Category Archives: History

Happy 150th Birthday Yosemite

It was 150 years ago today on June 30, 1864 that President Abraham Lincoln signed a congressional act that established the “Yosemite Grant” in the Sierra Nevada — the first instance of the US government setting aside land specifically for preservation and public use. (Technically, Yellowstone became the first “national park,” when it was established in 1872.) Between that first act of preservation and protection, the park passed through several intermediate stages including management by the state and by the military before it became a national park on October 1, 1890. (Little known fact: Beautiful Mount Conness, on the northeastern park boundary and visible from many areas between Olmsted Point that peaks near Tioga Pass, was named after senator John Conness, who was instrumental in getting the 1864 act through congress. Some have suggested that Lincoln was distracted by “other events” at about this time, and may have let this slip by without much attention. I’m fine with that.)

G Dan and Richard Mitchell in Yosemite, date unknown
G Dan and Richard Mitchell in Yosemite, date unknown

My family moved from Minnesota to California when I was four years old — and trust me, that was not recently! I’m sure that to Midwesterners the wonders of California must have seemed quite unbelievable, and my family travelled to many interesting places around the state. I don’t now recall for certain when I first visited Yosemite, though I think it was perhaps before this photograph was made. That’s me on the right and my brother Richard on the left. (Richard is also a photographer who does beautiful work in the Pacific Northwest.) My first clear recollection of the park is actually from just outside the park where, before the current mega hotels were constructed, there used to be a bunch of much smaller places to stay right along the Merced River. My memory is of sitting on metal chairs and watching the wild Merced River pass by. Continue reading Happy 150th Birthday Yosemite

“Philip Hyde Books” – Q.T. Luong

Q.T. Luong has shared an insightful and well-written tribute to photographer Philip Hyde: Philip Hyde Books.

Philip Hyde has been described as one of the most important members of the mid-to-late twentieth-century generation of American landscape photographers – in Luong’s article he is described as being a member of a trinity that includes Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter. Of the three, Hyde is the least known – perhaps not so much because his work wasn’t seen but, rather, because it was often seen in the service of other things, mostly environmental causes. His son, David Leland Hyde, who carries on his father’s legacy, has said that his father may have regarded the value his photographs had in the campaign to keep two dams out of Grand Canyon National Park to be his greatest success – not a bad legacy, I’d say!

Hyde’s work was featured in the early Sierra Club “coffee table books” on environmental and wilderness subjects. Today, even as role of actual books fades and online imagery (in some ways, unfortunately) increases, we still take these sorts of books for granted, and we perhaps forget just how important they were. How many of use had our first profound experience with the power of photographs through these books? I know that I and many others who began doing photography during the latter half of the 1900s certainly did. In his article, Luong acknowledges that he formed much of is own orientation to photography before he knew about Hyde, but he also acknowledges an affinity he feels for Hyde’s work. This is no accident. The influence of Hyde’s way of seeing the natural world has, I am certain, affected many photographers (and others) who are unaware of the source of this influence – precisely because the effect of his work and of the books through which it was shared was so widespread and pervasive.

I know that I saw Hyde’s work when I was much younger. I worked in a book store for some years and managed to purchase just about any Sierra Club book that we had on the shelves. But I’m afraid that I didn’t connect what I saw to Hyde himself at that time, though the power of the photographs certainly affected me. When I first photographed in the Sierra and elsewhere in California, it was these images (along with those of Adams and Porter and Weston and others) that I held in mind as a model of what I wanted my photographs to do.

A few years ago I stopped at the Mono Lake visitor center and wandered into a side room where there is a small (and, unfortunately, somewhat neglected) gallery of photographs.  Among the images in this gallery are several of Hyde’s photographs. As I looked at them, I “saw” them for the first time and recognized a source of the way of seeing that is pervasive in the work of so many who photograph the natural world. (Needless to say, I now visit that little gallery almost every time I’m near Mono Lake.)

No Post Processing? Really?

As I do from time to time, I’m reposting a response I shared in an online discussion somewhere else on the web. In that discussion, a proposal was made to come up with some sort of enforceable standard regarding what post-processing could be allowed in photographs. (In the context of the original discussion – wildlife photography – the idea wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds here, but still…) It seems to me that there are always a few notions underlying these ongoing discussions: that the issue is one that comes up with “digital photography,” that there is some ideal photography that is purely and objectively “accurate,” and that we would actually want to do such a thing.

Here is what I wrote:

It seems so obvious that I’m almost embarrassed to point it out, but does anyone actually believe that there is such a thing as an objectively accurate photographic image, free of interpretation? Which acknowledged “great” photographers can you point to whose photographs are purely and objectively accurate? If digital post is a problem, what about camera movements, contraction/expansion of space via focal length, use of artificial light and reflectors, polarizing filters, graduated neutral density filters, choice of film/paper/chemicals based on color or contrast preferences, selective focus via DOF control, allowing motion blur with long shutter speeds, any night photography, and on and on…?

As I wrote somewhere else earlier this week:

If the goal of photography was to make objectively accurate reproductions of real things… I wouldn’t bother.

Have an opinion on this? Feel free to leave a comment…


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Photographic Musing of the Day

If we lived in some alternate universe in which the current level of digital photographic technology (digital backs/cameras, digital post-processing, and high end inkjet printing) and the current level of chemical photography technology both appeared in the world simultaneously and photographers were asked to make a choice, would anyone actually chose the wet chemistry darkroom over the digital “darkroom?”

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Dorothea Lange at Shorpy

The Shorpy web site features a steady stream of wonderful older photographs – subscribe if you haven’t already. Among the photos in the stream are some real gems, such as some of the Dorothea Lange photographs showing up this week.

Interview with Ansel Adams’ Son

Thanks to Jim M Goldstein for sharing the link to a video interview with Ansel Adams’ son Michael on Fast Company TV’s PhotoCycle program.

(It is fun to watch the video and see so many places I know so well… :-)

Dorothea Lange at Shorpy

If you aren’t already following it, take a look at Shorpy: The 100 Year Old Photography Blog, where really wonderful old photographs appear daily, often with some descriptive text or comments. Yesterday’s Dorothea Lange photograph (“A New Beginning: 1939“) is absolutely wonderful. (You can view it full size.) At first glance it might seem like an old photo of some guy, but there is so much to like in this photograph. The face of this “Ex-Nebraska farmer” is an absolute wonder – simultaneously inscrutable and open. And the image is a lesson in reducing the content down to only that which is absolutely critical to the subject – nothing more and nothing less.

(For something a bit more scary, take a look at this photo while you are there…)