Son Of An Environmental Photography Pioneer: David Leland Hyde Interview
One of the primary photographers for the ground-breaking Sierra Club exhibit format series that helped establish the modern environmental movement, Philip Hyde dedicated his life to defending Western American wilderness. His son, David Leland Hyde, has been working hard to keep his father’s legacy alive and introduce the work to a new generation.
Your father, Philip Hyde, played an important role in the preservation of many western landscapes. What was it that drove him to pursue this line of work?
Hyde: Dad made a spiritual connection to wilderness when he was a young boy partly through the Boy Scouts, partly through his family. His father painted landscapes and was a known modernist painter who studied at the famous art school in Paris, L’ Ecole De Beau Arts. Beau Arts since the 1500s has not charged tuition but is extremely competitive to get into. Dad hiked in the hills of San Francisco that still had a few wild areas left in the 1920s, in Marin County and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite for the first time in 1938 just before he turned 17. On a map of Yosemite Valley he wrote “Home” in big letters after one trip. He was in love with mountains and while stationed at Great Bend, Kansas during World War II, he would drive to Denver just to get a glimpse of the Rockies. He had taken some photography courses before the War and just before his discharge he wrote to Ansel Adams and asked his advice about photography training. His timing was good because Ansel was just arranging the funding to start a photography department at the California School of Fine Arts.
At what point did you get involved with running your father’s business, and how was your transition into this industry?
Hyde: I started to help run Dad’s business, finances, care, make him meals, find his clothes, everything in 2002 after my mother passed on and some other caregivers didn’t work out. I left a six-figure job to become his primary caregiver. He was quite healthy at that point except for being newly blind and depressed about losing his ability to photograph and losing my mother in rapid succession. I used to read the world news, environmental news, his mail, and books to him every day. Besides reading and discussing what I read to him, and interviewing him for my book that I had just started, the photography was the most interesting of my duties as you might imagine. I had offered to work for Dad before, but he didn’t think I could make a living working for him. He was probably right and is still. I put everything I have into this project with little return so far. I will probably do well over time, but anyone who knows photography knows this is not certain at all, that at the least it will take a long time.
Photography is a tough business. My father had helped, mentored and inspired a lot of people. He was very likeable, had a good sense of humor and loved to socialize. He had a lot of friends in the industry. In that respect it was easy for me to get started in promoting his work as long as he was around. However, after he was gone, some people kept supporting my work, some did not. For some people it only makes sense to support a collection of work while the creator is in a body. Fortunately others do understand the value in helping it perpetuate. Even so, other photographers have their own knitting to tend. I am gaining more respect than I had at first, now with the blog, by working very hard and doing my homework to learn all I can.
Many photographers see other photographers as competition. I don’t think they saw Dad as competition but inspiration, and he was not all that aggressive about approaching venues for exhibitions. By the latter part of his career, he mainly lived on referrals and organizations that approached him to do shows, or for stock licensing. Now that a lot of photographers see me out beating the bushes, they see Dad’s work as potentially taking exhibitions that they could have, at least some people look at it that way. What they don’t understand is that Dad’s work has been and will be a major force for advocating nature photography and photography for conservation, which can expand the possibilities for everyone. What they also don’t know is that I have hardly even started yet. I am still mainly focused on writing the book and now the blog, which is a way of getting a lot of the book material out in rough form. It’s not rough per se, but the material is posted in random chronological order without unifying narrative drive or theme.
What role do you see photography playing in future environmental legislation and in which ways can photographers get involved?
Hyde: Gary Braasch, who has become well-known as an environmental photographer, back in 1975 interviewed Dad for a Backpacker Magazine Article. Gary Braasch asked Dad, “How can other photographers—skilled amateurs—use their creativity for conservation?” and Dad answered, “Off the top of my head, they’d do a lot better by going to law school because it looks to me as if the fight is now in lawyer’s hands. But on a local level, an individual can do a lot by becoming familiar with a place that needs protection and by studying the issues. The camera can be an important tool to him. The person can make himself an ad hoc committee on a project and carry it along until something gets done.” This is exactly what many photographers are doing. There is still a place for photographers in conservation even on big projects. Dad’s photographs still participate in environmental campaigns, though he can no longer go on location to help save a certain area.
Dad was a conservationist first. The photographers who are the most effective environmentalists know the current issues and know what campaigns might need the services of a photographer. I’m sure there have been conservationists who were photographers first, just like there are doctors or lawyers, or whatever else who are also environmentalists. Anybody can become an environmentalist, all he or she has to do is do it. Join the groups, read the news, get involved. The uses of photography to help will come. For example, because I am constantly reading about what is happening, I have found out about a few local issues. At some point when I get the chance, I will probably approach each of the campaigns and find out how I can help raise funds through print sales, which will get more exposure for the prints and Dad’s photography and help fill the group’s coffers too. I’ve found some groups are highly receptive to this kind of thing and others are not. But it is what I can do even though neither Dad nor I am making new photographs for use in the media. I can only go in so many directions at once. To echo what Dad said, the most effective conservation work is whatever you can do in the areas you care about the most.
You have a great blog, Landscape Photography Blogger, and have written several posts in regards to your father’s photographic education having being mentored by the likes of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White. Given the high cost of education these days, what advice can you give to young photographers who might be thinking of studying photography in college?
Hyde: Dad was lucky because he had the G.I. Bill and as a result, Uncle Sam paid for his photography education. I am not sure of all the ins and outs but right now the U.S. Government is doing it again for just about everybody. Now is the time to apply to that expensive school you always dreamed of attending. I personally don’t know a lot about the various programs, but if I were to choose a school, I would go with the one that had the best possible name for the type of photography I would want to do. Names and educational lineage count for a lot in photography as in many professions. A Columbia degree in photography for example, could open many doors, provided your work is better than the other great photographers you are in school with and you make the most of studying at such a place. Short of going to college or grad school, I might seek out the very best photographers today and take workshops from them. Having the right mentors is very important in photography. I find that I am already very well equipped to be a photographer, if I wanted to focus on it more than writing, because I obtained the right attitude and perspective on how to look at photography from my father. That goes for all aspects, from the business side of it that has totally changed technologically but not necessarily in substance, to the photography and seeing itself, which has also changed, but not as much as people might believe. The main thing that has changed is that there were hardly any photographers or any market for photography when Dad started. He had to help establish it. Today the challenge is to stand out from the hoards. This is where having the right mentors comes in because they have already discovered how to stand out from the masses of other photographers.
Any upcoming business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
Hyde: The idea was to get the book done and then develop relationships with galleries, set up major national touring exhibitions and talk to museum curators. However, now that I have run out of funds, everything has taken much longer to get set up and the book is dragging on and on, I need to do some marketing now to make a living while I finish the book. Juggling everything becomes a lot more complicated if you have to also make a living at the same time, as I’m sure you and your readers know, whether they are full or part-time photographers. It is also this raw edge that drives you forward and allows you to create great things out of desperation, I suppose. I have put over $100,000 into this project so now it is time to turn that around.
I will be making numerous announcements here and there regarding great exhibitions and new releases of images never before published or images that everybody knows, now translated into digital form and available as photographer authorized archival fine art digital prints. With many images, the Philip Hyde original prints are long sold out because he made so few of them that they are extremely rare. Speaking of rare, I will also hopefully be able to discover a way to change the large sized archival fine art digital prints into limited edition prints. I am working on this and there are some variables that need to be contained first but I recommend people look into acquiring the 20X24, 24X30 and 32X40 prints sizes now before they go up when they become limited edition prints. A portion of all print sales are set aside to go toward clean energy research and other environmental causes. I support 17 environmental groups.
Hyde: My pleasure, thank you Richard for the opportunity.
Visit the Philip Hyde Photography website for more photos.