes – appraisers don’t even consider them, they are the easiest things to fake. It’s somewhat of a joke, actually – and It isn’t necessary of you keep track of the editions.

Unless your father’s work starts selling for over 100,000 per print, no one is going to make fakes –

Man Ray, Peter Beard, Hine and 19th C dags have some fakes – but Hine and Man Ray printers had the negs –and were selling very high

Sorry to be so brief

All my articles will be posted on my web site in the next weeks -

Happy Holidays – Lorraine

In my reply I of course thanked her and said, “This is quite a bit of information actually and very generous of you to advise.” Based on her guidance and much other research and conversations with people like Richard Gadd, previous Director of the Monterey Museum of Art, currently Director of the Weston Gallery in Carmel; Sandra S. Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Michael and Jeanne Adams of the Ansel Adams Gallery; Hal Gould and Loretta Young-Gautier of Camera Obscura Gallery in Denver; Andrew Smith and John Boland of Santa Fe; Scott Nichols and Susan Friedwald of San Francisco; Stefan Kirkeby of Smith Andersen North in San Anselmo, California; Robert Yellowlees and Tony Casadonte of Lumiere Gallery and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; Drew Johnson Curator of Photography and Visual Culture at the Oakland Museum and many others, I have decided to make the changes mentioned above to the two largest sizes of my father’s archival lightjet and digital prints. Dad’s 24X30 and 32X40 archival lightjet and digital prints will from now on be produced in limited editions of 50 prints per image.

The Results And Bottom Line

For the remainder of this year of 2013 or whenever one image sells more than five prints, these limited edition prints from color film originals will be PRICED THE SAME AS THEY ARE NOW! That is, prints in LIMITED EDITIONS of only 50 will remain the same price until they either sell five prints or until December 31, 2013. After that they will go up an average of $200 in each size (see the chart below for details.) This represents a 15 percent savings.

Prices Now            Unmatted/Unframed                      Matted                         Matted & Framed

24X30                                      925                                    1050                                    1175

32X40                                    1175                                    1325                                    1475

 

Prices After            Unmatted/Unframed                     Matted                         Matted & Framed

24X30                                    1100                                    1225                                    1350

32X40                                    1300                                    1450                                    1600

For more information on Philip Hyde archival lightjet and digital prints from color film see: “About Fuji Crystal Archive Chromogenic Fine Art Prints,” as well as the blog post mentioned above called, “Photography Galleries, Collectors, Appraisers And Digital Prints.”

What do you think? Are we on the right track? Would it be wise to keep the editions the same as they are now? Print a completely open edition with no numbering? Produce the entire line of prints as limited editions?

Interview of Gary Crabbe Part 3

July 12th, 2011

Landscape Photography Blogger Interviews Photographer Gary Crabbe

Last Part of A Three Part Series

(Continued from the blog post, “Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 2.”)

On Photography For Books, Publishing, Rebuilding After An Injury And Stock Photography

Interview Conducted By Phone May 25, 2011

Cloud Rising Out Of The Owens Valley At Sunrise, Eastern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 by Gary Crabbe.

(See the photograph full size, “Cloud Rising Out Of The Owens Valley, Eastern Sierra Nevada.” For the story of Gary Crabbe’s transcendent experience making this photograph see his blog post, “Spirits In The Air.”)

DAVID LELAND HYDE: We continue with the conclusion of an in-depth interview of one of the leading landscape photographers working today, Gary Crabbe of Enlightened Images. Gary is also the author of an award-winning and highly acclaimed photo blog. In the first part of this series Gary and I talked about how the arts in general are relevant to landscape photography, his famous mentoring by the late landscape master Galen Rowell and the development of your own personal style. In the second part we developed the discussion about personal style, delved into the making of photography books, photo editing and selection and a bit more about Galen Rowell and how he worked. We are talking now about a few of Gary Crabbe’s photography books.

GARY CRABBE: The rest of the Voyageur Press books were in a pre-existing series. With Backroads of the California Coast: Your Guide to Scenic Getaways & Adventures, Voyageur Press put on a huge marketing campaign like they’ve done with other subjects like agriculture, trains, race cars and  basketball. If it’s kitsch, they’ve done it. They are a regional publisher so they’ve done books from Colorado to Chicago. They knew I was near San Francisco, so they asked if I wanted to do their San Francisco book and I said sure. They also said, “We’ve got this Back Roads series: Do you want to do Backroads of the California Wine Country: Your Guide to the Wine Country’s Most Scenic Backroad Adventures?” The writer that I had teamed up with on the first book project got together with me on four titles. She would say, “These are the places I’m going to be writing about.” I’d go out and photograph and the publisher would match my photos with her text.

HYDE: About your brand new release, Greetings from California: Legends, Landmarks & Lore of the Golden State: You wrote a blog post not long ago saying that when you told people your book was about history they were not enthused. You concluded that history is boring, but I find people are eating up the history. It may be the way history is presented. On my blog I’m mixing the history of conservation and the history of landscape photography. I find, to my dismay, that the history of conservation causes some yawns on a photo blog, but there aren’t as many dynamic leaders as in the history of photography. I’m finding that when history is presented with an emphasis on the interesting personalities, then people are interested. Although, I know your blog has much more traffic than mine because my traffic spiked significantly when you linked to my blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?” So what gave you the impression that history is boring?

GARY CRABBE: My blog post was more specific regarding the people I contacted to get permission or access to photograph. When they heard it was history, it didn’t mean much to them because they were thinking more about business and promotion. From the publisher’s perspective, this was to be part of a new series for which they had already published a few books they sent me like Twin Cities Then and Now (Minnesota) and Philadelphia Then and Now. My book was originally to be called, California: Then & Now comparing historical and modern photographs. That was the premise under which I did all my shooting though I didn’t need to be standing in the same spot as the historical photograph. Then someone did a book about Colorado using his grandfather’s photos. He took his modern photos in the exact same spot. He called it “Colorado: Then & Now.” After I turned in everything to Voyageur Press, they said, “We’re scrapping the series.”

HYDE: My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, had a lot more stories like that than like your other book where everything went smoothly. . .

GARY CRABBE: Yeah, you know it. I was sitting there with this huge knot in my stomach. Then they came back and said, “The publisher liked your work so much that we’re going to try to re-package this book as something a little bit more fun, like a scrapbook.” They still used all the same photographs and text, but instead of making it like the original layout, that even my mom had noticed from the sample copy was dry and stagnant, my book was to be the test guinea pig for repackaging. Three other photographers had their states’ Then & Now projects pulled. Whether their projects get repackaged will depend on how well my book goes over. One of the things you sign on the dotted line is that the publisher has complete and exclusive control over the design, layout and format of the book. When I saw the first layouts, I was blown away. They took this dry, dull and academic look and turned it into something that was exactly what they said: fun. They kept all the history, but they picked out pieces of my text and put in little scrapbook-like post-it notes to highlight the information instead of putting it all into one or two paragraphs of text. In my opinion it worked out perfectly, but I empathize with the three other photographers whose projects got shelved. I hope that my book does well and they can get their projects.

HYDE: Did your images cover the whole state?

GARY CRABBE: For the most part, yes. In fact I was scheduled to go off on my first shoot, down to Edwards Air force Base, when I fell off a cliff several years ago. I hadn’t even taken the first frame before I wound up in the hospital and shut down my business for half a year.

(See the photograph full size, “Morning Light, Badwater From Dantes View, Death Valley.”)

Morning Light And Clouds Over Saltpan At Badwater Basin From Dantes View, Death Valley National Park, California, copyright 2009 by Gary Crabbe.

HYDE: Wow. How did you fall off a cliff? What did you injure?

GARY CRABBE: I was going to meet someone to do a couple days of photography in Death Valley. I had bought a cheese burger, in the town of Ridgecrest, 100 miles away and I pulled off on the side of the road. I think I was going to go off-road somewhere, but I just climbed in the back of my Toyota 4-Runner, laid the back seat down and  went to sleep. On trips I have my sleeping bag and I lay down right behind the passenger seat. Behind the driver seat is all my gear, equipment, food containers and my backpack of film. I live like a turtle when I’m the road. I just as often sleep in the back of my truck as in a hotel. Apparently I woke up to answer nature’s call and in the darkness walked off a 40 foot cliff. I didn’t remember the fall at all. I woke up in the middle of the desert floor in the middle of the night. It took minutes for my brain to say uh, uh, where am I? Why am I lying in the dirt, face down in the middle of the night? Where’s my truck? Why am I at the bottom of the cliff? OK, now I know I hurt. I have no idea how long I was unconscious. At some point in the middle of the night I woke up again. I didn’t have my truck keys. The only thing I had was a lighter. I sat there and made myself a little camp fire in the middle of the night, in the desert, by myself. Maybe an hour, two hours later, I said, “Alright, I want to get back to my truck. I know the main road is that way. I know that my truck is up there.” I worked my way down this desert wash and then finally found a place on the hill where I could scramble up. I made it back to my truck and climbed back into my sleeping bag. The next morning I got checked out by the Park Ranger of Death Valley. I had a broken wrist, bruised ribs, a yanked nerve in my back, but I managed to get all the way home to the Bay Area. My wife Connie took me to the hospital that same evening. They put me in a cast, gave me medicine and sent me home. Two days later I was lying on the couch in the fetal position, barely coherent, throwing up. My wife took me back to the hospital and they found out I had a subdural hematoma, which is the same injury that killed the actress Natasha Richardson in just about the same window of time.

HYDE: So you hit your head, is that what that means?

GARY CRABBE: Yeah, bleeding was going on in the brain. One of the guys I have coffee with in the Bay Area is a retired surgeon from the Children’s Hospital in Oakland. When I told him this story he said, “You were lucky that you even woke up. Given your injury it was just as likely that you could have climbed back in your truck and never woke up again.” It is eye opening when someone who is a surgeon says something like that. I wound up spending a week in the hospital, recovering from the trauma and the next 3 months recovering from the physical injury. I couldn’t even hold a camera. As soon as I recovered, I had to start this book project, which was supposed to be done in a year. I had to do it in about four and a half months. It was challenging. It has taken me 18 to 24 months to get my business back up to speed because my business completely shut down.

HYDE: Wow. What does your wife do for a living?

GARY CRABBE: She’s part of the reason why I get to do what I do. She’s a senior business manager at AT&T. She has the full AT&T benefit package.

HYDE: That’s nice, yeah.

GARY CRABBE: I complain about big corporations, but I got to admit. You know… I originally thought she was the type of girl that working in the big corporation in the big city would chew her up and spit her out in no time flat. Instead, she’s now been there 10 years. They were so impressed by her work that they hired her during a hiring freeze. The benefits help make our family. She has been probably one of the biggest support factors I could ever imagine.

HYDE: How many kids do you have Gary?

GARY CRABBE: Two: a nine-year-old daughter named Alyssa and a 12-year-old son, Brandon. Both of them act like teenagers or four year olds, depending…

HYDE: I’m trying to piece the chronology together in my mind. Starting out, you didn’t know much about photography. Most of the time working for Galen Rowell you didn’t want to be a photographer. Was it while you were still working for Galen Rowell that you decided that you did want to be a photographer?

GARY CRABBE: Yeah, I knew nothing and was suddenly thrust into the top level of the industry. Trial by fire. All I had was a one week vacation for my first few years of working there. The first year’s vacation my wife and I went to Crater Lake. Wow. I had just switched to using color film and trying slides, as part of my job.

HYDE: Were you still using the same original camera?

GARY CRABBE: No, once I started working for Galen Rowell I bought my first Nikon 8008 S and some Nikon lenses. As part of my job at Mountain Light, I had to work with Galen in his workshops. Staff would help the students edit their work. We would be there while Galen was doing critiques and we’d be out in the field helping the photographers. It was like osmosis. Photography was coming at me even while I was asleep. One day I was out taking a photo at local Lafayette Reservoir when a guy walked right by me and said, “I’ll buy that.” I hadn’t even taken the photo yet. I had just put the tripod and camera in place. I said, “Do you want to at least look through the lens?” He said, “Why don’t you just call me when you get your film.” I didn’t think he was serious, but I called him when I got the film. He came over to my apartment and bought a 20X24 print. It was my first print sale. I made several hundred bucks and I thought, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” I established with Galen right away that I was completely up front. If something came up involving me doing photography, I always ran it by him first. I did not want to cross the line or create more stress than he already had. One day after I had been working for him for a number of years and been on several trips, as my photography was improving by the nature of being where I was, I don’t recall where he was, maybe the Himalayas, Galapagos Islands or South America. Forbes Magazine called the office and said they needed, “Ugly, trashy images of Yosemite Valley. They’re changing concessionaires and we want to show all the negative impact.” I said, “We don’t really have much of that.” They asked some question about what Yosemite Valley looked like right at that moment. By coincidence I was scheduled to go up with my wife to Yosemite Valley that weekend. So I said, “I’ll let you know on Monday.” They asked, “Can you shoot it for us?” They never even bothered to ask if I was a photographer. “I have to ask Galen.” Galen called the office and somehow he said OK. So I called the woman at Forbes back and said I could do it. I spent three days in Yosemite National Park for Forbes Magazine running around taking pictures of gas stations, garbage cans, lines of people at the hotel, the cafeteria, the messes. It was the first editorial assignment that gave me a chance. As I got further down the road and started making more images that were salable, it started to creep into my mind that I could be a photographer. I liked it, but I wasn’t going to step on Galen’s feet to do it. I could do my own print sales if I found my own clients without doing anything in conflict with Galen. What finally made me take the leap, was my wife getting pregnant. We knew we wanted one of us to stay home with the kid and she had all these major company benefits. If I stayed home maybe I could sell a few photos. I became a photographer by nature of choosing to be a stay at home dad.

HYDE: Is it a nice fit for that?

Morning Mist Along The Mendocino Coast Near Elk, California, copyright 2010 by Gary Crabbe.

(See the photograph full size, “Morning Mist, Mendocino Coast.”)

GARY CRABBE: Yeah, except I don’t get to spend weeks and months traveling. I do know people that sacrifice their family to follow their photographic passion. That wasn’t going to be part of my consideration. I stayed close to home and fortunately all of the subsequent book projects were in California. I can be anywhere in the state within 8 ½ hours. That’s a day there and a day back.

HYDE: Well, now that you’ve developed a little more success, do you think you’ll go a little further afield, maybe, for future books projects?

GARY CRABBE: My kids are getting older. As of January, they are now old enough to walk home on their own and spend a few hours on their own during the day. That’s freeing me up much more than when someone needed to be there to pick them up.

HYDE: When the stock photography industry imploded, how much did that affect you?

GARY CRABBE: That was about the time of my fall. The changes in stock did have an emotional pull on me, not so much in my business personally, but in the broader sense. I couldn’t believe that photographers themselves were devaluing their work to commodity status. That was the part that I’ll still continue to say was difficult to see. I know the market shifts, you can’t stop the market, supply and demand and all. Digital did make the world much more accessible. It used to be with slide film, you had to get it right. If you were more than ½ a stop off, it was a disaster. I was always a proponent for photographers valuing their own work. Watching people think it was no big deal to sell unlimited commercial use of their images for say 10 bucks. That was the sad part. I still don’t sell my work royalty free. I don’t have a negative reaction to the sales model of royalty free. My main objection is to the rate people charge. If a national company wants to use one of my images royalty free, I want to see at least four figures for that. I want them to pay what I think is an appropriate value.

HYDE: Royalty free means selling the rights to an image forever for any use at a one time fee, right? And it is becoming more and more prevalent, correct?

GARY CRABBE: Yes, correct. Originally royalty free first came on the scene in the mid-90s as a reaction to regular stock photography, which was value based on use. It became price based on file size. You turned your work into a widget. Then suddenly photographers were offering widgets for 1/10th the cost of what the widgets were originally selling for, which became micro stock.

HYDE: Did your income mix change like many other full-time photographers during that time period—that is, the mix between stock photography and fine print sales, what would you say the ratio is and was?

GARY CRABBE: The ratio has remained relatively consistent, maybe around 70/30, 60/40, sometimes 80/20, somewhere in that neighborhood. But in a down economy, I still sell my work as only rights managed, value based on use. I may have fewer sales, but I’m still insisting on what I consider is a fair value for the use of my work. In a down economy, the first budget to go is an arts budget. People will still buy jewelry before they’ll buy something to put on their walls. As the economy ebbs and flows, sales tend to ebb and flow in relation, but in a down economy, prints may relatively dry up for a while and  then come back as people think, “Oh I have a little more expendable income.”

HYDE: My business is nearly 100 percent prints and I noticed that I was starting at the wrong time, but it is starting to pick up again.

GARY CRABBE: I will say, since the beginning of the year, I’ve had a considerable number of print sales.

HYDE: Is there anything else that you feel people ought to know about you Gary that maybe they couldn’t read somewhere else?

GARY CRABBE: All I can say is that I chose my company name, Enlightened Images, because I consider myself spiritual, especially in terms of nature and the universe. I have this big interconnected picture of how we as a species on a planet are in the universe.

HYDE: I really like the name. Thank you so much for your time Gary.

GARY CRABBE: My pleasure. David, have yourself a wonderful day and thank you.

Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

May 12th, 2011

Did the “over-saturation” of landscape photographs start with digital printing and Photoshop, or did it originate well before that in the film era with the advent of Fuji Velvia Film and Kodak Ektachrome E100VS Film? Is “over-saturation” a myth?

Urban Railroad Distortion, Reno, Nevada, copyright 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. Post-processed in Photoshop.

In his 1993 book Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, Galen Rowell wrote a chapter called Velvet Media in which he extolled the virtues of Fuji Velvia film, with some cautions. Galen Rowell wrote:

After twenty-five years of using Kodachrome film whenever sharpness was of the utmost importance, I abruptly gave up on it in February 1990 after seeing tests of an amazing new slide film from Japan…. Fuji’s introduction of ISO 50 Velvia at the Photo Marketing Association show in Las Vegas… After I returned home, I ran controlled comparisons of Velvia against Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64 and Fuji Pro 50. On my own light table the next morning, I clearly saw the end of an era. Velvia was the best of all existing worlds. Its resolution exceeded that of Kodachrome 25 and the other test films in high-contrast tests simulating daylight and equaled Kodachrome 25 in soft light. Its color saturation and separation of tones exceeded those of Fuji Pro 50 and the other films. I was aware that many photographers would prefer Kodachrome’s relatively muted colors, but I believed much of this was due to a conditioned constancy illusion that Kodachrome slides accurately represented the natural world. I knew better and fully expected Velvia to establish a new constancy illusion with picture editors and the public… I wanted to see the world freshly through this new tool and to push it to the limit to see what it would do. Over the years, the limitations of other films had caused me to consider certain kinds of subject matter and lighting as impossible. Murky renditions of greens in shadow under a blue sky on Kodachrome became vivid on Velvia. Fuji Pro 50 renditions of delicate foliage have very strong color, but also a lack of resolution that calls attention to itself, especially when compared with Kodachrome 25. Velvia holds both color and sharpness.… I soon began asking, ‘Is anything wrong with this film?’ not only to myself but to other users. The few negative answers had to do with too strong colors and a slower film speed than the advertised ISO 50.

In early 2010, in the comments on Steve Sieren’s blog post, “Ever Wonder About The History Of Landscape Photography?” large format landscape photographer Michael Gordon commented about how Fuji Velvia film had changed Landscape Photography. Michael Gordon first did a blog post about Velvia in 2008. In his 2010 comment, Michael Gordon said, “Want to be shocked? Compare Hyde’s “Drylands” photos to the current crop of Velvia-ized desert landscape photographs. Porter too. Not many years have passed, and despite the drying climate, the desert sure got a lot more vibrant in photographs!” Other comments on Steve Sieren’s blog post addressed the effect Velvia film had in the hands of various landscape photographers and its general impact on all landscape photography.

Many galleries, museums, photographers and others blame “over-saturation,” if it exists and can be defined, on the advent of the digital age and Photoshop, but here we see much evidence that “over-saturation” began long before. Also in 2010, outdoor, documentary and landscape photographer Carr Clifton offered his thoughts and possible explanation as to what happened in landscape photography from 1990 through the early years of the new millennium. Carr Clifton said, “When we first started printing digitally, we were used to trying to get the richest and even the hottest color out of whatever film we were using. Many films didn’t have the rich color palette that we now see. The same thing happened back in the 1990s with Velvia. Velvia was different because for the first time, it offered too much color, more than you see in nature. When everybody started scanning film and making digital prints, even the scans of Velvia were too gaudy.”

On reading Galen Rowell’s Outdoor Photographer features, Sierra Magazine articles and several of his books I discovered that he wrote more eloquently about photography than perhaps just about anyone else ever, with the possible exception of Robert Adams, Charis Wilson, Edward Weston, Minor White and Ansel Adams at times. That puts Galen Rowell at the top of all writers on photography. He is also admirable as a landscape photographer because he was self-taught. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde has been said by many of the who’s who of photography today to have influenced a generation of photographers. See the blog posts, “How Color Came To Landscape Photography,” “The Golden Decade: California School Of Fine Arts Photography,” and the series beginning with the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism.”

Notwithstanding, Galen Rowell also influenced a generation, the next generation, our generation, the landscape photographers just coming into prominence now. Galen Rowell was also one of the most talented photographers who ever lived. He was the master of “fast and light” and capturing unusually powerful landscape photographs. When we showed the Philip Hyde exhibition at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery, I found through talking to guests and staff that Galen Rowell was also known as a life-changing mentor, a generous mountain guide, a driven activist for various conservation and social causes and a dynamic leader of an organization of top quality people who continue to inspire the world. However, some segments of the art establishment hardly recognize him because they feel he overdid the color. Carr Clifton, who also greatly admired Galen Rowell put forward the theory that when Velvia film first emerged on the scene and also in the early days of digital printing, that Galen Rowell went a little far with the color, but never lived to rein in when other photographers did.

“It was around 2003-2004 that everybody started to pull back some and bring their color back into the realm of reality,” Carr Clifton said. “All except for a few blatant examples that remain. Galen, unfortunately for all of photography, died in the plane crash in early 2002. We were all very sad about it. Now Galen’s prints are frozen in a state of too much syrup. He never made it to the time in 2003-2004 when everyone backed their color off.” Because Galen was so admired, there are now many photographers who try to do what he did with sunrise-drenched mountain tops, brilliant reflections and ultra-vivid colors. Other landscape photographers agree with Carr Clifton. They believe that Galen Rowell might very well have pushed his own work back down the color saturation scale if he had lived. It’s all conjecture, but an interesting theory and something to consider in view of how much landscape photographers try to emulate Galen Rowell’s work. For more about other concerns over the direction of landscape photography today see the blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying?” For a new way to look at it and other remedies see the blog post, “What Urban Exploration Photography Learned From Nature.”

Travel and landscape photographer Richard Wong wrote on this subject in November 2010:

…Galen did have a large audience probably due to several factors, one of which was a long relationship with Outdoor Photographer Magazine dating back to the beginning from what I understand, but even before that he had “street cred” in the outdoor community for being a prolific adventurer and rock climber. There were photographers just as good if not better out there at all the different things he did but he was able to connect with and convey his philosophy to his audience much more effectively than most. He was a great writer. And also someone who was always striving to innovate. Looking at his body of work, you can clearly see the evolution over the years. You also have a good point about the color. I was told that his staff worked on those digital masters from his slides in the years prior to his death and probably against advisement, he wanted to push the envelop on the saturation. You can tell by looking at some of his prints up close at his gallery and also in some of his books that some highlight detail was probably sacrificed due to saturation. His Evolution Lake image for example. With that said, I have always overlooked that phase of his career because that doesn’t define his body of work. One thing I’ve always pondered is what Galen would be doing now on the Nikon D700 if he were still around. Breaking new ground for photography I would imagine.

Fuji Velvia film was not the only film that amped up the saturation. Galen Rowell provided a warning against overdoing the color saturation in this quote also from the 1995 book, Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography:

 

Much of what people were saying when Velvia first came out applies to Kodak E100VS today. Sometimes it looks garish, sometimes it looks great, and much of the time it will produce the image that editors will choose. Kodak E100VS often produces bright colors closer to what you believe you saw in flat light or at a distance, but if you use it all the time, you risk having the sum total of your style appear garish and suspect. In direct light this film doesn’t just come near the edge of the color saturation envelope; it moves beyond into a realm that requires the same sort of restraint as the use of color-enhancing filters does.

Probably the same could be said for the color saturation adjustment slider in Photoshop. What do you think? Is “over-saturation” an overblown issue? Is it a myth? Is over-saturation a problem in landscape photography today?

Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography Creations

April 2nd, 2010

Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions.”    – Henry James, 1888

Calathea #2, 2003 from the Photo Synthesis Series by Huntington Witherill. Photoshop creation from a Canon 10D original made in Huntington Witherill's Studio in Monterey, California.

Though this blog is primarily about landscape photography, it will cover other forms of interest. Landscape photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Brett Weston, and Philip Hyde were known for their landscapes, yet it is well-known that they practiced other forms. Philip Hyde, like the others above made portraits and a significant portion of his work is considered documentary. He avoided commercial work for advertising but made a large body of architectural photographs for corporate and government clients. Today no genre of photography has more merit than any other, as long as the work is produced with the same artistic rigor as taught by the early masters. (For context, see the series of blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 3,” “Photography’s Golden Era 4” and others in the category “History of Photography.”)

Calathea #2, 2003, original digital capture with a Canon 10D by Huntington Witherill in his studio in Monterey, California. (Before Photoshop "Digital Transformation" process)

In the blog post “Photography’s Golden Era 2” I drew from several authorities to address a question asked in a comment on “Photography’s Golden Era 1” about the current time period and whether it is also a “Golden Era.” The discussion heated up, but several landscape photographers pointed out that because the current conditions are not conducive to making a living from photography, the period is not liable to incubate as much great art. However, even though photography is going in a million directions and what we see now is chaos, we may be in the beginnings of a new Golden Era. See the blog post “Man Ray On Art And Originality.” Also relevant to this discussion, are the words of discretion by Paul Strand in the blog post, “What Makes A Photograph Art?”

After some looking around, I found a few striking examples of fine art photographers that are doing truly new and innovative work. One of these is a young lady, Natalie Dybisz, who calls herself Miss Aniela. Her tastefully exotic digitally re-constructed self-portraits have reportedly developed a record-breaking following on Flicker. Another fine art photographer, Huntington Witherill, has practiced straight photography for 35 years but is now breaking new ground in creative digital photography with a series he calls Photo Synthesis.

“Absent the proper self-restraint,” Huntington Witherill said, “Working with Photoshop can be a bit like using a chainsaw to make Christmas tree ornaments. Photoshop is a marvelously powerful tool. But unlike a chainsaw, Photoshop is also capable of extremely intricate and detailed work when used with finesse.” Huntington Witherill has made some remarkable creations that measure up artistically to his earlier film photography.  The steps he takes in the process of one creation can be viewed in a video by Clicking Here.

“The perpetuation and validity of straight photography has already been well established,” Huntington Witherill said. “Edward Weston’s photographs remain every bit as valid as they were prior to the digital age. However, in my opinion, it is the aesthetic quality of the work itself which will tend to perpetuate and continue to validate the practice of straight photography.” Huntington Witherill and my father, Philip Hyde, both taught photography workshops at the University of California Santa Cruz Extension, along with other luminaries such as Ruth Bernhard, Cole Weston, Morley Baer, Wynn Bullock, Al Weber, Steve Crouch, Dave Bohn, Ralph Putzker, Glenn Wessels, Milton Halberstadt, Pirkle Jones, Dick Garrod, Henry Gilpin and others. Philip Hyde and Huntington Witherill were roommates once at a workshop teachers gathering and also spent time together at the Rendezvous, a meeting of photographers organized by Al Weber. Huntington Witherill recently had more to say about my dad’s landscape photography and how people see it today:

Were I to feel it necessary to argue the validity, importance or relevance of your father’s work, I would be doing so on the basis of the overall aesthetic quality and visually unique character and style of his photographs, and to a certain restrained extent, upon the context in which they were made. I would avoid the old “us” versus “them” argument which pits “straight” photography against all other types of photography (an argument which largely centers upon the chosen tools, materials, and methods, and the relative level of perceived manipulation used to produce the work). First, I think it’s beneath the dignity and importance of your father’s work to be forced into such a seemingly shallow argument. And second, I think the argument itself is completely unnecessary. Your father’s work was made at a time when few others were producing similar work. It could be superficially categorized as “straight” photography, yet aesthetically, it stands on its own even today, regardless of the specific kind of photographic characterization or classification one wishes to apply to it.

Your father used his heart and mind to produce images that met his own unique sensibilities. He saw the world in a way that others did not. Who cares how or in what style, or even when his photographs were made? To argue the “validity” or relative “importance” of a Philip Hyde photograph based upon the tools, materials and methods he used to produce that photograph, is beneath the dignity of the work. We’re all in the same photographic boat and we’re all working on differing forms of artistic self-expression. When your father’s work is considered in the context of photographic “art,” it must be compared with all other forms and manifestations of the art, not simply advocated because it happens to be “straight” photography. Edward Weston’s photographs are great because they are great photographs. It doesn’t matter to what style or method you compare them. Edward Weston’s photographs are not great simply because they are “straight” photographs. And… neither are your father’s.

All photographers and purveyors of photography working today are in the throws of negotiating the many changes in the medium brought on by digital cameras, Photoshop and other digital era methods. Everyone has a different approach. Some photographers have not only navigated the changes, they are thriving by leading the way. “Witherill has embraced the new technique and run with it,” Rick Deragon said in 1999. Rick Deragon is a painter of the natural scene, museum curator and art teacher. Rick Deragon also said of Huntington Witherill, “He’s run right into a new reality that he is able to define, unfettered by photography’s past, but still full of his reverence for the natural source.”

Railing, Fort Stevens, Washington, 2006 by Huntington Witherill. An example of his straight photography.

One look at Huntington Witherill’s photography and anyone can see it is not to be confused with much other photography today that suffers from heavy-handed Photoshop use that has somehow tainted and made the images look slightly overcooked. He himself describes the majority of the photography displayed on the internet today as low quality. The change to be feared is not the departure from straight photography through Photoshop. Nor is there harm in exploring new ways of making images that use methods or philosophies completely different from straight photography. The degrading of the medium lies in the vast quantities of aesthetically inferior work and the overuse of Photoshop to try to save otherwise tasteless images.

Photoshop is a wonder in the hands of talented creative artists such as Miss Aniela or Huntington Witherill. The problem lies not in new forms of photography, but in landscape photography that consists of what my father, Philip Hyde, called “pretty pictures for postcards.” In his artist statement he said, “Black and White is excellent experience for color work because it encourages sensitivity to form, texture, tonal gradations and the quality of light. Color photographs that lack these qualities and rely too much on the shock value of color alone will not sustain interest.”

In a 1979 letter to retired Outward Bound river guide and landscape photographer Chris Brown, Philip Hyde wrote that many landscape photographs tend to have too many elements in them and are “not tightly enough organized.” Philip Hyde went on to say:

Because it is big in scale does not mean that it can’t have impact as an intentional photograph. The camera only sees one frame at a time, and unless you get into some of the multiple-image techniques, you’ve got to rely on one image to make the impression. I tend to be careful in my own work, not to yield to the easy temptation to over-dramatize things just to make this impression—and as a corollary, I also tend to be less impressed with the group led by Ernst Haas, who make their point by highly romantic over-dramatics. They go too far, I think, but certainly something more than pointing the camera and making a snapshot is indicated. Snapshots have their place, but I assume at the outset that you want to make a deeper impression, create something that communicates a little more powerfully. The only recipe I know for it is a four-letter word: work (experience, practice).

Take a look at the following videos of Huntington Witherill, by Douglas Ethridge, posted on John Paul Caponigro’s blog. They show not only a new vision but also a depth of mastery of the medium, that developed through many years of experience and practice in straight photography, but that has now found a new direction through new methods and techniques that go way beyond those of the past. Welcome to the future, or at least one form of it…

To read more about cutting edge Photoshop methods see the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.”