Posts Tagged ‘The Last Redwoods’

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.

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.

Outdoor Photographer Special Feature: Philip Hyde and the Art of Making National Parks

June 9th, 2016

Outdoor Photographer June National Parks Centennial Special Issue

Centerpiece Feature: Philip Hyde and the Art of Making National Parks by David Leland Hyde

Outdoor Photographer Cover, June 2016 National Parks Centennial Special Issue, cover photograph Mount Deception, Brooks and Silverthrone, Wonder Lake, the Alaska Range, Denali National Park by Carr Clifton.

Outdoor Photographer Cover, June 2016 National Parks Centennial Special Issue, cover photograph Mount Deception, Brooks and Silverthrone, Wonder Lake, the Alaska Range, Denali National Park by Carr Clifton. (Click on image to see larger.)

Outdoor Photographer magazine has come a long way lately. The magazine is under new ownership, Madavor Media, L.L.C. out of Braintree, Massachusetts. Wes Pitts, who worked for the previous owners for more than 17 years and apprenticed under Rob Sheppard, is the new Editorial Director/Editor. The articles and headlines now appeal as much to seasoned photographers as to beginners.

There are still many articles about gear and locations, but these are done more tastefully, while more articles about the art and craft of photography are appearing. Some of the best writers from the Rob Sheppard and Steve Werner eras are back like Lewis Kemper, Carr Clifton, James Kay, Mark Edward Harris, Art Wolfe and others. Columnists such as Amy Gulick, Frans Lanting, William Neill, David Muench and others continue to produce excellent advice and insight. David Leland Hyde has been named on the masthead as a Contributing Editor.

The reproduction quality still has a ways to go, but they are working internally on improving this and other aspects of the magazine to make gradual refinements over the coming months and years. The editor has expressed the objectives of bringing in more conservation photography and more quality coverage by the experienced professionals in the field.

Currently for June, the Outdoor Photographer editors and staff put together a National Parks Centennial Special Issue with cover photograph and personal experience feature article about the “Wildlands of the National Parks” by Carr Clifton. They invited David Leland Hyde to write the issue’s centerpiece feature article called, “Philip Hyde: The Art of Making National Parks.” Ben Horton wrote an excellent article about getting off the beaten path in the parks and long-time contributor William Sawalich wrote a fascinating feature profile of George Grant who, “Toiled in obscurity for nearly three decades as the first official photographer of the National Park Service.”

The Philip Hyde centerpiece feature immerses the reader in the conservation campaigns that made many of our Western National Parks. From Harvey Manning, author of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series book Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, to David Simons, long-time resident, explorer, photographer and land conservationist in the North Cascades of Washington, from David Brower, Ansel Adams and Martin Litton to Eliot Porter, Point Reyes National Seashore, Dinosaur National Monument, Edward Weston, Minor White, the Bureau of Reclamation, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, Howard Zahniser, Edward Abbey, Slickrock, Canyonlands National Park, The Last Redwoods, Gary Braasch, Jack Dykinga, Backpacker Magazine, William Neill, Chris Brown, Lewis Kemper, Carr Clifton, Alaska: The Great Land and Wade Davis author of a new book, The Sacred Headwaters, this is an in-depth look at Philip Hyde’s career, his influences and those he influenced in the field of conservation photography.

The Outdoor Photographer June National Parks Centennial Special Issue is on newsstands now and is one of the best issues of Outdoor Photographer yet. Do not wait because the special editions of Outdoor Photographer often sell out. This is not just a sales pitch. You can go online now and read Philip Hyde: The Art of Making National Parks, but if you want the special issue in the paper version, I would get it as soon as possible. Find it at Barnes and Noble and other booksellers and magazine racks, wherever magazines are sold.

To read more about the George Eastman Museum Exhibition America’s National Parks, see David Leland Hyde’s guest post on the Outdoor Photographer Blog. To read an in-depth overview of the exhibit including special programs and lectures see Philip Hyde in Photography and America’s National Parks Exhibition–Programs and Lectures.

Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill

March 30th, 2016

Celebrating Wilderness by William Neill

Reposted Today in Honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Passing of my Father, Philip Hyde.

Written by William Neill for the July 2006 Issue of Outdoor Photographer. Read more at OutdoorPhotographer.com and visit WilliamNeill.com or William Neill’s Photography Blog at WilliamNeill.com/blog/. This article was originally posted to Landscape Photography Blogger as my first guest post. I am grateful to Dad’s good friend master photographer William Neill for sharing it with the world again through Landscape Photography Blogger. Coincidentally, just a few days before I originally posted this Bill Neill tribute, Guy Tal wrote a tribute on his own blog journal to William Neill called, “Inspiration: William Neill’s Yosemite Volume One.”

New Tribute to Philip Hyde by Outdoor Photographer

The current editor of Outdoor Photographer, Wes Pitts, today also wrote a must-read tribute to Dad, “Remembering Philip Hyde, Visionary Landscape Photographer and Conservationist.”

Celebrating Wilderness by William Neill

Sunset From Mt. Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, California, 2006 by William Neill.

On March 30, 2006, Philip Hyde passed away at the age of 84.  The community of photographers and nature lovers lost a true friend and pioneer. (See the June 2006 issue of Outdoor Photographer, A Voice for the Wild).  I count myself as being very blessed for having known him.

 

Many years before meeting Philip back in the early 1980s, I discovered his work in the Sierra Club’s famous “Exhibit-Format Series” of books.  His images opened my eyes, along with those of thousands of other photographers and wilderness enthusiasts, to the beautiful and endangered landscapes he had explored.  He helped us see the great potential use landscape photographs could have for environmental protection.  Philip’s images spoke to me quietly yet forcefully of wild nature’s value, and showed me the impact hard work, dedication and selflessness can have.

Philip’s sphere of influence has expanded outward far and wide, quietly and profoundly.  Hyde was the workhorse for the Sierra Club book series, providing images for nearly every battle of theirs in the 1960s and 1970s.  When David Brower, the director of the Club and creator of the book series, needed images to help preserve an endangered landscape, Philip and camera went to work.  Books in which his photographs are instrumental include The Last Redwoods, Slickrock, Island in Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula, Time and The River Flowing, Navajo Wildlands, The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Wildlands, and This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers.

I have little doubt that every published nature photographer of my generation has been inspired by Philip’s efforts.  The large number of photographers, professional or not, working today to use their imagery to help preserve wild places, both locally and on national issues, owe Philip a great debt.

When I looked at those Sierra Club books as a college student, my wildest dream was to use my images in such books and other forums to further the cause of conservation, and to make photographs for a living.  The success of the Sierra Club books not only gave a great boost to its own membership, but also showed publishers that such books had commercial value, thus spawning the publication of thousands of books modeled after them.  The resulting nature book industry allowed many photographers to develop careers, and brought to light many issues of preservation.  Even those not familiar with the full extent of Hyde’s accomplishments can trace their roots to his efforts.

Beyond his environmental contributions, Hyde has earned an honored place for his art.  His photographs have a quality of serene reality.  His choice of camera is a 4×5 for revealing the landscape in sharp detail.  The color is not amplified.  The light he preferred was understated, and he did not favor the “magic hour” that seduces most of us.  He has a disdain for the redundant sunset motif.  He chose Ektachrome film, over Kodachrome or Fujichrome, for its more neutral reproduction of nature’s colors.  In similar fashion, Philip’s compositions and use of lenses are simple and direct.  Rarely do you see a photograph where camera position or lens exaggerates any aspect of a landscape.

Commenting on his evolution from being a black and white photographer to predominantly using color, Philip wrote in his book The Range of Light, “Black-and-white lends itself to manipulation that can dramatize a subject.  Color tends to record what is seen, so it is no coincidence that I use color for that purpose.  I don’t feel nature needs to be dramatized: it is dramatic enough! …Color photographs that…rely too much on the shock value of color alone will not sustain interest.”

Philip’s approach, which seems at first to show the landscape in ordinary descriptive terms, is his attempt to make us realize nature’s profound beauty is always there for us to see, not just during a monumental performance of light or color.  There is selflessness to this approach.  In his images, his own importance recedes in the face of nature’s beauty and need for protection.  He once wrote to me, “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care who gets the credit.”

Many years ago, I hiked up Mt. Hoffman in Yosemite.  I walked slowly upward, alone in my thoughts. I carried all my 4×5 gear to the summit, planning to photograph the sunset and then hike down in the twilight.  At the top, the views of Yosemite’s wilderness stretch out all around.  There was virtually no sign of human life below.  The sunset light warmed the surrounding peaks, and the Sierra Nevada displayed why it is called The Range of Light!  The serenity I felt was powerful.

Thanks to far-sighted pioneers, this rare form of sanctuary exists for millions to enjoy.  The initial preservation of Yosemite by President Lincoln in 1864 and subsequent the formation of the National Park System, the inspiring words and energetic crusading of John Muir, the monumental photographs of Yosemite by Ansel Adams have all contributed to the cause of wilderness preservation.

At times like this, when a great person in our field or our life is lost, we might wonder who could ever replace them?  It is an important time to stop and remember the impact each one of us can have.  John Muir saw threats to the wildness of Yosemite, and fought to preserve it.  Ansel Adams felt deeply moved by the beauty of Yosemite and the Sierra that Muir helped preserve, and used his photographs to fight further for wilderness preservation.  Philip Hyde, learning from the example of Muir, Adams and David Brower, worked tirelessly to photograph threatened landscapes. Many photographers have followed Hyde’s example.  As a ripple expanding outward in a circle, more will follow those who have followed him.  We must all acknowledge our mentors, and I am proud to count Philip Hyde as one of mine.  We honor their legacy by following their example.  Let the circle be unbroken. — William Neill

I am interested primarily in what Emerson called “the integrity of natural objects.”  They express wholeness and individuality, and it is this sense of place that is the foundation of my work.  My life in photography has been taken up in exploring natural places for their beauty and uniqueness.  It has been a labor of love, and nature has provided me the perfect object. — Philip Hyde

William Neill’s Note:  The North American Nature Photography Association offers a grant in honor of Philip Hyde.  See http://www.nanpafoundation.org/hyde_grant.html for more info and for applications.

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To sign up for newsletter updates, including info about his BetterPhoto.com online workshops, please see William Neill’s web page at WilliamNeill.com. For more about wilderness see the blog post, “Wallace Stegner: The Wilderness Idea.” For the story on how I learned more about my father’s work see the blog post, “Memories Of Finally Working With Dad.”

Originally posted August 26, 2010

Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 1

October 20th, 2011

Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series

The 2oth Century’s Biggest Advance In Landscape Photography

Part One: Introduction

Hyde’s Wall, East Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1968 by Philip Hyde. One of the most renowned photographs from the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. “Hyde’s Wall,” originally titled “Juniper, Wall, Escalante” was first published in the Sierra Club book “Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah” with Edward Abbey. For more about Edward Abbey, “Hyde’s Wall,” “Slickrock” and how the wall originally became known as Hyde’s Wall, see future blog posts in this series.

(See the photograph large: “Hyde’s Wall, E. Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness.”)

The 19th Century’s most significant advance in photography took place with the invention of flexible, paper-based photographic film by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, in 1884. Another beginning that would grow and converge with photography in the mid 20th Century, was the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892 by 182 charter members who elected John Muir their first president. To read about how John Muir influenced pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, see the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Trubute To John Muir.”

In 1951, the Sierra Club sent a young photographer named Philip Hyde, recently out of photography school under Ansel Adams, to Dinosaur National Monument, on the first ever photography assignment for an environmental cause. To learn more about the national battle to save Dinosaur National Monument that many consider the birth of modern environmentalism, see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.” Philip Hyde’s photographs with those by journalist Martin Litton became the first photography book ever published for an environmental cause: This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And It’s Magic Rivers. Read more about Martin Litton in the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1.”

By 1960, David Brower, an accomplished climber, Sierra Club high trip leader, member of the Sierra Club Board of Directors and previously a manager at the University of California Press, helped the Sierra Club establish the Sierra Club Foundation. One of the purposes of the Sierra Club Foundation was to develop a Sierra Club publishing program. Sierra Club Books launched the Exhibit Format Series with the first volume, This is the American Earth, with text by Nancy Newhall and photographs primarily by Ansel Adams with a handful of other photographers including Philip Hyde, Edward Weston and Minor White. The new Exhibit Format Series brought Sierra Club books and the cause of conservation national recognition, while advancing the art of photography and helping to establish landscape photography as a popular and persuasive art form. To learn more about David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer And Environmentalist 1.”

In his 1971 book about David Brower, Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee described the coffee table books from the Exhibit Format Series:

Big, four-pound, creamily beautiful, living-room furniture books that argued the cause of conservation in terms, photographically, of exquisite details from the natural world and, textually, of essences of writers like Thoreau and Muir.

William Neill, in his 2006 tribute to Philip Hyde wrote:

Philip Hyde was the workhorse for the Sierra Club book series, providing images for nearly every battle of theirs in the 1960s and 1970s.  When David Brower, the director of the Club and creator of the book series, needed images to help preserve an endangered landscape, Philip and camera went to work.  Books in which his photographs are instrumental include: The Last Redwoods, Slickrock, Island in time: The Point Reyes Peninsula, Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon, Navajo Wildlands, The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, and This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers. I have little doubt that every published nature photographer of my generation has been inspired by Philip’s efforts.  The large number of photographers, professional or not, working today to use their imagery to help preserve wild places, both locally and on national issues, owe Philip a great debt. The success of the Sierra Club books not only gave a great boost to its own membership, but also showed publishers that such books had commercial value, thus spawning the publication of thousands of books modeled after them.  The resulting nature book industry allowed many photographers to develop careers, and brought to light many issues of preservation.  Even those not familiar with the full extent of Hyde’s accomplishments can trace their roots to his efforts.

To read the full tribute, see the guest blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.” Stay tuned for the next installment in this series about the launching of the Sierra Club book program and the making of This is the American Earth.

(Continued in the blog post, “Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 2.”)

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.

Notes On “The Redwoods” By Filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris

December 29th, 2010

Introduction To “Notes On The Redwoods

Fog, Redwood Forest, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, 1962 by Philip Hyde. The left side of this photograph was the primary promotional cover photograph for the 1968 Academy Award Winning short documentary film, "The Redwoods," written by Mark Jonathan Harris.

The documentary The Redwoods, produced by the Sierra Club and written by Mark Jonathan Harris, was “a major influence in building public and congressional support for the creation of Redwoods National Park.” The film won the Academy Award for Short Documentary in 1968. Writer Mark Jonathan Harris is distinguished professor and head of documentary films at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Besides The Redwoods, he has either directed or wrote several other films that won the Academy Award. The Long Way Home, a film about the period immediately following the Holocaust won the “Oscar” for Best Feature Length Documentary in 1997. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport was produced for Warner Bros. and also won an Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary in 2000. See Mark Jonathan Harris’ short biography on the USC website for more about his other films since 2000 and his many other accomplishments. Today we have the honor of welcoming Mark Jonathan Harris for this guest blog post…

Notes on The Redwoods

By Mark Jonathan Harris, August 2006

Looking back at my early work as a filmmaker forty years later, I see themes and patterns that I didn’t recognize at the time. I grew up Scranton, Pennsylvania, a small coal-mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania, but the first documentaries of any value that I made were both about California, and both were influenced by my youthful impressions of the state.

I first visited California on a summer vacation with my father when I was 13. Two of the obligatory tourist stops left lasting imprints. One was a visit to Paramount where Cecil B. DeMille was shooting The Ten Commandments and I watched hundreds of extras dancing feverishly around the Golden Calf. The other was a trip to Muir Woods where I tried unsuccessfully to capture the towering old-growth redwoods in my box camera. A year or so later, back in Scranton, I discovered John Steinbeck and avidly pored through all his work. If I had read The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle at a different point in my life, perhaps they wouldn’t have had as strong an impact, but at that impressionable age, Steinbeck’s books opened my eyes to social injustice and the need to fight against it.

Did these early experiences really shape the filmmaker I became? Or do I remember them now because they are congruent with my later history? As storytellers, we all try to find some narrative thread in the often incoherent randomness of our lives. Still, it isn’t surprising to me that the first documentary of any significance that I made, Huelga!, explored the farmworkers’ strike in the grape fields of Delano, California, and that I immediately followed it with The Redwoods, a plea to save the ancient and stately Sequoia Sempervirens.

Both of these films were heavily influenced by the idealism of the Sixties and the social protest movements of the times, the civil rights struggles in the South and the burgeoning environmental movement. But I also see a connection in the two subjects I wasn’t aware of then. Both films reflect the belief that there is something more important than self — whether it be the grandeur of nature or the power of collective action—and that we must all join together to fight for what we believe in.

The Redwoods was a collaboration of three young filmmakers–Trevor Greenwood, Richard Chew, and myself–all working together at King Screen Productions, a three-year-old documentary production company located in Seattle. Trevor had come to King by way of UCLA film school, Richard as a dropout from Harvard Law, and me after a brief stint as a wire service reporter covering crime in Chicago. It was Trevor’s inspiration to make the film and his aesthetic vision that guided us. At UCLA he had studied with Basil Wright and been deeply influenced by the British documentaries of the Thirties and Forties and the Pare Lorentz films made for the Roosevelt administration during the Depression. We all carefully studied The River and tried to achieve the same lyrical blend of sound and imagery.

At that time, the Sierra Club was leading the fight to establish a Redwood National Park and we went to them for financial support for the film. I don’t remember the exact budget anymore, but I doubt that it was more than $30,000. The Sierra Club put up $10,000 and King Screen Productions agreed to cover the remaining costs. Trevor made an initial research trip to Humboldt Country and hiked over the area being considered for the park with Sierra Club president Edgar Wayburn. “Walking through the fog-shrouded trees,” he told us when he returned, “you could actually hear the droplets of dew falling from the foliage and striking the forest floor.”

Shortly afterwards the three of us went off to make the film. Richard was the cinematographer, I took sound, and Trevor shot additional footage with an Arriflex and a spring-wound Bolex that would only run for about 15 seconds. We took a 16mm projector with us and at night would view the rushes in our motel room in Orick.

There were two principal artistic challenges we faced in making the film.  One was the simple difficulty of filming the trees well. The other was making people care about preserving them. Ronald Reagan, after all, had famously remarked, “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.”

Filming the trees was technically difficult because of both their size and the excessive contrast between light and shadow in the forest. Since we were making the film for the Sierra Club, we were conscious of the high photographic standards it had set in the coffee table books it published by artists like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Philip Hyde. It took some experimenting for Richard and Trevor to find the best photographic approach. Finally, they settled on shooting the trees in a light fog or from the edge of a forest where sidelight struck the trunks and brought out the texture of the foreground trees. The fog helped to create a sense of mystery and of age–the primeval forest–and when the fog drifted through the trees it made them come alive. I still remember standing on the road with my Nagra in the morning damp and mist, recording  the logging trucks approaching in the distance. We used that sound to good effect in the opening of the film.

Although we wanted the trees to speak for themselves, we knew we also had to have a human voice in the film, a person who could provide us some perspective on what we were seeing. We struggled to find that elusive voice. While Trevor and Richard were filming the trees, I spent much of my time searching for a narrator, interviewing long-time residents and loggers in the area. Although all the interviews were informative, I wasn’t able to find any one individual whose voice seemed strong enough to me to carry the whole film. So I ended up creating a composite narrator based on the comments of the people I had interviewed. In the end, a Seattle actor who had worked as a logger in his youth recorded the narration for the film, adding some of his own phrasings and observations to my text.

When we had edited the film to our satisfaction, we took it to San Francisco to show the board of the Sierra Club. The lights went on after the screening and there was a long, almost interminable silence.  Finally, a woman raised her hand and spoke. “That bird call at the beginning of the film,” she said, “that bird is not indigenous to the area.” We had been caught red-handed using a bird call from a library of sound effects. Outside of that memorable and unexpected comment, I don’t remember much more about that screening except that the Sierra Club was pleased with the film and used it extensively in its lobbying and organizing work to establish a Redwood National Park.

Although none of us had great expectations for the film’s theatrical release, we wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible, so we blew the film up to 35mm to increase our opportunities for distribution. The Academy Award nomination was a great boost in getting theaters to run the film. The Oscar itself was a huge surprise. Charles Champlin and other Los Angeles film critics had picked other documentaries to win. The Oscar ceremony that year was postponed a few days because of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Unfortunately, Richard and I were booked for a flight to Colombia the day before the rescheduled ceremony because we were starting a new documentary about the Peace Corps. Given the prediction of the pundits, we decided not to change our flights. Trevor stayed in L.A. to attend the ceremonies. Richard and I read about the award the day afterwards in El Tiempo, the newspaper in Bogota.   It was two more months before I actually held the statue in my hand.  After spending those months in an impoverished rural village in the Andes, the Oscar seemed even more unreal.

Forty years later, the fight to preserve the few remaining old-growth redwood forests against the greed and short sightedness of corporate logging still goes on. Although a definite accomplishment, the national park that Congress established saved less of the ecosystem than the Sierra Club and other environmental groups had battled for. Logging companies continue to threaten the entire redwood forest ecosystem by clearcutting trees to the edge of park boundaries and destroying streams and wildlife habitats throughout the region. In the late 90s, environmental activists took up the battle again to save more of the remaining 3% of the world’s tallest living trees. Julia Butterfly Hill attracted international publicity by climbing an over 1000-year-old giant redwood and living 180 feet off the ground for two years and eight days until she finally  persuaded the Maxxam Corp. to preserve the tree and a 200 foot buffer zone around it. Other activists continue to employ her tree-climbing tactics.

Richard, Trevor, and I have all gone on to make other films since The Redwoods, but this short documentary remains a source of pride. Not only were we able to use our cinematic skills in the service of a cause we believed in, but we were able to help achieve a concrete result. It is impossible to measure accurately the effect any single film has on public opinion, but the Sierra Club did show The Redwoods to members of Congress, and not too long afterwards a bill to create a Redwood National Park was passed. I’m pleased to have contributed to its establishment. Now my grandsons will be able to experience the same feelings of awe and wonder that I first felt as a child, and continue to feel, whenever I enter these majestic forests.

How To Get The Film

The DVD of The Redwoods can now be purchased through the Phoenix Learning Group, where the film is described as bringing “attention to the impending doom of California’s magnificent redwoods which are being logged at a rate of three million a decade. Through the narration of an old logger, viewers are moved to consider the environmental value of these magnificent trees which date back to the age of the dinosaur.”

“The Redwoods” Contest Follow-Up

December 27th, 2010

The Redwoods Contest Follow-Up And Special Guest Blog Post Preview Announcement

The Original Cover Promo For The Academy Award Winning Short Documentary, “The Redwoods” written by Mark Jonathan Harris and produced for the Sierra Club to help in the campaign for Redwood National Park.

“The Redwoods” Contest And Complications

On November 6, I wrote a blog post called, “November 2010 Digital Print Contest.” Please see the post for details of the unusual contest it launched, but in short if someone could help me find out the name and background of the Academy Award winning documentary film that used Dad’s photograph for its cover promotional image, the first person to do so would win an 11X14 Philip Hyde authorized archival fine art digital print of choice.

Originally I announced the contest at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and gave the rules in the blog post. I made the blog post at 2:50 pm and we had an unverified winner by 5:13 pm of the same day. Bill Sawalich, photographer and writer, from St. Louis, Missouri correctly identified the name and year of the film. Thank you also to other participants, notably one Vicki Gundrum, who also discovered the correct film just a few hours later, and who provided much good information also to be seen in the comments on the post. Bill Sawalich found and provided contact information for film director and writer, Mark Jonathan Harris, who wrote “The Redwoods.” It was easy to verify that Mark Jonathan Harris’ film, “The Redwoods” was indeed the 1968 Oscar winning documentary made for the Sierra Club to help establish a Redwood National Park.

There was only one hitch: Mark Jonathan Harris’ film, “The Redwoods” did not have my father’s photograph on the cover, at least not currently, 42 years later. I needed to find out if there was another film that used Dad’s photograph, in that case Bill Sawalich would not yet have won the contest, or whether for some reason Dad or I had been mistaken or mixed up and his photograph was not used on a Redwood film at all, in which case I would honor Bill Sawalich as the winner anyway because he found the name and information about the right documentary.

Academy Award Winning Film “The Redwoods” And The Mystery Solved

I contacted Mark Jonathan Harris, still a filmmaker and professor at the USC Film School. Mr. Harris was cordial, helpful and seemed happy to hear from me about the film. Among other things he wrote:

We were of course aware of your father’s photographs of the redwoods when we made our film, but the photograph we used to publicize the film is not the same one you sent me. This photograph, too, could be one of your father’s. Perhaps you will recognize it. It’s 42 years since we made the film and King Screen Productions has been defunct for many years. I’m not even sure who is distributing the film now–it may be Pyramid films–and I don’t know what art work they are using. We did not use any of your father’s photographs in the film. We shot all the footage ourselves on 16mm, but the Sierra Club coffee table books, of which your father’s was one [The Last Redwoods], certainly set the bar for the quality of images we tried to capture.

Mark Jonathan Harris sent me the jpeg of the original film cover. It turns out it is Dad’s photograph. The artwork the current distributor is using has changed from the original. As soon as I opened the jpeg, I saw right away it was the image I remembered as a kid. Apparently I am the one who mixed up the two photographs recently. They have very similar names. The one depicted on the film cover and seen partially in the cover above was, “Fog, Redwood Forest, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park” and the one that I put in the blog post was “Alder, Redwoods, Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.”

Coming Attractions…

Because I asked about the making of the film, Mark Jonathan Harris also sent me his article, “Notes on The Redwoods” that he wrote in 2006 for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when they were showing a retrospective of Oscar winning documentaries. After getting his “Notes on The Redwoods” and seeing how interesting and evocative of the times his writing was, I asked Mr. Harris if he would honor me by allowing his article to be used as a guest blog post on Landscape Photography Blogger. He agreed. Stay tuned for Mark Jonathan Harris’ “Notes on The Redwoods” coming very soon.

November 2010 Digital Print Contest

November 6th, 2010

Philip Hyde Authorized 11X14 Archival Digital Print Of Your Choice Awarded To The Winner ($450 Value)

Alder And Redwoods In The Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, 1962 by Philip Hyde. Widely exhibited and published including as the promotional photograph for a Documentary on the Redwoods that won the Adademy Award.

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

As announced at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, I will be giving away an 11X14 Philip Hyde photographer authorized special edition numbered archival fine art digital print of your choice from the images available as archival digital prints on PhilipHyde.com, a $450 value.

As a side note remember that Philip Hyde’s Mountain Landscapes exhibition at Camera Obscura Gallery in Denver is still up for another week, as is the Golden Decade Exhibition in the San Francisco Bay Area at Smith Andersen North Gallery.

Photograph, Film And Contest

The photograph above, “Alder And Redwoods In The Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, 1962,” was the promotional photograph for a documentary film produced in the mid-1960s about the Redwoods that won the “Oscar” or “Academy Award” from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. My father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde, in taped interviews I did of him mentioned the film and that it had won the Academy Award. Also, Michael McCloskey, Executive Director of the Sierra Club after David Brower, wrote about the Academy Award winning film briefly in his book, In the Thick of It: My Life in the Sierra Club. Michael McCloskey is still around and active working in conservation. He was famous for stabilizing the Sierra Club after its civil war, for being a legal advisor to the Sierra Club and earlier for helping to organize and systematize the grassroots conservation efforts in Oregon and Washington. I asked him recently if he could remember the name of the film and he did not know for sure. It may have the same title as the book of my father’s photographs, The Last Redwoods, it may not. I have already checked with the Sierra Club and they don’t know. However, somebody who knows films or knows how to research films in Hollywood may be able to win fairly easily. There may even be a book or a website that lists the Academy Awards.

The Game And The Rules

The rules of the contest are simple. The archival fine art digital print can be won by correctly identifying which year the film came out between 1962 and 1968, the proper full name of the film and whether it won the Academy Award or was merely nominated, as well as some descriptive information, how long it is, summary, etc, about the film including where and how it can be viewed or purchased. Also, here’s the most challenging part, you must prove, either with an image, link to an image, a third-party witness or in some other documented way that it is indeed the film that “Alder And Redwoods In The Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, 1962,” was the promotional photograph for. The first person to get this information to me wins. I will keep the contest open until the end of November. Winning merely requires a bit of digging in the right places. I could probably find it myself, but I have too many other facts to verify and research. Besides, I thought this would be a fun way for someone to participate in finding out. Good luck and don’t hesitate to comment here or write me if you have questions about the contest.

Philip Hyde At Home In The Wilds 1

June 17th, 2010

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

At Home In The Wilds

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: What is your personal definition of success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHILIP HYDE: Yes.

DARKROOM PHOTOGRAPHY: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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