Posts Tagged ‘Baja California’

Book Review: A Photographer’s Life by Jack Dykinga

July 30th, 2019

Book Review of Jack Dykinga’s “A Photographer’s Life: A Journey From Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer”

How Jack Dykinga Changed

Cover of “A Photographer’s Life” by Jack Dykinga.

From time to time, we hear of a near death experience dramatically changing a life. The NDE may instigate profound insights, strengthen intuition or lead to stardom through development of a previously undiscovered skill. Jack Dykinga, before his hospital death and return, already had the tenacity, good fortune and talent to win a Pulitzer Prize in Photojournalism, leave the newsroom and jump into nature photography, become an admired workshop leader, and co-found two of the most acclaimed organizations for outdoor photographers: the International League of Conservation Photographers and the North American Nature Photography Association.

Dykinga had also previously covered Civil Rights in the tumultuous 1960s, climbed Mt. Rainier in lethal whiteout conditions, photographed wildlife and remote wilderness all over the world and been handed a large check to explore his home Sonoran Desert. In his new autobiography and retrospective with hundreds of his best photographs: A Photographer’s Life: A Journey From Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer, Jack Dykinga described life as “a series of portals where we enter one way and emerge totally transformed.” He had been changed a number of times. He had “done it all” in his field. There was not much else to be gleaned from a near death experience, or was there?

Lying in the St. Joseph’s Hospital transplant surgery unit after transferring from the Mayo Clinic Emergency Room, in the aftermath of a race against time for a lung transplant while going in and out of consciousness, Dykinga reflected on his life before these complications. “I had always been competitive” and “eager to earn and accept accolades that reinforced my ego.” Having lived with fierce independence, he observed that his fragile life was completely dependent on others. He had been leading a photo trip in the Grand Canyon when his lungs gave out. His wife, daughter and other family had put their own needs on hold to look after him. While in the hospital, an army of medical professionals, doctors, assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, X-ray techs, lab techs, physical therapists and cleaning staff all had a hand in making sure he stayed alive.

This sense of gratitude and appreciation extended out to the people who filled all of his days: the muses, guides and mentors who sometimes subtly, sometimes suddenly changed his point of view and made him the man he had become. He realized that his creativity incorporated many people’s influences and that the changes others brought about in his life were often reflected in the images he made.

A Propitious Start in Photojournalism and the Transition to Color Landscape Photography

At 20 Dykinga became the youngest staff photographer at the Chicago Tribune. From then through today, in my opinion he has been one of the best at juxtaposing light and dark. Perhaps Carr Clifton, William Neill, Charles Cramer, Lewis Kemper and only a few other landscape photographers do light and dark as well.

The color landscapes in A Photographer’s Life sing and zip with strong shapes and color. I feel some are high on the list of best landscape photographs ever made. That said, I would recommend that anyone taking the study of photography seriously not miss the book’s text for any reason. It may be one of the best for learning how to learn the art.

Beginning with his high school interest in photography, Dykinga shows us his world through his mentors and advisors. The book is a string of fascinating glimpses into who helped Dykinga accomplish so much. His senior year in high school he won the National Newspaper Snapshot Award, sponsored by Look Magazine, National Geographic and the Chicago Daily News. This encouraged him to deepen his pursuit photography. After his battles with dyslexia in high school, St. Procopius College, a small Benedictine all-male school took an interest in Dykinga and inspired in him “excitement in learning.” Their attentive approach to teaching was “exactly what I needed,” Dykinga wrote. He soon made the Dean’s List and started his newspaper career.

“Contract Buyers League, Chicago, Illinois,” 1970 by Jack Dykinga.

His long background in photojournalism contributed to making Dykinga a good storyteller. He moves fluidly and with brevity through each story of his fascinating life carrying a camera on the streets of Chicago during the upheavals of the 1960s. Reading his text you get a visceral sense of his gut-wrenching failures and his uplifting successes. The pressure, chaos and competition that Dykinga learned to excel in during in the 1960s, led him to take on landscape photography with a stronger will and diligence than most ever apply to the genre.

From covering the race riots in Chicago to earning a Pulitzer Prize by exposing the conditions in mental hospitals, to climbing 14,411 Mt. Rainier in Washington in a whiteout with extra low temperatures and high winds, Dykinga weaves his tale and shares his accompanying master works.

He began at the Chicago Tribune as the youngest staff photographer ever. At the Tribune he quickly learned the pluses and minuses of large and medium format because the paper had a rule that required either 4×5 or 2 ¼ cameras. He spent nights chasing crime and civil rights demonstrations. When the Tribune editors came down on him and heated arguments ensued for using a 35mm camera at night, he moved over to the Chicago Sun times whose editors supported his use of the smaller cameras. Switching papers was a potentially risky move when he was supporting a young wife and looking to start a family. However, it soon proved to be a successful new direction, as his work continued to improve and shine. His 35mm cameras were “unobtrusive, versatile and portable. With their fast lenses and high ISO, I could photograph in available light, which was essential to record the news without the extraneous distraction of a flash.”

Dykinga’s mentor at the Chicago Sun Times, Ralph “Frosty” Frost brought in many new gifted image makers that complimented an already talented staff. Dykinga learned from, collaborated with and competed against these associates and their rivals at the three other newspapers in town. They were young, tenacious and willing to do anything for a story. Sometimes they had to, as in one instance Dykinga describes of how he and a newsroom buddy photographed and then outran a rock and brick throwing mob when the two photo reporters became separated from police protection.

An Earlier Profound Brush With Death and Nature

“Boojum Silhouetted at Sunset, Baja California, Mexico” by Jack Dykinga.

Chuck Scott taught Dykinga a great deal from afar as his competition back at the Tribune, but he in time hired Dykinga to return and join him back at the paper where the young photojournalist had started. By then Dykinga worked on in-depth features including one out of town project that he pitched, to attend the Rainier Mountaineering School in Washington himself, train and climb the mountain himself. Once on the slopes of Rainer, he and his party came face to face with life-threatening weather. Dykinga explains in his text that it was hard to get anyone to understand later, but the experience on the remote cascade peak changed him forever. He had a first-hand encounter with the “profundity and power of nature.”

Dykinga’s interest in wilderness only deepened after his time on Mt. Rainier. He took a leave of absence from photojournalism. One excursion he made during this time took him to Tucson, Arizona, where his wife was meanwhile also looking to go to graduate school. At this point in A Photographer’s Life, Dykinga placed a 12-page section of his black and white newspaper images from the riots, protests and tumult on the streets of Chicago, not to mention a number of photographs from the series exposing the conditions in mental hospitals that earned him the Pulitzer Prize. Some people might see this group of black and white city images as out of place right after the telling of the Mt. Rainier story. However, in my view, it further drives home the point in stark reality that there was something to get away from in Chicago, as well as something to escape to in the West. It makes for good contrast and counterpoint.

“I Want to Be Like Philip Hyde”

Around this time, Dykinga read a Backpacker Article about the lifestyle and approach to photography of Philip Hyde. This sealed his decision to leave Chicago and move to Tucson, although at the time he was still committed to photojournalism. He began to see the masses of images going by as much the same. Meanwhile, “…visual reporting on the environment was non-existent…” Hyde was paving the way and establishing the need at various markets.

I began to feel that the health of the planet was the most important issue of our time. With Adams and Hyde’s works as my guide… I came to see the rate of destruction of wild places as a forecast of our extinction.

At first the plan was to visit Tucson for his leave of absence, but as soon as Dykinga discovered that he could work at the Arizona Daily Star, leaving Chicago permanently became a realistic possibility. He shares with us how his move seemed to fall into place. His hope and expectations were high that he could get into conservation photography and thus live and travel more closely aligned with nature the way Hyde did. Eventually he would meet and become friends and travel with Hyde. Hyde was the “closest thing I had to a mentor in nature photography.”

An Angel Investor, the Sonoran Desert and the Making of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

“Sycamore Leaves in Cave Creek, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona” by Jack Dykinga.

The Arizona Daily Star turned out to be more than an interim step though as Dykinga set about rebuilding the photo department. He gathered an all-star staff, most of the members of which later went on to leadership roles at major publications. In time, however, he saw more and more the limitations and biases inherent in newspapers, which are advertising funded and driven. Around the time he became most disillusioned with journalism, Ginger Harmon, the manager of a remote Nature Conservancy preserve in the mountains east of Tucson, offered him a way out by funding him to travel and photograph the area for the creation of his dream book, The Sonoran Desert, published in 1992 by Abrams, New York.

Seeking flower and cactus images for the book, Dykinga ran across Park Ranger Caroline Wilson, daughter of Bates Wilson who was instrumental in the formation of Arches National Park and the protection of other national park lands in the Southwest US. When Caroline Wilson introduced Jack Dykinga to Philip Hyde, they hit it off right away, having first sampled Mexican food together and later traveling and photographing wilderness in Arizona, Baja and Mainland Mexico together and with other photographers of note including Tom Bell and others.

Phil had a quiet grace and understated humor. He was a great listener. Here was a man who didn’t need to brag or posture. Phil was a legend. His advocacy for the land, combined with a more subtle approach to making images made him special.

Dykinga’s stories capture the essence of Hyde “to a ‘T’.” Both with and without Hyde, Dykinga continued to travel the arid lands of the Southwest working on additional projects. Abrams committed to produce two more books: Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau (1996) and Desert: The Mojave and Death Valley (1999). Dykinga has a total of seven books to his credit overall to date. His traveling companion, writer and collaborator from Arizona Highways, Chuck Bowden, wrote the texts in the Edward Abbey tradition. He and Dykinga modeled their work together on these volumes after the famous Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, initiated by Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and David Brower in the 1960s and 1970s, for which Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde became the primary illustrators when the books transitioned to color photography.

We were following a tried and true environmentalist’s tactic, initiated by David Brower, to produce the Sierra Club’s powerful large format series that documented an area while calling for its protection.

They even got Robert Redford to write an introduction to Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau. Stone Canyons struck a chord with Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Interior and former Arizona governor, Harold M. Ickes, Bill Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, whose father, Harold L. Ickes had originally proposed Escalante National Park before World War II, and with President Clinton himself. Culminating many years of work by other conservationists beginning with the Sierra Club publication of Slickrock (1973) by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde, President Clinton established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on his last day in office in 1996.

Emotion, Psyche, Art, Photography and Landscape

“Saguaro Cactus, Sonoran Desert National Monument, South Maricopa Mountains Wilderness, Arizona” by Jack Dykinga.

While recounting Dykinga’s life events, A Photographer’s Life lays bare the real world lessons they taught him. For anyone who loves the West, or loves the natural scene anywhere for that matter, A Photographer’s Life packs a lot more than technique or the how-to’s into it’s pages as Dykinga lays open his soul, cuts deep into his own psyche and dissects his own emotional makeup for our benefit. This is rare in a large format photography book, or any other kind of book today.

Dykinga not only organizes the book to give tribute to those who helped him develop, he mentions these influences as they came to mind while image making. Besides his chapters on each significant mentor, he sprinkles in sections on the making of various photographs. At one point in the text when he describes photographing the details of an agave plant and visually compressing the scene “to emphasize the contrasting colors,” he speaks of “walking on a trail blazed by Philip Hyde.” His reflections are on “…moments when passing bits of advice reemerge years later in the work we create.”

When he transitioned to color landscape photography, Dykinga’s work literally and figuratively blossomed. He became known for his images of cactus and other blooming drylands plants. A Photographer’s Life includes Jack Dykinga classics such as “Saguaro Cactus in Bloom,” “Rhododendron in Redwoods,” “Boojum Silhouetted at Sunset,” “Sandhill Cranes at Dawn, Bosque del Apache,” but it also treats us to more subtle or unusual images that could not be made by anyone else.

Dykinga shows us something different from what we typically see with two images of Saguaro in the snow. His open and stark compositions with a lot of extra space around items of interest give us the emotional equivalents of the desert. Often, as in his Silhouettes of Saguaro and of Boojum in Baja, he distills the image down to its simplest elements, or photographs simple subjects to start out with. While Dykinga’s small cactus details, Baja rock outcroppings and the silhouettes show the Hyde influence, they are graphically as good or better and more eye catching. Dykinga certainly did his own version of subtle well too.

“Monument Valley, Totem, Yei Bi Chey with Tumbleweed’s Wind Pattern Foreground” by Jack Dykinga.

Perhaps one of the most unusual images of Monument Valley ever made, but simultaneously telling of the place, is Dykinga’s winter landscape near-far with the tumbleweed isolated and alone in the foreground and mist-enshrouded monuments in the distance. Now and then Dykinga presents us with a documentary image of an area, no less beautiful, but certainly rooted in place. In contrast to this and the cactus, sand and desert rock, some of Dykinga’s best work happens when he experiments with water—using various exposures and focal lengths to go toward expressionism and impressionism. All in all, A Photographer’s Life, is a review of Dykinga’s mastery and range. Budding landscape artists take heed.

Currently there is a major exhibition of Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon prints from June 18 to September 14, 2019 at the Etherton Gallery in Tucson, Arizona. If you are near Arizona or not, it is worth making the trip to attend: Jack Dykinga – Grand Canyon National Park, 1919 – 2019.

Philip Hyde’s Planning, Travel Research and Open File Bins 1

May 30th, 2018

Philip Hyde’s Future Trip Planning Files and Other File Bins Full of Fascinating Papers

Philip Hyde’s Wishing Wall, Pre-Internet Bookmark System, In-Depth Studies and Travel Planning

Portrait of Philip Hyde by Anne Jeffery, circa 1978.

My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, planned extensively before going into the field. To this day in his studio, stands a wall of open file bins, each bin full of maps, letters, notes, brochures and other materials about locations all over North America, Hawaii, and some in Europe. While out photographing, he also discovered a long list of photogenic wilderness spots. In addition, he developed a long list of “wish list” places that he never visited. Later blog posts will elaborate on how he studied maps and read travel guides and history books on the places he intended to photograph. When in the field he navigated often by intuition, in part empowered by knowing what to look for before he arrived, but remaining alert to new surprises. He was spontaneous, but most interested in making a study in depth, to fully capture the essence of a place.

He prepared extensively for his travels and his maps reflected this. He had maps of all types, from basic highway maps, to maps that showed the types of vegetation, soil maps, trail maps, archeological maps that outlined old ruins from all ages. Still in his studio today is a large double door cabinet full of topographic maps. He usually ordered topographic maps of any place where he would spend more than a few weeks.

Maps and Legends

He studied the maps and the land forms they showed which facilitated his in-depth study of the local geology. Geology interested him greatly and he felt it key to good landscape photography. Understanding the types of rock and formations you will encounter, helps you know what patterns to seek out and where in a region to look for interesting land forms. Dad often revisited locations he had photographed before. He made notes in the field for possible future visits, when he discovered an area of interest he had not allowed plenty of time to explore. However, he usually planned his trips with time to spare so that he could deviate from his itinerary and heed the beckoning of a new place inviting him to explore further.

All of this required a great deal of time and energy compiling and distilling to an itinerary on a notebook page or two, with notes tied to a map that he drew routes on with various colors of pens. He was elated when highlighter pens came out in many colors. He could then see much better where he was going on the maps than in the days when he used various colors of solid markers.

In his studio, to this day, a whole wall of open file bins hold much of the contents as they were when he lost his eyesight in 1999-2000. They contain maps and planning information he had been gathering for various trips he intended to make some day, and some for trips he did make, though in most cases these were moved to other files. The wall of file bins made out of ¾ “ plywood that he cut and built by hand, just as the rest of the studio, has its top just below a window with a sill just over six feet off the floor. The open file bins run eight feet along the wall and start three feet off the floor, just above cabinets with swinging doors for storing office supplies. Each bin is 15 inches wide and there are six rows of bins. The shelves cut out of 3/8” particle board can be moved and rearranged to create ½” bins, 1” bins, 2” bins, 3” bins or even larger. Most of them are set at 1 1/2”. The bins are all labeled. The farthest left column of bins contains miscellaneous often used files that are not trip planning files. These start at the top left corner and are named.

Left Column of File Bins–Miscellaneous Files:

  • To San Francisco Next Trip
  • Professional Color Lab
  • Miscellaneous Processing Price Lists
  • Robert Reiter Cibachrome
  • Note Card Printing – Serbin – Singer
  • Copyright Data
  • ASMP Guides
  • PH Price Lists
  • Camera Repair
  • Chromeworks Lab
  • A&I Processing
  • Light Impressions
  • Calumet Chicago
  • Supplies – Bill Olson
  • Camera Catalogs
  • Miscellaneous Equipment

Second Column of File Bins–Planning Maps, Info, Etc.:

  • Environment/Conservation
  • Planning – Schedules by Year
  • Alaska – British Columbia – Alberta
  • Idaho – Montana – North and South Dakota
  • California – Nevada
  • Oregon – Washington
  • Utah – Arizona
  • Colorado Region – New Mexico
  • Texas Region – Misc. Others
  • Tharco Containers
  • Chemical Suppliers

Third (Center) Column of File Bins–Planning Future Trips–Major Interests–Primary Correspondence:

  • Current Workshops, General Correspondence, Other Workshops
  • Mexico Maps, Planning, Schmidt’s Papers on Chihuahua, Sierra Madre
  • Sierra Project
  • Coast Range Project
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Four Corners – Canyonlands – Arches – Grand Canyon
  • Baja Trips
  • East Coast Fall Trip
  • Hawaii Project
  • Correspondence, etc, Work Pending
  • Correspondence for Work Sent Out – Working: Prints, Transparencies Out
  • Forms for office use/FAX

The contents of the fourth and fifth columns of file bins were all moved into vertical cabinet files elsewhere in Dad’s studio.

Notes to Self, Letters, Cards and Other Correspondence Before and After Travels

As you can imagine, these various file bins are rich with interesting materials to thumb through…

For example: crumpled in the back of the Mexico File Bin, I pulled out a letter with a card paper-clipped to it. I straightened the letter written in Dad’s longhand handwriting. The card paper-clipped to the letter says in Dad’s writing at the top, “Met @ Guelaguetza, Oaxaca.” Guelaguetza is not a place. It is the 3,000 year-old Zapotec Food of the Gods Festival held in early October in the middle of the rainy season in Oaxaca. In the festival, the indigenous people offer corn, water, tomatoes, chiles, squash and beans to the gods and celebrate with music and dance.

The rest of the card reads like this:

Mexican Government Tourism Office
Secretaria De Tourismo De Mexico
Rolando A. Garcia
Marketing Representative
Texas-Louisiana-Oaklahoma
2707 North Loop West, Suite 450
Houston, Texas   77008
[Phone Numbers]

The letter is a carbon copy in Dad’s handwriting addressed to Rolando A. Garcia and dated Feb. 6, 1990:

Dear Rolando, Polly and Carlos,
Just back from three wonderful weeks in Mexico. Here is a copy of my latest book “Drylands.” Maybe you will note that some of our favorite places are in Mexico! [See Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert Sections.]
We loved meeting you and hope our paths cross again as happily as the first time.
Viva Mexico!
Ardis and Philip Hyde

I will share much more great material, or “content” as they call it now, from Dad’s file bins in future posts…

(Continued in the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Planning, Travel Research and Open File Bins 2.”)

Enduring Images: Interview of Jack Dykinga for Outdoor Photographer Magazine

September 15th, 2016

Enduring Images: An Interview with Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist, Celebrated Nature Photographer and 2017 NANPA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Jack Dykinga by David Leland Hyde

Including Previously Unpublished Interview Sections and Materials

Cover of Outdoor Photographer September Special Issue - Photography with a Purpose

Cover of Outdoor Photographer September 2016 Special Issue – Photography with a Purpose. (Click Image to see larger.)

Jack Dykinga won the Pulitzer Prize in photojournalism while documenting the turmoil of 1960s Chicago. In 1970 he read a Backpacker magazine interview of my father, conservation photographer Philip Hyde. The article by environmental photographer Gary Braasch inspired Dykinga to move West and begin photographing landscapes. He eventually met and became friends with Dad, who mentored him in the ways of conservation photography. They even photographed together on a number of trips, some with a few other photography friends around the Southwest U.S., as well as on mainland Mexico and Baja California.

Jack Dykinga over the years also became a pillar of Western nature photography, working with the acclaimed International League of Conservation Photographers, National Geographic, Arizona Highways and other renowned organizations. The North American Nature Photography Association plans to honor Dykinga with a Lifetime Achievement award this year, much as they did Philip Hyde and David Brower back in 1996.

My interview with Mr. Dykinga touched on how he made the transition from a Midwest urban setting to photographing the wide-open wilderness spaces of the West. It also revealed the sensibilities he discovered were necessary to photograph nature and wildlife for conservation purposes. Our discussion ranged from his experience at various well-known magazines to the refinement of his approach over the years with input from Dad. Dykinga gave insights into a number of conservation projects and the making of a number of his successful books for various causes, including the upcoming new release of A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer, in which Dykinga wrote an entire chapter about Dad.

My interview ran over 26,000 words, but I kept only 2,800 for the Outdoor Photographer piece. Some of the remaining 23,200 words will go into my book, but a few sections I will share with readers here. In one section I asked Jack Dykinga about Eliot Porter and Robert Glenn Ketchum. I specifically cut this portion from the Outdoor Photographer version because I did not feel the magazine article was the place to grind the axe about how Eliot Porter has received credit for a number of Dad’s and other’s accomplishments. At the right time and place, in the appropriate venue, a more detailed version of this discussion will be pertinent. For now, Landscape Photography Blogger is more appropriate than Outdoor Photographer for starting to bring some of it to light. The Outdoor Photographer audience is interested in learning from all of these greats of nature photography, not necessarily hearing why one or another have been over or under-recognized. In my opinion Dykinga’s response, while favoring Dad, was well-considered, balanced and tactful. Let’s see what you think when you read it below… In another section, Dykinga shared his experiences and impressions while working with National Geographic and while obtaining more personal, land and place oriented photographs.

David Leland Hyde: John Rohrbach in Regarding the Land: Robert Glenn Ketchum and the Legacy of Eliot Porter, made the exaggerated claims that Eliot Porter invented color nature photography and “almost single handedly saved the Grand Canyon.” Rohrbach also wrote that Robert Glenn Ketchum was the primary photographer carrying on Eliot Porter’s legacy. It was common knowledge among those who were there and widely known thereafter that Dad led the charge spiritually and produced the most photographs for the Grand Canyon campaign. Dad’s photographs illustrated three large format Sierra Club Books and were the cornerstone of Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon, the one book specifically produced to prevent two dams above and below the National Park in the Grand Canyon. Eliot Porter’s Glen Canyon book enjoyed wide readership during this time mainly because the campaign to prevent the Grand Canyon dams took on global proportions. The book Time and the River Flowing landed on the desk of every member of Congress and other Washington leaders, as well as quickly fulfilling significant international demand and distribution. As Time and the River Flowing went out all over the world, it effectively advanced the momentum of the global letter writing campaign that ultimately swayed American politicians and stopped the dams. Not all of Philip Hyde’s books in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series sold as well as Eliot Porter’s In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, but Island In Time: Pt. Reyes Peninsula came out the same year. Several other photographers including Litton, Brower, Adams and others were nearly as prominent as Hyde and Porter in bringing color to landscape photography. As far as any photographer taking over Eliot Porter’s legacy, late in Porter’s life when he was ill before a Truckee Meadows Workshop, the organizers called in Hyde to take over Porter’s teaching position, not Robert Glenn Ketchum or anyone else.

Jack Dykinga: Eliot Porter was a great photographer. I will say that right off the bat. Right almost in the second line of his autobiography, without even taking a breath, it says he was a medical doctor who gave that up to be a photographer. Your dad was a self-made person who wanted to be a photographer. He wasn’t a doctor that wanted to be a photographer. He didn’t have either the baggage or the promotional ability that Porter did. A guy like Robert Glenn Ketchum had Ketchum, Idaho named after his family. He lives in Bel Air and Hollywood and he’s done a lot of good conservation work, but the hardship that your father had to go through, made him stronger. Your dad was the kind of person who had to really work for everything he got. I don’t think he had time to blow his own horn. He was trying to make a living. If I had it to do over again, I sure wish I had a lot more money. I wouldn’t have to worry about the next check. But, I think that lack of money also gives you an edge, I don’t mean a winning edge, I mean there’s a certain edge to your life where you’re really having to push pretty hard to get things done and it helps you. Porter’s work had a totally different look, whereas your father’s strength was that he gave you the monumental look of the American West. Your father did a lot more trail hiking than Eliot did and really showed us the land without showing himself.

Hyde: In the early 1960s, the whole direction of the large format books shifted. At first there was the big black and white sensation, This Is The American Earth by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, but then suddenly everybody was really excited about color.

Dykinga: Your father was more of a documenter of wild places. He would look at things as more of a narrative and a project. That’s more akin to what I do. A lot of my friends that I go camping with are what I call single image photographers. They go out and want to get the most powerful shot that day, where I’m more likely to be wrapped up in a concept. That’s because I’m the journalist. You get publishable shots every single day. They may not be the art you want to hang on your wall, but you may want to put them in a book to tell somebody a story. If you try to submit only those that whisper, you’ll never get published, but you can hang them on the wall and live with them and love them.

Hyde: With National Geographic are you doing more or less what Joel Sartore does?

Dykinga: I am a contract photographer. He is a contract photographer on their first list. I used to be on their first list. I have a deep connection with the magazine, but their overall view of landscape is erratic. We have different opinions.

Hyde: Their idea of landscape is always putting a person in the frame.

Dykinga: There you go. You hit it perfectly. The classic example would be the last issue on Yellowstone National Park with people, butchering animals, traps and cowboys. There’s not one sense of place in the whole article. Here we are in this dramatic, incredible landscape that just gets really short shrift with the tact they have taken. The current editor is a journalist. She was the editor of Time Magazine.

Hyde: Would you say that National Geographic goes after the culture more than the place or the wilderness?

Dykinga: You could say that. That’s sort of subjective. I was there when Chris Johns was editor and he loved my approach to landscapes. That went away when he went away. It changes all the time. I still work for them occasionally. A full feature is a 100 day contract and it’s pretty good money, except when you have things blow up, it maybe not as good as you thought.

Hyde: You were in Stephen Trimble’s book, Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography. I don’t know that he necessarily found all of the “Who’s who” of Grand Canyon photography, but he included many.

Dykinga: I spend less and less time in cliché locations. They may be visual touchstones for most people, but they’re not interesting to me because even more than the place the solitude is important to me.

Hyde: Like Ansel talked about with the experience?

Dykinga: Yes, a deeper connection. You can’t do that if you’re on a crowded boardwalk in Yellowstone with about 30 Chinese guys with selfie sticks like I just experienced. People now are interested in showing “me there,” more than “there.” I think there’s a profound shift with people being more anthropocentric.

Hyde: We have less and less connection to nature as decades go by and more and more words and noise surrounding ourselves when we do get out there.

Dykinga: I see it all the time where people really go on and on explaining their work. Your father’s message and his voice came through the image. If you go on and on about divinity and God and everything else, that’s maybe what you’re reading into it. A lot of us are just very happy when people see the place and make their own decisions based on their own divinity or lack thereof. That’s as good as you can go. It’s more of a Buddhist approach.

To read the best published portions of the above interview pick up the Outdoor Photographer September Special Issue still on newsstands now for a few more weeks, or available online in October.

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 1

April 3rd, 2012

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs Of Drylands: The Deserts of North America By Philip Hyde, Part One

Celebrating Landscape Photography Blogger’s 200th Blog Post!

On this special occasion Landscape Photography Blogger presents an excerpt from Drylands: The Deserts of North America, with photographs and text by Philip Hyde. Besides Slickrock with Edward Abbey and a few titles in the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, Drylands is considered Philip Hyde’s magnum opus, or great work. Yolla Bolly Press, which also packaged Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light, recently donated its archive to Stanford University. Help celebrate Landscape Photography Blogger’s 200th Post by reading a page from the great book that is becoming more rare all the time…

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 1

The Five Deserts of North America

…nature is already in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition that shines so peacefully around us.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

White Domes, Valley of Fire State Park, Mojave Desert, Nevada, copyright 1970 by Philip Hyde. Cover Photograph of “Drylands: The Deserts of North America.” Color Transparency: 4X5 Baby Deardorff View Camera. Dye Transfer Prints, Cibachrome Prints, and Archival Digital Prints. See PhilipHyde.com for Image Info and pricing.

(See the photograph large: “White Domes, Valley of Fire.”)

Webster’s dictionary defines a desert as “an arid region in which the vegetation is especially adapted to scanty rainfall with long intervals of heat and drought…a more or less barren tract incapable of supporting any considerable population without an artificial water supply…Desert rainfall is usually less than ten inches annually.”

This bare bones definition needs expanding. For one thing, barrenness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Ancients regarded the desert as a place to avoid—literally, to desert. The biblical “waste-howling wilderness” is a description of the Middle Eastern desert, a fearful place for most people. But even then it was for some a place for contemplation, a retreat from the cares of daily life. In our times, the desert is commonly a refuge, though we can be grateful that the deserts of North America were avoided by so many early travelers, and thereby protected. More recently, parts of these great deserts have become increasingly attractive to sun-worshipers. It is an irony that the climate, attractive to so many people, is being gradually altered by air pollution generated by population growth and its attendant requirements for industries and automobiles.

Webster’s definition doesn’t explain the aridity of the desert. High mountain chains intercept moisture-laden storms, keeping rainfall from the land in the lee of the mountains. Wind also contributes to desert dryness. A map plotting the course of trade winds in relation to deserts around the globe would show most arid lands to lie in the path of the trades. Though our deserts are not as directly in the path of the trades as some, strong winds persist over most of them for long periods, particularly in the spring.

The North American deserts are unlike most deserts in that they are not confined to the interior of the continent. They reach to the sea on both coasts of the Baja California peninsula and along the west coast of mainland Mexico as well, creating some unusual meetings of desert and water.

The scarcity of rainfall in the desert has one advantage. The surface of the land in well-watered regions is often obscured by dense vegetation. In the desert, land forms are readily apparent, the often beautiful sculpture of their contours revealed. This may be why geologists are drawn to the desert and sometimes inspired to near-poetic descriptions. A classic example can be found in Clarence Dutton’s monumental Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, first published in 1882. Here is his description of the Vermillion Cliffs in the Painted Desert:

During the midday hours the cliffs seem to wilt and drop as if retracting their grandeur to hide it from the merciless radiance of the sun whose very effulgence flouts them. Even the colors are ruined. The glaring face of the wall, where the light falls full upon it, wears a scorched, overbaked, discharged look; and where the dense black shadows are thrown—for there are no middle shades—the magical haze of the desert shines forth with a weird, metallic glow which has no color in it. But as the sun declines there comes a revival. The half-tones at length appear, bringing into relief the component masses; the amphitheaters recede into suggestive distances; the salients silently advance toward us; the distorted lines range themselves into true perspective; the deformed curves come back to their proper sweep; the angles grow clean and sharp; and the whole cliff arouses from lethargy and erects itself in grandeur and power as if conscious of its own majesty. Back also come the colors, and as the sun is about to sink they glow with an intense vermilion that seems to be an intrinsic luster emanating from the rocks themselves.

The stone landscape of which Clarence Dutton writes might appear austere and unfriendly to the casual traveler suddenly thrust into it. Many people would not recognize it as a part of their familiar world, but something about the place immediately appealed to me. Perhaps it struck some of the same harmonic notes evoked by the clean expanses of granite in the High Sierra Nevada I had learned to love in my youth. The place spoke to me of the same kind of purity that Ralph Waldo Emerson was alluding to when he wrote of the integrity of natural objects.

I am not able to take up full-time residence in the desert; my roots are too deep in the northern Sierra Nevada where I live now. I can, however, happily spend a season there and feel quite at home. It was not always like that. The ease I feel now is the product of many experiences, not all pleasant, but all valued for what they taught. Nor did the ease come without struggle, but as a result of an effort to understand, to penetrate the discomforts, to clear away the debris of prejudice and preconception that can so distort one’s view of a natural environment. It is not necessary to change the country—or to develop it. As Aldo Leopold put it so well: “Development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”

As a forest dweller and desert traveler, I am especially aware of the contrasts between an arid landscape and one that is well watered. The creek that flows beneath my window as I write; the groundcover, trees, shrubs, and flowering plants; the seasonal and atmospheric changes I observe here are all expressions of water abundance. In the desert it isn’t just the paucity of water that impresses me. I am delighted to discover water’s surprising, often beautiful presence in hidden places, as for example, the spring in Monument Valley that flows from beneath a high sand dune—or those few, small, spring-fed pools surrounded by the vast, sere, rocky landscape of Death Valley.

I also enjoy the contrast between desert vegetation and that of my home environment. In the southern part of the Baja California peninsula, the array of strange, even unique, plant forms is the result of the plants’ special adaptations to water scarcity…

Continued in the future blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2.”

Was Edward Abbey A Mystic?

September 12th, 2011

Jack Loeffler And Edward Abbey Discuss Mysticism While Camped At The Strait Of Hell On The West Coast Of Sonora, Mexico

White Herons, Playa, Baja California, Mexico, copyright 1981 by Philip Hyde.

In his biography of Edward Abbey, Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey, Jack Loeffler described traveling, friendship and working with Edward Abbey on various environmental campaigns. In one chapter Jack Loeffler told a story about exploring and car camping with the “Thoreau of the West” and his wife Clarke Cartwright Abbey on the west coast of Mainland Old Mexico. “On a dirt road that extended from El Desemboque to Kino Bay,” Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey made camp.

They dubbed their camp “Osprey Bay” because they could see “no fewer than five inhabited osprey nests…” and during the day they could see osprey aloft nearly all the time. To get to the camp they had traveled several hundred miles from the U. S. border. Their camp was across Estrecho Infiernillo, or the Strait of Hell, from Baja California with Tiburon Island and Shark Island a few miles out in the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California. Nineteenth century explorers called the narrow passage between Mexico and Baja California the Strait of Hell because during high tide and low tide, in some conditions, treacherous currents and sand bars tended to obstruct navigation and still do today. “There we remained for the better part of two weeks, hiking, floating in the rubber raft, avoiding stingrays, eating, drinking cold beer and warm beer, and even considering thinking about working.”

Edward Abbey made forays for firewood. Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey dug a fire pit and lined it with large rocks in which they put a giant stuffed Turkey that Clarke Abbey had wrapped frozen before the trip. In the evening after their first Turkey feast when “the sound of the surf lulled them into a collective reverie,” Edward Abbey and Jack Loeffler set out on a walk east toward the mountains a few miles away:

The moon was bright. The air was warm. There was no wind. The conditions were ideal for a nighttime stroll near the Straight of Hell. We spoke very little for the first mile or so. We finally crossed the main north-south road and followed a trail continuing east. We were able to walk abreast and listen to the night sounds.

“Jack.”

“Ed.”

“Do you consider yourself a mystic?”

“Wow, I have to think about that for a minute. Do you?”

“Consider you a mystic? Yes.”

Consider yourself a mystic.”

“I asked you first.”

We stumbled along the trail for a bit.

“Probably no more than you do,” I replied vaguely. “Is there any vestigial Presbyterianism left in you?”

“Oh maybe a remnant or two left over from my childhood… But I was asking if you were a mystic?”

“It’s ironic, when I was in college, I was one of the two professed atheists on the campus. It took me years to realize that my sense of atheism was mostly the result of semantics. I certainly didn’t and don’t believe in an anthropomorphic god in any biblical sense. It seems that somehow I’ve intuited the presence of some principle or urge that the English language, at least, isn’t prepared to define. I suppose any religious feelings I have stem from the way I feel about the Earth and about consciousness. I’ve suspected for a long time that the planet is the living organism and that life is the way the planet perceives. We’re just a step along the way. Humans, I mean. We’re really not all that important when you think about it.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Ed. “But what about a sense of purpose? I wonder if we have any purpose in a higher sense. It seems like you spend years trying to absolve yourself from your childhood biases. If you’re really interested, that is.”

“What about you, Ed? Have you ever had a sense of the mystical?”

“Well, as you know, I’ve always tried to follow the truth no matter where it leads. And intellectually, I’ve tried to come to terms with reality by examining the evidence of my own five good bodily senses that I was born with, using my mind to the best of my ability. But there was a time back in Death Valley where I had what I guess was as close to a mystical experience as I’ve ever had. That was years ago. I was a young man. I’ve never had anything quite like it since. As close as I’ve come is after I’ve been out camping somewhere for at least two weeks. It takes at least that long for me to really get into it and leave all the baggage behind.”

“Can you describe what happened back then?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not something that’s easy to remember intellectually. It was more the way I felt. As I recall, I felt like I wasn’t separated from anything else. I was by myself at the time. It was as if I could almost perceive some fundamental activity taking place all around me. Everything was alive, even the rocks. I was part of it. Not separate from it at all. I wept for joy or something akin to joy that I can’t really describe. It was a long time ago. It’s not something that can be remembered in the normal way, or at least normal for me. The only time I can get close to it is out camping. I don’t get to do that enough. Not nearly enough.”

See a video of Jack Loeffler on the role of artists in environmental activism… Or, read more about Edward Abbey and how he met and wrote Slickrock with Philip Hyde in the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?

New Portfolio Added: Old Mexico And Baja California

June 9th, 2011

New Portfolio: Old Mexico and Baja California In Color

Ardis And Philip Hyde’s Old Mexico And Baja California Travels And A New Portfolio Of Philip Hyde’s Photographs Added To PhilipHyde.com

Comala Church Interior, Comala, State of Colima, Mexico, copyright 1995 by Philip Hyde. This medium format photograph is a raw high resolution scan file, not yet post-processed for printing.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Ardis, David and Philip Hyde traveled to Baja California, Mexico with trip leader and photographer Terrence Moore and assistant leader Tom Pew in 1973. The purpose of the journey was to seek out the wildest places on the Baja peninsula that could be reached by four wheel drive vehicle. The year 1973 will always be significant to Baja California wilderness history because that year the Mexican Government completed all pavement sections of the main road from Tijuana and Mexicali on the California, United States border to the end of the 800-mile Baja peninsula at Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Falso. In 1973, Cabo San Lucas was still mainly wild, while today it is a tourist mecca and resort destination. See Philip Hyde’s well-known black and white photograph of Cabo Falso compared with the beaches at Cabo Falso and Cabo San Lucas today.

Outdoor Photographer Terrence Moore had been an expert for decades on Baja California, Mexico. Terrence Moore knew the roads, the missions, the towns, the beaches or playas, the Mexican people and the Spanish language. Tom Pew was also a long-time Baja California explorer, long time Southwestern US explorer and the publisher of American West Magazine when it was about all aspects of the Southwest, particularly the arts of the Southwest, as opposed to after 1989 when he sold American West Magazine and it became solely a cowboy Western magazine.

The 1973 Baja California Camping Trip Began A Wilderness Love Affair

The 1973 four-wheel-drive wilderness camping trip down Baja California began in Yuma, Arizona where Ardis, David and Philip Hyde met trip leader and photographer Terrence Moore, as well as assistant leader and publisher Tom Pew and the rest of the participants in the group. They all set out in the Hydes’ Toyota Land Cruiser Wagon and two Chevrolet Blazers down the Gulf of California coast from Mexicali to San Felipe to Puertocitos, Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Calamujue, San Borja Mission, Bahia de los Angeles, Bahia de la Giganta, San Javier Mission, Punta Conejo, La Paz, Cabo Pulmo and finally to Cabo San Lucas. On the return up Baja California, back to the US, the Hydes traveled without the group back to La Paz and then on to Commandu, Bahia Concepcion, Rancho Rosarito, Rancho Jaraguay, El Rosario, San Ysidro, Baja and finally to San Diego, California, USA. For more about the 1973 Baja California trip stay tuned for future blog posts.

The 1973 wilderness camping trip began Ardis and Philip Hyde’s love affair with Baja California, as well as their love affair with Mexico. The Hydes returned to Baja California in  1981, 1984, 1988, and in 1995 with Jack Dykinga and Susan and Tom Bean when Ardis Hyde was nearly 70 years old and Philip Hyde was almost 74.

Travels To Mainland Old Mexico

In 1980, Ardis and Philip Hyde visited mainland Mexico. They traveled by air from Sacramento, California to Guadalajara, Mexico, rented a car and drove to Patzcuaro Michoacan, Mexico and Colima. Near Colima they re-discovered Rancho El Balcon, where Ardis Hyde’s Grandparents and her father’s family lived for nearly a decade in the early 1900s. Ardis and Philip Hyde attended an Audubon seminar at Cobano, visited Cuyatlan Lagoon, Manzanillo and Volcan de Colima before flying back to the US. More on this trip in future blog posts.

As part of Philip Hyde’s desert project that later became the book Drylands: The Deserts of North America, Ardis and Philip Hyde made a field trip to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts through Arizona and into Baja California, Mexico at San Luis and through the Pinacate Volcano Field and the Cerro Colorado Volcanic Crater area in Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, Mexico and the Elegante Volcano field in Pinacate Natonal Park, Mexico, Puerto Penasco, Playa Encanto, Cabeza Prieta, Granite Range, Ligerta RV Park, Microonda Basura, Kino Bay, Hermosilo, Nogales, Chihuahua, Paquime, PIrineos, Cuatro Cienegas, Pozo Churince, Canon Huasteco, Gomez Palacio, Posada del Rio, Villa Humada, Samalayuca Sand Dunes and up to El Paso, Texas. The Hydes also returned to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts in 1989. In 1990, Ardis and Philip Hyde traveled to Mexico City and the City of Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico. See the blog post, “Mexico City And Oaxaca Travel Log.”

The New Portfolio And Future New Releases

The photographs in the “Old Mexico And Baja California Color Portfolio” on PhilipHyde.com represent a cross-section of the places Ardis and Philip Hyde visited in Mexico and Baja California. The portfolio as you see it is just beginning and currently incomplete with many of the images remaining in raw high resolution drum scan form, not yet post-processed for archival fine art digital printing. Also, only 12 photographs out of 18 to 20 are now available for viewing even in raw form. Many more Mexico and Baja California photographs will be drum scanned, post-processed and made available as archival fine art digital prints. Please stay tuned.

Color Magazine Feature Out Now

January 4th, 2011

Cirios Silhouettes At Sundown, Baja California, Mexico, 1984 by Philip Hyde. This photograph appears on the title page of the March 2011, Issue 12 of Color Magazine, along with 14 other photographs in the feature article.

March Issue #12 Of Color Magazine Featuring Philip Hyde In Stores Now

At home I have three file safe drawers full of clippings of articles either by or about my father master landscape photographer Philip Hyde. The article files start in 1947 and keep going right past Dad’s passing in 2006, up to the present.

A recent issue of Outdoor Photographer contained a well-written feature about Point Reyes by Sean Arbabi that mentions Dad’s photography there, along with that of Ansel Adams, Brett Weston and other great landscape masters. The piece even mentioned that my father’s photographs helped to make Point Reyes a National Seashore. That was one of the better articles.

A few of the articles in my file safes about Dad are excellent. Some even from the very best magazines are riddled with inaccuracies and misconceptions. The majority are essentially mediocre in that they don’t dig very deep or say much that hasn’t been said before. The majority of writers just don’t make those one or two extra phone calls that turn the article into a multi-source story with more dimension. This is mainly because publishers don’t pay writers much for their submissions any more. With this backdrop, imagine the unfortunate freelance writer, David Best, also a photographer in his own right and known as Panoramaman, writing me and telling me he wants me to review his rough draft for his feature on Philip Hyde for Color Magazine.

Color Magazine is one of the most respected photography magazines today, especially for collectors of fine art photography, along with Black and White Magazine, both published by Ross Periodicals. All along Color Magazine planned to do a feature article on Philip Hyde, but they did not want it to follow too soon after their article on Eliot Porter.

David Best interviewed me over a year ago. I thought he asked excellent questions in the interview. It went very well. Then he sent me his article. I warned him I would beat him up on the details. To my pleasant surprise his draft did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of Dad’s love of nature, while also presenting the story of his landscape photography career in a quality, smooth-flowing narrative that showed a fine dexterity with words. I did beat him up to make sure the facts were straight. I’m not sure he was very happy about it, but I went on to also give a hard time to the friendly, conscientious editor John Lavine to get the facts correct too. He said David Best took it all in stride. Regardless, between David Best’s superlative prose and the layout and photograph selection by John Lavine, in my opinion the final article is one of the best ever written about Dad, which is saying a great deal considering there are 63 years of articles in my file drawers.

Do yourself a favor and go out to the bookstore or newsstand and grab your own copy of this excellent magazine. The current issue with Philip Hyde in it is Issue 12, March 2011. It will be on retail shelves through March, but I wouldn’t wait because every time I have gone to get Color Magazine it has been sold out.

For more on the history of color landscape photography and Philip Hyde’s role in it see also the blog post, “How Color Came To Landscape Photography.” To read how color landscape photography changed after 1990, see the blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?