The Naming Of ‘Hyde’s Wall’ By Writer And Photographer Stephen Trimble

August 8th, 2012 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

How The Photograph, ‘Junipers, Wall, Escalante Wilderness’ From Slickrock With Edward Abbey, Became ‘Hyde’s Wall, Escalante Wilderness’ Now The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Guest Blog Post By Natural Historian And Landscape Photographer Of The Western U.S., Stephen Trimble

Hyde’s Wall, East Moody Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1976 by Stephen Trimble. If you look carefully you will see that this photograph was not taken from the same distance, nor from the same lateral angle, in relation to the wall, as Philip Hyde’s photograph.

LP Blogger On Stephen Trimble:

Writer and photographer Stephen Trimble won the Ansel Adams Award for photography and conservation for his book, The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin Stephen Trimble lives in Salt Lake City and in Southern Utah’s redrock country just outside of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park. For more about his books, his conservation projects and other work visit his website at www.stephentrimble.net. Stephen Trimble is author of over 20 books on the natural West including

Hyde’s Wall, East Moody Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1971 by Philip Hyde. This was the favorite photograph from Slickrock, a Sierra Club book that sold well and received literary recognition for both Philip Hyde and Edward Abbey.

Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography, showcasing

photographs by Philip Hyde and the last living interview of the master landscape photographer. Stephen Trimble teaches writing in the University of Utah Honors College and spent the 2008-2009 academic year as a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellow at the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center. The Lasting Light Exhibition has been on a national tour with the Smithsonian Institute since 2006, when the show opened at the Historic Kolb Studio, father’s day weekend after Philip Hyde passed away.

By Stephen Trimble

In the long-ago spring of 1976, the side canyons of Utah’s Escalante River were more remote than they are now, and they are still pretty remote. My two buddies and I had driven without incident in our hand-me-down family sedans across the Circle Cliffs to the Moody Creek trailhead. We found no other vehicles parked at the end of the road. Once we set off on foot, we weren’t expecting to see anyone else for the next week.

As a college student, I had pretty much memorized the Sierra Club exhibit format books. I aspired to photograph like Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter and Ansel Adams. Though I used a 35 mm camera rather than their large-format view cameras, I knew I could learn a lot from thinking—and seeing—like they did. And I respected with all my heart their dedication to saving wild places.

I knew Philip Hyde’s photographs in Slickrock, the 1971 Sierra Club book he created with Edward Abbey on the southern Utah Canyon Country, and when I photographed in Capitol Reef and the Escalante, Hyde’s eye influenced what I framed in my viewfinder. I had always harbored a secret wish to stumble on the patch of lichened sandstone he chose for the cover of Slickrock.

Instead, I found Hyde’s Wall.

My friends and I made camp at the junction of East Moody Canyon and the Escalante. In the lengthening iridescent light of late afternoon we wandered up East Moody Canyon. Each rounding curve brought new walls. Desert varnish streaked the crossbedded sandstone, black swaths across lavender and vermillion. Here, the color fields of Rothko; there, the bold strokes of Franz Kline.

One wall in particular drew me. I moved my tripod this way and that, aiming my camera past piñons and junipers to a canyon wall reflecting purples and mauves, textured with fractures and cracks. The light had bounced down between canyon walls from the sky and the stars, distilled to an unbelievable saturation.  I had never seen such surreal and intense colors. As I wandered back to camp, I realized that this just might be the very same wall Philip Hyde had photographed for Slickrock: Endangered Canyons of the Southwest with Edward Abbey and for Philip Hyde’s Glen Canyon Portfolio. I was intensely curious to see if my hunch was correct, but of course I couldn’t verify the match until I had my slides back from processing and I had the book in my hand. Once verified, the fact that we had both found our way to this inspirational wall in the middle of nowhere struck me as incredibly cool and serendipitous.

In 1979, I first published my version of the East Moody wall in its desert-varnished sunset splendor, in my first book with a spine: The Bright Edge: A Guide to the National Parks of the Colorado Plateau Not long afterwards, I heard back from friends who were with Philip Hyde when he first picked up a copy of The Bright Edge and saw my version of his wall—and they reported that he wasn’t pleased. So I contacted Philip to make amends, and I started captioning the photo “Hyde’s Wall” as a tribute whenever I had control of captions—most notably in Blessed By Light: Visions of the Colorado Plateau (1986).

Years later, I had the wonderful opportunity and honor to interview Philip by phone for my book, Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography in December 2005, just three months before his death in March 2006. He was still passionate, still inspiring. He told me that he was down there photographing in the Grand Canyon in the 1960s and 70s “because we wanted to keep the dam builders out,” but the place itself was most important: “Here was this magnificent canyon full of wonderful things to photograph. It’s a matter of seeing, not deciding where you are going to photograph but just looking around, opening your eyes.”

I often have quoted Philip Hyde’s preface to Slickrock, in which he articulated the wilderness photographer’s fear:

The focus of this book is on a part of Earth that is still almost as it was before man began to tinker with the land… Telling thousands about it—to get their help in what must be a prolonged struggle to keep it wild—is a calculated risk…. I have some hesitation in showing more people its delightful beauty—hesitation born of the fear that this place, like so many others of great beauty in our country, might be loved to death, even before being developed to death. So, if our book moves you to visit the place yourself sometime, first make sure you add your voice to those seeking its protection.

For every place, Philip Hyde said, “There will always be people that want to exploit it, and there will always be people—hopefully—that want to save it and keep it as it is.” Better to publish your photographs and rally the troops. What’s in the frame of the photograph matters artistically, to be sure, but what’s outside the frame can destroy it. The generation that followed—including myself—knew that the Grand Canyon was saved from dams, in part, by Philip Hyde’s photographs. We knew the power of nature photography. And we have tried to live up to his legacy.

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Landscape Photography Blogger Note: In 2012, this kind of inadvertent image similarity happens more regularly than it did in 1976 because many, many times the number of landscape photographers are out exploring the wilderness now; not to mention that many, many times more landscape photographs exist in the collective psyche as well. Discover more about Slickrock and Philip Hyde’s collaboration with Edward Abbey in the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?” and under the blog post tag Edward Abbey: Blog posts that mention Edward Abbey.

 

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17 comments

  1. Richard Wong says:

    Nice David. The color on the two images are so radically different, but both look great.

  2. That’s a significant point too. From conversations with Stephen Trimble, I believe his photograph was made later in the afternoon when the canyon gave off more of that blue light reflected off the already bluish desert varnish. Some of those canyons and their sandstone walls can get very blue certain times of the day.

  3. The similarity in composition is as interesting as the difference in color. Both are wonderful photos. They would make an interesting framed pair.

    Sharon

  4. Hi Sharon, I’m glad to see you. Glad also that you made a comment that itself shows perhaps how times have changed. Knowing you, I imagine your comment is benign, but back in 1976 your observation might have been made or taken as an accusation. Today nobody even thinks about similarity in composition as an originality concern one way or the other. Many people never considered it ever, then or now. As for Stephen Trimble, knowing he is a caring and conscientious man and after significant discussions with him about it, it seems clear that he inadvertently made a similar photograph, probably based on subconscious images he had in the back of his mind from Slickrock, then published his photograph as his tribute to Dad, Slickrock and the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series.

  5. Oh David, I didn’t mean to imply any kind of plajurism. I know that is the scene they both saw in the field. To me, it is more like two gifted musicians playing a symphony – each interpreting their own way. I think they are similar, yet different and both marvelous!

    Sharon

  6. I appreciate the clarification Sharon and I surmised as much. I just wanted to stir the discussion, to spark thoughts and observations. When Dad first saw the image he was not happy. Dad told me that he had said it was a bad copy at first, but he said that over time Stephen Trimble’s version grew on him. Often Dad said, “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” Once Stephen Trimble called to explain that he had published his version as a tribute to Dad and the Exhibit Format Series, a friendship between he and Dad began. I am acquainted with Stephen Trimble myself. I admire him as an artist and as a fine writer. He was very kind to write this guest post. Not that a comparison is the point here, but in my opinion, Dad’s image beats Stephen Trimble’s artistically, particularly in the area of pastel subtlety; plus the crisp clarity of the larger format. And yet, there is a certain beauty to the deeper blue that is enticing. With all due respect to both of these two masters who came before, maybe some day I’ll go out to “Hyde’s Wall” and “make a snap myself,” as Dad used to say with a chuckle.

  7. Earl says:

    Great similarities as well as great differences — both wonderfully done.

    It’s amazing how the same scene can offer so many different yet equally excellent renditions. It’s reminds me of that old saying about the weather…if you don’t like it, wait a few minutes (or perhaps in this case move a few feet)..it’ll change.

    I find inspiration in that.

  8. Hi Earl, glad you came by. I like your point about the different possibilities inherent in one scene. Nature offers great diversity, even in one place.

  9. Interesting images and explanation! I guess it goes to show how times have changed in the last thirty years or so.

    Also, I never understand the allure of taking the same image of the same place that someone else did. The few places that I have been to where Ansel worked, for example, I enjoyed just knowing I was treading in the same place and just worked my own vision from there.

    Regardless, thanks for sharing!

  10. Hi Derrick, working your own vision perhaps is most important, but as we’ve read, in the case of ‘Hyde’s Wall,’ part of Stephen Trimble’s “own vision” included that he grew up on the Sierra Club Books. Though he only began to realize he had made a similar photograph on his way hiking out of East Moody Canyon toward home, his references to having the Exhibit Format Series images in the back of his mind, raise some interesting ideas and questions regarding what exactly “our own vision” is. Regardless, I agree that there are many iconic landscapes that have been photographed before that we can still make our own by seeing well and intentionally working to do something different.

  11. pj says:

    Interesting. As similar as the photos are visually, aside from the colors, the emotional impact of each one is so different that I would have a hard time saying Mr. Trimble’s work is imitative of your dad’s. Same place maybe, but totally different feeling.

    All in all a fine tribute to your father and his legacy, and a good reminder to the rest of us to carry on. Pretty cool to have a place like that named after your dad. Thanks David and Mr. Trimble.

  12. Hi PJ, that’s another intriguing perspective. The two “Hyde’s Wall” photographs do each have a quite different feel. Perhaps Dad initially saw imitation in Stephen Trimble’s image merely because of what Sharon Van Lieu pointed out, that the compositions are similar. As for the name of the place as “Hyde’s Wall,” I believe it is unofficial so far, though I have heard unconfirmed reports of the place being referred to under that name in more than one guidebook.

  13. Fascinating responses from all–and gracious moderating by David. To amplify a tiny bit on the post, in response to the discussion in the comments: I think both Philip Hyde and I would say we were responding to the power of the place, distilling the graphics of the wall in East Moody Canyon in our compositions, and responding to the light at the moment each of us stood there.

    That said, I know that whenever I looked through my camera–then and now–my choices as a photographer were shaped by the vision of my mentors, who mostly taught me unknowingly, through their published images. I did my best to absorb their teaching, and I wasn’t trying to replicate the Philip Hyde photo. I was simply trying to do my best to capture the spirit of that place, at that moment.

    I celebrate Hyde’s Wall for Philip’s commitment to conservation and wilderness as much as for his vision as an artist. May his photographs of these wild canyons inspire multiple generations not only to experience the places but to work to protect them.

  14. Thank you, Steve. Very well said, especially about the conservation being as important as the art.

  15. Greg Russell says:

    Thanks, David, for publishing this, and Stephen for writing this interesting essay. After reading it, I got out my own copy of “Slickrock” and smiled about all the places I’d still like to visit. The list is endless, and I am certainly inspired in my part by my photographic mentors.

    Over the years, my vision has developed and now when I go to these places, I try to be driven by the spirit in which my mentors’ photos were made, not the drive to replicate their work. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but that only goes so far.

  16. Appreciate that perspective, Greg. That’s much the way I like to approach the locations made famous by other photographers too.

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