Posts Tagged ‘fine art painting’

Ardis Hyde’s Garden 2: Pecos Paradise

March 9th, 2021

Ardis Hyde’s Garden Two

Feature Blog Post

My Garden Paradise in Pecos, New Mexico

The End of My World and a New Home North of Santa Fe

(See also, “Ardis Hyde’s Garden 1: Digging Stumps, Beginner’s Luck and Mom’s Green Thumb.”)

Wheelbarrow, Adobe Wall, Fall, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. (Click to see large.)

In 1992, I left Los Angeles in the midst of the Rodney King Riots. Fires and looting had surrounded my home, devastated my neighborhood in West L.A. and left me thinking it was the end of civilization, as we knew it. Perhaps it was the beginning of the end. Time will tell.

It was certainly the end of my world. My business was falling apart because I was spending more time meditating in the lush gardens outside my apartment in the backyard of an old Crescent Heights mansion. That garden, besides its beauty, was quiet and a peaceful sanctuary away from the gritty, gray and violent city weighing on my psyche every day.

I moved to the desert in Cuyamungue north of Santa Fe between the Pojoaque and Tesuque Indian Reservations. My home was a basement apartment below the house of the Martinez family. The family had lived on that land for over 400 years, like many of the direct descendants from the Spaniards who had originally settled Northern New Mexico. I could walk out my own entrance and look up at the giant old cottonwoods along the arroyo that had stood there for centuries just like the family. In back of the house, relatives of my landlord had cornfields, squash and Chile, the staples of their culture, partly adopted from the Native Americans.

I took long walks in the desert, wrote a lot in my journal and drove back and forth to work. Living in the country again was like coming home for me. I talked to my parents a lot on the phone and they were very happy I had gotten out of L.A., the rat race and the money oriented life I had been living. I lived in Cuyamungue for over a year, but decided I needed to move into town to be closer to the two waiter jobs I had taken to try to pay off some of my debt and stay afloat after my California business collapsed. Living in town was a great time socially, but I longed for another place in the country with solitude, the night stars overhead and perhaps even with a place I could grow a garden.

A Bottomland Paradise Between Glorieta and Pecos Near the Anasazi

Eventually, by late 1994, I found the ideal place. It was a single wide 1953 mobile home out of town to the east between the small villages of Glorieta and Pecos. It had a large yard and a shop added on in the back. There were a number of friendly neighbors who lived in much newer mobile homes and stick houses nearby. This spot was also right next to wild lands and as I found out later, less than a mile from an ancient Native American burial ground that the locals said was from the days of the Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi. This was certainly not far-fetched because there were other well-known Anasazi sites in the area.

Less than 10 miles away, the largest documented sites lie within the Pecos National Historic Park. The park, located between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Glorieta Mesa, not far from Glorieta Pass, contains the remains of ancient pithouses dating to 800 A.D., a large Ancestral Puebloan ruin circa 1300 A.D., and remnants of a Spanish Franciscan mission church from 1600 A.D. The rich culture of Pecos National Historic Park started with Pre-Anasazi nomad hunter-gatherers and Paleoindians who roamed the Pecos Valley and traded with the Plains Indians going back as far as 11,500 B.C. The first settlements and planting of corn, beans and squash began in 3500 B.C. After the Spanish conquered the pueblos in the 1600s, lost control of the region in the first American Revolution called the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, they forcefully retook the pueblos and increased in power as the pueblos declined throughout the 1700s. The region became part of Mexico in 1821 when the Mexicans won independence from Spain. The legendary Santa Fe Trail opened that same year, passing right through what is today the Pecos National Historic Park. The Santa Fe Trail brought an influx of settlers and eventually led to New Mexico being established as a US Territory during the Mexican-American War in 1846.

Surrounded by Ancient Farmland and Depictions of Kokopelli

Just three miles to the other side of my new place toward Santa Fe, in 1862, the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass, also called the “Gettysburg of the West,” left thousands of bodies and artifacts buried as well. The many historical conflicts made for a colorful backdrop and counterpoint to the agrarian legacy of the place. By the time I arrived on the scene, a peaceful, quiet way of life had won out, but the woods and meadows were full of hidden secrets and spiritual disturbances. From the first night I slept in my new home, I had wild, vivid dreams of people and events completely foreign to my own life. Nonetheless, I always slept very soundly and always felt safe and very happy in my tiny paradise next to Glorieta Creek.

The original builder of the shop in the back had been a metal worker. He left me a number of welded metal surprises hidden either in the grass, behind other junk or under the mobile home floor, which I discovered over time around the place. He had apparently been into Kokopelli, as the owners after him who at first rented and then sold me the place, told me that the various representations of the magic flute player I found had been there when they arrived.

Back when the farming Ancient Puebloan natives began to build structures above ground, about 1,000 years ago, they also developed a layered system of deities that helped protect them and ensure prosperous harvests. The living descendents of the Anasazi, who live along the Rio Grande River between Albuquerque and Taos and in the Hopi Villages in Arizona, to this day make offerings and pay homage to various Kachina spirits. Kokopelli, known as the hunchback flute player, is the most well-known Kachina. Kokopelli is a fertility god, who plays his flute to bring rain, fertilize crops and make sure the women of the tribe bear new babies. Kokopelli is ubiquitous on the contemporary Southwest tourist scene in fine art, kitsch art and in trinkets and souvenirs.

I often listened to Native American flute music. I noticed Kokopelli showed up often in my life, ever since I had moved to New Mexico. My new landlords, if my memory is correct, said the hunchbacked deity influenced them. They conceived three children while living in the mobile home.

Rent-to-Own Paradise, a Visit From the Rain Gods and Soulmate Dreams

They offered me the old mobile home rent-to-own. I started out making payments, but eventually bought it outright. Having a shop again, like my home here in California where I grew up, made me very happy. Some of the best days of my life I spent there in Pecos.

One time when my favorite uncle, Nick King, came to visit, we explored the Anasazi burial ground for the first time. For more about my uncle go to, “Actor, Photographer, Apple Farmer and 1960’s Activist Nicholas King.” We could see where the graves were, but not long after we arrived on the burial site, what little blue sky we could see turned to clouds and got darker. Within 15 minutes of arriving where we could see the graves, the clouds opened up and deluged us with rain. Soaking wet, but laughing and running back through the woods, we retreated into my kitchen to dry off and sip hot chocolate. Right after we got home, the sun came back out and the air was warm and fresh in my garden.

My girlfriend and I used to stay toasty warm at night in the back bedroom with many blankets and the upright propane heater. However, despite the cozy visits from her, she and I were on the way out when I moved out there. As soon as we broke up, another beautiful lady came into my life. We were having a blast and it was going really well when one of my best platonic friends called me and said she had a dream about us being together. She had awakened feeling she needed to call me and suggest we try romance. I explained that I was dating someone else, but that we could get together and talk. We had both been in love with each other since we met, but had never gotten together because the whole time we had known each other, one or the other of us had been in a relationship with someone else. We used to go out to eat at our mutually favorite Italian Restaurant in Santa Fe and talk for hours. When we got together to discuss it, I was done for. I agreed to get out of the other situation to give love a shot with her. I told her I already loved her. She said, “Ditto,” referring to the film Ghost. We soon after got engaged and came very close to marrying. However, the positive vibe went out of the love affair as soon as I moved away from Pecos. The relationship disintegrated shortly after I sold the place in 1996. I have never married. That was the one time I was engaged.

A Painter of Kivas Who Grew Giant Sunflowers and Fed a Community

Michael Kaczor, my neighbor a few miles to the east, closer to the town center of Pecos, had a gigantic garden. He was a painter. He sketched and painted the pueblos, particularly their meeting houses, kivas, pots and Kokopelli. His extra-large yard full of plants of all kinds, edible and ornamental, generated more garden produce than I had ever seen. Sunflowers 15 feet tall surrounded his yard. He had tons of zucchini, many of them oversize and a few up to two feet long. His strawberry plants bore berries as big as nectarines.

Kaczor himself said that he fed a lot of people out of that garden. He gave food to neighbors, relatives and friends in Pecos and Glorieta, not to mention areas closer to Santa Fe and beyond. He gave away hundreds of pounds of vegetables like peas, corn, lettuce, turnips, yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, potatoes onions and lots of spices like Cilantro, oregano, mint, sage, rosemary and dill. Just the community building value alone made me want to plant my own plot, but more than anything, I am drawn to gardening naturally. I feel like all is right in the world when I am doing it.

Besides a natural attraction, I like gardening because I get more exercise cultivating soil, building compost, planting, watering, weeding and scavenging and buying plants, pots and other supplies. When I have a garden my digestion is better and my energy levels are higher due to eating more vegetables. With produce getting ripe regularly, I get more creative in planning healthy meals. Just being in the garden, whether working or just sitting, I feel at peace. Needless to say, it was easy for Kaczor to talk me into planting my own plot, even though most of this paragraph describes values I discovered after doing it more as an adult, I did remember a lot of it from childhood too. The main difference now was that there were no trees or stumps to remove and the soil needed no manure or any other supplement. My bottomland soil was as fertile as any possible and at least six feet deep, judging by one section of the bank along the creek.

Sunshine, Good Advice, Rich Soil and a Charmed Beginning

Other major factors improved the odds for success as well. We had an abundance of sunshine at that latitude in “The Land of Enchantment,” New Mexico’s official nickname. The Southwest sun provided a long growing season without too much summer heat due to the 6,500’ elevation.

Kaczor taught me a number of other key gardening secrets and tricks that I will go into in posts to come in this series. One major secret that may seem minor at first, Michael gave me when I asked if he knew anyone that had a Rototiller. He said he did not use a Rototiller. He suggested I do like him and in the fall collect a lot of plain brown corrugated cardboard with no lettering or other ink on it. In the winter you then put this cardboard down on the ground, smoothing it out all across the leveled rows in the whole area you plan to plant the following spring. If you want, you can even leave carrots, onions and other root crops under the cardboard. They will keep growing and stay fresh and ready to eat all winter. In the spring you can pull back the cardboard and you will not need to add as many beneficial bugs either. You will have earthworms and organic activity under the cardboard. You may get a few earwigs, sow bugs or potato bugs that you can easily squish or deport, but there will also be lots of earthworms and other beneficial insects.

Speaking of insects, Kaczor also showed me the best natural organic pest control for any garden: just plant Marigolds around the whole circumference of your plot. This will keep most destructive garden pests out most of the time. There are exceptions I learned later and will share in future posts. Meanwhile, when I pulled back the cardboard, sure enough. The ground was soft and fertile. I planted carrots, onions, garlic and radishes in mid April. During the last week of April, I planted broccoli and spinach. The first week of May I put in beans, summer squash, zucchini, corn, pumpkins, spinach, cucumbers and a few other items I don’t remember. Everything took off fast and dank. The sunflowers I planted in a long row all along my mobile home grew like mad and soon were taller than the roof. It was an epic summer on so many levels. The mountains and deserts called to be hiked and written about, while the garden always grounded my adventures. The greenery and abundance pulled people in to sit and enjoy my little piece of paradise. I was truly blessed.

What I learned that summer about that garden in that centuries old farming place and about gardening in general, due to beginner’s luck, circumstances, location, hard work, good advice, and a little good medicine, has put me in good stead, good homestead that is, for the rest of my life. I planted where the natives had planted, lived where they lived, thrived where they thrived and even I felt at times lightly communicated in my mind with their dead and worshipped their gods. I like to think Kokopelli had an eye on my garden. I certainly had an eye out to learn about him and other such gods of the Southwest who had a tendency to appear and disappear easily and fly like most of the Kachinas.

Lessons in Composition From “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years” at De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco Art Museums

December 3rd, 2020

Art Show Review: Lessons in Composition

From “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years”

De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco Art Museums

Are You Rehashing Reductive Rules?

Indian Rhubarb and Reflections, Spanish Creek, Fall, Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click 3X to enlarge.) A few people have said this photograph looks like a Monet painting. I do not make photographs to look like paintings intentionally, but if one does, so be it. I like abstract subjects and photograph them whenever possible. Paul Strand’s straight negatives were not altered in any way, but many of them were abstract and their subjects unrecognizable, though they were straight out of the camera.

Everything you have learned about composition is wrong. Most “tips” in workshops and on photoblogs are either purposely or by default overly simplistic, unnecessary and even melodramatic as presented by some teachers today. Many of the “secrets” like “never split the frame with a vertical” or “with the horizon,” “use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the image” and so on, are reductive and often broken by the masters of painting, photography and other visual arts.

Today a painter or photographer starting out may turn to books or more often magazines or blogs to learn craft and technique. Contemporary art publications, online schools and forums, especially in landscape photography, teach composition as a series of logical, “left-brain” methods and techniques. They discuss the merits and limitations of the rule of thirds and drop nuggets of wisdom about foreground interest, emphasizing the subject, eliminating non-essential distractions, sweeping the edges of the frame, simplifying the image, filling the frame, finding background contrast and on and on. Some blogs have devoted large portions of content to discussions on how well participants have applied these techniques to various example photographs. Others get into dissecting and analyzing “composition conundrums faced by landscape photographers,” as one popular blog post said.

All of these serve a purpose and act as a starting point, providing some value in the early stages of learning photography. Beyond that however, if you pack all of this stuff, rattling around in your mind, out into the field and consciously attempt to apply it while making images, it will be like hauling a backpack full of rocks. It will provide little in the way of nourishment or comfort, will slow you down and more often than not result in dead, unimaginative photographs.

Many teachers today, besides presenting formulaic material, follow each other around to the same locations that have been on the landscape photography bucket list for generations. Fifty to seventy years ago, many of these scenes were fresh, but today most landscape photographers are missing one of the obviously lesser known fundamentals of seeing: great art is not necessarily about the subject. The pervasive mentality is that to make a name in landscape photography you must pursue certain views and certain types of scenes. This often sends new camera owners on a far-flung tour, with little thought other than, “I can do it too, or maybe even better if I am lucky to have dramatic light or weather.” Some photographers get hooked on travel and years later are still jet setting all over the world, when they could just as easily find great photographs closer to home, use less petroleum and develop a deeper connection to the culture and land. No wonder most of what we see online and across the industry is starting to look the same.

Throughout the history of art, examples abound of the greatest works breaking the rules of composition, while at the same time maintaining a sense of equilibrium and balance or dynamic off-balance that grabs the viewer’s attention and holds it. Which brings us to the next logical question: How did the masters learn to make successful art without enslaving themselves to rote techniques and guidelines? There are probably as many possible answers as artists, though there are also common patterns among renowned artists.

Straight Photography, Pictorialism and Photography as an Art

Abstraction, Porch Shadow, 1915 by Paul Strand. Paul Strand’s negatives were straight, not post-processed in any way, but many were abstract and their subjects unrecognizable. (Click Twice to See Large)

Like today, in the early 20th Century, until about 1930, clichés proliferated. Technique and gimmick-heavy Pictorialism ruled the day because many thought making photographs look otherworldly, unreal or like paintings was the best way to get photography recognized as an art. It did not work then and is still questionable now. What did more than anything else to establish photography as a fine art was the crisp, fresh, precision craft only possible with a camera, as made by Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and many of their students and kindred spirits such as my father, William Garnett, Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, Dick Arentz, Al Weber, Dave Bohne and those still living from the same lineage such as John Sexton, Bob Kolbrenner, Jack Dykinga, Charles Cramer, Carr Clifton and a few others.

During the heyday of straight photography, galleries, museums, auction houses and the art establishment had the most interest in photography. Today, the exposure of landscape photography is expanding in certain types of magazines and in tourist galleries in some of the world’s most popular destinations, but the art establishment has left behind contemporary landscapes, especially in color. Galleries, museums and other fine art venues look down on the genre with disdain. This does not have to be.

Attempting to attain dynamic balance in your work through following someone else’s tips, will mainly bring derivative results, whereas through ongoing immersion in a variety of genres and by studying the masters in many disciplines, you can develop an innate sense of what works and what does not. There are no shortcuts to mastery in art and no short list of 10 secrets will take you where in-depth study can. When Ansel Adams founded the world’s first college level photography program to teach creative photography as a profession at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Arts Institute, he and lead instructor Minor White and the other organizers required students to take a well-rounded set of electives from many of the other art departments at the school including music, ceramics, sculpture and others.

My father, pioneer conservation photographer Philip Hyde, applied to the program and at first his application was misplaced and delayed a year. In response, another mentor and guest lecturer at CSFA, Edward Weston, suggested that since Dad had the G.I. Bill paying his tuition anyway, he might as well take some elective art classes at UC Berkeley while he was waiting to start photography school. Dad signed up for Interior Design, painting and calligraphy. His professor for calligraphy turned out to be the eminent Japanese painter Chiura Obata, who had recently been released from the World War II Japanese concentration camp at Manzanar on the East Side of the Sierra. Learning from Obata turned out to be an unforgettable experience that deeply influenced the way Dad saw any given subject. Through the example and influence of his mentors, both at UC Berkeley and CSFA, Dad became a student of a wide range of types of art. Dad often explained to his students in turn that Ansel Adams and Minor White hardly talked about composition, at least not in terms of quantified rules, but in the context of the relationships, forms and arrangements found in many forms of art and photography.

Before Impressionism Became Impressionism

The great Impressionist Claude Monet broke more of the rules of composition more often than almost anyone else, while producing a completely new kind of art that still soothes, calms and delights the world. During his early career, when he struggled to keep his family from starving, Monet had already begun to make the innovations that would shake up the art establishment.

Monet enjoyed early success when the Paris Salón accepted his first submission, but many rejections followed. He had to rely on his parents and others to survive, while despite his clear mastery of technique, critics labeled him and the group of painters he associated with revolutionaries and troublemakers. In time he would reinvent how textures were applied, develop new brush styles, specialize in portraying the effects of light like no other painter before him and play a central role in the development of Impressionism.

Monet’s departures from tradition were vividly evident in two contemporary exhibitions of his paintings that toured before the Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic began. “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years,” curated by George T.M. Shackelford of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and originated there in partnership with San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums. Both shows toured nationally and made a stop in San Francisco at the De Young Legion of Honor Museum.

Fountain and Sunburst, de Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click Twice to See Large)

My friend Ronald Schmidt and I saw “Monet: The Early Years” at the Legion of Honor. Mr. Schmidt was my 8th Grade English teacher, but moved to San Francisco years ago and became a member of many of the best museums. He invited me to see both Monet shows, but because unfortunately I never made it to see “Monet: The Late Years,” I will refer to online and book reproductions of the paintings. These paintings from Monet’s later career will also be the most accessible in some ways, though most dramatically break the mold of earlier art. Having pored over art books as a boy and become partial to the Impressionists, I was most enthused to see “Monet: The Early Years,” because while both shows promised to include paintings I had not seen before, the first exhibition would tell the story of how the French master got started.

The Legion of Honor Museum: American Home of Great European Art

Winding up through the neighborhoods and trees to see the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum shining bright white in the afternoon sun atop the highest point in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park, made for a dramatic buildup to the show. The Legion of Honor grounds offer sweeping views of the city, the Marin Headlands across San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Arriving at the parking lot, we stepped out of the car and stared at the light patterns on the water of the aquamarine pool and glinting off the spray of the fountain, which danced in the late sunlight. After a long moment, I reached back into the car, grabbed my camera and started making images. I photographed the entrance gate with striking shadows, acting as a portal for people with illuminated halos. Moving into the courtyard I captured a few couples in various poses, caught details of columns and shadows, but once inside there were only stark white walls until we reached the entrance to the Monet Exhibit on the main floor.

Front Gate From Front Door, De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

The Legion of Honor is a smaller replica of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The grounds, courtyard and interior of the Legion of Honor are permanent home to over 70 Rodin statues. As you walk up toward the front gate, you enter another world far away from the bustle of the surrounding city. Architect George Applegarth’s massive columns support a colonnade that surrounds the courtyard. Just inside the front gate, you are greeted by one of the original casts of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Behind this powerful statue rises a low glass pyramid, reminiscent of I.M. Pei’s installation at the Louvre. See also Greatest Hits of European Art on the Hills of San Francisco. Once inside the museum, you find yourself in a large central space with galleries extending in all four directions. The Legion of Honor is the perfect setting for two exhibitions of one of Europe’s most celebrated Impressionists.

At the entrance of “Monet: The Early Years,” my friend Ron and I were greeted initially by a large wall text. The first painting could be seen beyond the wall text. The text ran from ceiling down to the floor, all in white block letters on a white background:

INTRODUCTION

Before his success, before there was even the term “Impressionism,” Claude Monet labored to define his style and promote himself as an artist. Two forces drove him: his will to be a painter and his desire to become critically and commercially successful. During his early career, Monet struggled to provide food and shelter for himself and his family while creating innovations that would turn the art world upside down.

Just past this text wall, one of Monet’s most ambitious early paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass,” dominated another large wall straight ahead. The label identified it as, “Claude Monet, ‘Luncheon on the Grass, Central Panel’, 1865–66. Oil on canvas, 97 X 85 inches. Musée d’Orsay, Paris” It was too large to contain in a photograph, but I had already tucked my camera away anyway, so as not to be distracted from viewing the paintings while inside the show. The picnic scene splashed across the whole wall and looked almost as though you could walk into it, with bright figures as large and vivid as life sitting in front of a dark, primeval forest. The figure of Monet’s first wife, Camille, who appears more than any other character in Monet’s early paintings, in “Luncheon on the Grass” gestures toward the viewer with an empty plate, as if to invite us to sit down and join the group enjoying their wine and refreshments.

Monet Effortlessly Broke the Rules of Composition and Worked Hard to Capture the Light and Mood

Luncheon on the Grass, 1865-1866, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

The first three or four paintings were innovations in breaking the rules of composition, as it turns out so also were most of the works in the exhibition. More panels told the stories of Monet’s early painting life. Camille and the other figures in the various paintings were revealed not by detail, but by Monet’s stunning observation of detail and light, as well as a stark precision of emotion and feeling. Even though Monet’s painting style left out many details, the mood and time of day in the scenes gleamed in whites and other suggested, subtle textures. Because the shapes, colors and subjects stood out well and captured the eye, the arrangements of the figures and other subjects could be random, unusual and striking.

In ‘Luncheon on the Grass,’ it is almost as though Monet shifted the frame up and to the left. Part of this shifting and imbalance of the whole composition was exacerbated by the fact that this was only the central panel of the painting, the others having mildewed in Monet’s landlord’s basement while being held as collateral for rent, but the composition would have been skewed anyway. We see only part of the dress and arm of one lady on the left, while large areas of white space and extra forest greenery open up on the right. The picnic blanket is cut off at the bottom, but yet the open, less defined forest soars far above the heads of the figures at the top.

Beach at Trouville, 1870, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

“The Beach at Trouville” cuts off interesting right side features such as the stairways and buildings in favor of showing more of the open beach, ocean and the expanse of sky, which is the largest feature of the piece. In the painting, ‘Hyde Park,’ Monet slices off a quarter of his right side tree, while including significant open space to the right of the vista. If anything, rather than creating dynamic balance and following the rules of composition, in much of his early work, Monet purposely built his images out of symmetry, but not out of balance or equilibrium. His interest seems to be in disrupting our sensibilities, not in working with them.

Monet, perhaps better than any other artist ever, mastered the portrayal of mood in settings and people. Besides choosing lighter or darker tones, his ability to see and capture the effects of light on objects and scenes and his use of great expanses of sky, though often detrimental to perfect composition, enabled him to visually show the feeling of any given place. In this sense, form, subject and the arrangement of objects within the frame, were subordinate to and less important than the emotions he wanted to elicit. Examples abound in his early and late work.

Hyde Park, 1871, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

In the paintings exhibited in “Monet: The Early Years,” for example, we can compare the somber hues in “Hyde Park” to the bright, white dominated, yet also colorful scene in “The Beach at Trouville.”

Monet also used composition to indicate what was important in a painting. For example, in “The Cradle” the baby and cradle occupied the center and were depicted in bright, colorful and white tones, while Camille sitting at the baby’s side was only a little over halfway in the frame and outlined in dark olives, grays and blacks.

The Green Wave, 1866, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

In “The Green Wave,” the top third of the mast and sails of the sailboat are out of the frame. Very little space is allowed for a large sailing ship in the distance and another boat also sailing on the same Green Wave. On the other hand, a large, open space of the ocean in the foreground dominates the painting. The sailboats are not the subject of the piece, the ocean and the wave are. Cutting off the top of the sailboat and devoting over one third of the entire painting to the nearly unvaried green wave also make the creations of man small in the face of nature, another theme of the painting. “La Grenouillére,” on the surface is a painting of the lively swimming hole on the Seine in Paris. The exhibition text explained the painting:

La Grenouillére, 1869, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

“Monet’s “La Grenouillére,” portraying a popular bathing spot on the Seine, carefully captured in color brushstrokes the effects of light, rendering a feeling of pleasure. The men and women sit leisurely at the café, converse under the central tree, partake in swimming, and prepare for a boat ride out on the sun-drenched water. Yet the true subject of this painting is perhaps the river itself. While the activity of the figures is evoked through quick, energetic dashes of the brush, Monet lavished attention on the water, its multiple colors, its reflections, and its depths.”

Monet continued to break with convention in his later work, but not to the extent he did as a young master, until the last 10 years of his life. Robert Taylor described “Monet: The Early Years” in the San Jose Mercury News as a “stunning, exuberant show of nearly 60 paintings, a revelation for art lovers who think they’ve already seen everything Monet has to offer… They haven’t seen the radical Monet, the experimental Monet, the artist whose bold, dramatic paintings are in high contrast to the placid, familiar garden settings.” Read more, “Monet, The Early Years Sheds Surprising Light on Painter.”

Shakelford, the curator of the show said, “He was taking what Gustave Courbet had done with realism and pushing it forward. He was using bigger brushstrokes. His seascapes are pretty daring, pretty tough-minded.” Yet Shakelford said as viewers move through the exhibition, “we bring people around to the Monet they expected: lovely, lighter, optimistic.”

Over and over in Monet’s early paintings he not only placed objects and people in the very center of the picture, a supposed composition “no-no,” but he also gave them extra emphasis with line and color, which further accentuated their central prominence in the work. The “imperfect” compositions serve another function as well. Because nature was most often his primary subject, imbalance within the frame helped to convey the imperfections in nature, while also showing how perfect nature is anyway, even in its imperfection, just like Monet’s paintings.

Every painting in “Monet: The Early Years” broke at least one of the rules mentioned here. Some of Monet’s creations broke all of the rules. Monet’s work and that of many of the other impressionists, cubists, modernists and postmodernists are good resources for studying why compositions that break the rules often have more impact than those that conform.

Japanese Bridge, 1899, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

A good number of Monet’s later paintings are also two-thirds or three-quarters sky, or one other element, perhaps a hay field, or a beach. He often split the horizon, placed objects directly in the center or ignored other popular aesthetic preferences. What is going on here? Perhaps if your subject matter and the light on it are depicted well enough, you don’t need the “rules of composition.” That is, if you show other attributes of genius in your work, a dissonance of composition or other departures from standard practice may be possible or even desirable.

Monet Takes Abstraction Further

“Monet: The Late Years,” turned out to be laden with departures as well. The San Francisco Weekly described the show as, “An exhibit of Claude Monet’s final 13 years that included paintings of water lilies that were never publicly viewed during the Impressionist master’s lifetime.” Read more, “The Color of Monet: Get Ready for De Young’s Blockbuster Show.” Monet’s last major metamorphosis came about late in life while he painted his own estate in Giverney, France. With the help of hired gardeners, Monet kept his gardens and water features in idyllic condition. At the same time, his own eyesight began to fade. These factors combined to manifest as greater and greater abstraction in his paintings. He was mourning the death of his second wife, Alice, in 1911 and his son, Jean, in 1914. Cataracts threatened to eliminate his sight completely, just as some of the battles of World War I backed the French army almost up to his doorstep. His paintings became more and more of an escape into an unreal world. The SFist said, “Things get downright psychadelic by the 1920s, when Monet was blind in one eye and had only 10 percent sight left in the other,” in the review, “6 Things to Know Before Going to the deYoung’s ‘Monet: The Late Years’ Exhibit.”

Japanese Bridge, 1899, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

Shakelford, the curator, argued that Monet’s late paintings were nothing less than the beginnings of Modern Art. Abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Ellsworth Kelly cited Monet as an inspiration. Kelly said that Monet’s late work changed him when he saw two of the paintings in Switzerland. Indeed, Monet’s “The Japanese Bridge,” one of his most abstract late paintings came as a loan from Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Basel.

Many of his later paintings, though abstract, remained attractive to collectors because of their pleasing colors, but paintings from Monet’s last decade, made as his eyesight faded, were even more subtle and less striking. They were so subtle, there was no market for them. It took until many years later, after Impressionism took the world by storm, in most cases long after the painters themselves were gone, for some of the more obscure paintings by Monet and the others to be recognized as great and valued with the rest of the Impressionist canon. Unusual compositions in Monet’s early work did not turn off the art establishment nearly as much as the breaking of other conventions in art.

Japanese Bridge, 1918, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

We could deconstruct Monet paintings until the cows come home to eat haystacks, but regardless of the explanations, what he did in his creations worked, even if in some cases, his paintings did not please the sensibilities of the time, they brought a new awareness and eventually changed how people viewed art and how people made art. Rather than characterizing composition as merely another technique, or attainment through a series of formulas, Monet remade it. Likewise in photography, Edward Weston advised aspiring photographers that composition is merely the strongest way of seeing. Adams, Weston and the other members of Group f.64 reinvented photography by eliminating rules, not by adding to them. We don’t learn to be great artists by studying formulas or memorizing techniques, but through deep observation of our subjects, perhaps by seeing them as deeply as Monet did with failing eyesight, or as profoundly as Edward Weston did. Weston said, “To photograph a rock make it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.” We learn from how great artists before us depicted the subjects we wish to depict, even if this means, seeing beyond what is being depicted. This is perhaps why dying people wish to view Monet paintings one last time before they go. There is more in them than we readily see, perhaps a glimpse of the light beyond that Monet himself could see better near the end. We take ideas from great art and try them in our own work and ultimately in our lives. One idea works, another is a flop today, but next month, next year, or someday, perhaps an idea works in a new situation.

Japanese Bridge, 1924, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

Artists whose photography or paintings endure give us a transcendent experience. Walking through “Monet: The Early Years,” my friend Ron and I discussed feeling exhilarated and awakened by the spirit of Monet’s paintings and the force of his creativity. Being in the presence of his artwork, we experienced his psyche and took a bit of it home. I can say without doubt that Monet’s paintings changed me, just as they did Ellsworth Kelly. Seeing any great artist’s creations gathered and isolated to bring out their full impact gives us a metaphysical and tangible experience, a momentary sense of another’s life. We left refreshed and re-energized, determined and full of insight. We were enriched by our exposure to excellence and by seeking it over the rehash of mundane technique.

Man Ray On Art And Originality

May 19th, 2010

One of the World’s Most Recognized and Unusual Artists, the Painter, Sculptor and Photographer Man Ray, Brings Insight to the Creative Process, Art and Originality

Man Ray did not pursue Recognition, Fame or Financial Success. He was broke most of his life.

Are you in it for recognition? For money? Why are you a landscape photographer?

Salvador Dali and Man Ray, Paris, 1934 by Carl Van Vechten. Public Domain image. This photograph was made in Paris while Philip Hyde was there at age 11 with his little brother Davy age 5, his sister Betty, age 16, his mother Jessie and his father painter Leland Hyde, who was studying at the world famous L' Ecole de Beau Arts, one of the art hubs of Modernist Paris.

A hot topic recently in the landscape photography blogosphere has been this variously defined idea of “copying,” that is: one photographer copying another’s photograph by standing in roughly the same place under roughly the same conditions and capturing essentially the same image. While the laws of physics prevent the making of an exact copy, many photographs come close enough to bring the intent of the “copying” photographer into question. I made a few comments on some posts on the topic.

Photography Blog Posts Discussing Copying Or Related Themes Recently:

“The Art of Copying” from Guy Tal Photography Web Journal

“Copying Other Photographer’s Images; Good, Bad, Legal?” from Pro Nature Photographer Blog

“Moving Past The Repertoire” by Greg Russell here on Landscape Photography Blogger

“Make Your Own Tripod Tracks” by David Leland Hyde on Alpenglow Images Blog

“Originality – A Matter of Perspective Revisited by Jim M. Goldstein on JMG Galleries Blog

“Creativity and Copying” posted by Kevin Schafer on the Outdoor Photographer Blog

“Iconic Locations and the Making of Art” from Little Red Tent Blog

“Copy/right and the Nature of Art” from Pomeroy Photography Blog

“Photography and Icons” from Skolai Images by Carl Donohue

“Art; an Exploration of the Unknown” also from Skolai Images

Some photographers have proposed that any photograph that is copyable is not art. Others say this is preposterous. Indeed, one could just as easily argue that any photograph that is not copyable is not art, but is merely a documentation of special effects or techniques and manipulations that go against the nature of photography to stand on real subjects. Is a clean simple, unaffected photograph of nature not to be considered art just because some smart aleck bought a topo map or used GPS mapping to find the location? Either argument may be just as theoretically vacuous and irrelevant to the actual act of making a photograph; except that the photographer’s intent and purpose behind his photography may be the underpinning not yet examined in this discussion.

This Generation Must Do Something Entirely New

As I commented on Guy Tal’s blog post, “Copying Discussion Follow-Up,” we all from time to time can benefit from some introspection. Current landscape photographers and landscape photography in general would benefit by getting away from photographing the icons in the same old ways. Here’s part of what I wrote:

…The next generation must do something else entirely. We have to ask ourselves, why we got into photography in the first place? We have to dig for our own meaning and direction. We must at all costs, eliminate anything that even hints of copying the copiers. That’s my take, anyway, for what it’s worth, and my idea of what is necessary to make any contribution to the art of landscape photography.

More on this and a related discussion on what keeps landscape photography going here on the Landscape Photography Blogger blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying.” On a similar note, a few photography bloggers recently called for discussions on the creative process. Greg Russell on his Alpenglow Images Blog raised concerns about creativity and the use of Photoshop in his blog post, “Where Does the Creative Process Stop?” You may find the comments on this post interesting as well as on the insightful post, “Was That Photoshopped?” from the Landscaping! Blog.

Man Ray’s Shocking Originality And Poverty

One of the world’s most famous photographers, a sculptor and painter, Man Ray, may be one of the most original artists ever. Man Ray was so creative that nothing he ever produced in any medium looked anything at all like any other art that ever existed. Man Ray was not interested in producing photographs that looked like previous masters to learn. He made his own style in everything. He broke all the rules and set the trends. Man Ray also had his work rejected by galleries and the public for many years. Near the end of his life he became accepted by the wealthy art establishment in Paris, France where he lived most of his life. He earlier had become known for his portraits of famous people and soon-to-be famous people such as Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud and many others. He gained a measure of success but it was not until after his death that his original Dadaist sculptures and paintings became highly sought after and sold for millions in auctions.

The point is not that landscape photographers now must be starving artists, it does not matter if you are rich or poor, only if you are unique. The point is to put originality above making money or gaining recognition. Some will starve doing this because they believe that to make money they have to do whatever everyone else is doing. Some will become wealthy through their unique vision.

In a video called Man Ray: Prophet of Avant-Garde from the PBS American Masters series, the modernist painter, sculptor and photographer said:

I never think about art and I don’t think the old masters ever thought that they were creating art. They had to express the spirit of their times and they would then start to invent. What seems to be the tricks of the day, will be the truths of tomorrow. Students ask me, ‘How do I make something original?’ I tell them, be yourself and you will be original. Who are you?

Why are you a landscape photographer?

For a blog post by Jay Goodrich that makes a similar inquiry and features some interesting responses see, “Why Do You Photograph?” To see some new, innovative photographs see also the blog post, “Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography Creations.” To learn more about a pioneer who went far beyond innovation to influence all of landscape photography see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” To look beyond creativity to photographic tools such as film and its influence on the direction of landscape photography see the blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

Photography’s Golden Era 4

March 15th, 2010

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Photography’s Golden Era 3.”

Early Influences on Philip Hyde Before Photography School: Leland Hyde, Modernism, Rural Europe, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Group f.64, Ansel Adams and Western National Parks.

Tomales Bay, Point Reyes, Marin County, California, Oil on Canvas, circa 1925 by Leland Hyde.

In the first third of the 20th Century, Modernist Painting came into prominence. It had swept from Paris across the Atlantic in 1913 with the Armory Show in New York. However, the Beaux Arts classical approach that had influenced architecture and art across the US, remained the dominant form and the preferred way of teaching until the student uprisings of 1932. Student activism at the University of California, Berkeley and on other college campuses, led to a shift away from the traditional Beaux Arts methods of teaching. At UC Berkeley in particular, the uprisings instigated a search for a Modernist architect to take over the design program. Modernism waxed and waned but eventually took hold.

In the visual arts, the Modernist movements—Dadaism, Cubism, Fauvism, and Surrealism had faded from public notice and moved into private drawing rooms in the late 1920s and early 1930s. For a time, the new forms were of less interest to the American people. Isolationism and concern over domestic issues brought on the development of American Regionalism, whose proponents often painted the rural countryside. Philip Hyde, age 11 in 1932, had yet to use a camera, but his father Leland Hyde’s favorite subject to paint was nature. He took his family camping in a lean-to tent in the National Parks of the West such as Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. In 1932, Leland and Jessie’s children, Betty, Davey and Philip, first looked down from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Philip in particular began to dream of some way he could spend his life in the outdoors.

Photography at the time until 1932 and after, was dominated by pictorialism, based on special effects and techniques that altered photographs to resemble paintings. However, straight photography as led by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others eventually took over the medium and became the core of Modernism. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and five other talented California photographers founded Group f.64 in protest to the pictorialist photography that was then broadly exhibited by museums, galleries and camera clubs, as well as widely published in periodicals because it resembled paintings. Academic painters and the art establishment, thought their livelihood might be lost to photography and therefore had for years refused to consider any form of photography art, but in time they for the most part tentatively accepted pictorialism.

Alfred Stieglitz first founded the Photo-Secession society as a pictorialist group. Alfred Stieglitz circulated in the heart of the modern art scene in New York City and followed the European Impressionist Art movement. Many of his most famous photographs were in the pictorialist tradition. They were blurry, atmospheric and employed at least partial soft focus. He usually did not soften the focus in his whole image, but subscribed to the “naturalist” theory that emphasized a photograph’s primary elements by letting background or less important elements remain out of focus, as it was thought the natural human eye did.

European Impressionists painted the steam engine as a symbol of the Industrial Revolution and of the modern city. Alfred Stieglitz in turn photographed steam engines. Alfred Stieglitz never used a special soft focus lens, but used snow or other weather conditions to soften his images and add atmosphere. All along Alfred Stieglitz used real world conditions to create pictorialist effects, rather than the manipulations that were typical of most pictorialist photography. He was the master of capturing real life moments. In the early 1920s, Alfred Stieglitz began to leave behind the idea that photographs need to look like paintings to be art. He had led the movement to have photographs exhibited besides paintings, but his photographs looked more and more like camera work than brush work. He did not cover up that he had changed his outlook. He instead instigated a revolt against pictorialism.

Even before West Coast photographers formed Group f.64, Alfred Stieglitz had started promoting what he called Straight Photography. More on Straight Photography and Group f.64 in the next blog post. Also see the previous blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 3” for more on Alfred Stieglitz. Beaumont Newhall wrote in the Foreward to Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography that by the time of the founding of Group f.64, pictorialism “had long been abandoned by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and other members of the Photo-Secession society.”

Photographs such as Alfred Stieglitz’s “Steerage,” of working class people on board a ship, marked a new direction for Alfred Stieglitz’s and brought in what became known as the Modernist vision. Edward Weston, who had begun as a pictorialist, destroyed all of his early negatives. Modernist photography discarded the romanticism of the pictorialists and looked deeply into commonplace subjects for hidden beauty. Straight photography and the Photo-Secession decried soft-focus and sought sharpness and precise detail. The Modernists minimized darkroom manipulation, though even Edward Weston, who primarily printed contact prints, was known on occasion to dodge and burn prints, thereby lightening shadows and darkening highlights.

Most agreed with Beaumont Newhall when he named Edward Weston as the spritual leader of Group f.64, even though the independent Edward Weston did not found Group f.64, or pay much attention to its operation. Edward Weston lived a simple, unadorned lifestyle and made fundamental, elegant photographs of common and natural subjects such as garden vegetables, nude poses of his wives and lovers, and western landscapes, particularly those in California and around his home in Carmel. Point Lobos State Reserve was Edward Weston’s favorite outdoor place to photograph. Point Lobos is the perfect example of a straight photography location. Its scenery is not dramatic, not colorful or spectacularly beautiful. Point Lobos has a subtle, hard to define beauty that can only be discovered by looking closely, by getting to know the place, and by creatively framing common appearing rocks, trees, grasslands and beaches.

As Edward Weston did with photographs, Leland Hyde, in the same era and before, depicted the natural scene with oil paintings and pastel sketches. Leland Hyde’s painting style had elements of rural regionalism but he clearly disagreed with one of the primary representatives of the movement, Thomas Hart Benton, once a student in Paris, who wanted to rid America of what he called “the dirt of European influence.” However, Leland Hyde did agree with the social activism and politics of the New Deal that sought a public and useful art. In America, as the 1930’s opened, the merits of  Modernism versus more traditional figure painting became a heated debate. Leland Hyde dreamed of studying in Paris at one of the world’s most famous and selective art schools, L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. He wanted to explore the various forms more deeply, knowing that his course of study would primarily be rooted in classical training but would also incorporate elements and whole courses on the Modernism that flourished in pre-war Paris.

When Jessie Hyde’s favorite uncle passed away, with the family’s sorrow came a blessing: Uncle George Hair left the Hydes a small inheritance. At the height of the depression, Jessie wanted to be practical and buy a house, but Leland Hyde saw it as his chance to go to art school in Paris. L’Ecole des Beaux Arts had offered free tuition since the 17th Century but the application process had always been extremely difficult and competitive. Leland Hyde quietly applied and when he was accepted, Jessie quit arguing for more conservative uses of the money. She told him to go to Paris and enjoy. She would stay in San Francisco and keep the children in school. However, Leland Hyde would not hear of it and insisted that the entire family come with him to Europe. Philip Hyde was 11, his brother Davey only five years old and his sister Betty was 15.

European Countryside, Alps, Pastel Sketch, 1933 by Leland Hyde.

Paris, the capital of Modernism, had a profound impact on the young Hydes and affected Philip Hyde’s photography later. They learned French and listened and watched their father work and talk about his assignments in the evenings at home in their rented artist’s studio-flat. Modernism became a part of Leland Hyde’s work and he incorporated classical training with the new directions in art just as he had imagined. Philip Hyde watched his father paint in the field and listened to him expound at the dinner table about the lectures and class projects from L’Ecole. After school let out, the Hydes bought a car and drove around the European countryside while Leland Hyde painted. They spent three days of the trip on the celebrated French Riviera, where even during the Great Depression, August was the peak tourism month and crowds overran the coast. This was Philip Hyde’s first realization that he preferred wilder places such as the French and German rural countryside and the Austrian Alps where his father also found the most joy and more opportunities to paint what he liked.

When Leland Hyde took his family back to San Francisco, he took fine art painting commissions, hung art exhibitions, entered contests, designed and painted furniture, drew plans and perspective drawings of government buildings and huge factories. He developed a fine reputation as a furniture designer, builder and finisher, a fine art painter and industrial designer. Dad said that his father was gainfully employed the entire Great Depression and the family of five never went hungry. Dad said there were a few slim dinners of perhaps a can or two of food, but they never went hungry, even though Leland Hyde worked solely as an artist. This example of success in following an artistic calling during the worst of times, kept Philip Hyde going in tough times later and gave him the faith and work ethic to become a full-time landscape photographer, a choice even Ansel Adams thought economically unsound for even the most talented photographer in the 1950s.

While the Hyde family was in Europe, a meeting and an exhibition that would change photography forever was taking place back in New York City. On their way home from Europe to San Francisco, the Hydes passed through New York City at about the same time that Ansel Adams traveled there for his first New York exhibition at the Delphic Studios. Philip Hyde and Ansel Adams did not cross paths until over a decade later, when they met at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1946. Philip Hyde first saw Ansel Adams’ prints at the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island just before the War. However, earlier in 1933, a meeting that would affect all of photography occurred when Ansel Adams came to New York on a pilgrimage to meet Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer whose life and work Ansel Adams most admired. Ansel Adams said that when he told Alfred Stieglitz of his concept of visualization, Alfred Stieglitz “responded with his explanation of creative photography.”

Ansel Adams’ definition of visualization became one of the cornerstones of the training in photography that Philip Hyde would participate in later. Ansel Adams wrote in Modern Photography magazine, “The photographer visualizes his conception of the subject as presented in the final print. He achieves the expression of his visualization through his technique—aesthetic, intellectual, and mechanical.”

Alfred Stieglitz’ replied to Ansel Adams’ statement on visualization with the same explanation he had given someone questioning the validity of art produced by a camera. A patron asked Alfred Stieglitz whether a “machine could be creative?” Alfred Stieglitz replied, “I have the desire to photograph. I go out with my camera. I come across something that excites me emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically. I see the photograph in my mind’s eye and I compose and expose the negative. I give you the print as the equivalent of what I saw and felt.”

This process as described by these two primary teachers of photography, turned out to be vaguely familiar and readily understandable by Philip Hyde a dozen years later. Perhaps this had to do with a similar process that he watched over and over throughout his upbringing and in extended duration and repetition, during his boyhood months in Paris, the World’s hub of Modern Art, and throughout his travels in the countryside of Europe, with his family, watching Leland Hyde paint the natural scene. Thus, in the early 1930s, while Alfred Stieglitz and Group f.64 transformed photography and the west coast tradition was born, Philip Hyde started his training in composition and seeing, and began forming his early feelings about wild places that became the heart of his life and work. Ultimately, all of these influences and others we will explore in this blog, helped shape landscape photography. What influences do you know of? What are your feelings and thoughts about the beginnings of straight photography?

References:
Interviews of Philip Hyde by David Leland Hyde 2002-2005
Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography by Mary Street Alinder, Therese Thau Heyman, and Naomi Rosenblum
Ansel Adams: A Biography by Mary Street Alinder
Get the Picture” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Art Across the Ages DVD Series by Ori Z. Soltes, The Teaching Company

(Continued in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”)

What Makes A Photograph Art?

February 28th, 2010

What defines art, in your opinion?

L’Accordéoniste, 1911, by Pablo Picasso. Public Domain Image.

With all the discussion about the relationships between art, nature and photography lately on several excellent blogs, I thought I would put in a word or two, or at least add some words from masters of the past, as that seems to be my emerging role.

I made a comment on each of the three blogs involved in the discussions, that were sharing recent posts about art, the nature of art, the relationship between art and nature, and how photography relates or substitutes in the discussion for the word ‘art.’ Each of the three blogs are well worth reading for their take on these subjects: Guy Tal Photography Web Journal, Paul Grecian Photography and Carl Donohue’s Skolai Images. The discussion veered in the direction of what made something “more” art or not and while this made little linguistic sense, the argument itself was solid.

Here’s my comment on Skolai Images:

As I wrote on Paul Grecian’s blog, the eminent photography critic John Szarkowski once claimed that Ansel Adams photographed entirely for his own enjoyment. Several photographers and photography critics including Philip Hyde made vehement and effective counter-arguments to John Szarkowski’s statement. Hopefully I can dig up that material and share it with you, if you are interested. It touches on what you say here and on what Paul recently said in his post. Echoing those who have gone before, I say as Paul did that the appreciation of art is part of the process that makes it such. An audience is part of what makes it art. However, the SIZE of the audience does not make it MORE or LESS art. Isn’t something either art or not, like the old adage about being pregnant. You can’t be MORE or LESS pregnant. On the other hand, I completely agree with your idea that art is certainly not limited to creation by humans, or even by what we perceive as “living” beings. Though perhaps it is easier for us to talk about art created by people. Harder to relate to birds and other wildlife, though some are friends of mine, maybe more so than some people.

There’s a lot going on around here currently, but I started rummaging around. I haven’t found the John Szarkowski rebuttal material yet, but will sooner or later. My dad, master landscape photographer Philip Hyde, talked about it some on a tape I made while interviewing him. I remember I asked him specifically about John Szarkowski’s claim in that interview. I will find that tape as well. In the meantime, I did run across a book called, Dialogue with Photography: Interviews by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper. Hill and Cooper interviewed Paul Strand, Man Ray, Imogen Cunningham, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Cecil Beaton, W. Eugene Smith, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Andre Ketesz, Brett Weston, Minor White, Wynn Bullock and others. The interviews that caught my eye were Paul Strand at the beginning and Brett Weston at the end. For more on Brett Weston see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.”  I’ll start here with a few quotes from Paul Strand and share more in another post. Other popular posts about Paul Strand include: “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion.”

Paul Strand talked about Alfred Stieglitz and his gallery, “291.” Paul Strand said that Alfred Stieglitz welcomed and supported many of the modern art painters at the time such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Constantine Brancusi. Alfred Stieglitz liked certain modernists and their art because, “this art was being trampled on in the same way that photography was,” Paul Strand said. “Photography as an art was denied, ridiculed, attacked—especially by the academic painters, who thought that the camera might take their livelihood away. The acknowledgement of the validity of photography as a new material, as a new way of seeing life through a machine, was questioned and fundamentally denied. Well, here were these pictures by the Cubists, which were also looked upon as the work of idiots.”

This relates back to a comment on my post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Derrick Birdsall, threw out several more good thought-provoking questions: “…if you can buy a quality print from a new up and comer for less $ than from a seasoned professional – is that bad? The seasoned pro had to start somewhere and was an up and comer at some point… How does one make that transition from up and comer to seasoned professional? …other than simply putting in the time, how does that transition work? How does a photographer develop their style so that it’s clearly recognizable?”

I will address the development of style in a future post or two of interviews of photographers to come, but as far as how certain art comes to be valued higher than other art, one of the factors has to do with novelty. It has to do with the artist doing something perceived as completely new. That is one reason why an Ansel Adams print is worth so much compared to Joe the Photographer. Same idea applies to a Pablo Picasso painting.

But more from Paul Strand on the art of photography, “There was a fight going on for the integrity of a new medium and its right to exist, the right of the photographer to be an artist, as well as the right of Picasso and other artists to do the kind of work they were doing, which was a form of research and experimentation into the very fundamentals of what is, and what is not, a picture. I think it is very important for young photographers to find out about the whole development of the graphic arts, not simply come along and show photographs that could not stand up to Cezanne for a second. You cannot claim that photography is an art until your work can hang on the same wall.”

Certainly, as Derrick said, everyone starts somewhere. Most paintings are not on par with Paul Cezanne and they do not have to be. There is room for all levels of skill and talent in painting, photography and other mediums, including bird songs or beehive dances, but is it art? …And, if you claim, “It’s all art,” then what determines whether it is ‘good’ art?

See also the blog post, “Man Ray On Art And Originality.”

What defines art, in your opinion? Please share your thoughts in Comments…

Photography’s Golden Era 1

January 22nd, 2010

San Francisco, California, 1948, by Philip Hyde, 5X7 Deardorf View Camera, made for one of Minor White's assignments at the California School of Fine Arts.

Photography’s Golden Era 1

(See the photograph full screen: Click here.)

With the digital revolution, photography is branching in many new exciting directions. Some of these trends feed creativity and enhance the medium, some cheapen it like a hollow, commercialized “waffle with too much syrup,” as expressed by master landscape photographer Carr Clifton. The divergence in photography today and its eventual implications can be better understood in the context of the recent history of photography in the 20th Century, in the differences between West Coast and East Coast photography. In particular, people with an interest in landscape photography, will find directly relevant and creatively illuminating, the history of the West Coast tradition, straight photography, Group f.64 and the community of fine artists of many persuasions that flourished on the Monterey Peninsula and in the San Francisco Bay Area after World War II.

The War brought California to power as a manufacturing center. Americans and Europeans came to the state for jobs. With the expanded economy, as the war ended, San Francisco especially, became a hub of creative energy, that combined the talents of artists who had escaped the destruction in Europe, with the enthusiasm of American Soldiers searching for new directions, now that they were released from the armed services and their interrupted lives could begin again. The 1940’s San Francisco art scene gave rise to many art movements and was the convergence for others. The San Francisco Renaissance in poetry and writing with Ralph Gleason, Alan Watts, and Kenneth Rexroth, was the precursor to the 1950s Beat Generation and its writers such as Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The Jazz age peaked in the 1940s and added juice to other art forms. Paris, France had been the world’s center of Modernist painting up until Hitler’s invasion in 1940. Thereafter, Paris Modernists dispersed and went underground until well after the War and many of them escaped to San Francisco and New York City. Both of these cities became centers for Abstract Impressionism, San Francisco became the focal point for the Asian Aesthetic that influenced primarily the visual arts and other forms of expression, while Dixieland Jazz originated in New Orleans, jumped to Chicago and New York and soon flourished in diverse San Francisco as well.

With the convergence of innovation in centers such as New York and San Francisco, it was the ideal time for photography to transform and become recognized as an art form. Photography had not been considered an art until the 1930s and was still rarely accepted as anything more than a rote recording of reality in 1945 when San Francisco native Ansel Adams, California School of Fine Arts Director Douglas MacAgy and San Francisco Art Association Board President Eldridge “Ted” Spencer, began to organize the world’s first fine art photography department. However the story of how photography changed into its own art form, began farther back, with Alfred Stieglitz in New York City and a few of his associates, who inspired certain photographers on the West Coast, who in turn became Group f.64, of whom Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham taught at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, that Philip Hyde attended from 1946 to 1950. The blog posts in this series on the “Golden Era of Photography” will give a summarized history of the birth of straight photography, the West Coast tradition, the founding and cultivation of the photography department at the California School of Fine art, and the early foundations of landscape photography as a fine art.

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Photography’s Golden Era 2“)