Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 2

October 25th, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Minor White Letters To Philip Hyde 2

(Continued from the blog post, “Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 1.”)

Minor White’s Letters And The San Francisco Art Institute

Piers, San Francisco Waterfront, Bay Bridge, San Francisco Bay, City of San Francisco, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde.

(See the photograph large: “Piers, San Francisco Waterfront, California.”)

Philip Hyde first met Minor White in the 1946 Photography Summer Session taught by Ansel Adams at the world-renowned California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Ansel Adams soon after made Minor White lead instructor of his photography program at the San Francisco Art Institute. Ansel Adams’ photography program was the first of all photography schools to teach creative photography as a full-time profession. Philip Hyde enrolled in the full time day student photography course taught by Minor White in 1947 and earned his certificate of completion in the Spring of 1950. The letter correspondence between Philip Hyde and Minor White began shortly after in May 1950. The letters of Minor White to Philip Hyde are clearly responses to letters from Philip Hyde to Minor White. However, the first three letters from Philip Hyde to Minor White appear to be missing. For more related background on Minor White, Alfred Stieglitz, Philip Hyde, Ansel Adams and other points in the history of photography see the blog post, “Minor White–Philip Hyde Letters.”


Minor White’s Letter To Philip Hyde

(From Philip Hyde’s correspondence file with Minor White. Permissions in process from the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, copyright by the Trustees of Princeton University?)


13  July  1950

Dear EXTATIC Youse Both,

The voice of the Junipers

Articulate the stars

You the words and the wisdom of the moon over sleeping bags


You sure have it bad.

And so I shall leave it to youth and vinegar – the whole outdoors. Otherwise I should enjoy a night or two contemplating nature – I think some of the the sting of camping out is slowly going away – not so much that I plan on doing anything about it, but it is going. And I trust that is of great comfort to you.

Your letters to Duggins – great stuff. I was feeling mean the other morning so wrote a letter to above twerp also. And my answer was interesting – he wanted to know what I meant by “creative photography” and who the big names of the state were and who ought to be nominated for judges. And he mentioned that a couple of other SFers [People attending or graduated from photography schools in San Francisco, in those days essentially California School of Fine Arts students.] gave him the impression that Salon stuff was considered the rankest of amateurism. Not bad – in fact I loved it. So you were one of the SFers. Whoops!

The wording and quiet tone of explanation is just plain good. Keep it up.

I expect to answer the required info very soon. Judges is a hard one. In fact outside of some class mates I don’t know of any competent ones in town.

Summer Session is in the midst of utmost confusion. I am shooting five days a week – though only a few hours each day, running film at night and letting the negs pile up unprinted till it scares me. All over town, landscapes, fog, industry, people – anything that gets in the way that I can get. Even the cable car on Market Street. And incidentally I am feeling much better.

But hardly EXTATIC.


Minor [Hand written signature]

Do you agree with or apply Minor White’s approach to photographing, “All over town, landscapes, fog, industry, people – anything that gets in the way…”?

(Continued in the blog post, “Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 3.”)

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  1. pj says:

    Interesting question. I have no argument with White’s approach — there of course is no one way to do things — but I don’t work that way.

  2. Hi PJ, thank you. Good point, there are many ways. At the same time, I believe we can all learn from the various approaches of others. On that note and because I know the excellence of your photography, I am curious, please tell me more about your method of working… How does it differ from what Minor White describes of his own?

  3. Richard Wong says:

    I’m that type of photographer that likes shooting a variety of things for creative exercise. I like keeping an open mind and exploring the space around me. If I feel some emotional connection to something I see and have a camera with me then I’m probably going to shoot it. Many people suggest to focus on specific subject matter for marketing purposes but I wouldn’t feel true to myself if I were to do that.

  4. Hi Richard, I appreciate what you’re saying and I see it in your work. You have a large variety of subject matter and genres represented by your photography. From what I’ve noticed, it doesn’t seem to hurt, but only help your marketing of stock photography.

  5. pj says:

    Thanks for the kind words David. I guess in some ways I do it in a similar way as White said — I don’t necessarily limit my subject matter — but I also don’t photograph anything and everything that ‘gets in the way’.

    I see a lot of different subject matter of course, but much of it doesn’t trigger the response to make a photograph. When something does trigger an emotional response, kicks me in the gut like I often say, I’ll stop and explore the possibilities. But if that real gut level response isn’t there I usually don’t make an exposure. Hence, I don’t really make many photographs.

    This could be some meat for one of my Saturday morning rambles, so rather than go into detail here I’ll do a post about your question soon. Might make for some interesting discussion.

  6. Hi PJ, I just noticed that I hadn’t responded to your comment here. So I have pasted part of my comment here that I made on your blog post, “Photographing Anything And Everything,” http://photomontana.net/2011/10/29/photographing-anything-and-everything/

    “…I admire your selective approach to picking photographs. It reminds me of my father. Having gone out photographing with you, I noticed that you were careful not to just burn through exposures. Part of this comes with experience. Us less experienced photographers perhaps need to run like young horses a bit more and make more exposures to help us define over time the types of images we really want from any given scene. I believe that I too respond to an emotional connection with subject matter. However, I found in comparison, while on our little walk to the Novel Cafe, that I merely had a much lower threshold of emotional response that I allowed to trigger the making of a photograph and thus ended up making far more images. In addition, I believe Minor White’s letter above, needs to be taken in the wider context of all that Minor White taught in school. Minor White was not the type to randomly hammer away at the shutter…. You may remember that Minor White was into many esoteric practices. He taught of his students to go into a quiet, meditative, creative state while photographing. His method was slow, and deliberate. So when he talks about photographing “everything that gets in the way,” this is not quite the same as rapid fire. Not that there is anything wrong with rapid fire, if that is a person’s process, but I just wanted to clarify that there was much more that went into a Minor White photograph than speed and random chance…”

  7. Hi David.
    One of the books I’ve been reading lately is “The Zen of Creativity” by John Daido Loori and Minor White plays a part in the beginning of that book as the author’s teacher at a workshop and some thereafter. White certainly had a different approach to teaching photography and your question gleaned from his letter to your father is a bit contrary from the author’s experience early on when he was told to wander until his subject would reveal itself and then wait for permission to photograph
    While in some ways I think photographing everything you can is a good approach for some styles, it mostly doesn’t suit mine as I relate more to nature and less to human activity….although I have been photographing weather vanes lately. I think that possibly I am missing some of the magic of photography with my preference, but it is usually better to stick with what has meaning for you.

  8. Hi Steve, thank you for this interesting perspective. It does sound more like the typical Minor White to “wander until his subject would reveal itself and then wait for permission to photograph.” Sort of the Native American deer hunting method of landscape photography. Though I say that somewhat “tongue in cheek,” it does describe much more closely my father’s way of working. Dad used to poke fun at the “bang away at whatever you see” approach. My father spent most of his life focusing his seeing and film exposures on subjects in the natural world that moved him. In that sense he tended to approach photography more the way you describe that you do. Minor White may merely have been describing a phase during which he made a lot of images. He was after all, “shooting five days a week.” From what I have read, the majority of his life, Minor White probably would have been more selective. I believe I am somewhat like Minor White because at times I wander around a lot and don’t make many photographs, and other times I have the “shutter” smoking as I level my sights at anything I see. One of the ideas that freed and inspired both master landscape photographer Carr Clifton and myself in the last several years, was Cole Weston’s statement that I mentioned in my blog post, “My Favorite Photos of 2010,” https://landscapephotographyblogger.com/davids-perspective/my-favorite-photos-of-2010/ , the opposite of my father’s approach: “To see color as form means looking at the image in a new way, trying to free oneself from absorption in subject matter.” I agee with PJ, there is room for different approaches, even within the same photographer.

  9. Thanks for the link David. I left a comment there, but will again say that it is a very nice collection of images.
    We must all be flexible and I think your approach suits your style.

  10. Hi Steve, I appreciate you taking a look at my 2010 assortment of photographs. Believe me, I am not at all espousing any certain method, just stirring up the conversation. I wholly understand the single-minded focus on nature as subject due to feelings about sharing and defending wilderness. I grew up with it around my dear father, who I still admire more than any other photographer and perhaps more than any other human being. I too have always been very passionate about environmental issues and land conservation. Unfortunately, it has now become so trendy, cool and almost cliche to be a landscape photographer. I love nature, but when I live in the country I miss the city. When I live in the city I miss the country. Having grown up in the wilderness, it is my roots, but at the same time I feel a certain affinity to gritty, grungy street and industrial photography. I also feel that there has been too strong a trend in all photography lately toward the “pretty picture” or postcard. I like beautiful images and enjoy making them, but also like the idea of doing what my father’s classmate Jazz photographer David Johnson said so well, “I like to find what has been put down, forgotten or neglected and give it dignity.” To accomplish this, I tend to carry my camera in situations where I may run into this kind of material and when I do, I photograph everything I see. Whenever I am in San Francisco, for example, no matter whether it is a good neighborhood or bad, I am click clicking away like crazy everywhere I go, mainly looking for irony, but also just recording “whatever gets in the way.” Now that I’ve said all this, I do find that if you do intend to photograph nature, the best landscape photographs are made in a quiet, meandering frame of mind that is open and aware of what nature brings to the table, rather than imposing and ultra-planning your “vision” of what is best to capture. I suppose in the final view, I believe that a combination of approaches is most conducive to producing the best art. For example, the first time I took my camera to downtown Denver, I was expecting to get street scenes and maybe find some bums and garbage and so on. However, Denver has a very clean downtown now. The most striking aspect of modern Denver to me that first visit with a camera in many years was the architecture of the major buildings. The best art photographs therefore, in my opinion, were to be made of those far out structures, not people in the street. The next time I go, I may find myself off in some neighborhood where the people or the dogs or the balloons or whatever are the most artistic expression. This is why Cole Weston’s phrase is most meaningful to me. However, if you like to seek certain subjects because that is what you are attracted to, more power to you. I especially hope that you are able to make a difference with your photographs. That is, after all, why Dad used to preach to every photographer he ran across to use their work for the cause of conservation. Maybe there is someone who can make a case for planning photographs. Where is Steve Sieren? I admire his work greatly, even though it is often highly planned, which I usually don’t like…

  11. Thanks for the long and thoughtful reply, David. Please don’t think I have any negative thoughts toward your approach…it is far from the case. My response about “what has meaning to you” was simply to explain my approach. There are many great photographs out there and yet to be made based on spontaneity. As well, I think starting with a plan, as you say Steve Sieren does, is always a good starting point for many…myself included. There are certain places that we want to capture in a special light and when we see that light it is important to be there. The idea though is to change the path when appropriate. I often start in one direction and never reach the destination as something else presents itself that deserves attention.

  12. Hi Steve, am greatly enjoying the conversation and did not think you held any “negative thoughts toward my approach.” I hope I am not scaring you by giving off the impression I am overly wound up or anything like that. I am not. I just speak and write with “umph” sometimes. I invite and encourage all points of view, especially those who disagree with my own that is sometimes too narrow, even though I make a show of being as wide-encompassing and open-minded as possible. I am learning much from photo blogging and from you and other participants who are in the trenches, or should I say meadows, making great photographs regularly. It seems that starting with a plan comes with experience. It is uncanny how much you sound like my Dad. My father planned very meticulously and then was ready to scrap his plan at short notice, when the scene changed.

  13. Not to worry David. I find you to be very friendly and open minded and participating in your blog is both enjoyable and educational.

  14. Hi Steve, I find your comments here educational as well, especially since I recognized right away from the first one months ago that you are involved in your local environmental issues, informed, concerned and active, besides writing a good photoblog and posting excellent, tasteful photographs. Your participation here is much appreciated.

  15. Thank you David for your kind words.

  16. Best wishes in keeping up the good work, Steve.

  17. Mark says:

    It is a great question to think about David. Personally I like to be nature focused, and then quite often something has to jump out and grab me. I am not likely to photograph every flower or tree that crosses my path. I have tried to photograph other subjects, and do actually have some interest in architecture, but they just don’t seem to connect and hold my interest as much. I do have a sense of appreciation for those that photograph subjects very different than my own. I look at them in amazement sometimes.

    Generally I think human beings have lost their touch with the natural world. Perhaps focusing on nature is my way of trying to regain some of that.

  18. Hi Mark, thank you for this input. I like that your motive for photographing nature is to help people (including yourself?) regain touch with the natural world. You are meant to be a nature photographer, if that is what keeps your attention more than other subjects. I keep photographing landscapes, not necessarily because they are what grabs me the most, though they do grab me, but mainly because landscapes are what I am around the most.

  19. Sharon says:

    Hi David, finally back from my trip and trying to catch up. I am a major Minor White fan :-). His work inspires me a great deal. I like to photograph a variety of subjects – not always for professional reasons. Sometimes it is just to have fun. I photographed my nephew’s homecoming football game on my trip and had so much fun doing that. It was definitely not my usual subject!


  20. Hi Sharon, it’s fun to photograph different subjects than our main fare. Dad always photographed family gatherings and made pictures of my mother and me all the time, my football games and all sorts of other scenes other than nature.

  21. Derrick says:

    Take pics of everything that interests you… that might be just one thing, or a lot. But I think to capture the essence of something you’ve gotta like, understand, and feel it.

  22. I like the way you put it Derrick. Thank you.

  23. Greg Russell says:

    I second what Derrick says, David. I’m not really the type to photograph everything just for the sake of photographing it, but if it moves me, I’ll take a photo of it. Even in my everyday life I see things, eye them for a while, and will eventually make an image of them. Most of them are just for me, but I share the better ones…


  24. Hi Greg, thanks for stopping in. I am not sure if you still have them posted, but I still think your documentary photographs of the Queen Mary from Long Beach Harbor are among your better images.

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