Posts Tagged ‘nature photographers’

Ansel Adams On What A Mountain Means

June 13th, 2013

An Excerpt And Commentary On Ansel Adams’ Short Essay, “What Can A Mountain Mean?”

Last Light On Mt. Hough, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 David Leland Hyde.

Last Light On Mt. Hough, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

(See the photograph large: “Last Light On Mt. Hough, Indian Valley, Northern Sierra, California.”)

Within a few years of John Muir’s founding of the Sierra Club in 1892, charter members formed a committee to oversee the writing, compiling and production of a Sierra Club Handbook. The handbook went to all new members as an overall orientation, an introduction to outdoor etiquette and a guide to Sierra Club philosophy. Half a century later, David Brower became the editor of the handbooks, as well as the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director. The 1957 edition of the Sierra Club Handbook included on its Editorial Committee such renowned environmental leaders as Ansel Adams, William E. Colby, Charlotte E. Mauk, Harriet T. Parsons and Blanche Stallings.

David Brower wrote in the introduction:

America’s resources of scenery that we explore and enjoy today are not set aside through accident. National Parks and forests, state and county redwood groves and beaches, wilderness areas and primeval regions—these are not now open to free public enjoyment just through happenstance, just because the country is so big and its resources so limitless that no one has yet got around to fencing them in. These areas, to which millions go each year for escape, exercise, or rest, are available only because people have fought for them. We who enjoy the mountains today owe a debt to generations of those now gone, or now no longer able to be fully active, who have thought in terms of long-range public use and enjoyment rather than immediate development and exploitation.

The Handbook told the reader the story of the Sierra Club, educated about the Sierra Club’s conservation role, provided information on mountaineering, wilderness outings, Sierra Club lodges and lands, winter sports, administration of the Club, trails, the human need for tranquility, the library, scientific background, new films, how to contribute, folklore, directors, chairmen and honorary members, publications, Sierra Club Books, periodicals and the Sierra Club by-laws, but the highlight of the handbook was a signature of 16 glossy black and white photographs by Ansel Adams. The series included such famous plates as Moon Over Half Dome, White House Ruin, Yosemite Valley From Valley View, Old Faithful and The Grand Tetons from Oxbow Bend. The irony is that these locations have now become like treasure map stops on checklists kept by some of today’s landscape photographers.

Accompanying his photographs, and equally as moving, Ansel Adams wrote a brief essay titled, “What Can A Mountain Mean?” This short plea for people to look more deeply at nature applies today even more than when written. The following is an excerpt:

We are seeking a closer contact and deeper understanding of the natural scene in both its vast and delicate aspects. Our ultimate function was never the mere making of maps and the collation of physical data; rather it was to interpret the assembled facts in terms of enjoyment and spiritual experience, and to assist others to seek and comprehend the heart of nature. After all, in the strictly materialistic sense, a mountain is simply an object of inanimate stone garnished with vegetation. It can be measured, weighed, climbed, and even removed or destroyed. Gravity, weather, geologic processes determine its form and the flow of the rivers at its base. These streams posses potential water power, provide irrigation, and contain fish. The timber on the slopes may be salable, and on the surface and inside of the mountain valuable minerals may be found and mined. Obviously the corpus and the spirit of the mountain are two very different entities. A mountain provides an impressive symbol of the wonder and beauty of the natural world, of contact with the primal purities of nature, of the cleanliness and the emotional stimulus of the realities of the earth.

At the time Ansel Adams wrote his short introduction to accompany his photographs in the Sierra Club Handbook, the term ‘landscape photography’ had not yet come into common use. Ansel Adams and his associates called the outdoor photographer who photographed wilderness, a ‘photographer of the natural scene.’ Whatever term you use to describe photography of the landscape, flora and fauna; today many practitioners of it, including myself at times, approach it more like those who are making maps or collecting data, rather than with the intent to impart joy or share a transcendent experience stemming from a more developed connection with the land.

While the internet is a superb tool for showing, viewing and critiquing landscape photography, it sometimes encourages the photographic sport of trophy hunting. Some online photographers objectify nature like pornography and subliminally sexual advertising objectify women and sometimes men. If one photographer has a photograph of a Grizzly Bear, the Aurora Borealis, Antelope Canyon or another trophy that others also have, then we feel we must bring home similar big game to hang on the wall and join the icon club. In contrast, to create photographs with meaning and make a contribution to the art, we must examine our motives. Are we purely profit or recognition-driven? Are we grabbing and bagging moments rather than living them? Are we carving notches in our camera cases? Or are we embracing nature; studying, living and breathing our subjects? Are we getting to know the places we portray, or are we defacing rock art, trampling flowers, stomping on and digging up the mountain, like destructive miners only interested in a payoff?

Until a photographer experiences and imparts the intrinsic values of a natural scene, he or she will not obtain the same long-term satisfaction with his or her images. There is nothing wrong with photographing an icon from time to time, but if they dominate a portfolio, it may be time to re-evaluate. Perhaps the commoditization of landscape photography will continue. Maybe digital photography will be more of an industry than an art, but why be part of the problem? Why not set your own sail, calibrate your own gyroscope by what fulfills you from the inside? Each person sends out a ripple effect. The world needs more sensitivity to nature, not more objectifying of natural subjects. In fact, this adjustment in perspective, this shift in vision, may be exactly what can save us. Photography is much more powerful than many realize. Through it the vision of an entire society is examined, determined and cast. What version of society will we choose? Will future generations see us the way we wish to be seen? What kind of civilization and what kind of people are we?

Relevant Blog Posts:

The Trophy Shot – A Nature And Landscape Photographer’s Dilemma by Gary Crabbe

A Big Light Night – Are You Too Old for Trophy Hunting Photography? by Darwin Wiggett

Aboutness by Guy Tal

What do you think? What is your opinion about exploitation versus inspiration?

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?

Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 2

June 27th, 2011

Landscape Photography Blogger Interviews Photographer Gary Crabbe

Part Two of a Three Part Series

(Continued from the blog post, “Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 1.”)

On Personal Style, Book Projects, Photo Editing And Working With Galen Rowell

Interview Conducted By Phone May 25, 2011

Rural Highway Below Mount Shasta, Northern California, copyright 2009 by Gary Crabbe.

(View photograph large: “Mt. Shasta.”)

HYDE: You also said that one important lesson in landscape photography you learned from Galen Rowell had to do primarily with responding to the light.

GARY CRABBE: That lesson originated with Galen Rowell and ever since I’ve become hyper-sensitive and in tune with what the light is doing and what the light is hitting, versus the subject I set out to photograph. Now I say to my student’s, “A boring subject in great light will always make a better photo than a great subject in boring light.” I may have a subject in mind, but if I see the light happening somewhere else, I am willing at a moment’s notice to drop any preconceived idea.

HYDE: That flexibility strikes me as not only the similarity between you and Galen Rowell, but also between Galen Rowell and my father, Philip Hyde. Many landscape photographers have this philosophy that they go out, scout out a location, then literally set up camp and wait for the right light, sometimes for as long as several days. My dad never did that. He would photograph in the middle of the day rather than wait. Part of it had to do with limitations of budget and time. He had to cover certain territory because he had his itinerary planned. He had obligations. He was often on assignment and someone else was paying his expenses. Certain landscape photographers like Jack Dykinga, for example, take the exact opposite approach. Jack Dykinga is sometimes on a loose assignment from a group like the iLCP, International League of Conservation Photographers. He may be setting the direction and parameters of the assignment, maybe he picks his own. He’ll wait days for the right light or weather conditions. Do you do that?

GARY CRABBE: No, I wish I could. I know a friend who does and he returns with some gorgeous images. He also has the patience to wait for something better. I don’t get it. (Laughter) I make the best of what I can because I can’t wait with my book projects. Plus I’m also a stay at home Dad. I’m the one that drops my kids off at school and picks them up in the afternoon. When I’m out photographing, I have to turn tail and get back. My time is limited. I did double back one time on my way to Lava Beds National Monument up in Northern California on my last book project. I cut from Weed over to the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and then on to Lava Beds. I looked in my rear view mirror and said, “Wow, there’s a great shot of Mount Shasta,” making a note to come back for sunrise. I circled around through Alturas into Susanville, back over to Lassen Volcanic National Park and then up again toward Mt. Shasta, making a 500 mile loop. I can’t recall many occasions where I’ve made that choice, but it was my time to make something work. That’s why I’m here.

HYDE: So looping back 500 miles was more the exception than the rule for you?

GARY CRABBE: Absolutely, and it was one nice sunrise morning. Sure, I could have said, “I wanted more clouds in the sky, or the moon setting,” but I didn’t have the luxury to do that. In that regard I’m more of an editorial photojournalist. I’m out there to document the place. I need to get this, this, this and this for my book project. I work myself to max out a set schedule. Landscape photography art does not always happen like it did at Lava Beds National Monument. Two mornings later I also shot a wonderful sunrise in Susanville, but, the morning in between was crap. (Laughter) Nothing came out. It wasn’t the right weather. I couldn’t just stay there and hope that the next day was going to get better and miss all the other photographs I needed. In that regard, it sounds trite, but it’s a job. My work dictates my schedule and then my creative instincts guide what I do within the confines of that schedule. I just spent two days in Yosemite National Park. I had to get Vernal Falls for my next book project, Where to Photograph in Northern California. I’ve rarely ever tried to take, for lack of a better word, cheesy, iconic photos like the rainbow and Vernal Falls. But it’s the kind of photograph that provides the reason to go up to Yosemite National Park and face the crowds. It’s ironic to dread Yosemite Valley, but that’s summertime. In the text I’ll explain that to photograph the rainbow your best chance of seeing it is at ‘this time’ and ‘this time.’ Sure, my photograph was of Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail, but I am always happier as in this case when I came back with my own personal vision of the scene as opposed to the same image that has been on a post card for the last 35 years in every gift shop in Yosemite National Park.

HYDE: Speaking of waterfalls, I really like your “Sunlight on Berry Creek Falls.” You know my dad made a well-known photograph of Berry Creek Falls. Your photograph makes it look even more picturesque now. Berry Creek is a really nice waterfall. The way you framed it, that’s one of the best waterfall photographs I’ve ever seen.

GARY CRABBE: Wow, I’m beyond flattered. I just wrote about it. I put up an article at a place called Pro Photo Resource. It was called, “Seeking Out Definitive Moments In Outdoor, Nature And Travel Photography.” Berry Creek Falls was one of my examples.

HYDE: I want to talk to you about each of your book projects, maybe a spattering of what was interesting about each project. It’s important for people to know that you have illustrated six coffee table books. Also, there is one more question about your experience with Galen and Barbara Rowell that I want to ask you. It is personal to me because of my process working with my father’s photographs. Carr Clifton helped me all along in choosing images and many other people helped too, various gallery owners and other experts. I had consulting work by Ryan Baldwin, who at one point ran Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery in Emeryville. Did you work there when he did?

GARY CRABBE: Yes. I know him very well.

HYDE: OK. He actually did a little consulting with me in the very beginning when I really didn’t know anything about anything. He helped me start choosing images. I feel like my vision and my ability to choose photographs grew exponentially over the years since then. Ryan Baldwin’s good advice was to choose images of my dad’s at first that no other photographer could have done. He suggested that later I could mix in some that my dad did first and everybody else has done since. My question to you is, in managing Galen Rowell’s stock department of 300,000 images, you must have learned a lot about photo selection from Galen and also from editors. You stepped into it with no idea of what makes a good photograph. Tell me a little about your learning curve, what was that like?

Stormy Sunrise Over Lava Beds National Monument, Siskiyou County, California, copyright 2009 by Gary Crabbe.

(View the photograph large: “Lava Beds.”)

GARY CRABBE: Interesting question. I feel bad that at one point I fibbed to Galen, some people might call it a lie. I was so green, that when I first started working at Mountain Light and he asked me, “You know what a dupe is, right?” I said, “Sure.” (Laughter) I asked another employee later, “What is a dupe?” He said, “Oh, you know, a duplicate slide.” “Oh yeah,” I said. That’s how green I was. First I learned the basic technical points of what editors need. For a magazine cover, you need to have some negative space where your text can go, your subject needs to be centered in this area, you need to have space at the bottom of the frame where they can add the mailing label and bar code and so on. When you’re selecting a double page spread, be sure the most important part of the subject is not in the middle of the frame where the seam of the paper goes. I would go through slides and pull out what I thought might be appropriate and Galen would tell me what was good for what reason, “Yes this is good, this is good, no this one wouldn’t work.” Galen obviously had his own preferences. As part of the interview process, we started having people do light test submissions. You were put in a situation where an editor called you from National Audubon or National Wildlife Federation and you needed to send 20 images of polar bears or penguins. We would give the applicant the entire penguin folder or the entire polar bear folder and we’d see what they would choose to send. It was a great litmus test to see how people responded to what a photo editor wanted and how they responded to Galen’s images as well. Over time I got to where I could usually look at a sheet of 20 slides in approximately one second and know whether there were any images on that page worth taking a second look at for any given project. We’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of images. For example: you know you need a shot of the Marin County Coast. Galen didn’t have separate organized folders other than every shot from Marin County going into one folder. So I’d be looking at images of Point Reyes next to Mount Tamalpais next to Bolinas next to Fairfax, somewhere in that jumble of 35 mm frames was the photograph you needed. It always seemed that there was one or two images that would stand out. Those were the ones I found where the story and the light came together in the best way possible. That’s what I use to guide the editing of my own images. (For more about how Gary Crabbe edits photographs see his post on Jim M. Goldstein’s Blog, “Pro Tips: Photo Editing With Gary Crabbe.”) You want the viewer to instantly know what your photograph is about, if there is confusion, you’ve lost them. If something in the composition creates an emotional or bio-physiological hiccup, you’ve lost them. And this is what I said in this recent article I wrote is, you want every photograph you take to be a headline and an exclamation point for whatever you are photographing. You want the story to come across that quick, with no ambiguity whatsoever.

HYDE: Of course that is for editorial stock photography, but to play devil’s advocate, Paul Strand and my father even, at times, made images that when you look at them at first you have no idea what you are looking at, you can’t figure out what it is. (Find out more about the history of abstract photography and Paul Strand in the blog post, “Straight Photography And Abstraction.”)

GARY CRABBE: That’s true. That is where art photography is different. I love doing abstract photography myself, but that wasn’t the sort of work that Galen did. I used to judge local camera clubs. And they’d have a category that was called “Contemporary,” which meant it had to be some kind of abstract or manipulated photo. I would stand in front of 30 or 40 amateur photographers and say, “The faster I can figure out what you did the less I like it.”

HYDE: But it’s the opposite for magazine submissions or other types of stock photography, correct?

GARY CRABBE: Yes, but you are still trying to generate instant emotional impact, even from an abstract. You are trying to create some kind of subconscious emotional reaction. You don’t have to know what it’s about, but you need to know how it feels. And that’s where art becomes personal and subjective. Some people say, “That doesn’t do anything for me.” Others say, “I could spend a week looking at all the detail in that photograph.” All you can do as an artist is put out what you find interesting.

HYDE: When you first started working for Galen Rowell, your article said something like you had seen only two photography exhibitions, but was there an educational process for learning about the work of other landscape photographers?

GARY CRABBE: Looking through photography magazines, who pays attention to photographer credit lines? Other photographers. That’s how you learn. Every time I saw an image that made me say, “Wow,” I noticed the name. I began to recognize the names Galen’s work was published with right up through the evolution of outdoor photography. I certainly have developed my own personal preferences for the sort of work I like seeing.

HYDE: I’d like to hear how each of your book projects came about.  So how did Backroads of the California Coast: Your Guide to Scenic Getaways & Adventures published in 2001, which won Book of the Year 2002 from the California Outdoor Travel Writers Association, how did that book come about?

GARY CRABBE: Way back when, trying to get your work in front of people, you would buy these source book ads and they would be like $1000 or $2000 a page. And the publisher would send these big books out to all the advertising agencies and publishers and whatever. I went into one of those books my first year as an independent photographer. One of the images I put in was of a twisting road below the Grand Tetons. One day a publisher sent me a note, “Do you have more good road shots like that? We’re doing a book called, ‘The Back Roads of Northern California.’ We would like you to submit some photographs for the cover.” They already had the whole book photographed and written, they were just looking for a different cover. They went through my submission and they didn’t choose any of my photographs. They went with a photo by the photographer for the book, but the quality of the images I submitted stuck in their mind. From that one failed submission, when a well-published travel writer approached them to do a book on the California Coast, they asked, “We need a photographer for this project, are you interested?” That’s how it started. Voyager Press has been the publisher for five out of my six published books.

HYDE: So were Our San Francisco and Yosemite & The Eastern Sierra, similar books?

GARY CRABBE: All of them except for Yosemite & The Eastern Sierra, that’s the one that was published by a different publisher as its own stand-alone project. The editor for that book was Peter Beren, the foremost publisher for Sierra Club books. Peter knew me from Mountain Light. I worked with him as kind of a liaison. I had also done some freelance projects for him as a photo editor. I remember this vividly, it was my daughter’s first birthday, a Saturday afternoon, the house was packed with friends and relatives. My office phone rang. I was thinking I’m not going to bother answering. The phone rang once, twice, a third time, “Oh I can’t stand it.” I raced back to my office as fast as I could go, grabbed the phone, and I hear, “Gary, this is Peter Beren. You’ve got a bunch of Yosemite images, right?” I said, “Hi Peter, yeah.” “Great. I’m going to recommend your photos for a book project.” “OK, thanks.” “Alright, bye.” That was the entire extent of the conversation. A couple weeks later, the publisher called me from her office in New York, “Can you have images to us by next Wednesday?” “Sure.” I never needed to take another picture for that book. Every image came from my existing slides. I sent them 300. They did a beautiful job. Unfortunately the book is out of print now, but I remember approving all the color proofs. On their third or fourth go around, I said it was great, but they still went two more rounds with some of the images. They did an impeccable job with the printing. Peter did the editing of the book. He gathered quotes from Ansel Adams, John Muir and others, which they matched up with my images and boom, the book was done that fast.

Continued in the blog post, “Interview Of Gary Crabbe Part 3.”

Philip Hyde At Home In The Wilds 1

June 17th, 2010

Darkroom Photography Magazine: Masters of the Darkroom Series Presents Part One Of An Interview With Philip Hyde By Merry Selk Blodgett

At Home In The Wilds

One of this century’s premier interpreters of the American wilderness, Philip Hyde has carried his 4X5 to places no camera had been before. Famous for Sierra Club books like Island In Time and The Last Redwoods, Philip Hyde is also a dedicated darkroom “do-it-yourselfer” who uses the complex and beautiful dye transfer process to make color prints. (See the blog posts, “The Legend Of Dye Transfer Printing 1,” and “The Legend of Dye Transfer Printing 2.”) Together with his wife and son, Philip Hyde lives far up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in a house he built himself…

“When I first chose photography, I knew I was choosing the pleasures of creativity over the consolations of wealth.”

 

Virginia Creeper, Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1977 by Philip Hyde. This photograph made at the home of the artist, became one of his signature images, though it is not in a pure sense a landscape photograph, as it depicts a domesticated vine on the wall of his house. The photograph appeared on more magazine covers than any other Philip Hyde image, starting with the now defunct Darkroom Photography magazine in 1980. Records are incomplete but some other covers included the Audubon Nature Calendar 1986, Scribner’s Group Catalog 1986, Photo-Design Magazine 1985, a poster by James Randklev 1986, New York Life Calendar 1987, Fine Print Custom Photo Lab Catalog 1987 and a number of other company catalogs and brochures. Ardis Hyde originally planted the Virginia Creeper. She was locally well-known in Plumas County for her work with the Audubon Society, for organic gardening and because she gave Virginia Creeper starts to many people. Virginia Creeper can be seen growing all over the Feather River country partly due to the gifts of Ardis Hyde.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: It’s very beautiful up here in the mountains; the view from this window could be a Sierra Club calendar. But you’re also very far from any large towns, not to mention cities. Do you ever feel isolated up here?

PHILIP HYDE: I don’t think it’s isolation, I think it’s insulation. We’re insulated from a lot of urban influences that I’m not all that interested in. Don’t get me wrong…I like people. I’m very involved in the photographic workshops I’ve been doing. But I guess I like people best in small quantities. For me, the urban environment is too much of a man-made kind of thing. What’s most important to me is to be able to look out the window and see the changes of the seasons, or the rain pouring down, or the stars at night.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: You’ve got a reputation as one of the top nature photographers in the country. Has your photography made you financially successful?

PHILIP HYDE: I’m not really trying to play the money game. Photography has provided a living, not a bad living at all. But when I left the city in 1959 to come up here, I knew that I was leaving behind the opportunity to make lots of money. I think that when I first chose photography, I knew I was choosing the pleasures of creativity over the consolations of wealth.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: What is your personal definition of success?

PHILIP HYDE: I define success for myself in terms of my lifestyle. Success is freedom and opportunity to do what I want to do. I would say I’m a success in that respect. But some people seem to think that once you’re successful, you can just coast from then on. That’s certainly not true for me; I have to keep working hard, which is a good thing, or I might sit back on the oars and float downstream.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: Anyone who makes his own dye transfer color prints certainly isn’t resting on his oars. Frankly, I was surprised to discover that someone as closely associated with outdoor color work as yourself would be spending so much time indoors. Dye transfer color printing is notoriously difficult and time-consuming; it’s usually done only in specially-equipped labs. What made you decide to tackle such a formidable process?

PHILIP HYDE: The beauty of a well-made dye transfer print, for one thing. It’s permanence, for another. I don’t know, maybe it’s lunacy. Or maybe it’s self-punishment and that’s part of my philosophy too. I think that you don’t get something for nothing in this world, and that perhaps struggling for it is a good thing. I’m saying that somewhat facetiously, but I’m not joking. I think there are a lot of aspects of photography now that are so automatic and so easy, and I think that explains the fact that there isn’t an awful lot that’s significant, from a long-term standpoint, being produced.

“Success is freedom and opportunity to do what I want to do.”

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: I take it you’re not partial to motorized, auto-everything 35mm SLRs.

PHILIP HYDE: Well, do you know that old saw about the bunch of monkeys? If you set a bunch of monkeys up at typewriters eventually they would end up typing the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s a lot of nonsense really, but it’s certainly true that if you run enough film through a camera, sooner or later you’re going to make a significant image. I think an awful lot of people are using 35mm that way. On the other hand, there definitely are people whose work is suited to 35mm…people who can exploit the freedom and flexibility of that format.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: But you’d rather carry around a 4X5 camera and 30 pounds of gear as you hike through the wilderness.

PHILIP HYDE: Yes.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: Why?

PHILIP HYDE: For one thing, it would be very hard for me to make high-quality large dye transfer prints from 35mm originals. But deeper than that, I like the 4X5 format because it disciplines you to see carefully. By the time you’ve made the exposure, you are aware of little things you wouldn’t notice in a 35mm viewer. And it’s a discipline in not being profligate with materials; when you’re carrying 30 pounds on your back and have a limited supply of film, you look at everything very critically. You’re less apt to bang away and ask questions later.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: Let’s return to your current work with the dye transfer color printing process. How long have you been doing it, and how did you get started?

PHILIP HYDE: I began dye transfer printing in 1974. I had been mulling it over for a few years before; my photographer friend Dennis Brokaw tipped the scales when he said he would help me begin. I can still remember the first dye transfer print I made. I was so excited, after years of seeing bad color prints made from my transparencies.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: Doesn’t the process require a lot of skill and care on your part?

PHILIP HYDE: I suppose so, if you define skill as a reasonably precise manipulation of the material, and having your head together enough so that you do all the intermediate steps in the right order. Dye transfer is a rather complex process, especially when your originals are transparencies, as mine are. But there’s one nice compensation for all the complexity; there are a tremendous number of adjustments and controls at each step of the process, so you can alter the color balance, intensity of colors, and contrast along the way. Even after five years, I haven’t been able to get into all the refinements of the process.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: How does your dye transfer printing relate to your primary objective of portraying nature?

PHILIP HYDE: I have always wanted to interpret and express the beauty of what I see in nature. My major objective is…

CONTINUED IN THE UPCOMING BLOG POST, “Philip Hyde At Home In The Wilds 2.”