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Book Review: Picturing America’s National Parks

September 1st, 2016

Book Review: Picturing America’s National Parks by George Eastman Museum Assistant Curator Jamie M. Allen

Cover of "Picturing America's National Parks" by Jamie M. Allen (2016).

Cover of “Picturing America’s National Parks” by Jamie M. Allen (2016). (Click on Image to See Larger.)

Landscape Photography Classics and Much More

To accompany the George Eastman Museum exhibition, Photography and America’s National Parks, the Eastman Museum and Aperture Foundation teamed up to publish assistant curator Jamie M. Allen’s new comprehensive book on the history of photography in our nation’s parks called Picturing America’s National Parks.

The George Eastman show, made up of the work of more than 50 photographers from all eras in the history of photography, includes landscape photography greats such as Ansel Adams, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Imogen Cunningham, John K. Hillers, Philip Hyde, William Henry Jackson, the Kolb Brothers, Eadweard J. Muybridge, Eliot Porter, Bradford Washburn, Carleton E. Watkins, Edward Weston and Minor White, as well as a good number of other renowned photographers who also happened to make exposures in the National Parks such as George Eastman, Andreas Feininger, Lee Friedlander, Johan Hagemeyer, Martin Parr, Stephen Shore, Garry Winogrand and others. The exhibition has also turned out to be one of the most popular and prominent museum shows of the year.

You See It “Everywhere”

As such, during the run of the exhibit from June 4 – October 2, 2016, Photography and America’s National Parks has enjoyed significant publicity, while the book, Picturing America’s National Parks, already has attracted even greater press exposure. The exhibition or the book or both were introduced or reviewed in Antiques Magazine, Outdoor Photographer magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Aperture, Real Clear Life, the Rochesteriat, the Nature Conservancy magazine, the Rochester City Newspaper, Smithsonian Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, Museum of Photographic Arts, Visit Rochester, The Atlantic, Tween Tribune, Artsy, Outside Magazine, AnOther magazine, Mother Jones magazine, USA Today, Yahoo News, Slate, Audubon magazine, Artbook, Travel & Leisure magazine, Pop Photo, and many others. The book can be found online to purchase, borrow or to read more reviews at Amazon.com, Aperture Foundation, Target.com, Bookshop.com, eBay, Google Play, Library Resource Finder, Sweet, Abelardo Morell, Schaumburg Library, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art bookshop, Worldcat, Fraser Muggeridge Studio, Loot, LibraryThing, Lenscratch, Photolucida, ALA Booklist, Beyond Words, PDN Online and many, many others too deep in Google search results to track down.

Fascinating, Well-Written and Leavened With Significant Detail

Like her pre-show introductory article in Antiques magazine, assistant Curator Jamie M. Allen’s main essay in the book is well written, smooth flowing and easy to read, yet packed with interesting history of both the national parks and early photography in them. The rest of the book displays the photographs with titles and an accompanying text for each of the featured photographers, interspersed with several paragraphs at a time on various historically relevant points such as the invention of the mass produced Kodak camera, the increase in availability of the automobile, the development of photomechanical and photolithographic postcards for sale at park concessions, 18-by-60-foot Colorama photo advertisements for the national parks, caretakers in the national parks and the National Park Service’s social media campaign #findyourpark.

Interspersed with the images from each major contributor at approximately every 16 pages, a timeline page provides the reader with significant dates in the history of photography and the history of the national parks. These timeline pages are loaded with fascinating tidbits that enrich the reading experience of the book. Despite many details included, the timelines present history in general, broad strokes. There are significant points of history, especially of the parks that are not detailed, but this would require a much larger, more difficult to read book.

A Popular Populist Approach

Ms. Jamie M. Allen approaches her subject from a populist perspective, which is somewhat unusual for a museum curator. More than one of the reviews of Picturing America’s National Parks said it was a comprehensive history of photography in the national parks. This is partly true, depending on the definitions of these terms. On a more close reading though, I would say that this volume is not necessarily the history of fine art photography or landscape photography in the national parks, but it could more accurately be described as the history of all photography in the national parks, or a history of cameras and images of any kind from any source made in the national parks.

This populist view of photography in the national parks puts significant emphasis on the various ways that photographs have helped to establish, preserve, depict and popularize the national parks. Allen observes that the history of the national parks is inextricably intertwined with the history of photography. After reading this inspiring book, I would go beyond saying that photography helped popularize the national parks to say that apparently the national parks helped popularize photography. In the development of the West, Allen points out that images produced on location at several of the most popular parks such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite became a hot commodity. A cottage industry in photograph sales developed with photographers establishing small shops where tourists could purchase various types of photographic reproductions of the scenery they had enjoyed during their visit and in some cases purchase photos of themselves in the scenery.

Intertwining Histories of National Parks and Photography

The development of postcards, the snapshot camera and many other aspects of photography that were popular rather than professional, were a large part of the story of the intertwining histories. In addition these aspects make a more interesting read than a mere compilation of the great photographers who have depicted the national parks. Because some of the professionals have been left out, the collection of photographs represented acts less as a survey of those famous for photographing the parks and more as a compilation of famous people and ordinary people who also made images in the national parks.

Both the exhibition and the book tie all of this history into current trends by bringing to light the masses of images and selfies made each day and shared hourly on social media. However, Allen and the Eastman Museum go beyond the mere mention of this phenomenon, to incorporating it as an activity at the exhibit. In the entryway to the show a photograph of the Grand Canyon containing a life-sized figure of George Eastman standing on the rim gives visitors to the show an opportunity to make a selfie with Mr. Eastman and the Grand Canyon in the background to take home, share on social media and discuss the exhibit with friends online. This feature and the encouragement of phone snapshots in the museum makes the visitor experience more fun while portraying the museum as cool and up to date in their delivery of history, not to mention making the show and the museum extremely popular, as well as the objects of considerable buzz.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Allen and her team are to be commended for their fanning of the media flames through her appearance on local TV and the comprehensive development of publicity across the country, but also in their exhaustive and colossal volume of research necessary for such a project. As excellent as done, their research was not necessarily perfect, or perhaps for sake of simplicity and accessibility they chose to leave some information out. For example: the timeline for the 1960s is missing the introduction of color to photography books. Though the timelines are a small part of the overall book presentation, this was a major breakthrough for the parks, for photography and for the fortunes of Kodak because it caused a huge spike in the popularity of color film. It also was part of what led to the popularization of the coffee table photography book, which changed the face of the photography industry and paved the way for more photographers to make a living in the medium.

In the timelines, there is also no mention of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, which during the 1960s, especially in the Western U.S., but also all over the world, greatly advanced the momentum of the movement to conserve more public lands and to further popularize the national parks themselves. The timeline entry for 1963 mentioned that David Brower and Eliot Porter published several books on the parks, but the mention of popular books by Philip Hyde in the Exhibit Format Series, who is represented in the Eastman Museum collection, also is omitted. David Brower called Philip Hyde his go-to photographer because he produced the images for many books that made or protected national parks just in the 1960s alone, such as The Last Redwoods (1963), Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon (1964), The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland (1965), Not Man Apart (1965) Navajo Wildlands (1967), The Grand Colorado (1969) and even more volumes in the 1970s.

Philip Hyde’s book, Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula (1962) was the first book to ever raise funds to purchase land to make a national park service unit, Point Reyes National Seashore. It was also published the same year as Eliot Porter’s In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, (also not mentioned in Picturing America’s National Parks) in 1962, giving both books the shared title of the first major book projects published in color.

Outstanding Image Choice and the Making of an Evergreen Title

I like Allen’s image choices for the sections on Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White and many of the others because she used photographs we don’t often see from these well-known masters. Adams as usual gets a huge amount of credit for his work in the national parks, most of which is well-deserved. However, also as usual, Adams gets credit for some of the accomplishments of other photographers such as the help in conservation and formation of national parks, which Adams did do some and quite effectively, but not more than or even at the same level as photographers such as Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter, who essentially took over the Sierra Club Books from Ansel Adams after they transitioned to color. The description under Ansel Adams carried on at length about conservation and the national parks, whereas the Philip Hyde description mentioned it only briefly, especially in light of his much greater volume of work on wilderness and national park protection campaigns. When I asked Allen about the difference, she said that originally her text included much more about Philip Hyde’s work in preserving national parks, but that her editors cut some of it. Apparently editors need educating as well about the figures behind major conservation efforts.

To illustrate this point and to show an example of how the descriptions were presented, here is the entry for Ansel Adams:

Ansel Adams‘ (American, 1902-1984) lifelong passion for the national parks began in 1916 when, at the age of 14, he read James Mason Hutching’s 496-page book In the Heart of the Sierras (1886) and convinced his parents to take him on vacation to Yosemite Valley. Equipped with a No. 1 Brownie camera that his parents had given him, Adams took his first images of Yosemite that year. Soon after, he became involved with the Sierra Club, starting as the custodian for the club’s headquarters in Yosemite and later leading tours and participating in trips to the Yosemite High Country. He was eventually elected to the board of directors and lobbied for additional areas to be set aside as national parks and monuments. By the 1930s, Adams’ photographic work had become well known, and in 1941 he was invited to participate in a project to photograph all the national parks. Organized by the Secretary of Interior, the initiative was abruptly cancelled when the United States entered World War II. Adams continued the project independently, supported by a series of Guggenheim Fellowships. His images of the parks have come to represent the grandeur of the American landscape, conjuring a sense of pride for American viewers in both the land itself and the preservation of these spaces through the National Park Service. Adams’ photographs have also had broad international appeal, establishing the national parks as globally recognizable icons.

Compare that to the entry for Philip Hyde, which is also excellent, but not as thorough:

In 1946, Philip Hyde (American 1921-2006) became one of the first students to attend the newly formed photography program at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Here he studied under Edward Weston, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and many other influential photographers of the time. After graduating, Hyde served as the official photographer of the Sierra Club High Trip during the summer of 1950, thus beginning his long relationship with the organization. His involvement with the club blossomed into relationships with other groups, including the Wilderness Society and the National Audubon Society. Hyde’s photographic work was used to advocate for and realize the preservation of places such as the Grand Canyon. While he photographed the characteristic vantages of many national parks, his images also show atypical views, such as a sand dune at the Grand Canyon.

Regardless, even with some omissions, Picturing America’s National Parks is destined to be a staple of bookstores, libraries, schools and universities for many years to come. I like the accessibility of the approach, the innovative layout and the depth of information presented in an easy to digest format. I like the cover art, but don’t particularly like the no dust-jacket cover. However, this keeps the costs down also adding to accessibility. Besides, this type of jacketless cover will likely prove ideal when the book is used as a textbook. It certainly ought to be mandatory reading for anyone studying photography, the national parks or any related outdoor curriculum.

Colorado River From Dead Horse Point State Park

January 20th, 2011

Colorado River From Dead Horse Point

Contest Still In Progress…

The Legend Of Dead Horse Point

Colorado River From Dead Horse Point, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah, 1963 by Philip Hyde. He also made a vertical color transparency and exposed two slightly different angles, that is two versions, of the photograph as a black and white negative on the same trip. I still have one 11X14 vintage black and white print of one version and two 20X24 vintage black and white prints of the other version. I have not yet searched for the printing card in Dad’s printing index, but it appears he made a number of black and white prints. However, by the time he started printing color dye transfer prints in the mid 1970s, the early Kodak E-3 film may have already color shifted and faded too much to print color prints. To work this up as a color print now took significant restoration work. The color horizontal was published in 1969 in Dad’s book “The Grand Colorado” by T. H. Watkins with photographs by Philip Hyde. It was also published in Geo Magazine in 1989. The color vertical was published in an instructional TV program for 5th Graders called “The Seed Gatherers” in 1969. It was also published in 1982 in National Parks Magazine and in 1987 in “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America.”

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Dead Horse Point State Park lies at the heart of canyon country in Southeast Utah just 32 winding miles West of Moab. Dead Horse Point overlooks part of Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. From Dead Horse Point 150 million years of geological time and erosion of the Colorado River canyons can be viewed on a grand scale. The river is still slicing down through the slowly rising Earth’s crust “sculpting the fantastic shapes of the precipitous bluffs and towering spires.” Utah.com, the Utah travel industry website explains how Dead Horse Point received its name:

Before the turn of the century, mustang herds ran wild on the mesas near Dead Horse Point. The unique promontory provided a natural corral into which the horses were driven by cowboys. The only escape was through a narrow, 30-yard neck of land controlled by fencing. Mustangs were then roped and broken, with the better ones being kept for personal use or sold to eastern markets. Unwanted culls of “broomtails” were left behind to find their way off the Point. According to one legend, a band of broomtails was left corralled on the Point. The gate was supposedly left open so the horses could return to the open range. For some unknown reason, the mustangs remained on the Point. There they died of thirst within sight of the Colorado River.

At first glance, Dead Horse Point appears to be a barren land, but it is teaming with plants and animals that have adapted to survive on a severely limited water supply. Many animals are nocturnal, coming out in the evenings when the intense heat subsides. Other wildlife and vegetation have dormant periods that vary with the limited rainfall.

One Of The Most Photographed Views In The World

The Discover Moab website says, “The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world.” My father pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde may have been the first to photograph Dead Horse Point in 1963. I have not found record of any other photographer having made a published photograph from Dead Horse Point of the Colorado River and canyons before 1963.

Dad and my mother Ardis made their September-October 1963 Southwest Trip almost exactly a year before the original founding of Canyonlands National Park in September 1964. The park was already proposed, but a great deal of road building and damage to the land had been recently inflicted through the search for Uranium mining sites. Before exploring Canyonlands, Mom and Dad stopped at Arches, which at the time was a National Monument. They met with Russel “Slim” Maybery. They went to dinner with Slim Maybery and his wife Juanita. After dinner Mom and Dad watched Slim Maybery do a slide presentation on canyon country. Slim Maybery became famous as one of those who along with Bates Wilson led the campaigns to make Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Slim Maybery also became famous for inventing the double slalom ski event.

In those days many of the roads were extremely rough, primitive and only passable by 4-wheel drive vehicle. Mom and Dad drove their International Travelall into Canyonlands. The Travelall was like a large Suburban but with only 2-wheel drive. Dad arranged to have a guide in a Jeep named Tom Mulhern drive ahead. Whenever the going became too rough for the Travelall, Mom and Dad would leave it and pile into the Jeep and continue on.

The Photographs That Helped Save Canyonlands And Arches National Parks

A number of Dad’s photographs from that trip later became part of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series book Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run and one of the most well-known Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series volumes, Slickrock: The Canyon Country Of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde. Slickrock helped in the campaign to expand Canyonlands National Park and Arches, as well as to make Arches a National Park in 1971.

In Canyonlands they explored the “bays” of the White Rim, which Dad described in the travel log as, “A sandstone cap on a terrace which runs back to the talus slopes below the sheer cliffs of the plateau edge.” Dead Horse Point is on one end of these bays and Island In The Sky and Grandview Point are on the other. Mom, Dad and Tom Mulhern took off on several short hikes, or rather scrambles, down into the canyons. They also took the Jeep down a precipitous road that led all the way to the Colorado River.

“Everywhere thus far the country shows the effect of the Uranium Boom in roads going everywhere and in occasional pits, tailings piles or bulldozer scars,” Dad wrote. Tom left them and they followed the main road to Dead Horse Road. They finished the afternoon of October 6, 1963 at Dead Horse Point and camped there for the night. Because the air was heavy and hazy, Dad had to come back a few days later to photograph the view from Dead Horse Point using both black and white film and color film. It may have been the first time the view was photographed by a widely published photographer. Now “Colorado River From Dead Horse Point, Dead Horse State Park, Utah, 1963” is available for a limited time as a NEW RELEASE AT NEW RELEASE PRICING. For new release pricing see the portfolios and “Image Info” below each photograph on PhilipHyde.com or the blog post, “New Release Pricing.”

Who Photographed Dead Horse Point First?

Al Weber taught the Ansel Adams Workshops and Ansel Adams Gallery Workshops for over 30 years. “Unfortunately that happens a lot,” Al Weber said. “People like Phil got there first and someone else came along, did it later and publicized it more. The tables are almost turned. The uninformed don’t recognize it.” Al Weber went on to talk about his first time at Dead Horse Point:

The first time I went to Dead Horse Point, which was around that time, I was working in Canyonlands for Ilford. The bridge going out to the last promontory at Dead Horse Point was really treacherous. I remember there were people who would drive up to it and would not drive across it. You’d go out there and there was this gap spanned by a hand made bridge with logs and planks over the logs, with no side rails. It was a natural corral. They didn’t have to fence it. When your Dad went out there, he had to cross that bridge. Knowing Phil he probably didn’t drive across, he probably walked across it. If you go down in my darkroom there is a panorama from Dead Horse Point, but it was mid 1970s by a friend of mine. I went up and camped out there for several days. I photographed all around, but I didn’t photograph the view. For some reason or other it just didn’t click for me to do it. The big scene is not that high on my list, but I was very taken with Dead Horse Point. I loved the solitude of it. Besides the fact that you could walk all around the rim of it and in every direction was something totally different.

For many years there has been a campaign to make Dead Horse Point part of Canyonlands National Park. Al Weber said, “They will get it, but that will be too bad because the next thing you know there will be a freeway out there.” The formation of National Parks often results in another type of over-development brought on by heavy visitation. Today, the campground at Dead Horse Point still has limited water and only 21 spaces.

The Contest: Colorado River From Dead Horse Point

Now for the contest… The New Dead Horse Point Contest is simple. Anyone who finds and can show proof of a photograph made before 1963 and published before 1969 of the view of the Colorado River and part of Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point, black and white or color, either through a website link or written copy of the image and verifiable date from a credible source as defined by me, will receive an 11X14 Philip Hyde authorized archival fine art digital print of any image of choice we are printing on the Philip Hyde Photography website, a $450 value. One person can win more than one print if he or she finds more than one photograph of Dead Horse Point made before 1963 and published before 1969. Also, there can be multiple winners, if multiple photographs meet the criteria. The contest will not go on indefinitely, but the ending date is unknown as of right now. The contest may end suddenly without any prior notice. Please report your progress and findings in the comments below.