Philip Hyde [1921-2006] was among the first photographers to feature and promote photographic imagery in support of environmental ideals. Beginning in the early 1950's, he along with Ansel Adams, and Eliot Porter, contributed to the growing body of work that came to be called the Western Landscape Tradition. Hyde was closely associated with the Sierra Club, and many of his photographs were used in various of its publications, as well as its books. Hyde was also among the first photographers to move to color, at a time when that technology was undergoing change.
This image is from the cover of the Sierra Club Bulletin of October 1951. It's a vertical study taken in Yosemite National Park, and is labeled "Tree and shadow near Peeler Lake."
What immediately strikes me about this image is its mystery of scale. Disjunctions of scale may seem like trick photography, if the eye doesn't perceive adequate context to determine size, position or relationship.
Is the "tree" 20 feet high, the image taken from a considerable height? Or is it a foot or two high, just a little seedling sprouting between boulders? The shadow suggests the latter, and the grain of the rock also confirms that.
I've actually witnessed this rock surface, known as "glacier polish" which one sees along the main roadway through the park. The big smooth granitic boulders are scored by sharply defined creases. It can make a very interesting visual image.
What I respond to is the delicacy of the twigs and the feathery shadow contrasted across the white mass of hard rock. Also, there's considerable tension created by the triangular intersection of divisions near the top of the frame. It's a classic black and white study, a moment caught near dawn or dusk when the light is tilting towards horizontal.
I was never a big fan of Hyde's color work. Perhaps it's because it always seems too staid and settled, predictable and flat. This image, however, explores another dimension.
It's also rather nostalgic. The Sierra Club was more militant and crusading in those days, as it spearheaded the campaign against environmental devastation. David Brower was its controversial crusader, and he believed in photography as a tool in rallying the troops (and the public) against the developers and engineers and exploiters who wanted to rip up the American outback for gain.
This photograph seems an innocent footnote to that noble history.