Posts Tagged ‘SFMoMA’

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

June 19th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Path Of Beauty And The Photography Of Natural Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your process for making photographs? 

Over 500 People Attend Golden Decade Opening

September 9th, 2010

Over 500 People Attend Golden Decade Opening, Vintage Philip Hyde Print Is The First To Sell

Title Wall, Golden Decade Exhibition, Smith Andersen North Gallery, San Anselmo, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde.

Over 500 people turned out for the Marin County opening reception of the Golden Decade Exhibition and Golden Decade pre-publication launch at Smith Andersen North Gallery in San Anselmo, California on Saturday, September 4th from 6 pm to 9 pm. The first prints from the show to sell in the morning before the opening were Philip Hyde’s 4X5 contact print “San Francisco Piers and Waterfront” and Stan Zrnich’s 5X7 contact print “South Pier, Bay Bridge.” Out of over 150 vintage black and white prints from 32 students at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute, over 30 prints sold the first night.

Front Room, Golden Decade Exhibition, Smith Andersen North Gallery, San Anselmo, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde.

“There is currently a lot of energy around the work from this period,” said Scott Nichols, a downtown San Francisco photography gallery owner and collector of Scott Nichols Gallery. Scott Nichols has the largest collection of Brett Weston in the world. The 32 photographers featured in the Golden Decade Exhibition were students at the California School of Fine Arts after World War II, in the first decade of Ansel Adams‘ photography department when he hired Minor White as lead instructor, Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham and Lisette Model as guest instructors and Edward Weston as field instructor. Former students John Upton, David Johnson and Stan Zrnich all spoke about their experiences at the school and their lives in photography.

Stefan Kirkeby, Smith Andersen North Gallery Owner, Sunday Morning After Golden Decade Opening, Smith Andersen North Gallery, San Anselmo, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Stefan Kirkeby finally gets a chance to see a bit of the book. "I'm knocked out," Stefan said after hosting, curating, matting and framing the show in his in-house frame shop.

“I’ve never seen so many people at a gallery opening,” said Smith Andersen North proprietor Stefan Kirkeby. “There were people packed into the front and spilling out into the street, in the back and outside on the patio. They went through 250 oysters in two hours.” Smith Andersen North Gallery is equipped with large garage doors in front and most of the front of the building can open wide right onto the sidewalk. The Golden Decade Exhibition, scheduled to wrap up at 9 pm, raged on and finally closed down around 11:30 pm. At around 8:25 pm the surrounding neighborhoods looked as though a concert had just let out. Hundreds of people were moving toward their cars and traffic was snarled in surrounding streets. “It was sardine night,” said Stan Zrnich the next morning.

Smith Andersen North presented The Golden Decade Exhibition in conjunction with the release of the book The Golden Decade by former students Cameron Macaluley, William Heick and Ira Latour with Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball daughter of former student Don Whyte. (Website links and more information to come.)

Golden Decade photographers also include Pirkle JonesRuth Marion Baruch, Philip Hyde, William Heick, Pat Harris, Bob Hollingsworth, Cameron Macauley, Ira LatourBenjamen Chinn, Rose MandelGerald RattoJohn Upton and others. Their work has been represented in important photographic historical events such as The Family of Man Exhibition (1955, New York and international venues) and The Perceptions Exhibition (1954, San Francisco), and many of these photographers were prominently featured in the early issues of Aperture magazine when Minor White was editor.

Frame Selection Area, Smith Andersen North Gallery, San Anselmo, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Besides developing a strong following of photography collectors, Smith Anderson North also is a leading framer for major museums in Northern California. Stefan Kirkeby just completed installation of the famous Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He mats on 8-ply Rising Board with archival hinge mats and hand-made paper corners. The frames are hand-made of poplar, ash and other hardwoods. Wooden frames have a much nicer feel than metal frames, don't catch on clothing or packing materials and are perfect for traveling shows because if they get dinged they can be sanded down and repainted. An 11X14 museum frame retails for $200.

The Golden Decade Exhibition runs through October 15, 2010. For more specifics see the blog post, “The Golden Decade: California School of Fine Arts Photography.” For an updated article on the ongoing show see the Fine Art Photography Collector’s Resource Blog post called, “500 People Attend Golden Decade Exhibition.” Also, more description and information about the Golden Decade Opening itself can be found on the Large Format Photography Forum. The Contra Costa Times and other papers announced the Golden Decade Exhibition and Stefan Kirkeby ran a full-page advertisement in Black and White Magazine for the show. To learn more about the Golden Decade of photography in San Francisco and the California School of Fine Arts see the blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 7” and “Photography’s Golden Era 6.”