How Color Came To Landscape Photography

April 19th, 2012 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Photography For Art’s Sake, For Earth’s Sake Or Both?

Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 1972 by Philip Hyde. This photograph was first published in the revised second edition of Island In Time, 1972.

(See photograph full screen, CLICK HERE.)

Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde were the three primary landscape photographers of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. The Series influenced a generation of landscape photographers as it redefined the photography book and brought international attention to the protection of wild places through photographs. While Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter were both Sierra Club Board Members and committed conservationists, Philip Hyde dedicated his life to the portrayal and protection of wilderness chiefly through landscape photography.

Both Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter considered the art of photography their foremost reason for making landscape photographs. Ansel Adams went so far as to say that he did not want people to view his photographs as propaganda for any cause. If his images were used in environmental campaigns that was all for the good, but he did not want that to be thought of as the motive for their creation. In contrast, Philip Hyde expressly stated that his reason for being a landscape photographer was to “share the beauty of nature and encourage people to preserve wild places.”

David Brower Sent Philip Hyde On The Projects That Made National Parks And Designated Wilderness

Though he had fine art training in Ansel Adam’s photography department at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art institute, a fair portion of Philip Hyde’s landscape photography was documentary. Dorothea Lange had a significant impact on Philip Hyde and his classmates. She spent significant time in classes at CSFA as a guest lecturer, assistant and advisor to Minor White and the students. Dorothea Lange showed the power of photography in affecting social awareness. Philip Hyde applied what he learned to conservation photography as it transformed into modern environmentalism in the 1950s and 1960s. He became the “go-to-guy” for Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower and at times for other leaders such as the Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser, primary author of the Wilderness Act.

Eliot Porter was a doctor early in his photography career and later he came to the Sierra Club with his own completed ideas. Ansel Adams was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships to photograph the national parks. Meanwhile, Philip Hyde, young, motivated, talented, willing to work for little besides expenses, could take off on short notice wherever David Brower and other conservation leaders sent him to bring back images that would show them the beauty each place had to offer. Between the Exhibit Format Series and other photography books of the same era published by the Sierra Club, Philip Hyde had more photographs in more of the volumes than any other photographer.

This is the American Earth By Nancy Newhall and Ansel Adams Launched The Exhibit Format Series

The Exhibit Format Series was conceived in 1960 by Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and David Brower. The first book in the Series, This is the American Earth, mainly consisted of Ansel Adam’s landscape photographs and Nancy Newhall’s eloquent prose. The creators also invited a few other landscape photographers to participate such as Edward Weston, Minor White, Philip Hyde, Cedric Wright, William Garnett, Wynn Bullock, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eliot Porter, Pirkle Jones and others. An accompanying exhibition of the photographs toured nationally and internationally.

In Island In Time Is The Preservation of The First Master of Black and White, and Color Landscape Photography

In 1962, the Sierra Club published Eliot Porter’s In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.  It outsold all of the other books in the Exhibit Format Series including This is the American Earth. Eliot Porter became known as the photographer who introduced color to landscape photography. However, the same year the Sierra Club also published Island In Time: the Point Reyes Peninsula text by Harold Gilliam and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde. Island In Time was not a well-planned art project like In Wildness Is The Preservation Of The World. Island In Time was rushed through to have a book to show in fund raising efforts to buy the ranches of Point Reyes before developers bought the land and began to build homes. It had a more documentary look and purpose, but it also showed the world the impact of color and helped establish color photography as the new trend in publishing and printing. Island In Time: the Point Reyes Peninsula contained beautiful color landscape photographs as well as black and white images together for the first time. While Philip Hyde became the first landscape photographer to master both mediums, Island In Time helped establish Point Reyes National Seashore and color photography. For more on Philip Hyde’s black and white printing and transition to color printing see the blog post, “Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde.” To read more about today’s trends and concerns in color landscape photography see the blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying?” and “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?” To read about Color Magazine’s feature article about Philip Hyde see the blog post, “Color Magazine Feature Out Now.”


Sierra Club Records at Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley, California

Taped Interviews of Philip Hyde by David Leland Hyde

Taped Interviews of Martin Litton by David Leland Hyde

Notes from Conversations with Ken Brower

The History of the Sierra Club 1892-1970 by Michael P. Cohen

This is the American Earth by Nancy Newhall and Ansel Adams

In Wildness is the Preservation of the World photographs by Eliot Porter with quotes by Henry David Thoreau

Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula text by Harold Gilliam, photographs by Philip Hyde

Ansel Adams: An Autobiography

Ansel Adams: A Biography by Mary Street Alinder

For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower by David Brower

Work In Progress by David Brower

Originally posted August 16, 2010



  1. Richard Wong says:

    Love the photo David. One of my favorites from your dad’s collection. When I saw the exhibit at Santa Monica College, this print looked like it could have been photographed yesterday.

  2. Hi, thank you, Richard. Carr Clifton did a good job of matching Dad’s prints of that one. It was not an easy one to print in certain ways, though there have been much tougher ones too. I was not that big on that photograph for years. However, in the last two years it has grown on me more and more. Now I feel it is one of my all-time favorites. Funny how our tastes change as we look at a print every day over extended time.

  3. pj finn says:

    David —

    I’ve read this post several times now. It’s one of those that are fascinating to read but difficult to respond to, other than to say, once again excellent work.

    It sounds like your dad was able to avoid the all too common ‘art for art’s sake’ vs ‘art for a cause’ conflict that plagued, and still plagues, so many photographers. That was a good thing — he accomplished much that we can all be thankful for.

  4. Thank you for reading, PJ. Dad never had any question about what he was doing or why. It was very clear-cut for him, at least by the time I came on the scene. He had many soul-searching, dark nights earlier, evidenced by his writings and letters.

  5. That is a beautiful photograph, David. The light is wonderful. And the article is another interesting read.


  6. Greg Russell says:

    This is a really informative post, David. One of the things I enjoy so much about your blog is the insightful history that you give, along with the travelogues, great imagery, as well as your own perspective.

    I agree with the others as well–beautiful image!

  7. Thanks, Greg. Maybe it’s presumptuous, but I would like to do something that will stand the test of time the way many of my father’s photographs have. “Drakes Beach, Point Reyes” seems to have improved with time in relation to all photographs shown today and tastes today versus 1972. Then there were not as many good photographs as now, but “Drakes Beach” appears to be in higher esteem today than ever, according to many people I’ve talked to about it. There are other images of Dad’s that were once more popular, but are not as much now. So “Drakes Beach” does stand out, but many of Dad’s best have the same quality.

  8. Really good post thanks… Personally I love Ansel Adams depictions of the Californian landscapes, his fantastic work was the main reason I travelled there… Great images here also…

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