Posts Tagged ‘Pulitzer Prize’

Photography, Spam, Social Media and My Letter to Ken Burns Films Regarding The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

March 17th, 2017

Behind the Scenes in Photography, Spam, Email, Social Media, Mistakes, Misunderstandings, Films, The National Parks, World Class Quality, Wins, Losses and Reconciliation: A Film Review of Sorts and A Business Lesson Learned

How Philip Hyde Handled Correspondence

Redwood Giants, Sunlight on Trunks of Coast Redwoods at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California, 1962 by Philip Hyde. Published in the book The Last Redwoods that spearheaded the campaign to establish Redwood National Park. (Click on Image to See Large.)

When I was a boy, my mother Ardis rushed at all times of day and evening to answer the phone that was both the home and business line. She would call for Dad through the house announcing each caller, or run into the studio or outside to find him. She helped with his correspondence and kept in touch with our local friends. She managed our social life. She replied to all letters that were not requests for photographs. Dad had a policy of replying to all correspondence, a practice he adopted from one of his mentors, Ansel Adams.

Now that I carry on his photography business, I continue the same approach to correspondence. More than 90 percent of serious inquires come through email, but between the inbox, texts, phone, voicemail, Twitter and Facebook, communications can be a full-time job. On top of all these channels, well-meaning friends, even sometimes well-informed friends recommend looking into this or that. It all can be overwhelming at times. Replying to everything means I sometimes inadvertently waste time answering spam or at least have to take extra time determining borderline cases. My spam filters do a lot of the work, but a certain amount of stuff that crosses my desk every day is off mission, off-topic or is distracting in some way. Regularly I get strange inquiries that show people would rather write me first than start with their own Internet search to find the most relevant source to contact.

How to Judge Away an Opportunity

When I first started helping Dad in 2002 and took over Philip Hyde Photography in 2005, the year before he passed on, I was new and even a bit naïve as to what incoming information was worth paying attention to and what was not. Until you are in photography for a while, you don’t know the players, or even how a photographer successfully gets his message and photographs out to the world. I still discover new channels all the time. I also am inundated with the same old ones that don’t work for me trying to get my attention. In a short amount of time you begin to develop a healthy skepticism, even cynicism, about every idea, every inquiry that comes along. After this short time when you have become freshly cynical, you still have not heard of all of the good, legitimate opportunities that might possibly make your entire career. Even after you have been around for a long time, you may have heard of most of them, but not all, because new legitimate ones emerge all the time.

And so it was that I passed up one of the best and most important opportunities that I might have ever found. There is an important moral to this story that emerges by the end of this blog post article. It may sound silly to some people and natural to others, but there was a time when I had not heard of PBS filmmaker Ken Burns. Regardless how famous he may be, I did not know who he was. My editor, who I generally trust as a well-connected and knowledgeable man, gave me Ken Burns’ phone number and said I needed to call him regarding a new National Parks project he was working on. Not knowing the scope, audience or respect that Ken Burns Films usually garner, one day I picked the number out of a tall stack of calls I needed to make. With a dismissive attitude I dialed the phone.

My First Call to Ken Burns Films

A lady named Susanna Steisel answered the phone, but I subsequently forgot or mixed up her name with someone else and did not realize that she was the same lady I wrote to and conversed with later. Mixed in with some small talk, I explained who I was. I said that my father was one of the primary photographers for the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series that originally popularized the large coffee table photography book and were known as battle books for making national parks. I explained that Dad’s work participated in more campaigns than any other photographer of his time, that he was one of just a few West Coast photographers who have ever had a solo Smithsonian exhibition, his in particular covering the national parks and monuments. Ms. Steisel told me about all the well-known people they already had in the film. Many of them related to the 1800s or early 1900s, or were more current interviews of National Park Service personnel.

“It sounds like this project is mainly focused on the earliest days of the founding of the parks, not the later days in the mid 1900s, around the 1950s, 60s and 70s, is that right?” I stopped her in the middle of her explanation and asked. Taken slightly aback, she agreed. We talked just a little more, I wished her well on the project and then got off the phone. I checked off that task and moved on with other calls.

What One Fool Loses Another Wise Man Will Find

Later, after I learned more about Ken Burns Films and what an opportunity I lost by not listening more and jumping in with a snap judgment, I was angry with myself and angry with Ken Burns Films. I felt especially bad after I met QT Luong, a contemporary landscape photographer who Ken Burns featured in one segment of the film series. QT Luong’s claim to fame was that he was the only photographer known to have photographed all 59 national parks. QT Luong’s photographs are exquisite and serve the purpose of showing the beauty of the parks with a contemporary aesthetic, much the way Dad’s photographs had for their time during Mid-Century Modernism. QT Luong also writes an excellent photoblog and it was through blogging that we became friends. Look for my review of QT Luong’s late 2016 book, Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, a book that I helped edit. When I got to know QT Luong a little, he confided in me that significant income came from involvement in the 2009 film series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. However, he said recently that inquiries resulting from the film were fewer than he expected. Back in 2010, he wrote about this and other aspects of his involvement in a blog post, “QT Luong in Ken Burns National Park Series,” which might have cleared it up except that I didn’t see the post until after I wrote this article.

I like to think of myself as a good person, but hearing of the income that QT Luong earned  did not bring out the best in me. It sounded more substantial to me back then, but he explained recently it was not as large as I imagined. Either way, I became jealous of his success on Dad’s behalf, though I never told him. I even got mad at QT Luong, though I did not express it to him because he certainly did not deserve it. I also got angry with Ken Burns and even angrier with the poor lady I talked to in his office, whose name I did not remember. I blamed her even though I had cut her short and dismissed the project as not quite relevant for Dad’s photographs. Why wasn’t she more forceful in telling me the importance of the film? The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. This is the other side of snap judgements. When you make a snap judgement, by definition you don’t have much information. As a result you go off on all sorts of mental tangents, scenarios and imaginings that vilify those you made the judgement about, only increase your own animosity and are not factual, merely illusion. At the end of February 2014, when Susanna Steisel wrote me through the Philip Hyde Photography website contact form about a follow-up national parks book project they were researching, I did not realize she was the same lady to whom I had spoken several years before. I replied to her in early March:

Hi Susanna,

Did you get my voicemails? I returned your calls, but have heard nothing back from you.

Ken Burns is a very talented filmmaker and I hear he did a great job on his National Parks film. However, there is one aspect of his work that I am very disappointed in, well, not in him specifically, but in a lady on his staff in his office who made it seem like the Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks was only about the earliest founding days and not about the era when the most parks were formed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Due to a miscommunication and misunderstanding my father’s work did not make the film, while other photographers both contemporary to Dad and those who came after, were in it. This reflects badly on Ken Burns and his film. Why? Because my father helped make more national parks than any other photographer and is widely known as having been the backbone “go-to” photographer for more of the Sierra Club led national park campaigns than anyone else. My father was the first photographer sent on assignment for an environmental cause in 1951 to maintain the integrity of the national park system by helping to keep dams out of Dinosaur National Monument. Dad’s book, Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon, also was part of the core of the campaign to save the Grand Canyon. Dad had a solo show that opened at the Smithsonian in 1956 and was nationally toured to major museums during 1956-1959 called, “America’s National Parks and Monuments.” Dad’s national park related resume is one of the strongest. I hope at some point to have a friendly creative talk with Ken Burns about how Dad’s much deserved recognition, heretofore supplanted by other photographers, could come to fruition. It is high time Dad receive the recognition he deserved. When I say ‘supplanted by other photographers,’ I’m not referring to Ansel Adams, who belongs in any National Parks film. Ansel was a mentor, teaching associate, promoter and friend to Dad. I’m referring to other photographers covered in the film who happened to have photographed National Parks after Ansel Adams for their own benefit. Dad dedicated over 60 years of his life to exploring and defending wilderness. His story needs to be told “writ large” by someone like Ken Burns with real filmmaking talent.

Please let me know if and how I can help you.

David

How To Treat Irate Customers: Business 101

To this message, Ms. Steisel to her credit replied with “sincere apologies.” She mentioned that she had run across Dad’s photographs and “thought they were as beautiful as any I have seen of the parks… If we can talk perhaps I can make up for past transgressions. I don’t know how these photos got missed.” She asked for a number where I could be reached to talk about it. She had already begun to melt my heart, but I was still disappointed by the opportunity lost, knowing that the film would stand as it was for all time without Dad’s photographs in it.

My next message a month later had a more amicable tone:

…Thank you for your conciliatory remarks. I hold nothing against Ken Burns or his organization, though I was shocked to find out that the film was the quintessential film on the national parks and somehow the research did not discover Dad to be a key creative player. Anyone doing a project on the National Parks, is completely remiss to not cover the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, David Brower, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde… Dad’s work not only suffered by not being in Ken’s film, but Ken’s film suffered by its omission…

Covering mainly Ansel Adams in such a film, is of course necessary, but is only the low-hanging fruit. Also, merely plucking contemporary photographers out of the air to be the token photographers in the film, without researching who actually deserved credit for making the national parks, is a disservice. In all other aspects, I hear the film is a moving tribute and one of the best ever made on the subject. As a highly talented and top notch filmmaker, I would hope that Ken Burns might be interested in righting these omissions and errors by considering doing a film on my father. Someone will sooner or later and it will have a wide audience. I have already had other filmmakers express interest, but I want a major player like Ken Burns to do it… call me any time.

The Power of a Gift and of a Sincere Review

When she called, we had a good, friendly conversation. She said Ken Burns was backlogged for years on film projects, but that his brother also made PBS films and perhaps I might talk to him. In a later conversation in 2015, it came out that I had The National Parks: America’s Best Idea saved in my Amazon favorites, but had still never seen it. I had never seen any Ken Burns films. After learning this she offered to send me The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and a number of others. From the list she gave me I picked out The Dust Bowl and Thomas Jefferson. Once I received the package of DVD’s from Ken Burns Films, I opened it right away and started watching The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Early on it moved me to tears. I cannot overstate how impressed I was with the cinematography, the level of research, the quality of the story telling, the strength of the interviews and many other aspects of the film. It was one of the best non-fiction movies I had ever seen. I watched the whole first episode that evening. The next morning I sat down to write a thank you:

Hi Susanna,

Please share this with Ken if you at all can. Certainly you’ve heard countless rave reviews of the National Parks film, though with my background, I hope mine will still carry some weight. I am also a big fan of documentaries and have watched far more of them than the “average bear.” This one I have to say is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I agree with those who say that Ken and your team have a gift for storytelling. I loved all the detail and powerful intimate stories you all found and presented so well. I like the idea of telling “the bottom up stories,” rather than the top down ones, though there was plenty of that too with all the presidents. My father’s work and story would have been perfect for your approach because, as is widely known, he was the people’s photographer, the approachable guy, the hard-worker whose accomplishments to recognition ratio was one of the lowest. Ansel was the ambassador and entertainer of movie stars and politicians, while Dad had his boots on the ground in so many of the campaigns, sharing photographs with local leaders and going to many places way ahead of anyone else’s interest curve.

Speaking of which, in your film you mention a man going to Dinosaur in 1952 and making snapshots that influenced David Brower to get interested in saving the place. Actually, Martin Litton started writing about Dinosaur in the LA Times in 1951. Brower and Richard Leonard sent Dad to Dinosaur the same year. Dad’s photographs from four trips 1951-1955 and Litton’s were what made the book, This Is Dinosaur, though of course attaching Wallace Stegner’s name at the time is what put it on the map. With the bottom-up approach, it would have been perfect to tell the story of Litton and Hyde, more than Stegner, the Pulitzer Prize winner, especially since they did most of the work on the campaign. You can’t ever tell all the stories. I mention this not to say you got the story wrong, but as an example because there were other places where Dad’s involvement would have been interesting to your audience and added much more depth.

The whole time I was watching the film, I was incredibly moved and also kicking myself, for not having listened longer when we first talked on the phone. I remember the conversation and it was actually more my fault than yours that you did not find out more about Dad. Though obviously my whole life I was around Dad and the family part of his story, I was fairly new to telling his professional story. Also, we talked not long after Dad had passed on and I was still reeling. I was not sure how or what I was going to do with any of it.

Seems like the film contained a great deal about John Muir, but not as much about the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, National Audubon, etc. Some of those names unfortunately have a stigma to some people, so I suppose I can see why they were not emphasized. I like how most of the stories were personal anyway, rather than about organizations. Yet, that coin has two sides. Reality is that nearly all the parks were all out battles just to bring into existence. Your film covered a smattering of that, but relatively little compared to how much of it occurred. In this sense, as pure journalism, it might not be considered as accurate by some, but the flip side of that is that your team told a story that was universal and could be related to by all. It was uniting, rather than divisive, which is exactly what the parks themselves were after they were formed. Getting them formed, however, created huge controversy, divisions and disagreements that continue to this day. You de-emphasized this, which I can see in the final analysis was for good reason.

Ultimately the film is a smashing success. I was nearly in tears at some points from the sheer beauty of the scenery and cinematography. The narrative too, had good pacing in that it snapped right along and engaged me deeply. I loved hearing from so many of the rangers.

Thank you again so much for sharing it with me.

David

Sounding the Human Note: Learn This Lesson Well

Susanna’s response:

David,
How completely touched I am by your letter. I will pass it on to both Ken and Dayton Duncan.
It is a really fine line between telling the actual whole story in detail and making a film that will be accessible to a wide-ranging audience. We really do try to do our best.
I lost both my parents early in life, and I have to say that I am envious of how proud you are of your father, and how much you know about his life, and appreciate his life. It is a gift that not many of us have.
Looking back, I wish we could have done better by him. I really do. Maybe I didn’t quite know what I was doing either.
Take good care and stay in touch if you want.
With great respect,
Susanna

I wrote her back and told her I appreciated her heartfelt response. I said that I was also touched by the gift of the films. I wrote, “A good lesson I have learned, I sure hope, is to listen more and not jump to conclusions. You all are doing wonderful, important work.” Ken Burns himself also wrote me to thank me for writing, to share how moved he was by my message and to say he was grateful to hear my story.

In this day of media sound bites, over-filled inboxes and the constant barrage of social media news feeds, I, like many of my peers in this civilization, have learned to skim through everything very quickly. I see people from all walks of life making snap judgements all the time that are way off the mark and lead to all kinds of problems. Someone misjudges someone else when they meet and an opportunity is lost. Someone makes comments on a Facebook post that are insulting or irrelevant merely because they didn’t take the time to read the conversation before they added to it. Now that my misunderstanding with Ken Burns Films is cleared up and a connection has developed, it may lead to something professionally interesting, but even if it doesn’t, the significance of the positive goodwill and mutual respect should not be underestimated. This experience and the loss to my father’s work and his legacy have taught me that I must slow down and review each contact or suggestion carefully. In particular I must beware not to take any conversation or meeting for granted because my next big career break might be lurking somewhere in the pile of messages, spam and irrelevance.

Enduring Images: Interview of Jack Dykinga for Outdoor Photographer Magazine

September 15th, 2016

Enduring Images: An Interview with Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist, Celebrated Nature Photographer and 2017 NANPA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Jack Dykinga by David Leland Hyde

Including Previously Unpublished Interview Sections and Materials

Cover of Outdoor Photographer September Special Issue - Photography with a Purpose

Cover of Outdoor Photographer September 2016 Special Issue – Photography with a Purpose. (Click Image to see larger.)

Jack Dykinga won the Pulitzer Prize in photojournalism while documenting the turmoil of 1960s Chicago. In 1970 he read a Backpacker magazine interview of my father, conservation photographer Philip Hyde. The article by environmental photographer Gary Braasch inspired Dykinga to move West and begin photographing landscapes. He eventually met and became friends with Dad, who mentored him in the ways of conservation photography. They even photographed together on a number of trips, some with a few other photography friends around the Southwest U.S., as well as on mainland Mexico and Baja California.

Jack Dykinga over the years also became a pillar of Western nature photography, working with the acclaimed International League of Conservation Photographers, National Geographic, Arizona Highways and other renowned organizations. The North American Nature Photography Association plans to honor Dykinga with a Lifetime Achievement award this year, much as they did Philip Hyde and David Brower back in 1996.

My interview with Mr. Dykinga touched on how he made the transition from a Midwest urban setting to photographing the wide-open wilderness spaces of the West. It also revealed the sensibilities he discovered were necessary to photograph nature and wildlife for conservation purposes. Our discussion ranged from his experience at various well-known magazines to the refinement of his approach over the years with input from Dad. Dykinga gave insights into a number of conservation projects and the making of a number of his successful books for various causes, including the upcoming new release of A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer, in which Dykinga wrote an entire chapter about Dad.

My interview ran over 26,000 words, but I kept only 2,800 for the Outdoor Photographer piece. Some of the remaining 23,200 words will go into my book, but a few sections I will share with readers here. In one section I asked Jack Dykinga about Eliot Porter and Robert Glenn Ketchum. I specifically cut this portion from the Outdoor Photographer version because I did not feel the magazine article was the place to grind the axe about how Eliot Porter has received credit for a number of Dad’s and other’s accomplishments. At the right time and place, in the appropriate venue, a more detailed version of this discussion will be pertinent. For now, Landscape Photography Blogger is more appropriate than Outdoor Photographer for starting to bring some of it to light. The Outdoor Photographer audience is interested in learning from all of these greats of nature photography, not necessarily hearing why one or another have been over or under-recognized. In my opinion Dykinga’s response, while favoring Dad, was well-considered, balanced and tactful. Let’s see what you think when you read it below… In another section, Dykinga shared his experiences and impressions while working with National Geographic and while obtaining more personal, land and place oriented photographs.

David Leland Hyde: John Rohrbach in Regarding the Land: Robert Glenn Ketchum and the Legacy of Eliot Porter, made the exaggerated claims that Eliot Porter invented color nature photography and “almost single handedly saved the Grand Canyon.” Rohrbach also wrote that Robert Glenn Ketchum was the primary photographer carrying on Eliot Porter’s legacy. It was common knowledge among those who were there and widely known thereafter that Dad led the charge spiritually and produced the most photographs for the Grand Canyon campaign. Dad’s photographs illustrated three large format Sierra Club Books and were the cornerstone of Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon, the one book specifically produced to prevent two dams above and below the National Park in the Grand Canyon. Eliot Porter’s Glen Canyon book enjoyed wide readership during this time mainly because the campaign to prevent the Grand Canyon dams took on global proportions. The book Time and the River Flowing landed on the desk of every member of Congress and other Washington leaders, as well as quickly fulfilling significant international demand and distribution. As Time and the River Flowing went out all over the world, it effectively advanced the momentum of the global letter writing campaign that ultimately swayed American politicians and stopped the dams. Not all of Philip Hyde’s books in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series sold as well as Eliot Porter’s In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, but Island In Time: Pt. Reyes Peninsula came out the same year. Several other photographers including Litton, Brower, Adams and others were nearly as prominent as Hyde and Porter in bringing color to landscape photography. As far as any photographer taking over Eliot Porter’s legacy, late in Porter’s life when he was ill before a Truckee Meadows Workshop, the organizers called in Hyde to take over Porter’s teaching position, not Robert Glenn Ketchum or anyone else.

Jack Dykinga: Eliot Porter was a great photographer. I will say that right off the bat. Right almost in the second line of his autobiography, without even taking a breath, it says he was a medical doctor who gave that up to be a photographer. Your dad was a self-made person who wanted to be a photographer. He wasn’t a doctor that wanted to be a photographer. He didn’t have either the baggage or the promotional ability that Porter did. A guy like Robert Glenn Ketchum had Ketchum, Idaho named after his family. He lives in Bel Air and Hollywood and he’s done a lot of good conservation work, but the hardship that your father had to go through, made him stronger. Your dad was the kind of person who had to really work for everything he got. I don’t think he had time to blow his own horn. He was trying to make a living. If I had it to do over again, I sure wish I had a lot more money. I wouldn’t have to worry about the next check. But, I think that lack of money also gives you an edge, I don’t mean a winning edge, I mean there’s a certain edge to your life where you’re really having to push pretty hard to get things done and it helps you. Porter’s work had a totally different look, whereas your father’s strength was that he gave you the monumental look of the American West. Your father did a lot more trail hiking than Eliot did and really showed us the land without showing himself.

Hyde: In the early 1960s, the whole direction of the large format books shifted. At first there was the big black and white sensation, This Is The American Earth by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, but then suddenly everybody was really excited about color.

Dykinga: Your father was more of a documenter of wild places. He would look at things as more of a narrative and a project. That’s more akin to what I do. A lot of my friends that I go camping with are what I call single image photographers. They go out and want to get the most powerful shot that day, where I’m more likely to be wrapped up in a concept. That’s because I’m the journalist. You get publishable shots every single day. They may not be the art you want to hang on your wall, but you may want to put them in a book to tell somebody a story. If you try to submit only those that whisper, you’ll never get published, but you can hang them on the wall and live with them and love them.

Hyde: With National Geographic are you doing more or less what Joel Sartore does?

Dykinga: I am a contract photographer. He is a contract photographer on their first list. I used to be on their first list. I have a deep connection with the magazine, but their overall view of landscape is erratic. We have different opinions.

Hyde: Their idea of landscape is always putting a person in the frame.

Dykinga: There you go. You hit it perfectly. The classic example would be the last issue on Yellowstone National Park with people, butchering animals, traps and cowboys. There’s not one sense of place in the whole article. Here we are in this dramatic, incredible landscape that just gets really short shrift with the tact they have taken. The current editor is a journalist. She was the editor of Time Magazine.

Hyde: Would you say that National Geographic goes after the culture more than the place or the wilderness?

Dykinga: You could say that. That’s sort of subjective. I was there when Chris Johns was editor and he loved my approach to landscapes. That went away when he went away. It changes all the time. I still work for them occasionally. A full feature is a 100 day contract and it’s pretty good money, except when you have things blow up, it maybe not as good as you thought.

Hyde: You were in Stephen Trimble’s book, Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography. I don’t know that he necessarily found all of the “Who’s who” of Grand Canyon photography, but he included many.

Dykinga: I spend less and less time in cliché locations. They may be visual touchstones for most people, but they’re not interesting to me because even more than the place the solitude is important to me.

Hyde: Like Ansel talked about with the experience?

Dykinga: Yes, a deeper connection. You can’t do that if you’re on a crowded boardwalk in Yellowstone with about 30 Chinese guys with selfie sticks like I just experienced. People now are interested in showing “me there,” more than “there.” I think there’s a profound shift with people being more anthropocentric.

Hyde: We have less and less connection to nature as decades go by and more and more words and noise surrounding ourselves when we do get out there.

Dykinga: I see it all the time where people really go on and on explaining their work. Your father’s message and his voice came through the image. If you go on and on about divinity and God and everything else, that’s maybe what you’re reading into it. A lot of us are just very happy when people see the place and make their own decisions based on their own divinity or lack thereof. That’s as good as you can go. It’s more of a Buddhist approach.

To read the best published portions of the above interview pick up the Outdoor Photographer September Special Issue still on newsstands now for a few more weeks, or available online in October.

Wallace Stegner: The Wilderness Idea

September 29th, 2014

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, 1955 by Philip Hyde. Made on Philip Hyde’s second trip to Dinosaur National Monument. In the book, “This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers” with Forward, first chapter and editing by Wallace Stegner and photographs by Philip Hyde, Martin Litton and others, the Sierra Club used this horizontal photograph and cropped it to less than square, nearly a vertical. There was a vertical version of the photograph but it was not used in the book. This is still today Philip Hyde’s most widely published black and white photograph.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Any photographer of the natural scene is wise to care deeply about the preservation of wilderness, otherwise some day he or she could wake up some bright “magic hour” morning to discover there are no natural places left to photograph. Maybe it will not happen that rapidly, but many who have been exploring the outdoors for decades have already noticed the shrinking of the wilderness and the changing of places that were once somewhat wild.

In today’s society, appearances would have us believe that we have learned to live without nature. However, scientific evidence links much of our society’s dysfunction to lack of contact with the natural world. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner wrote the forward and helped compile and edit the first book published for an environmental cause, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers with photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton. Wallace Stegner was also an advocate for wilderness on many other fronts throughout his writing life. He worked on several books in the groundbreaking Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series and many of the campaigns that defined modern environmentalism. Edward Abbey was Wallace Stegner’s student at Stanford. Here is a quote from Wallace Stegner’s famous letter–statement called The Wilderness Idea excerpted from A Sense of Place by Wallace Stegner:

The wilderness idea has helped form our character and has shaped our history as a people. It has no more to do with recreation than churches have to do with recreation. Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed, if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases, if we drive the few remaining species into zoos, or to extinction, if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country, from the noise, the exhaust, the stinks of human and automotive waste, and so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.

Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite life, the brave new world of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserved, as much of it as is still left and as many kinds because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in 10 years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly as vacation and rest into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there. Important that it is, simply as idea. The frontier was necessary. For an American, insofar as he is new any different at all, is a civilized man who has renewed himself in the wild.

For a tribute to Philip Hyde’s landscape photography and its role in wilderness preservation see the blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.”

(Originally posted Nov. 4, 2010.)

Why do you think we need wilderness? Is it important for landscape photographers and others who hike, travel or enjoy other outdoor activities on wild lands to care about wilderness preservation?

Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 2

October 7th, 2011

Martin Litton: Environmentalist, Conservationist, Sierra Club Director, Bush Pilot, River Guide, Hiker, Writer, Journalist, Visionary and Landscape Photographer

Continued from the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1.”

Chiaroscurro, Sun Through Fog, Avenue Of The Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, copyright 1964 by Philip Hyde. First published in "The Last Redwoods: Photographs And Story Of A Vanishing Scenic Resource," by Francois Leydet with photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton, in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series.

See the photograph larger here: “Avenue Of The Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.”

After seeing Martin Litton’s feature articles in The Los Angeles Times protesting proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument, David Brower recruited the young journalist to join the Sierra Club and continue the fight against dam building and other wilderness degradation in earnest.

Martin Litton and Philip Hyde made the landscape photographs of Dinosaur National Monument that became the Sierra Club book, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and chapter one by Pulitzer Prize novelist Wallace Stegner. The controversy over the dams in Dinosaur National Monument, along with the first quality images of the area brought home by Philip Hyde and eloquent arguments by Martin Litton in Sierra Club Board Meetings, prodded the Sierra Club Board of Directors to decide to expand the interests of the Sierra Club beyond California and the Sierra Nevada.

The battle over Dinosaur not only made the Sierra Club a national organization, but also brought the cause of conservation national recognition. A number of conservation groups including the Wilderness Society and others formed a coalition of organizations opposing the Dinosaur National Monument dams. The conservation ideals exemplified by visionaries such as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir, were combined with new lobbying efforts, grassroots on location campaigning, full-page ads in national newspapers and other methods that became modern environmentalism.

The Dam Builders Reach For The Grand Canyon

“Post-War industrialists in league with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found their high water mark when they reached for the Grand Canyon,” Philip Hyde explained in a 2004 interview. “World wide citizen action prevented Big Dam Foolishness from getting a foothold in the Grand Canyon. Dam builder’s influence declined from then on.” Today, there is a world-wide movement to remove dams on major rivers, but in the 1950s and 1960s, conservation groups did not yet have much power. David Brower, leader of the new environmental movement and Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Martin Litton hatched a plan to stop the Grand Canyon dams. They organized a river trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. The river trip participants included the who’s who of the day in landscape photography, geology, ecology and other sciences and disciplines. Martin Litton acted as lead boatman, Francois Leydet joined the trip as a writer, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde as photographers, David Brower as filmmaker, to mention only a few. Their creative efforts and scientific observations became the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book, Time And The River Flowing: Grand Canyon. The book went out to every member of Congress and with other written material circled the globe and caused a worldwide outpouring of support for saving the Grand Canyon.

Also on Martin Litton’s list of conservation successes was the making of Redwood National Park. The centerpiece of the redwoods campaign, the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book The Last Redwoods: Photographs And Story Of A Vanishing Scenic Resource with text by Francois Leydet and photographs again by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton, helped the Sierra Club establish its argument for a Redwood National Park between the California state parks along Redwood Creek where the largest redwoods remained rather than a Redwood National Park proposed by Save The Redwoods League that merely combined existing state parks. Read more on the Redwoods campaign and the making of The Last Redwoods with Martin Litton and Philip Hyde in future blog posts.

Martin Litton was the 185th known person to float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1955 and founded the company Grand Canyon Dories in 1971. He ran commercial river trips using small oar-powered wooden boats originally used for fishing in Oregon and known as drift boats, but adapted by Martin Litton for use in whitewater and renamed Grand Canyon Dories. Martin Litton wrote the introduction to a number of noted books on the Grand Canyon and other environmentally sensitive wilderness areas and national parks, as well as working as managing editor for Sunset Magazine. During his work for Sunset Magazine, Martin Litton used various made up names in print for his photo credits because Sunset Magazine did not want him to actively participate in controversial environmental campaigns.

At Age 94 Martin Litton Is Still Fighting For Redwoods

Though history has not given Martin Litton as much credit as others, at the present age of 94 he continues to work on various environmental campaigns and fly his Cessna 195. He even rowed a Dory through the Grand Canyon at age 90. Martin Litton held a seat on the Sierra Club Board of Directors from 1964 to 1973. He helped found the American Land Conservancy and served on its executive committee for 10 years. In 2005 he ran as a write-in candidate for the Sierra Club Board of Directors, but he did not win the election. His current focus is preventing the logging of Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees in Sequoia National Monument. See an excerpt from the recent film on Martin Litton. He still speaks regularly on conservation, often with outrage at the logging of the Giant Sequoia Trees:

The mission of the Forest Service is to get rid of all the nation’s forests so they can start over. Under the guise of removing hazardous trees, they are taking out all the dead trees that are serving as homes for woodpeckers and owls. Their credo is to remove trees that are dead, dying, or in danger of dying. That’s every tree in the world… I feel sorry for my grandchildren. The only true optimist is a pessimist. You have to realize how bad things are before you can improve them.

Stay tuned for excerpts from my fiery interview of Martin Litton in the next blog post in this series, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 3.” Also in future blog posts read more stories of Philip Hyde and Martin Litton working or traveling together: a river trip up the Klamath River, down the Colorado river, flying over the California Coastal Redwoods, through Grand Canyon National Park.

Backpacker Magazine Interview: Conservation Photographer Philip Hyde Part 1

March 17th, 2010

Upper Iceberg Lake, Minarets Wilderness, Now Cecile Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, 1950 by Philip Hyde. The Minarets were one of the first places Philip Hyde backpacked with his father Leland Hyde and brother David Lee Hyde in the early 1940s before World War II.

In Keeping with the vision of publisher Bill Kemsley, Jr., Backpacker Magazine writers interviewed landscape photographers who were significant in the fledgling modern environmental movement. For background on Bill Kemsley, Jr., the founding of Backpacker Magazine and on how the original Backpacker Magazine became a force for wilderness conservation and a voice for environmental photographers, read the blog post, “The 1970s Backpacking Boom, Conservation and Photography.”

The following interview helped inspired Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Jack Dykinga to leave photojournalism and the city of Chicago, move to the West and take up landscape photography for conservation. The interview was first published in the Spring 1975 issue of Backpacker Magazine. Interviewer, Gary Braasch is an environmental photojournalist who went on to attain the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography, “Outstanding Nature Photographer” from the North American Nature Photography Association and “Legend Behind the Lens” from Nikon. He was also a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers of which Philip Hyde and Galen Rowell are the only honorary members. Click Here to read about his latest book, Earth Under Fire, and previous books he has written about nature photography and the environment. The following article is republished with the permission of Gary Braasch and Bill Kemsley, Jr., founder of Backpacker Magazine.

BACKPACKER MAGAZINE:  The world is so full of beautiful places. How do you, with a drive to photograph them all, decide when and where to travel?

PHILIP HYDE:  My trip planning evolves out of a combination of wanting to go back to places I really liked where I find a lot of subject matter, and the need to see new territory. Sometimes when I go to a new place I get certain images that I will never again get just because of the newness and the excitement of being in a place that’s different.

BACKPACKER MAGAZINE:  What kind of kit do you take backpacking?

PHILIP HYDE:  This is always a great debate. Should I take the Hasselblad and have a lot of 2 ¼ X 2 ¼ inch exposures, or should I take the view camera and make a few good 4 X 5s? It depends on the situation and the place and how vigorous I feel. If I backpack the view camera for three or four days, I can carry three or four film magazines—36 or 48 sheets—and two or three lenses. My tripod weighs about five pounds. By the time I have it all thrown in I’ve got 30 pounds. The Hasselblad, with a lot of rolls, will add up to about half that.

BACKPACKER MAGAZINE:  But what kind of sacrifices to you make in the rest of your dunnage to survive the weight when you’re going into the wilderness for any length of time?

PHILIP HYDE:  Everything else is minimal. We backpack with just a piece of plastic for tent, tarp and groundsheet combined. A down bag. We survive on stuff like muesli, and the cooking is pretty simple. I find that if I carry too much, I just don’t have the energy or inclination to take pictures.

BACKPACKER MAGAZINE:  One answer, of course, is to go to a smaller camera. Why do you continue to use a 4 X 5 primarily rather than a 35mm, which is so much lighter?

PHILIP HYDE:  The basic reason is that I can’t get the detail I want on 35mm. A 35mm original boosted up to 20 X 24 inches or even 8 X 10 doesn’t have the sharpness I’m looking for. I’m always trying to compromise with the Hasselblad because with it I can go farther, faster and lighter. But then I get something I really like on the 2 ¼ X 2 ¼ inch film and wish I had taken my view camera along and done a little more struggling to get the picture on 4 X 5. Maybe that’s pure stubbornness, but I still think there’s a difference, and the difference, as far as I’m concerned, is crucial. There’s something else too: the view camera is a terrific discipline. I don’t have nearly the discipline with the Hasselblad because I know the film’s cheap and there’s a lot of it. Expense-wise, I can shoot only about two exposures of 4 X 5 for a roll of 120 film or about 20 exposures og 35mm film. If I get one or two really good 4 X 5 pictures, I’m way ahead of the game because I often don’t get that many on a roll of Hasselblad film.

BACKPACKER MAGAZINE:  The discipline you talk about—is it mostly a discipline of time? Waiting, walking around, getting the right angles and the right light?

PHILIP HYDE:  What I do is form a scene with my eyes and mind before exposure, rather than inside the camera. As an art-school-trained photographer, I have an axe to grind about getting people to look harder. I don’t think the small camera does much for that because it’s too easy. As for waiting, I don’t wait. In fact it’s almost always the other way around. A fellow who was here the other day looked at a photo of a meadow with a cloud up above it. He remarked, “Gee, you must have waited a long time until that cloud got just the way you wanted it.” I had to laugh because that wasn’t what happened at all. The cloud was already there when I saw it, and I had a hell of a time getting the view camera set up before it was gone. There are photographers who claim to work the other way. They know there’s going to be a picture at a certain place and certain time of day, so they go there. But I can’t imagine doing that, because the world is too full of pictures to wait a long time for any one of them. Also, it’s very difficult for me to visualize a picture if it’s not already there. It becomes something that’s kind of put together—constructed. And if I were going to do that, it would be much more efficient to be a hand artist and paint the scene. Photography is the art of getting what’s there, not creating something.

BACKPACKER MAGAZINE:  Are you saying that photography isn’t creative—isn’t a fine art?

PHILIP HYDE:  What I want to say about creativity in photography is that it is analyzing what is there, rather than constructing something out of one’s imagination. Analysis consists of seeing strongly. If you define creativity as the expression of individuality, then the kind of photography you’re talking about is “creative” when it communicates the maker’s viewpoint and individual vision. This may be more subtle than in other mediums, and our audience, despite Marshall McLuhan, still isn’t very educated about appreciating photographs, which explains why there are still people around asking, “But is it art?” It’s safe to say that photography can be art, and I see more and more evidence of individual expression by a growing number of photographers.

(CONTINUED IN THE BLOG POST “Backpacker Interview: Conservation Photographer 2“)

To hear from Paul Strand and other photographers about creative photography and how a photograph becomes art, see the blog post, “What Makes A Photograph Art?

The 1970s Backpacking Boom, Conservation and Photography

February 13th, 2010

What is your favorite place to hike or backpack?

The Role of Landscape Photography and Backpacker Magazine in the 1970s Backpacking Boom and the Combined Impact on Conservation

At the Celebration of Philip Hyde’s Life in May 2006, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Jack Dykinga said a 1975 article in Backpacker Magazine by Gary Braasch about Philip Hyde called “Conservation Photographer” began Jack Dykinga’s journey to leave photo journalism in Chicago, move to the West and become a landscape photographer.

(See photograph full scree: Click Here.)

David, Ardis and Philip Hyde on Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 1972, by unknown bystander. The last photography visit to Point Reyes before the Sierra Club re-issued "Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula," in 1974 in the Exhibit Format Series. The first issue was released in 1962, the same year as Eliot Porter's "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World," and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." Eliot Porter's book consisted of all color photographs and Philip Hyde's book contained half color and half black and white. The second edition of "Island In Time" had more color plates including the most well-known image of Drake's Beach. "Island In Time" played a significant role in the campaign to make Point Reyes National Seashore. The Sierra Club published the second edition in 1974 to celebrate the creation of the National Seashore and announce that more funds were needed to complete the purchases that would make the final boundaries. On backpacks, Philip Hyde carried mainly photography gear and the campfire grate or cook stove, while Ardis Hyde carried most of the food and related supplies. This was about the age that David began to carry more of the food too. Hence the glum facial expression.

“We were delighted that Philip Hyde was willing to do an interview with a virtually unknown magazine at the time,” said Bill Kemsley, Jr, founder of Backpacker Magazine. “We were still at the beginning of the current environmental movement. Virtually every issue of the magazine was a soft-sell promotion of conservation. We carried an article stating our position on the role of the backpacker in conservation.” The article was titled “Backpack and Camera: the Battle Tools of the Conservation Movement.” In the first two years Bill Kemsley said they worked hard “at building a constituency for the environment.”

The first issue of Backpacker Magazine came out in spring 1973, which took three years to put together. Bill Kemsley, Jr worried that America in the early 1970s did not have a backpacking community large enough to support a magazine. He wanted Backpacker Magazine to support itself through subscriptions rather than through advertising. By 1973, the Baby Boomers had taken up backpacking. “The number of new backpackers alone in that year exceeded the total number of all backpackers on the trails just four years earlier,” Bill Kemsley said in “How the 1970s Backpacking Boom Burst Upon Us” in Appalachia Magazine. The total number of backpackers between 1968 and 1973 nearly doubled in just four years to more than 15 million. It took another 24 years until 2007 for the total number of backpackers to double again to 31 million.

In 1963, Bill Kemsley had observed a group of teenage backpackers leave their camp without putting out their camp fire. He went over to put out their fire and discovered they had “scattered tin cans, paper plates, cups, forks, spoons, scraps of food, assorted plastic containers and wrappers all about their campsite.” It took him nearly an hour to clean up the mess. Bill Kemsley began to ask himself the question, “What could be done to get newcomers to be more respectful of our backcountry?” He had mixed feelings because he was glad more people were enjoying the outdoors, but many of them were “careless and inadvertently despoiling the backcountry I loved. It struck me that one way to influence newcomers would be to fuel their fantasies with heroes they would like to emulate.”

“One of my heroes was David Brower,” Bill Kemsley, wrote recently in an e-mail. “One of the main influences for my including photo interviews in almost every issue was David Brower’s use of coffee table books for promoting the preservation of wilderness. I had lots of cooperation from nature photographers because of our mission.” The second issue of Backpacker Magazine featured Eliot Porter and the list went on: Galen Rowell, Ed Cooper and many others. Besides the Spring 1975 article on Philip Hyde, Backpacker Magazine featured Philip Hyde interviewing Ansel Adams in the June 1976 issue. You will see this article by Philip Hyde and the interview of Philip Hyde by Gary Braasch in future blog posts.

Bill Kemsley, Jr sold Backpacker Magazine in 1980. It went through several owners before Active Interest Media, the current owners, bought it in 2007. Active Interest Media, based in Boulder, Colorado, also publishes Yoga Journal and American Cowboy Magazines.

For the story of Ardis and Philip Hyde backpacking a decade before the trend on the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona from Rainbow Lodge down to Rainbow Bridge see the blog post, “The Making Of ‘Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side.'” For more about landscape photography and wilderness travel and living see also the blog post, “Backpacker Magazine Interview: Conservation Photographer 1” and the blog post, “Backpacker Magazine Interview: Conservation Photographer 2.”)

What is your favorite place to hike or backpack?