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Philip Hyde, 84; His Wilderness Photos Made a Case for Conservation Efforts

April 16, 2006|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Philip Hyde, whose large-format photographs of the Western wilderness helped galvanize public support for the Sierra Club's conservation efforts, died March 30. He was 84.

A longtime resident of Plumas County in Northern California, Hyde died of complications from a stroke at Washoe Medical Center in Reno, his son, David, said.

"Philip Hyde, following Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, is one of four or five great photographers of the Western landscape," Allan Dyson, UC Santa Cruz librarian, said in 2002 when Hyde donated his 50-year archive to the university.

The Sierra Club and its outspoken leader, David Brower, launched a series of "battle books" in the 1950s to make a case for protecting national parks in the West from dam construction and other development.

Hyde became one of the principal photographers for the environmentalist organization, and his images were featured in Brower's 1964 book "Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon," as well as in Edward Abbey's "Slickrock" (1971).

Hyde initially worked in black and white but later switched to color. His photographs "helped define the genre of 'coffee table conservation book,' " photographer and writer Stephen Trimble said.

In addition to making photos that were featured in dozens of books, magazines and other publications, Hyde sometimes wrote the accompanying text.

"His photographs are admirably sobered by his black-and-white prose," former UCLA librarian Lawrence Clark Powell wrote in a 1987 Times review of "Drylands: The Deserts of North America."

"I am interested primarily in what Emerson called the integrity of natural objects," Hyde wrote. "Natural places too have their integrity. They express wholeness and individuality, and it is this sense of place that is the foundation of my work."

His last book, "The Range of Light" (1992), paired passages from naturalist John Muir's essays with Hyde's observations and photos. "In a sense, this book is a record of a personal journey," Hyde wrote. "As a teenager, I discovered the mountains about the same time I first read John Muir."

Born Aug. 15, 1921, to a San Francisco artist and furniture designer, Leland Hyde, and his wife, Jessie, he took to the outdoors as a youngster. The family, which included two other sons and a daughter, frequently toured Yosemite and other national parks, and Hyde began taking snapshots on Scout trips.

During World War II, while serving in Kansas as a gunnery trainer with the Army Air Forces, Hyde wrote to Adams for advice about his future.

The legendary photographer was soon to begin teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, and Hyde enrolled in 1946 after his discharge. The next few years he studied with Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange.

Hyde joined the Sierra Club in the early '50s when it was rallying its few thousand members for wider conservationist campaigns. The timing was perfect for Hyde, who would eventually be named one of Outdoor Photographer magazine's "Landscape Masters."

"My life in photography has been taken up in exploring natural places for their beauty and uniqueness," Hyde said in "Drylands."

"It has been a labor of love, and nature provided me the perfect object."

Hyde lost his sight to macular degeneration in 2000.

The loss of his vision was "very challenging," his son, David, told The Times. "It devastated him at first, but he ultimately came to terms with it.... Over time, he began to see that his photography was going to perpetuate."

And he still kept up on the news. "We listened to NPR almost every day, and I read him the Christian Science Monitor and the different magazines from environmental organizations," David said.

Hyde's wife, Ardis King Hyde, died in 2002. In addition to his son, Hyde is survived by his sister, Betty Hyde Hughes, and two nieces.

A celebration of Hyde's life will be held May 28 in the woods at his home near Taylorsville, Calif. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his honor to the Feather River Land Trust, 75 Court St., P.O. Box 1826, Quincy, CA 95971.

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