Posts Tagged ‘medium format’

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.”)

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? 

My 12 “Greatest Hits” Of 2012

January 3rd, 2013

My Personal Favorites Or 12 Top Picks Of 2012, Whatever You Want To Call Them

Oaks, Grizzly Ridge, Fall, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Oaks, Grizzly Ridge, Fall, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

One of my neighbors, who I grew up with, has told me from time to time that he had to quit photography because he became too obsessed with it. It came out that he spent enough money on gear, gasoline, printing, matting and framing to put himself and his large family into debt. That was the destructive aspect, not the obsession with the art itself.

Cloudy Sunset, Genesee Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Cloudy Sunset, Genesee Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

When we were young men I admired the same neighbor for his focus, determination and tireless effort that made him a success in sports, a large and strong weight lifter and an airline pilot. I contend that any endeavor of meaning, especially in the arts, for excellence to be attained, requires an obsessive dedication.

This is why I thought I could never be a photographer. I still sometimes do not consider myself one. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, had the passion and drive for excellence and the results to prove it, but until 2009 I had been lackadaisical about photography for 35 years. I will share more on my artistic journey below, but first I must tell you about the photographs here. Also, a big thank you to Jim Goldstein at JMG Galleries for putting this “best of the year” blog project on each year. I feel he’s a genius for inventing it.

The photographs in this blog post are all single image capture, though I do bracket for the eventual future date that I may possibly have the time to learn how to blend

Grasses, Indian Creek Below Indian Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, Fall, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Grasses, Indian Creek Below Indian Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, Fall, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

or even, gasp, make High Dynamic Range or HDR prints. I do minimal post-processing, though I do use Photoshop to the degree that it is essentially equivalent to the darkroom. On most images I use Photoshop “Levels,” “Curves” and “Hue/Saturation” Layers. On “Pool, Cascade, Red Clover Creek” I used the Healing Brush to remove two prominent bird droppings on the center boulder that distracted and crapped up the photograph. On “Dawn, American River From Fair

Fog, Rocky Promontory, Pacific Ocean, Mendocino Sea Coast, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Fog, Rocky Promontory, Pacific Ocean, Mendocino Sea Coast, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Oaks Bluffs,” I also used the Healing Brush to remove a sunspot. Fortunately the sunspot backdrop against the even textured and dark toned, shadowy beach enabled this easy approach. I doubt I could have pulled off some of the more complicated methods of removing sunspots in Photoshop CS4, without spending many hours on the learning curve. I saw the video on removing sunspots in CS5, which takes one tenth the time with the use of Smart Fill. Made me lust after

Pool, Cascade, Red Clover Creek, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Pool, Cascade, Red Clover Creek, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

newer versions of Photoshop software, but for now I will remain chained to my forced frugality of a full-time learning photographer and use my CS4, which is just fine.

Photoshop is a much more precise and powerful tool than any darkroom ever. I still, however, believe that we photographers have a contract with the general public that photographs traditionally are expected to represent “reality.” Nobody is arguing that photographs are “real.” Therefore, from time to time I do

Twilight, Indian Creek, Vertical, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Twilight, Indian Creek, Vertical, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

amp up the post processing way beyond what looks “real” just to be sure that the viewing public knows I have been up to something. Meanwhile, especially with landscape photography, I’ve discovered that most of the time a RAW file does not look like the scene I photographed. Usually it is less saturated, for one thing, and usually has much less range of color and tones and much less shadow and highlight detail. This can all be partially or completely solved with Photoshop and thus I do espouse it, just as I prefer to use a good hammer more than a rock to pound in nails. I’m sure I will eventually use plugins and other add-ons, just as a professional carpenter, to compete these days, needs an air compressor driven nail gun. In the near future, look for my new “Sierra Nevada Portfolio,” that will contain large versions of these images and many others, to be posted after the 17 portfolios of Dad’s photography and below my “Portfolio One” on philiphyde.com. Also, to see more of my photography and philosophy see the blog post, “David Leland Hyde Archival Prints Pre-Launch,” or “Best Photos Of 2011.”

Ice Plant, Mist, Duncan Cove State Beach, Pacific Ocean, Sonoma Coast, California copyright by David Leland Hyde.

Ice Plant, Mist, Duncan Cove State Beach, Pacific Ocean, Sonoma Coast, California copyright by David Leland Hyde.

In 2009, I first came into the digital era and bought a Nikon D90 DSLR. Until then, I had used a Pentax K1000 35 mm film camera that my father gave me around 37 years ago when I was about 10 years old. I immediately loved making photographs with the Nikon D90 digital camera because it seemed easy to obtain decent results. I would like to graduate to a better camera one of these days for the purpose of making better big prints. I purchased my camera at Costco on special.

Rocks Along Spanish Creek, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Rocks Along Spanish Creek, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

They had a package that included two lenses, a camera bag, strap, an 8 MG SD Card, a video and a few other little photo items that gave me everything I needed for pro-sumer photography. The larger lens that I don’t use very often is a Nikkor 55-200 mm, 1:4-5.6 lens. I make 95 percent of my images with the wide-angle lens, which is a basic Nikkor 18-55 mm, 1:3.5-5.6 lens. I would like to buy more lenses, but cannot justify the investment until my print sales pay for the new gear.

Community Church, Taylorsville, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Community Church, Taylorsville, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Before 2011 especially, and even now, I have little time for my own photography, but this year I still indulged in and enjoyed the making of over 10,000 images. Meanwhile, I have other goals and responsibilities including the development of my father’s large format and medium format photography in the digital era, expanding the presence of his vintage photographs in major museums and my own long, grinding, slowly developing writing career. Until 2012, I still had many frustrations with photography and still get lividly annoyed with Photoshop today.

Currently, due to several delays and complications I am blessed and cursed to be where the main subject is the wilderness landscape of the Northern Sierra Nevada. This has given me much joy, but also frustration in that I intend to photograph more people, street scenes, disasters, cultural events and other art and quasi-journalistic subjects. I would have loved to be the first photographer to arrive at the BP Gulf Oil Spill or in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster.

Dawn, American River From Fair Oaks Bluffs Near Sacramento, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Dawn, American River From Fair Oaks Bluffs Near Sacramento, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Port Of Stockton, Great Central Valley, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Port Of Stockton, San Joaquin River Deep Water Tidal Channel, Great Central Valley, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Regardless, I had several breakthroughs in 2012. I improved technically. I became clear that even though I will keep my own photography as a sideline for now, at some point I will incorporate it into my primary work. I also caught the photography bug. I am bitten and camera smitten. Though it is an investment in the future, I photograph “too much” in that at this stage the extra time away from representing my father’s vintage work is costing me and threatening my solvency. Because of photography, I am trying to do “too much.” However, my own photography has saved me in some ways. I wrote about this in a recent blog post reviewing 2012 and introducing a poem about my mother, Ardis Hyde, who wrote most of the Hyde Travel Logs: “Happy Holidays…?…!” Besides keeping me fit and serving as an outlet, my own work has brought me more fulfillment and peace. It entices me out of the house and out from behind the desk and computer

Indian Creek And Forest From Above, Fall Snow, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

Indian Creek And Forest From Above, Fall Snow, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

screen. Landscape photography has helped me feel the light on the mountains, smell the woods, hear the lulling water and expand into the spirit of open spaces. I am rooted and connected to nature more often. Yet for me any genre of photography, photography without borders, without labels or definitions, pre-planned or visualized, observed quietly or full of surprises and experimentation, any and all of it is a hoot and an inspiration. Now after almost four decades of carrying a camera off and on, I can finally say, it is an obsession.

Please share which images you like most here and which you like least…

Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 18

May 22nd, 2012

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 17.”)

Part Eighteen: Mile 65.5 Denali Highway, Alaska to Riley Creek Campground, Denali National Park, Alaska (Previously McKinley National Park)

Lake Near Susitna River, Denali National Park, Alaska, copyright 1971 Philip Hyde.

Saturday, July 17, 1971: We were happy to wake up to blue sky between the clouds. We ate breakfast and got away by 8:45 am. Our first stop along the Denali Highway was Susitna River Lodge in a classic outdoors setting for it’s type of tourist destination. Susitna River Lodge offered hunting, sightseeing, fishing; float planes, land planes, helicopters, boats. Philip made photographs. We were impressed by the Susitna River, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The Susitna River ran brim full and filled its grassy banks. We were filled as well, looking up river at a wall of snowy peaks. Spruce grew above horizontal tundra green and the sky sunny. Some lands of the middle ground were in dark cloud shadow. Philip made photographs at the bridge and then further on with the lake or backwater of the river in the foreground and pleated, close mountain in the background at mile 88.5. Philip also took a picture of the tundra, Monahan Flat and West Fork Glacier at the high point on the shoulder of the road above the river where we stopped for lunch. Philip walked back the way we came with his Hasselblad 2 ¼ medium format camera for pictures of flowers and the view upstream toward the source of the Nenana River. David found the shoulder blade bone of some animal, an oil can and other assorted junk. Driving on, the road dropped down to an overlook of the Nenana River where Philip made more photographs. At Mile 124, Philip made a 2 ¼ photo of cotton grass and a black stream on the left. At Mile 126, Philip stopped to make a 2 ¼ photo of the mountains across a small lake at the road edge. The mountain across the small lake was streaked with buff orange talus slopes. We turned off the highway toward Cantwell, Alaska and pulled over to buy a loaf of Wheatberry bread for $0.80, inquire about Denali Lakes and obtain directions. We headed out the section of new Route 3, Anchorage to Fairbanks road. Philip stopped several times for views from this road. It traverses the same broad open valley that the Alaska Railroad does. After we turned around at the FAA Housing site we saw the northbound Alaska Railroad train go by. Back on the Denali Highway, we again stopped along the Nenana River for pictures. I made honey cake while waiting. Then we looked for a dinner spot as we passed Carlo Creek. Not far beyond was a gravel track taking off from the main road and paralleling it. We pulled in and ate there. David and Philip went out after dinner and picked out numerous tracks they reported including moose, fox, a dog-type track, moose droppings, and a dead porcupine. David to bed. We drove in the Danali Lakes road a short distance beyond. We stopped and inquired of Mrs. Nancarrow for artist Bill Berry. “He is in the park sketching,” was all she said. We looked up photographer Charlie Ott when we got inside Denali National Park. He wasn’t home. We went to the Hotel and bought the new Washburn Guidebook, Nancarrow silkscreen notepaper, and a new copy of the Heller flower book to replace the one I ruined with water.

Continued in the next blog post in the series, “Denali National Park, Alaska Travel Log 19.”

Do you remember the most beautiful river or other outdoor setting you have ever seen? Did you make photographs of it?

Tuolumne Meadows Parsons’ Lodge Caretakers Hugh Sakols And Mara Dale

March 20th, 2012

Photographer Hugh Sakols And His Wife Mara Dale Work As Summer Caretakers Of Parsons’ Lodge And The Historic McCauley Cabin In Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park…

Environmental Educators And Back Country Mountaineers Hugh Sakols and his wife Mara Dale, Each Summer Since 2008, Have Honored And Educated About Early Conservation Leaders, While Acting As Volunteer Docents, Leading Interpretive Walks, Caretaking The Sierra Club Parsons’ Memorial Lodge And Staying In The Rustic McCauley Cabin, Much As Ardis And Philip Hyde Did In The Summer Of 1949. On This Land, Next To Soda Springs In Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, John Muir And Other Pioneer Conservationists First Conceived The Sierra Club.

"Lenticular Clouds and Lembert Dome," Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada High Country, California, copyright 2010 by Hugh Sakols.

(View the photograph large: “Lenticular Clouds and Lembert Dome.”)

Hugh Sakols first started exploring Yosemite National Park on a backpacking trip when he was seventeen years old. He started seriously photographing the Park after working as a Yosemite Institute instructor teaching environmental education. He later assisted photography workshops taught by Michael Frye through the Ansel Adams Gallery. Today he continues to explore the Yosemite back country, whether in summer or winter. He now lives just outside Yosemite National Park in El Portal, California, where he teaches elementary school during the school year. Hugh Sakol’s photographs have been used by the National Park Service, Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite Institute, and have appeared at the Yosemite Renaissance. He has converted almost entirely to digital photography, now using a Nikon D300, whereas before he often used a Bronica SQA medium format film camera and a Horseman VH-R large format View Camera.

Summer In Tuolumne Meadows By Hugh Sakols

Over the last four summers, starting in 2008, my wife Mara, and I have worked as National Park Service Volunteers. We are summer caretakers for Parsons’ Memorial Lodge and the historic McCauley Cabin in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park. We are lucky enough pull this off and continue working at our “real jobs” as Educators in Yosemite National Park.

Just like the Southern Miwok people have done for thousands of years, Mara and I migrate upslope, where at 8600 ft the meadows are green, the temperatures are generally cool, and the views are striking.  Tuolumne Meadows is a glacially scoured sub alpine landscape that is the heart of Yosemite’s high country and part of what John Muir referred to as the Range of Light. To learn more about John Muir and the Sierra Nevada, see the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Tribute To John Muir.”

It was here at Soda Springs that John Baptist Lembert, namesake of Lembert Dome, spent his summers on a 160 acre homestead where he raised Angora goats and became an expert on local butterflies. John Baptist Lembert’s only friends in the summer were sheepherders, many of whom were Basque. At this time Tuolumne Meadows was essentially a land grab. Reportedly, in the late 1860s there were thousands of grazing sheep that later John Muir described as “hooved locust.” After John Lembert’s death (he was murdered in El Portal), the McCauley brothers acquired the land where they grazed cattle and built a log cabin. The McCauley Cabin now is a park service residence, where Mara and I live come summer.

Honoring The Place Where Western Conservation Began

Hugh Sakols And Mara Dale In Front Of The Historical McCauley Cabin, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2011 by Hugh Sakols. Self portrait.

While at the McCauley Cabin, Mara and I have some big shoes to fill.  It was here that the western conservation movement began. John Muir saw the commercialism that was taking over Yosemite Valley and dreaded what would happen to Tuolumne Meadows. In 1889 Robert Underwood Johnson convinced John Muir to write two articles for a popular East Coast magazine. In one article John Muir described the beauty of Yosemite, and in another article John Muir proposed the need for Yosemite’s preservation. Only a year later, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill to establish Yosemite as the country’s first national preserve. Soon after Yosemite became a national park.

In 1912, the Sierra Club bought the McCauley brother’s land in hopes that it would be saved from the building of hotels, stables and other improvements. The land around Soda Springs with Parsons’ Lodge and the McCauley Cabin on it, the Sierra Club eventually seeded to the National Park Service in 1973. During the Sierra Club’s ownership, this remarkably beautiful spot brought club members together for mountain adventures and a place to discuss the protection of wild lands, many of which are now national parks. The most famous early battle was probably over the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley inside Yosemite National Park. Sierra Club leaders such as Edward Taylor Parsons, William E. Colby, and John Muir fought tooth and nail, but eventually lost the battle. Interestingly, the man Forest Service people call their first environmentalist, Gifford Pinchot, was in favor of damming Hetch Hetchy. Gifford Pinchot opposed John Muir in the ongoing public debate over building a dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley within Yosemite National Park around the turn of the century. In 1915 Parsons’ Lodge was built as a mountain headquarters and a place to reflect the work of forward thinking Sierra Club leaders.

A year after Parsons’ Lodge was built, Ansel Adams made his first trip to Yosemite National Park. After that he quickly became part of the Sierra Club where he first worked as a custodian at the LeConte Memorial and later served on the board of directors. The Sierra Club over time indoctrinated Ansel Adams to Yosemite’s High Country and the importance of preserving wilderness. This was the beginning of a close relationship between landscape photographers and conservationists.

Conservation, The Environmental Movement And Landscape Photography

Beginning in the late 1930s and 1940s, Ansel Adams and wilderness photographer Cedric Wright both contributed photographs to conservation campaigns. However, it wasn’t until 1951, when the Sierra Club sent photographer Philip Hyde on the first photography assignment ever for an environmental cause. The Sierra Club sent Philip Hyde, who had been a photography student of Ansel Adams in San Francisco, to Dinosaur National Monument to help prevent the building of two dams, again within the National Park System. The battle over Dinosaur, many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement because it combined the conservation ideals of John Muir and other turn of the century conservation leaders with the hard hitting tactics of David Brower and other environmentalists of the 1950s and 1960s. For more about David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer And Environmentalist 1.” The Dinosaur battle redeemed the loss of Hetch Hetchy to the extent that it reversed the precedent set for such development within a national park. Read about the first photography assignment for an environmental cause in the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.” Activists are still working to remove Hetch Hetchy Dam and restore Yosemite Valley’s sister valley to its original pristine state.

In the decades that followed the Dinosaur battle, Philip Hyde, worked with the Sierra Club, National Audubon, Wilderness Society and other environmental groups, contributing his photographs to more environmental campaigns than any other photographer of his time. David Brower, Sierra Club Executive Director and head of the publishing program, used Philip Hyde’s widely published photographs in Sierra Club Books to help save such places as the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods, the North Cascades and many other national treasures. The Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, not only popularized coffee table photography books and the modern environmental movement, but paved the way for photographers to be able make a living from such publications. Photographs from this time period helped spark the 1960s interest in getting back to nature and helped instigate a backpacking boom in the 1970s.

Philip Hyde’s first exposure to vast wilderness also occurred in Yosemite National Park in 1938. Philip Hyde at age 16, joined a Boy Scout backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. To read this history see the blog post, “Lake Tenaya And Yosemite National Park.” For some years afterward, Philip Hyde visited and backpacked in Yosemite National Park until World War II. After the War, Philip Hyde studied photography under Ansel Adams. For more on Ansel Adams’ innovative photography department, see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 6.” During the summer 1949 break from photography school, Ansel Adams helped Ardis and Philip Hyde land the caretakers job at Parsons’ Lodge in Tuolumne Meadows. Ardis and Philip Hyde stayed in the rustic McCauley cabin while Ardis Hyde studied for her teaching credential and Philip Hyde gleefully photographed. Future blog posts will share more about the Hyde’s Summer in Tuolumne Meadows. That summer Philip Hyde met David Brower briefly in Tuolumne Meadows, as the Sierra Club leader brought a Yosemite High Trip through the Soda Springs area. Philip Hyde and David Brower were more formally introduced later by Ansel Adams, which led to David Brower inviting Philip Hyde to act as official Sierra Club photographer for the 1950 Summer High Trip, one year before the battle over Dinosaur National Monument began to take the national stage. Read about the Sierra High Trip in the blog post, “Cedric Wright And Philip Hyde On The 1950 Sierra High Trip.”

Tuolumne Meadows And Landscape Photography Today

"Golden Reflection, Gaylor Lake" Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada High Country, California, copyright 2008 by Hugh Sakols.

(See the photograph large click: “Golden Reflection, Gaylor Lake.”)

Understanding the history and traditions of Tuolumne Meadows has helped me to realize why I am so intrigued by landscape photography.  First I have always felt the need to venture into wilderness. Second, I hope my photography advocates the importance of wilderness preservation and the complexity of nature. And third, I want to uncover Yosemite National Park as a place I have spent years exploring and observing.

While at the McCauley Cabin, some of our tasks include taking care of Parsons Memorial Lodge and assisting presenters who come each summer.  Also, I lead weekly photography walks while my wife teaches Junior Rangers.  Together each Sunday we serve coffee in the campground where we are able to talk with a very diverse group of visitors. It is not uncommon to have gritty looking backpackers who are passing through on their way along the Pacific Crest Trail, a computer geek from the Silicon Valley, and a family looking for the falsely posted church service, all together around a single camp fire.The one thing we all have in common is our love for Tuolumne and of course, caffeine. It is during these informal programs that Mara and I try to instill the values of our predecessors. We remind the visitors of the challenges Yosemite National Park faces in finding a balance between preservation and access. Furthermore, we celebrate Yosemite’s timelessness by enjoying the rustic nature of places such as Tuolumne Meadows.

When I am scheduled in the Yosemite Guide, I lead a Monday morning photography walk for the general public.  During the walk I quickly go over the basics of composition, exposure, and quality of light.  Along the way I will pull out prints I have made that illustrate these concepts and show views from the trail that I have collected over the past summers. It is fun to pass them around and not worry about people handling them.  I’ve even dropped a few on the trail. I explain that for me the end product of an image is the print, and it is always fun to carry a few in a box to share with others.

Imparting Landscape Photography’s History And Significance To Yosemite National Park’s Visitors

Beyond the basics of photography, it is more important to help visitors understand what landscape photography represents today and how it co-evolved with the creation of national parks and organizations like the Sierra Club. Early photographs have documented changes in the landscape over time whether it be a sandstone tower that is now covered in water in Glen Canyon, a 1860s view of Yosemite Valley that shows a greater abundance of black oaks, or an 1870s view of thousands of sheep grazing in Tuolumne Meadows. Hopefully modern landscape photographs will someday represent our successes, failures and our human need to connect with nature.  I think understanding this tradition will help fellow photographers be more cognizant of their own impact in the park.

I also take the opportunity to discuss our increasing detachment from the natural world which could have alarming effects on the future of our natural heritage. Today our new generation of young people spend more and more of their free time glued to a monitor and show little interest in the out of doors. In fact many children do not know how to play outside unless they are playing organized sports.  Today most Yosemite visitors walk a quarter mile or less from the road. Increasingly I find visitors who don’t quite know what to do in a place like Tuolumne Meadows. For these visitors photography is a perfect way to have fun, become observant, and connect.

I am not sure how long we will continue to live in Tuolumne Meadows during our summers. At some point Mara and I want to have more time to explore areas of the park that take more than a long weekend to find.  However, having had this experience makes my photography all the more meaningful.

June 2, 2012 Exhibition At The Ansel Adams Gallery

Local artists including Hugh Sakols will show their work at the Ansel Adams Gallery on June 2nd.  All proceeds will go to Yosemite Park El Portal School.

What makes your photography more meaningful? Have you been to Yosemite or explored its back country? In what place or places do you enjoy getting off the beaten path?