Posts Tagged ‘UC Berkeley’

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.

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 16

June 19th, 2014

Reciprocity Failure

Lecture By Ansel Adams

Introduction And Philip Hyde Lecture Notes

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15.”)

Sunken Car, Sausalito, Marin County, Alcatraz In Distance, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. Made during photography school.

Sunken Car, Sausalito, Marin County, Alcatraz In Distance, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. Made during photography school.

No other known set exists of complete student lecture notes from the first ten years of the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. During the “Golden Decade,” directly after World War II, while Minor White was lead instructor, beginning in the Summer Session 1947, Philip Hyde took detailed class notes. These notes are what make up the core of a good number of entries in this series of blog articles on the history of the San Francisco Art Institute’s photography department.

Background And Founding Of The World’s First Professional Creative Photography Training

Minor White and Philip Hyde both attended their first Ansel Adams lecture on the same day at the start of the California School of Fine Arts Summer Session 1946. Ansel Adams brought in Minor White with the idea he would take Ansel Adams’ place as lead instructor. Minor White came directly from Columbia University on Beaumont and Nancy Newhall’s recommendation. In the 1946 Summer Session Minor White quickly proved himself as a coach of the young students and as a guest lecturer. Within a few weeks Ansel Adams felt confident enough in Minor White’s teaching abilities to leave him in charge of the class and set out on the road to photograph the national parks for his recently awarded Guggenheim Fellowship.

That Fall, Minor White also led the first class of full-time students in the world’s first academic full-time creative photography program. By Fall of 1947, a new crop of first year students began learning from Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961. The San Francisco Art Institute still has one of the world’s most innovative photography departments, but the first ten years of the program, now called the Golden Decade, are the stuff of legend with guest lectures arranged by Minor White that included such photographic luminaries as Imogen Cunningham, Lissette Model, Dorothea Lange, and many others; as well as the highlight of each semester: a field trip to Wildcat Hill in Carmel to visit Edward Weston, complete with a field walk with him out on Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Ansel Adams first taught the photography Summer Session in 1945. Minor White joined him teaching in 1946. Philip Hyde started as a student at the same time, but due to an office paperwork error, did not make the list to attend the first full-time class in Fall 1946, but began photography school in the second full-time class in Fall 1947. The Summer Session 1947 featured lectures by both Adams and White. Philip Hyde’s lecture notes begin in the Summer Session 1947. Philip Hyde proved to be one of the most eager students, despite his full personal life.

On June 29, 1947, Philip Hyde married Ardis King in Berkeley. Ardis King’s family was from Sacramento, but her parents owned a house in Berkeley, where she and her brother Clint King lived while attending the University of California Berkeley. Philip and Ardis got to know each other while attending classes at UC Berkeley, where Ardis earned her teaching credential. They took a number of classes together, including a course in Calligraphy and Japanese Painting by the famous Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata. More on these classes and their influence on the Hydes in future blog posts.

Reciprocity Failure Defined

Following Minor White’s lecture on The Technical Aspects of Visualization on August 19, 1947, Ansel Adams came before the class and held forth on Reciprocity Failure for the next two days. Most of the lecture contents were too technical to reproduce here, with many graphs depicting film densities and sensitometry readings.

Reciprocity failure oversimplified, results in the failure of film to show accurate and unflawed detail in shadows. While the subject may seem dry in some ways, it is an important concept in straight photography where the values of clarity, sharpness and clean rendering without artifacts and film noise are considered of utmost importance. Many photographers today in the digital age don’t care about the technical aspects of photography because they don’t need to in order to produce high fidelity photography. Camera technology today, if used according to the manual and a few simple rules and guidelines, does much of the work automatically, when the correct settings are chosen. However, with large format film cameras, everything had to be done manually. Ansel Adams was a stickler for all technical aspects of photography and developing a solid base of knowledge and aptitude in his students. The results speak for themselves, evident in his negatives and black and white prints, as well as the negatives and fine art prints of his students. It is precisely because of their perfection that Ansel Adams prints are some of the most sought after by collectors and considered some of the most valuable in the history of the medium.

The Film Photography Project blog gives an excellent explanation of reciprocity failure:

Whether you’re using a lower speed film in daylight, trying to maximize your depth of field in a landscape, or just setting up the camera for an exposure at night, sooner or later you’re going to start pushing the limits of your film’s light gathering ability. As light becomes more scarce, the silver halide grains residing in your film will be less uniformly struck by photons, causing a steep drop in density after a few seconds of needed exposure. This exponentially diminishing response to low light levels is more popularly known as a film’s reciprocity failure.

The Film Photography Project goes on to give examples of how different films exhibit reciprocity failure. For example, with black and white film, exposures of one or two seconds or longer will result in reduced density, that is, thin or non-existent shadow detail. With color negative film, exposures over 20 seconds cause color-shifting as different color dye layers in the film absorb light at different rates during prolonged exposure. With color slide film, exposures over five seconds result in color shifts similar to color negative film, while high color saturation slide films such as Fuji Velvia color shift to an even greater degree than lower color density films.

Ansel Adams’ two-day lecture on reciprocity failure gave his students the tools to avoid reciprocity failure. Some of the technical terms and information implies previous knowledge from earlier lectures of various photographic subjects such as the Zone System. Stay tuned for a simple explanation of the Zone System in future posts in this series. These notes are presented primarily for the historical record.

Philip Hyde’s Lecture Notes, August 19, 1947

Reciprocity failure—inertia of film in low intensity light—film doesn’t respond to slight illumination.

Visualization and light metering—Use a long tube for the light meter to explore light readings of distant objects.

A Wratten 90 filter (tan color) for viewing—neutralizes color

Example: Greens on Kodak Verichrome Pan film drop nearly a full zone in value due to lack of green sensitivity.

All measurements for density should be above film base plus fog.

[Film base plus fog refers to the inherent density of any film before exposure. It consists of the film base plus any fog that has accumulated on the film due to subtle light exposure in handling]

For the sake of measurement and calculations, film base plus fog should not be less than 0.1 in density.

Pre-Exposure Exercise

Expose a white card for Zone II or Zone I depending on amount of exposure added. Then expose the scene normally. The units added will equal the numeric relation between zones. That is:

Zone I = 1 unit

Zone II = 2 units

Zone III = 4 units

Zone IV = 8 units

Zone V = 16 units

Zone VI = 32 units

…and so on up to Zone X

More on reciprocity failure and the Zone System in upcoming posts…

(Continued in the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 17.”)

My impressions from this lecture and other sources, as well as my own experiences, leads me to believe that it was complicated to make good photographs with large format film cameras. When photographers take for granted how easy photography is now, I often think of my father, Philip Hyde’s notes and his early training with Ansel Adams. What are your thoughts?

New Release: Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake

February 23rd, 2012

The Making Of “Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness” Copyright 1956 by Philip Hyde

Ardis and Philip Hyde Write About Trekking Into The Glacier Peak Wilderness and Image Lake in Their Travel Logs.

In the proposed North Cascades National Park, Ardis and Philip Hyde backpacked To Image Lake with Philip & Laura Zalesky, Grant McConnell And Other Sierra Club Board Members with the David Brower family, Howard Zahniser family, Jane Goldsworthy, Bob Golden, Rich Miller and others joining the group for the Sloan Creek High Trip.
Lake Chelan,
Lyman Lake
Image Lake
Glacier Peak Wilderness

Glacier Peak: The Glacier Peak Wilderness was originally proposed as part of North Cascades National Park. The Seattle chapter and other chapters of The Mountaineers, the Sierra Club and many other environmental groups in and out of coalitions in the Northwestern United States have campaigned for more than 60 years to have the Glacier Peak Wilderness added to North Cascades National Park. Last year yet another failed proposal nearly made it through the US Congress.

The Photograph: Even though Philip Hyde was the primary illustrator, his 1956 photograph, “Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake,” was not part of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series book, “The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland”  that helped in the campaign to make North Cascades National Park. However, the high mountain photograph became fairly well-known as it was used in the campaign to make the Glacier Peak Wilderness part of the National Park and in several other books and magazine articles. Philip Hyde never made a color fine art print of the photograph. Also, it was rare that Philip Hyde used 5X7 transparencies for color photographs. By far the majority of his color photographs were made with 4X5 film. The original 5X7 color transparency of “Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake,” has faded and color shifted significantly.

Restoration: The photograph was restored for archival fine art digital printing by David Staley, Jr. of Outdoor Plus Digital Print Lab. David Staley, Jr. quit counting his time at eight hours and worked long beyond that to get this photograph correct in Photoshop. Ed Cooper, a mountaineer, climber, outdoorsman, large format and Sierra Club Calendars photographer and book author who knew my father, confirmed that our restoration looked very close in color, hue, saturation and range to the original landscape that time of year and to his own Photoshop restoration of his color shifted 4X5 color transparencies of Glacier Peak and Image Lake. Ed Cooper has backpacked into Image Lake himself and photographed it a number of times.

For the first time ever produced as a fine art print, Archival Digital Prints of “Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake” are now available at New Release Pricing for a limited time.

Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington, copyright 1956 by Philip Hyde.

(To see the photograph large go to: “Glacier Peak From Above Image Lake.”)

This Section by Ardis Hyde

Friday, August 17, 1956:  We departed leisurely from Philip and Laura Zalesky’s home in Everett, Washington. We drove through miles of apple orchards to the Southern end of Lake Chelan to Lake Chelan State Park, which proved crowded with little privacy.

Saturday, August 18:  We just made the Lake Chelan Steamer at 9:10 am. We steamed up Lake Chelan, making two stops on the way. The land on both sides of the lake was low, hot and dry foothill country. The steamer was crowded, but comfortable and very maneuverable. We disembarked at Lucerne, Washington and transferred to a bus that took us up 10 miles of good graded gravel road to Holden, Washington. We were surprised to find Holden a pleasant shingle mining town, all company owned except for many private residences built on land leased from the US Forest Service. While we were walking to the Sierra Club camp, a Sierra Club truck met us, picked up our gear and delivered us to the packers just in time to have our duffle transferred to the pack horses. Shortly, around 2:30 pm, we set out on the 8 to 9 mile hike to Lyman Lake. The going was hot and humid through a lush young forest. Some kind of packing accident happened on the trail that spooked the horses and landed our dunnage and film box on the trail. They repacked our horses and headed on to camp, arriving after sundown around 7:45 pm. The packers were at that point only ahead of us by 15 minutes. With much of our trip after the sun slid behind the mountains, the nine mile hike seemed long enough, but not too hot or over strenuous. We arrived so late that we made our bedding and campsite right near the commissary by the lakeside.

Sunday, August 19:  It was the coldest night we spent sleeping out, the whole summer. Philip laid tarps over us that became soaking wet on the under side. After getting up, we found a good, sheltered and private campsite near the stream and relocated our gear. Philip photographed subjects around camp, while I spent the day reading the novelized true story of, Anna and the King of Siam, the book that inspired the film and Broadway Musical The King and I. I became acquainted with Sierra Club leader and pre-eminent political scientist Grant McConnell, his wife Jane, his daughter Ann and his son Jim. They spend the summers in a cabin at Stehikin, Washington and winters in Berkeley, California, where Grant McConnell teaches Political Science at the University of California. Also around camp were Al Schmitz and Oliver Kehrlein, co-leaders of the trip. There were only about 15 Sierra Club members in Base Camp at that time, while 125 more people from other groups and individuals were expected soon.

The Following Section Written by Philip Hyde

Sunday afternoon a group of us including Philip Zalesky and Grant McConnell hiked up to Phelps Creek Pass and Spider Pass for views down Phelps Creek and of the Entiat Mountains in the proposed Glacier Peak Wilderness. The Seattle group of The Mountaineers club proposed that the Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary run across Spider Pass.

Monday, August 20:  We gathered our gear together to backpack to Image Lake over Cloudy Pass and Siuattle Pass, then along Miner’s Ridge. We hiked past an old mining camp from several years ago. Several miles further we came across the present mining camp. What a mess. There were trees chopped off two feet or more from the ground in all directions, old oil drums, tin cans, bottles, and all sorts of other imaginable debris everywhere within throwing distance. The mining camps support diamond drilling operations prospecting for copper ore. Large scaffolds in several places support the drills. All of it is supplied by helicopter. We hiked on along Miner’s Ridge. It was a stiff climb to high steep grassy slopes, then around into a cove in the ridge and Image Lake finally below. Image Lake is in a small depression held back by a rock lip around the downhill edge. Below the lip, the valley plunges deeply down to the Suiattle River canyon, while our gaze moves upward to the steeper slopes across the river valley, up, up, to lower snow fields and finally to the immense, white glacier-covered slopes of Glacier Peak. Ardis preceded me into camp, while I exposed several large format black and white negatives and color transparencies of the Suiattle River Valley and surrounding peaks. I found Ardis’ welcome of hot soup as I walked into camp by the shore of Image Lake. There was a beautiful full moon that night over the snowy slopes of Glacier Peak across the valley.

Tuesday, August 21:  I woke up early to make more 5X7 view camera photographs of Glacier Peak across and from above Image Lake. Then I climbed the pass behind the lake for a view across Canyon Creek and Canyon Lake nestled in a cirque about two thirds of the way to the top of the ridge. Then I joined Ardis and some of the others, picking up our packs and heading back down to our Lyman Lake Sierra Club Base Camp. On the way, we took a high trail near the mine and ended up near one of the drilling rigs watching the helicopter operation. We took off cross-country, off-trail, bushwhacking while contouring along the ridge. After negotiating several patches of heavy forest and avalanche paths, we rejoined the trail for the climb up to Siuattle Pass and Cloudy Pass, followed by the drop down into the Lyman Lake basin. It’s a long haul, not so easily done with backpacks as we were led to believe. The mob had descended on Lyman Lake Base Camp. Already the lake surroundings look beat up. Circus tents are up, as well as individual large tents, which the management rents out.

Wednesday, August 22:  I hiked up to the South Peak of North Star Mountain today for magnificent views of Glacier Peak over Cloudy Pass and Siuattle Pass. Oliver Kehrlein made a sly dig at me at the evening campfire for going up alone.

Thursday, August 23:  We were up early for the walk out to Holden, Washington, leaving the Lyman Lake Base Camp for the trip around to the Sloan Creek Sierra Club High Trip. It was cloudy early, bringing the first threat of rain this week. It rained some on us backpacking down. We took the bus from Holden to Lucerne and down Lake Chelan in a boat. There was some hard rain on the lake. It was overcast all afternoon and night, as we camped in the US Forest Service campground on Steven’s Pass…

More in another blog post as the Hydes met up with the David Brower family, Howard Zahniser family, Jane Goldsworthy, Bob Golden, Rich Miller and other Sierra Club Board members and regular members…

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 3

March 3rd, 2010

Whirlpool Canyon, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah-Colorado, 1951, by Philip Hyde.

Philip Hyde on Assignment in Dinosaur National Monument and the Setting for the Battle that Helped Launch the Modern Environmental Movement

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 2“)

The Escalante Overlook is the first branch off of the Harper’s Corner Road. Today there are signs at the Escalante Overlook discussing air pollution, its effects and what average people can do to decrease it. It is surprising to find signs on this subject in Dinosaur, the remotest National Monument in the lower 48 states, but a thick sea of haze nearly always sits on the southern horizon, carrying 500 miles from Southern California or occasionally from Texas or Mexico. The signs also show nearby copper smelters, oil refineries, and both coal and oil-fired power plants where pollution originates. One sign says, “If each commuter car carried just one more person we would save 600,000 gallons of gas a day. Welcome to Dinosaur National Monument.” See this article: “Road Transportation Is The Greatest Culprit In Global Warming.”

When the Bureau of Reclamation first proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument and downstream at Glen Canyon, in the Grand Canyon and at many other sites on the Colorado watershed, they claimed hydropower was clean energy. This has subsequently proven incorrect as scientists have discovered that reservoirs, especially in the hot Southwest, radiate greenhouse gases. To read about some of what was lost when Glen Canyon was dammed, see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde.”

At another overlook an unimproved trail winds out to the canyon rim. Cholla Cactus wedges between parted layers of lichen-covered sandstone. Skunkweed and sage hold to small troughs of soil. To the right the cliff drops a dizzying 1,500 feet straight down to the steep slopes dotted with the green of stunted Douglas Fir and Juniper that run down to the edge of the inner gorge of bare rocks and wind-swept stone domes. Lichen varies from black to gray to burnt orange, yellow-green, gray-green and many combinations, matching the layers of sandstone. Robins and a Chickadee call softly. Back from the cliff edge the gray twisted wood of dead Junipers and Pinon Pines shelters Rudbeckia, a tall yellow star-shaped flower. Today Dinosaur remains one of the least developed National Monuments in the country. Most of the roads are still unpaved and few are graded and graveled.

Following the plateau skirting the canyons, on 26 miles of part dirt and part pavement, between monument headquarters and the Echo Park turnoff, the weather changes four or five times. At one moment the white puffy clouds with plenty of blue sky between look harmless. In the next moment after topping the plateau, a low, dark bank of clouds approaches. It is hard to tell at what speed the clouds are approaching, when they will arrive, how soon they might produce rain, or whether they are headed toward the Echo Park road that cuts steeply down through long, precipitous alluvial slopes and sandstone cliffs.

In dry weather, the hardened mud-slide road is more visible and easily examined from the turnoff as it descends. The beginning of the route consists of mostly gravel and seems easily passable, perhaps even in rain. The roughest, most rutted part of the road is deceptively out of sight and turns to clay as slippery as axel grease when wet. In the space of 15 minutes the sky shifts and changes several times from threatening to clearing. Before a rain any two-wheel-drive car could make it down the 13 miles, but not back up—rain could trap an unfortunate sojourner in Echo Park for days.

In 1950 Richard Leonard served both on the Sierra Club Board and as a leader of the Wilderness Society. Olaus Murie and Margaret Murie were also Wilderness Society leaders. After a meeting of Wilderness Society leaders in Denver, Richard Leonard, Olaus Murie his wife Margaret Murie visited Dinosaur National Monument. They made it out of Echo Park without incident and they were greatly impressed by its scenery. The next year when Richard Leonard and Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower sent my father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde on assignment to Dinosaur National Monument, Dad almost did not make it out of Echo Park.

When Richard Leonard returned to the Sierra Club Headquarters in San Francisco he and David Brower, then Fifth Executive Board Member, agreed to team up to work on the Dinosaur battle. They had been climbing friends for a long time. But they were preoccupied with many battles in the early 1950s and the Dinosaur National Monument issue sat on a shelf for a year until after David Brower met Philip Hyde. They met, Dad said, “Probably in Tuolumne Meadows, when Dave was coming through and Ardis and I were custodians at the Sierra Club Lodge. I used to think that Ansel introduced me to Dave, but Dave said no, that I met him before that.”

“That was the beginning of a very long association with Dave of making books and working with the Sierra Club too.” Dad made sure he did not work “for” the Sierra Club. He was a freelancer on assignment. “They managed to scrape together small amounts of cash and I would go off on a project.” Dad said. “In the case of my first trip in July l950, Dave invited me to accompany the 6 week High Trip, which looking back now was very important for me to do.” Following the High Trip, a signature, or series, of Dad’s photographs graced the pages of the Sierra Club Bulletin. It was Dad’s first publication and was widely acclaimed. That paved the path for David Brower to suggest to the Sierra Club Board that Dad go to Dinosaur and bring back some of the beauty.

On assignment from the Sierra Club in June 1951, Dad had difficulty making it out of Echo Park even in dry weather. Dad said that when he and my mother, Ardis Hyde, tried to climb the steep hill out of Echo Park in their 1949 Studebaker Champion, they could not make it up the steep section above the inner canyon.

“We had a lot of camping gear, food, photography equipment and God knows what else,” Dad said. “Champion was notoriously underpowered. I got up as far as I could and unloaded the car partially. We took what was left on up to where the road leveled off a bit. Ardis stood by the upper half of the load while I went back for the rest. That was the kind of thing you had to be prepared to do in that country because there isn’t any help out there.” Ardis and Philip Hyde worked as a team and Mom never balked at any challenge nature presented. At Dad’s picture stops, Mom slipped right out into the deep grasses or onto the steep hillsides, observing and identifying all she saw. She was a keen birder and a self-trained botanist.

Dad and Mom drove from their home in Greenville in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northeastern California about 850 miles to Dinosaur National Monument with only a verbal request from the Sierra Club and a promise to pay Dad’s expenses plus one dollar per print or published landscape photograph. He was not long out of photography school at the California School of Fine Arts where he studied under Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston, with guest lecturers including Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model and other photography greats from 1946 to 1950. Philip Hyde joined the Sierra Club in 1946, a year before his marriage. Ardis Hyde joined the Sierra Club the year she married Dad. They were married four years when she accompanied him on this, his first photographic assignment to the dry Colorado Plateau. The young couple had become acquainted while attending the University of California Berkeley and found they had much in common including a shared passion for nature. Both of them grew up camping under the stars, Philip in the Boy Scouts and with his family; Ardis with her family, her father especially loved the outdoors. Later, the couple imparted that love to me, their only son.

Dad’s wilderness photographs in time would appear in more environmental campaigns than any other landscape photographer. Dinosaur was the first major campaign, and to this day Dad’s image of Steamboat Rock is one of his most published. “That photograph became a symbol of the fight to save Dinosaur National Monument,” Dad explained. “Steamboat Rock was the symbol representing Dinosaur long before I photographed it.” Dad made his photograph from the end of Echo Park where the road enters, near the cliff across the field and opposite Steamboat Rock, probably not far from the old cabin, where the night Ranger now stays.

Today, the field is home to at least one four-foot long rattlesnake. I saw the distinctive diamond-shaped skin pattern and rattles as the snake slithered away when I was stalking Dad’s picture site. He made the photograph with his 5X7 Deardorf View Camera. He framed the picture with some of the waist-high grasses in the foreground and the dry desert grasses only an inch or two long stretched away toward the Cottonwood-lined river and the 800 foot tall Steamboat Rock looming over it all. As with his later landscape masterpieces, Dad’s use of foreground detail invites the viewer to all but step into the photograph.

At the upstream end of Echo Park the Yampa River joins the Green River just out of sight on the far side of Steamboat Rock. On the near side of the giant monolith, the narrow 1,000 foot deep gorge opens into Echo Park, essentially a small valley lush with cottonwoods, willows, native grasses and wildlife. Off to the left of the road at the downstream end of the valley lies a small 17-site campground with running water. A gravel road leads down to the river for float trip access. At the water’s edge Steamboat Rock dominates the view. Its hulking nearly 800 foot tall mass of vertical sandstone rises directly out of the far side of the swirling waters of the Green. The swollen river slows, reflecting glimpses of red sandstone and shattering the images as the torrent churns again naturally free and unfettered.

From the boat landing the proposed dam site is almost visible just out of sight where the river dives back between narrow sheer walls that could make dam construction easy. The boat landing would have been buried under 500 feet of water. Echo Park potentially could have become the ideal water storage tank, though its scenery would be destroyed, not enhanced as the Bureau of Reclamation claimed. Only the top 300 feet of Steamboat Rock would have shown and the sense of the size and grandeur of the formation would have vanished. With the monolith dwarfed, visitors today would be left with the reek of motorboat gasoline and a cesspool of settling mud and evaporating water.

Some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire region would have been inundated along with Echo Park. The road into Echo Park through Sand Canyon, along shady Pool Creek and the Pool Creek Petroglyphs, would all have been flooded. In Sand Canyon the sandstone forms into cake-layered tan-gray rock terraces. Over the terraces and alternating rounded and undercut layers, the black lichen stains run vertically where water seeps. In the horizontal ledges Junipers cling to pockets of earth. At intervals the soft underlayers cut far under harder layers to form overhangs and caves. A few of these have collapsed or partially collapsed roofs forming the beginnings of future arches. All of this would have been lost.

Dinosaur National Monument contains 200,000 acres, predominately canyons. Most of the canyons would have been flooded with the dams in place, virtually eliminating the primary scenic feature. The two proposed dams, at Split Mountain and at Echo Park, would have inundated about 91 out of 101 river miles in the monument, Sue Walter explains in her Ranger talk at Dinosaur National Monument Headquarters. She reminds the listener that the Bureau of Reclamation did have a dam built upstream from Dinosaur’s northern boundary, on the Wyoming border at Flaming Gorge, but the Yampa River remains the only undammed tributary to the Colorado River system. Because of this the Yampa River is the only surviving habitat for four endangered fish species: the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Colorado River Squawfish and Bonytail Chub. Dams stop the flooding that maintains natural flora and fauna and creates backwaters for spawning.

Wishing to photograph some of the wildest parts of the Yampa River and Green River, Ardis and Philip Hyde explored the Dinosaur National Monument canyons the whole month of June, 1951.

In a letter from the field to Richard Leonard, Secretary on the Sierra Club Board of Directors, Dad wrote, “At Mantle’s Ranch we wandered for eight days and left feeling like we’d only scratched the surface.” Mantle’s Ranch is in Castle Park, another verdant opening of the canyon into valley, upstream from Echo Park. The Mantles were early homesteaders before the monument. Into Mantle’s Ranch Mom and Dad followed a landscape architect in a jeep, who was investigating possible campground sites and other potential improvements for the Park Service. Fortunately a Park Ranger followed along behind them in a green Charger.

Dad began to have misgivings he said when, “We dropped down into most aptly named Hell’s Canyon. Champion’s undersides began utter protests and finally after half-a-dozen very rough creek crossings, downright refused to go any farther, conked out and rolled back a little before I could stop and we crunched on a rock. Next we knew, gas was gushing from the wound…

(CONTINUED IN THE NEXT BLOG POST IN THE SERIES, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 4.”)