Interview with David Leland Hyde

| September 13, 2011

Isaac Newton famously said that if he had seen further it is because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. Similarly, modern conservation photographers are carrying on the tradition of pioneers who used their photographic art to advocate for the preservation of wild places. Still, even among these proverbial giants of conservation photography, some stand taller than others and one of the tallest among them is photographer Philip Hyde.

I often tell the story of my first introduction to the American West through the writing of Edward Abbey. It was also through Abbey’s writing that I was first exposed to the work of Philip Hyde in a collaborative Sierra Club book titled Slickrock. And, it was the works of Hyde, Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter that introduced me to the writing and works of legendary Sierra Club executive director David Brower. These four men elevated conservation photography to a powerful form of expression, leveraging it to win some of the greatest battles in defense of America’s wild places.

Indeed, while many credit Jazz with the honor of being the quintessential American art form, I would argue that fine art landscape photography deserves a similar honor, and possibly more so.

Not too long ago, I was introduced to David Leland Hyde, son of Philip Hyde. David and I began an email exchange in which I came to appreciate a lot about his work and his family’s legacy that you can read about on his blog at Landscape Photography Blogger. Indeed, I learned that creativity, talent, morality and standing up for one’s beliefs have characterized the Hyde family for several generations.

The documentary “Monumental: David Brower’s Fight for Wild America” begins with the sad statement that younger people today no longer know of Brower’s work. As an immigrant to the US, I may never have learned about his legacy myself if it were not for my own consuming love affair with the American wilderness. I expect that, similarly, some conservation photographers today may not be aware of the work and importance of Philip Hyde. I urge readers to research the work of these great activists, read their writing and study their images. In these times of political unrest, war and economic uncertainty; it is worth remembering their proud tradition of beauty and personal integrity motivated by a goal as noble as any: defending the beauty of the American land.

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Thank you, David, for taking the time to discuss some of your work, and your dad’s. David, you appeared on the photography scene a couple of years ago when you decided to transition away from your previous career and dedicate yourself to promoting your late father Philip Hyde’s work. What inspired this change and what made it so meaningful?

Thank you, Guy, for interviewing me. I appreciate the opportunity. Your blog posts are some of the most inspiring photography and writing ever on the planet. I am thankful for your leadership and your kindness to me.

Today, as I begin to respond to your questions it is August 15, which would have been my father’s 90th birthday. My father lost his eyesight in 1999-2000. When my mother Ardis passed on in 2002, I left my job in greater Albany, New York and moved back to California to live with my father as his primary caregiver. Between 2002 and 2006, my father’s memory declined, but phone and e-mail requests for photographs continued. Dad asked me to field his business calls while he coached me. I had to be his eyesight in his business. He even tried to print in the darkroom using my eyes, but his eyes had been so highly tuned to what he was looking for and mine were not at his level of excellence. After he passed on it seemed natural to continue developing the work. Also, I felt a certain, for lack of a better phrase, ‘moral imperative’ to carry on Dad’s conservation with photography.  He taught me to love wilderness and the process of helping to advocate for it with photography. I had already worked for years on environmental and health issues through writing and activism. Also, I felt he had not received the level of recognition he deserved for the central role his images played in the beginnings of the modern environmental movement and in the popularization of landscape photography.

It seems your father’s work had laid somewhat dormant in the period after the height of the Sierra Club publications. Is this true?

My father’s photography never laid dormant. He allowed it to fall off some as he went into semi-retirement. He had done fairly well with some of his books, many later than the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. His average income throughout his career was less than what is considered poverty level, but he always bought everything with cash, had low overhead and was extremely frugal. He lived a low-impact lifestyle. He also made a choice early in his career to live in the wilderness away from the market. He spent his time writing activist letters, talking to Department of Interior officials, politicians and those actively working to defend wilderness. He spent much less time with curators, gallerists and public relations professionals. Early in his career he exhibited with Group f.64, in major art museum shows that Minor White curated or in shows where Ansel Adams recommended him. In 1950, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams sponsored Dad’s Guggenheim application, but it was turned down for being “too much like Ansel’s” because Dad wanted to photograph national parks and potential national parks. Mary Street Alinder in her biography of Ansel wrote that Guggenheim often turned down candidates on their first application. Dad never reapplied like many other photographers who received Guggenheim fellowships and were more recognized and shown more often by the major museums. As his career developed and he moved into color photography, he tended to have major exhibitions in natural science museums more than art museums. It just worked out that way. Natural science museums were more interested in his work and he had greater affinity with them anyway.

Lava, Flowers, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

Lava, Flowers, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho by Philip Hyde

Your father was a contemporary of Ansel Adams, Minor White and other noteworthy photographers, yet his work seems to have taken a somewhat different path, and perhaps not received as much of the limelight in recent years by comparison. What do you attribute it to?

If you look at all photographers of my father’s generation, comparatively he did a good job of becoming well-known. The reason he seems less prominent now is that some people compare him to Ansel Adams, which may be inevitable but unfair to both. First of all, they were friends and working on the same side. Secondly, in many ways my father was the most famous of all photographers in certain environmental and conservation circles and still is. Ansel of course is the giant of all giants in photography. People understood very well what motivated my father to photograph. They also appreciated what his photographs accomplished as far as making national parks and other wilderness. Dad was first and foremost an environmentalist and Ansel was first and foremost an artist and proponent of photography. Ansel accomplished more on a larger scale with statesmen and presidents in relation to the environment, but Dad was the man on the ground, mixed up in the skirmishes, writing the letters, supplying prints to campaign leaders, interacting with the local grass roots. Thirdly, Ansel and his crew have been able to build his name beyond that of any other photographer and many other celebrities. You can’t compare my father’s one-man show to what Ansel did.

My father’s example was also in lifestyle. He lived with low impact and very simply, yet he was renewed and enriched by the natural world every day. Nature was not just a drive-by attraction for him like it is with many landscape photographers today. Dad lived a balanced, nurturing life in the wilderness. Ansel’s long hours, self-destroying work load and health problems were widely known. Ansel gave it all for the cause of photography. My father gave Ansel credit for a good portion of his reputation because Ansel helped Dad so much in his career and as an advisor. Ansel played this role with dozens, and to a lesser degree with thousands of photographers. He had more students than any other photographic mentor of which I am aware. On the other hand, Dad was one of the few of Ansel’s full-time three year students who also taught with him in workshops. I believe John Upton and Pirkle Jones were the only other two who were both students and teachers with Ansel, but neither of them were landscape photographers like Ansel.

Marble Gorge
Marble Gorge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona by Philip Hyde

In the introduction above I mentioned that landscape photography as a form of art has its roots in the American conservation movement and deserves to be recognized as a quintessentially American art form, same as Jazz. Would you agree with this characterization?

Landscape photography and conservation photography were invented when Abraham Lincoln looked at photographs to make his decision to sign Yosemite into becoming a land preserve and later a national park. The early photographers of the Western U.S. were the first to photograph nothing but scenery mainly out of necessity because that was all they had to photograph. Ansel was really the one who later invented and established photography of the natural scene as an art. Edward Weston, Brett Weston and a few others probably share the honor too. Some call this the West Coast tradition or the Carmel School or the California School, etc, etc. However, as I mentioned previously, it wasn’t until the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series that landscape photography became popular with the general public. As well documented, dated and widely substantiated as this perspective is, I have found that there are still whole schools of thought that completely disagree with this lineage. They attribute conservation photography to National Geographic and some other publications. However, in my father’s day, National Geographic type photographers were not considered nature, conservation, landscape or even art photographers. They were journalists, period. The idea of “telling a story” with photographs and “getting the shot” all came from journalism that morphed into nature photography. Today, there are grey areas between journalism, documentary, art and nature photography.

Driftwood On Beach At Granite Falls, Grand Canyon National Park

Driftwood On Beach At Granite Falls, Grand Canyon National Park by Philip Hyde

You mentioned the Sierra Club series of books as playing a major role in introducing and popularizing conservation and fine photography into the mainstream. Do you foresee the possibility of another medium doing the same at some point in the future? Is the audience still there?

I feel that the iLCP (International League of Conservation Photographers) have come up with something unique with their R.A.V.E.’s, or Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions. This medium has brought a great deal of attention to pertinent conservation issues. I also feel that Art Wolfe with his TV show helped to develop interest in conservation and photography. Other photo TV shows, while being run by nice, friendly people, are not so good for landscape photography or the outdoors because they overemphasize the “danger” involved in “getting the shot,” a heavily overused phrase. The general public today is already far too divorced from the realities of the outdoors. They don’t need someone confusing or misleading them with falsified fear-based theatrics.

Alder And Redwoods In Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Ca

Alder And Redwoods In Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California by Philip Hyde

To an outsider, your dad’s life and work seem almost iconic. He was a prominent figure in what you describe as nature photography’s “golden era,” and had worked tirelessly to both experience and protect the wild lands of the American West. In our day, he and his contemporaries are celebrated as pillars of the American conservation movement. Still, in recent years we’ve seen conservation efforts decline, protections eroded and natural resources sacrificed for profit more than ever before. In your mind, where did things go wrong and why?

What myself and others have referred to as photography’s golden era was 1932-1955, the period just before and while my father attended photography school at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, under Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White, Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model, Imogen Cunningham and other definers of the medium. I believe nature photography’s golden era came a bit later. It was commonly known and has been written by many that the groundbreaking Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series popularized both the coffee table photography book and landscape photography in the 1950s and 1960s. The Exhibit Format Series led by photographers and conservation leaders such as Ansel Adams, David Brower, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, Martin Litton and others also put the Sierra Club and the modern environmental movement on the map. It helped establish or expand many of the national parks and wilderness areas of the Western U.S. Nonetheless, it was still a difficult time for nature photography, with little demand or market for such images. Not long before my father’s prime in photography, the medium was not even considered an art. I write an ongoing series of blog posts titled “Photography’s Golden Era,” about those who were my father’s mentors and who established photography as a fine art. The posts start with the lineage of Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The blog posts continue with Minor White and Dad’s enrollment in the first photography school to offer a curriculum in photography as a full-time profession. As my blog posts dig deeper into Ansel’s photography program and my father’s experience there, the series of posts changes name from “Photography’s Golden Era,” to “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.”

Today more photographers are working in conservation than ever before. Photography has done much to protect wilderness and build public awareness. Unfortunately at the same time the pressures on wilderness and resources are much greater and increasing all the time. As the population grows, untrammeled lands continue to shrink, as does the air and water quality. We each continue to use more of the Earth’s resources than we need. On a mass level this results in a huge tide that sweeps corporate interests “forward,” doing what they’ve always done, and the political process along with them. While photography can still do much, my father said years ago that most of the battles are in the hands of lawyers now. My job now is to induct Dad’s prints into more of the best museums and photography collections. I am working to further establish his name in the art world. I believe that a man like my father who dedicated his life and work to conservation, ought to have just as much recognition as other photographers who did what they did solely for the sake of the art, or who did what they did for the art first and for conservation as a secondary concern.

Reflection Pool Escalante

Reflection Pool, Escalante Wilderness, Utah by Philip Hyde

Anyone who reads your blog is well aware of your eloquent and powerful writing. Your father was obviously a gifted photographer and activist, and your grandfather was a painter. Something seems to run in the family, though it seems each generation chooses a different means of expression. Do you think of your writing as carrying on and extending the tradition or as a different and independent pursuit? Also, in your mind, how are writing and photography similar or different when it comes to creative expression and advocacy?

My grandfather, Leland Hyde, was a regionally known painter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended the famous L’ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, France at the height of modernism when Paris was the uncontested art center of the world. L’ecole des Beaux Arts has offered artists free tuition since the 1500s, but is extremely hard to get into. I was thrilled to find out more about my grandfather and his success as a full-time artist supporting a family of five through the Great Depression. He worked as a furniture designer, made oil paintings on commission and drew plans and perspective architectural renderings of major industrial buildings. He worked for the “infamous” Bechtel for a number of years. The best part of the story is that my grandfather and grandmother came into a small inheritance during the worst of the Depression. Grandma wanted to be sensible and buy a house. Grandpa wanted to pursue his life’s dream of going to art school. Dad described it as there having been quite a bit of debate between them about it. Finally Grandma said, “Go Leland. Go to Paris for art school. I’ll stay here in San Francisco and look after the kids.” Grandpa wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted on bringing the whole family with him to Europe. My father at age 11, his older sister Betty, age 16, and their little brother Davey, age 5, all packed up and drove across the country to New York to catch the steamer to Europe to live while Leland went to art school. I’ve already given away the punch line to the story. They lived in Paris for a year and traveled around rural Europe while Leland painted. When they returned to San Francisco, my grandfather was gainfully employed as an artist. He was able to follow his dream even in the height of the Depression. My father said, “We had some slim times but we never missed a meal.”

Flower Vendor of Paris, France by Leland Hyde

Flower Vendor of Paris, France by Leland Hyde

My father never talked much about his father. I believe that Dad wanted to stand on his own merit. He intended for people to know him for his own accomplishments. In that sense, you could say that my father was more admirable than I am, but I don’t believe in overblowing my own merit either. Nor do I believe in hiding my own accomplishments, as my father often did, or omitting from my discourse that I am related to talented people. I sometimes fail, but as a journalist, my intention is to tell my story and my father’s story as accurately and completely as possible. There may be something to having good genes. I feel it probably has more to do with souls who are creative wanting to incarnate into families that will best support their creativity, or in some cases, families that negate their creativity so much that the creative offspring rebels and succeeds anyway.

The Minarets, High Sierra by Leland Hyde

The Minarets, High Sierra by Leland Hyde

That I am a “creative person” certainly had to do with my father and my life-long awe and admiration for him, but it probably had even more to do with my mother. As my father once said, “She brought us culture.” She was a school teacher with a broad interest in the arts and humanities. She read to me for hours every day. She took me to see music, plays, and other cultural events. She set up an easel with giant construction paper, water color paints and big paint brushes for me to “paint” when I was three years old. She wouldn’t chauffeur me to sports or sporting events, but she drove me to and paid for guitar lessons and art classes. She taught me to read way before most other children learn. I loved books. I was the top reader in second grade class. A love of writing developed with reading. I wrote a novel at age 11. I then forgot all about it. In high school I had an English teacher who gave me bad grades and convinced me that I did not have any talent for writing. During high school I excelled in math. In college, I told my English professor of my experience in high school and my doubts about my writing abilities. He said I was a good writer. At the same time I earned a D- in Calculus. So much for being good in math and bad in English. Turns out, I wasn’t ever all that technical, but I was visual.

Wing Lake

Wing Lake, North Cascades National Park, Washington by Philip Hyde

Will it be too invasive to ask about the spiritual forces that drive your work?

Not at all. I feel it is perhaps one of the most important factors. My father once wrote that he talked about what people call spirituality, but he shied away from using the term “spiritual” or other related overused jargon. I have intended to emulate Dad, but I seem to have picked up a lot of jargon by reading about many religions and practices. I don’t like to over talk certain aspects of spirituality because it is personal. Also, it is easy to offend someone with different beliefs. I believe in a unifying force or God, but not the God that man-made religion sometimes shoves down people’s throats. As a species we have become disconnected from nature. Studies have shown that this is psychologically damaging, leads to health problems and shortened life span. It also causes us not only to abuse ourselves, but also to abuse our home, the Earth and “the environment,” as it is called. My father wanted to persuade people to appreciate wilderness enough to become inspired to save it. In this generation we need to go to the causes of why we feel we “need” to destroy nature to provide what we need. Generations that were closer to the natural world understood that nature provides. My intent is to help people reconnect with nature on a deep, visceral level and thereby reap the rewards of improved mental, physical and spiritual health. This in turn can help to shift our “consciousness,” which will enable the letting go of ideas of scarcity and greed. Greed is essentially fear, the fear of not having enough. As we eliminate or at least decrease fear and greed in our psyche, we will make very different decisions regarding the rest of humanity, natural resources, wilderness, and our methods of how we implement and measure economic factors and prosperity. What we need on this planet is to replace short-term greed and prosperity with long-term Earth-friendly prosperity. And this will come through a shift in awareness more than through shifts in policy.

Let’s talk about your own photography for a bit. I suppose the obvious question is whether you ever felt compelled to follow in your dad’s footsteps?

My father gave me a Pentax K1000 35 mm film camera when I was around 10 years old. I photographed off and on but never took it that seriously. I used my Pentax at Yellowstone and Craters of the Moon at age 17. When I was in college the second time years later while in my 30s, covering the music scene for Crosswinds Weekly in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I also took out my trusty old Pentax. I remember resenting my father for having given me a manual-only camera because it was hard to capture the fast-moving action and bright lights of rock bands playing at night or sports teams during the day. Today I am grateful to Dad for starting me on that camera because I learned the relationships important to photography, even though I forgot some subsequently. After my dad lost his eyesight and I began to look at more and more of his photographs and develop my eye, I started seeing photo opportunities everywhere. After Dad passed on there seemed to be a significant increase in my ability to recognize good images. I like to imagine that this was him wanting to see the world through my eyes, helping me to observe what I missed before. In 2009 I bought a Nikon D90 DSLR. It was so much easier to use than a film camera. As we can see is true of the huge influx of new participants into photography, getting to the point where I could make decent images was nowhere near as challenging as it had been in the film era.

Winding Road, Grey Talus Slopes, San Rafael Swell

Winding Road, Grey Talus Slopes, San Rafael Swell, Utah by David Leland Hyde

I have felt a bit guilty sometimes about not being more like my dad and not taking more time to learn photography from him, though I could just as easily blame him for it as blame myself, neither of which is how I see it now. I feel I could be a good photographer, but I wouldn’t have the same window of opportunity with mentors, conservation and the beginnings of photography books the way he did. All of that aside, photography is growing on me gradually the more I do it, which isn’t always that often. I just set the camera down for four months straight. I took a break and focused on writing. I took it up again last month, but frankly, I am just not drawn to being a full-time photographer. Dad was very passionate about it. I admired him for that. I have certainly been passionate in my life about a number of things to at least the same degree, but not toward photography. For reason one, I have a very strong aversion to extremely long hours and low pay. It seems like a good amount of your income, Guy, comes from writing about photography rather than photography itself. That’s what I’m interested in, writing, and not just about photography either. I have a Novel idea for which I have written chapters, characters and the plot. Plus I have a file drawer full of stage plays and one screenplay from college. “That’s OK,” my friend Betsy Cramer said once, “Everyone has a screenplay.” Making photographs is mainly a great hobby now, though I am full-time in the business of photography. My goals are to share Dad’s work with more people, stay in business, widen the awareness of conservation photography and help some environmental causes.

Adobe Wall Detail, Taos

Adobe Wall Detail, Taos, New Mexico by David Leland Hyde

It’s also obvious from your answer above that your mother had a profound influence on both your work and your father’s. Are there specific things you’d care to highlight about her and her role in your dad’s work?

My mother, Ardis King Hyde, was a powerful, yet self-sacrificing companion and helpmate to my father, as well as the greatest mom ever, particularly in my earlier childhood. I have many, many fond memories. Though we butted heads later as I moved into the teenage years, I couldn’t have asked for a better mother as a role model of class, etiquette, charm, manners, independence within teamwork, positive attitude, integrity, interest in culture, connection and passion for nature, humor, tireless work of many kinds and loyalty to my father in every way and on all levels. She was the support system, the backbone, the foundation for both my father and me. Besides, neither Dad nor I had a good memory. She remembered everything. She was an excellent story teller as exhibited in my series of blog posts by her on our three month trip to Denali National Park when I was five turning six years old. When my parents were getting organized for a trip, Dad poured over the maps, planned the itinerary, made phone calls to arrange meetings with pertinent people along the way and packed the photo gear. Mom outfitted the vehicle with everything else we needed. She planned the food for months at a time and all other gear, clothing and supplies. My mother took care of the correspondence and other basic tasks of the business too, freeing Dad to put more of his time into creativity and the work that would bring in revenue. As for her influence on my own work, she and Dad both taught me how to be joyful all the time, even while going about long, tedious work projects. They also passed to me a love of  the natural world and of the act of creating art of whatever kind.

Mt. Hough, Indian Valley

Mt. Hough, Indian Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada, California by David Leland Hyde

While most might think of your father’s work as being focused primarily on conservation, a deeper study reveals a keen awareness of visual design and elements of composition and aesthetics that were not common in photography in his day. If you had to characterize your dad’s contribution to the artistic pursuit of landscape photography (as opposed to its documentary role,) what aspects of it will you highlight?

Dad’s contribution to the art of landscape photography had to do with composition. Most of the rules you read about on websites today were essentially invented by Dad or borrowed by him from other artists or his father. Dad then popularized them in the Exhibit Format Series. For example, large format photographers specialize in the extreme near-far. With a large format bellows camera, you can change the plane of focus by tilting the bellows. This enables you to focus on what is up close to the camera and far away as well. The near-far and the addition of depth in two-dimensional art has been emphasized for centuries and taught in the best schools. Dad learned it and other basic artistic techniques from his father.

Another rule they teach is having an interesting foreground. Dad’s photographs contain unusual shapes of wood, water, grass, ancient, yet dwarfed Juniper trees or snags, strangely twisted rocks and other bizaare eye-arresting objects. At one time I thought maybe my father had invented putting a strangely shaped driftwood in the foreground. However, when I looked, Ansel Adams did it, Cedric Wright did it and I believe some of the early 1800s photographers did it too.

Dad used the morning magic hour and the evening alpenglow hour, but he also used the rest of the day to photograph too. Obviously many other photographers have done this, but Dad probably made more great daytime landscape photographs and had them more widely published than most others. He made an approximate total of 45,000 images in his 60 years of photography, over half of them with a large format camera. Dad was one of the first landscape photographers to photograph what people now call “God’s Rays” through a sun-drenched misty forest. He also capitalized on many other tricks of light in general and of the sun in particular. He specialized in photographing the sun reflected directly off the water, off windows, mirrors, cars and other objects.

A favorite rule is the use of lines in landscape photography. Dad’s photographs contain receding perspective lines, phone lines, beach curves, clouds in a line, trees and other long-straight objects. I could continue to bore you with how Dad’s photographs are fine examples of many of the most steadfast rules in art, but Dad also mentioned many times that Edward Weston often said in the context of photography that “rules are made to be broken.” The point though is that Dad was often the one who popularized a technique because people emulated what he had done. For example, one year he made a photograph with pine branches and needles hanging down from the top of the frame with no other part of the tree in the image. Within the next few years a number of landscape photographers published photographs with trees hanging down from the top. The same process of emulation and even outright copying as I described above, whether inadvertent or purposeful, happens more quickly on the internet now. As far as I know, my father was the first to publish a photograph of the Colorado River and Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah. Today the park website states that this scene is one of the most photographed viewpoints in the world.

In his later years, your dad was aware of the era of digital photography and other technological advancements that were not available to him throughout most of his career. Did he have any opinions or strong feelings about these?

My father did not understand computer technology. He had already lost his eyesight before the internet became dominant in photography and other fields. I remember my whole life that my father always rejected new concepts at first, but then over time he embraced them. He was that way with digital too. He was blown away when master photographer and print maker Carr Clifton restored two damaged images from “Navajo Wildlands.” When “Navajo Wildlands” first came out in 1967, someone at the printer, Barnes Press, made fingerprints in the sky of both “Horse And Cottonwoods At The Mouth Of Canyon De Chelly” and “Stormlight, Canyon De Chelly.” Carr restored the two images and made a number of digital prints. Dad was floored. He liked and signed a total of about five digital prints. However, he was against his photographs being on the internet at all. He thought people would steal them and use them without paying him for his work and expense to make and develop the images. He was right, but obviously few contemporary photographers now are not on the internet. It has become the home necessity that the telephone once was. If Dad were around today, he would most probably be using the internet just like everyone else. He might even, gasp, start using a digital capture camera like many of the who’s who of large format landscape photography are now doing. However, before he passed on he expressed gratitude that he was able to conclude his career all within the film era. He was happy to remain the product and emissary of a “simpler time.”

Your dad studied under such masters as Minor White and Edward Weston; and worked with giants of the American conservation movement, such as Wallace Stegner, David Brower and Ed Abbey. Do you think he was aware, at the time, of the immensity of the contribution they were making or did this recognition come after the fact? Also, do you feel that the opportunity for similar achievements and contributions is still there today?

My father felt that what they had done to protect wilderness was important, but as far as his contribution to landscape photography, he passed on without claiming much. As far as whether an opportunity to make a contribution still exists today, absolutely. Usually just about the time any art medium becomes a bit predictable, someone does something to change the paradigm and a new invention is born. At the same time, here’s the dichotomy of Dad’s thinking on unique expression and its importance: Dad wrote about it in an exercise on writing a letter to your grandchildren that I gave him while interviewing him for my book. He dictated to me his letter to his grandchildren. In it he said the most important accomplishment of any artist is to find his or her own voice. In contrast, during the 1970s he wrote in a letter to a staff member of the Ansel Adams Workshops that young people are always wound up about doing something new, but as an artist becomes more seasoned, he or she realizes that it has all been done before. Rather than trying to do something unusual, it is best to be yourself and express your own convictions as best you can through your art and if this does not result in something unique, at least it will give the world a new angle on what we’ve seen before.

You have a few projects in the works, some related to your dad’s work and others your own. Can you mention some of them and the motivations behind them?

The development of my father’s work entails getting it into museums and well-known collections, which is ongoing. In the process of working on the primary book project I have come to realize that there is so much material that a series of books could be possible. I am in the process of sifting through the material, putting some of it on my blog and determining what will work in the first book about my parents and their wilderness photography love affair. I am also interviewing many of Dad’s friends for the book too. However, I have also realized in the process of completing around 100 interviews and having about 50 more to do now, that there is much more material in interviews than can fit in one book too. I am blessed with masses of material, now it is up to me to have the patience to take the years it will take to sort it all out and discover what will make a contribution to photography and the world in general. I believe my parents were an example and maintained a lifestyle that people today can emulate to bring our civilization more in balance with the Earth. This is what motivates me in all of these projects. I’m looking for the content that will have the most impact.

Abstract Rock Shadows, Feather River

Abstract Rock Shadows, Feather River Canyon, Northern Sierra Nevada, California by David Leland Hyde

It seems many of the greatest photographers in history, your father among them, also left a very rich legacy of writings, musings and correspondence. How important is it, in your mind, for an artist to also be an effective writer?

Part of my father’s success and reputation came from his writing. He was somewhat infamous for his inflammatory letters to people who promoted development, tourism or resource extraction. He also wrote many superb magazine articles. His writing in the books “Navajo Wildlands,” “Slickrock,” “Range of Light” and others was superb. Some of his writing in “Drylands: The Deserts of North America” was also very good, but some of it, in my opinion, was a bit too self-absorbed, somewhat over-sentimental and full of too much praise of the country without enough substance behind it. I am not just an ungrateful and undermining son here. “Drylands” received rave reviews by the major media for the photographs, but nearly all of the reviews said the text did not measure up to the photography. “Drylands” was a perfect example of how people do read the text in photography books and how a book can suffer if the text is not as good as the images. If you take, for example, a photographer like Galen Rowell, one of his strengths was his superb ability to write about photography. In my opinion, his writing about photography is some of the best ever. Some people even argue that his writing was better than his photography. I would not be alone in attributing much of his fame to his regular and prolific articles in Sierra Magazine, Outdoor Photographer and other more prominent journals like National Geographic. Dad never did write much about the technique of photography. He mainly wrote about the places and about conservation. His statements to go with his photographs were rarely about how he made them, but typically how their subject matter was at stake in a conservation battle. This sets him apart from other photographers who are overly stuck on their own process, but it did not give us as much to chew on as with other pioneer landscape photographers like Eliot Porter or Ansel Adams.

Thank you so much for this rare and fascinating insight, David. I know I learned a lot about you and your family that I did not know and I admire you all the more for it.

Thank you, Guy. I appreciate your sensitive thought-provoking questions, as well as your contributions to the photographic community. It just may be that someday people may say that what you and other leaders like you are doing online for photography now is similar to what my father and his kind did for the medium in their day.

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Category: All Posts, Interviews

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (20)

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  1. Russ Bishop says:

    Thank you both for this rare and intimate look into one of the greats of American landscape photography.

  2. Len Wilcox says:

    Thanks for this, Guy. Very interesting.

  3. Roberta says:

    Excellent interview. Fascinating reading, and I’m pleased to get to know more of the entire Hyde family.

  4. Scott Bacon says:

    Best interview I’ve read in quite some time. Thank you, both, very much!

  5. Richard Wong says:

    Very deep and thorough interview. This is great.

  6. Fantastic interview Guy.

  7. Greg Russell says:

    Fantastic interview–I’ve had the pleasure of developing a friendship with David and have enjoyed learning more about him and his family, his father’s photography in particular.

  8. Robin Black says:

    Thanks for a great interview, Guy–and thanks to David for his candor and willingness to share his thoughts and family history with all of us.

  9. Alister Benn says:

    Another fine interview, thanks to you both for the insight.

  10. pj says:

    Great work Guy. Thanks to both you and David for taking the time to do this superb interview.

  11. juanli says:

    Superb interview.
    Thanks for the time, and introduce another inspiring photographer.

  12. Ron Schmidt says:

    Thanks for a fascinating journey. When my sons and I lived in Indian Valley, we socialized on occasion with the Hydes. I answered affirmatively if anyone asked did I know the Hydes … Reading this has given after-the-fact substance to that affirmation. I’ve done a lot of catching up in this interview.

  13. I still have my copy of Slickrock, purchased back in 1971.

    The Hyde exhibit at the Camera Obscura gallery in Denver last year was superb. At that time, I was amazed to find that so few photographers recognized Philip’s name. I’m glad to see David’s continuing effort in placing his father’s contributions in context.

    Excellent interview, Guy.

  14. Great interview Guy and David. Very thorough, entertaining, and inspiring. Thanks to both of you.

  15. Thank you Guy and David for this interesting interview. I’ve been following both of your blogs and love them both (…just saying). You both are excellent writers and present some wonderful content for me.

    I found some interesting and worthwhile quotes in this interview of David. the first one is, “What we need on this planet is to replace short-term greed and prosperity with long-term Earth-friendly prosperity. And this will come through a shift in awareness more than through shifts in policy.” And this is true all over the world, not just the western culture we live in.

    And this one, “… but as an artist becomes more seasoned, he or she realizes that it has all been done before. Rather than trying to do something unusual, it is best to be yourself and express your own convictions as best you can through your art and if this does not result in something unique, at least it will give the world a new angle on what we’ve seen before.”

    Thanks again, guys!

  16. Gary Wium says:

    This interview introduced me to the exceptional work of Philip Hyde. Thanks Guy and David!

  17. Thank you ALL for your comments and feedback. I appreciate you investing your time to read the interview and find out more about the Hydes. I hope there was something of inspiration or help along the way. I am honored to be part of the lively and interesting discussions to be found here.

  18. Interesting and ironic to read this fine interview just as I’ve returned from speaking at the California University of Pennsylvania, where our photo exhibit “Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography” is on tour from the Smithsonian. Both the exhibit and my book of the same name feature Philip Hyde–and so on Tuesday I was telling hundreds of middle-schoolers from northern Appalachia about Philip Hyde’s commitment to help save the Grand Canyon with pictures. See http://www.stephentrimble.net/projects/lasting-light/ for more info.