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“Philip Hyde has a rare feeling for the medium of photography. I consider him one of the very best photographers of the natural scene in America.”
—Ansel Adams, 1971
Plumas Arts will exhibit historically significant photographs by Philip Hyde at the Capitol Arts Center at 525 Main St. in Quincy from May 3 to June 1. Hyde’s photography helped preserve and promote many national parks.
An opening reception Friday, May 3, 5 – 7 p.m. launches the show. A special presentation by Philip Hyde’s son, David Leland Hyde, will be held at the Capitol Arts Center on Tuesday, May 14, at 6 p.m.
During his 60-year full-time large-format film photography career Philip Hyde lived with his wife Ardis in Plumas County for 56 years.
His photographs are part of permanent collections and have been shown in venues such as the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, George Eastman House and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; they now come home for a rare showing in Plumas County.
The Plumas Arts show will be the first local exhibition of its kind since Hyde’s death in 2006.
The exhibition, titled “Inherited Nature,” will also be unique because it introduces the digital photography of David Leland Hyde, who walked many wilderness miles with his parents and now works to preserve and perpetuate his father’s archives.
David not only inherited his father’s collection, but also his father’s love of nature, art and activism that helped shape his own photography and view of the world. David photographs the landscape because he grew up on the land. However, having lived in cities as well as Plumas County where he was born, David also enjoys architectural, portrait and street photography.
Philip Hyde first made images of the Sierra Nevada at age 16 in 1937 on a Boy Scout backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park with a camera he borrowed from his sister. By 1942 he was making photographs of artistic merit in black and white, and, much more rare at the time, in color.
In 1945, as he was about to be honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps of World War II, Hyde wrote to Ansel Adams asking for recommendations for photography schools.
Adams happened at the time to be finalizing plans for a new photography department at the California School of Fine Art, now the San Francisco Art Institute. The new photography school was the first ever to teach creative photography as a profession.
Adams hired Minor White as lead instructor and he brought on teachers who were luminaries and definers of the medium such as Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham.
Referred to as “a quiet and humble giant” by prominent landscape photographer Q.T. Luong, Hyde chose to live in the wilderness of Plumas County, sacrificing the greater monetary success of living close to the marketplace of the Bay Area for values more important to him.
He set an example of living a simple, low-impact lifestyle close to nature.
Luong wrote of Hyde that by “living a simple life out of the spotlight, he always felt that his own art was secondary to nature’s beauty and fragility. … As an artist, this belief was reflected in his direct style, which appears deceptively descriptive, favoring truthfulness and understatement rather than dramatization.”
Philip Hyde spent more than one-quarter of each year of his career on the back roads, trails, rails, rivers, lakes and ocean coasts of North America making photographs that influenced a generation of photographers. Much of landscape photography today applies principles and techniques developed by Hyde.
Hyde’s wide impact started with his role as the primary illustrator of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series books, the series that popularized the large coffee table photography book. The series also contained popular titles by Ansel Adams and color photographer Eliot Porter. Porter, along with Hyde, is credited with introducing color to landscape photography.
Well-known photographer William Neill said, “I have little doubt that every published nature photographer of my generation has been inspired by Philip’s efforts.”
Just as Hyde inspired photographers, his wife Ardis inspired him and traveled as his companion throughout his life and after most would have retired.
With Ardis, he built his home near Indian Creek surrounded by woods. Over a two-year period, Hyde designed and drew the plans and constructed the home with Ardis’ help, and also gathered local river rock for a large fireplace.
The Hydes first came to Plumas County in 1948 through a chance meeting on a train with a college friend of Ardis’ then living at Lake Almanor. The friend helped Hyde land a summer job in Greenville at the Cheney Mill.
Having a young college kid from the city endlessly amused the other workers at the sawmill. One time young Hyde even fell into the stinky millpond, which drew great laughter and a ticket home for the day to photograph.
Ardis taught kindergarten and first grade for 12 years to help supplement Hyde’s photography efforts beginning in 1950 when the Hydes settled in Plumas County.
While living in Plumas County, Hyde also actively contributed to the community. He was a founding artist member of Plumas Arts and contributed funds to provide lighting in the gallery.
He was also one of the founders of the Plumas County Museum. He hired the architect Zach Stewart, whose famous architectural firm had hired both Hyde and Adams as photographers. Stewart charged the museum much less than usual for his architectural services and as a result the museum had money left over for a small investment fund that has helped it perpetuate for the many years since.
A portion of all proceeds from the upcoming exhibition will go directly to the Feather River Land Trust, and an extra portion beyond the usual artist gallery arrangement will go to Plumas Arts, continuing Hyde’s tradition of contribution to the community.
Gallery hours for the exhibition are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Arrangements may also be made for viewings outside these times by calling Plumas Arts at 283-3402.
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