For the Love of Photography: Bill Bryan’s Legacy


The pilgrimage through the sacred landscape is a journey in the world and in the mind. The point of arrival is one alone. Traveling there, we arrive here.

Edwin Bernbaum — Author of The Sacred Landscape

This week my thoughts are with my cousin, Bill Bryan, whose life is hanging in the balance as he battles Covid-19 in a hospital in Cary, North Carolina.

Bill was the big brother I always wanted but never had. Although he was six years older, we formed a close bond and had many of the same interests, especially our love for exploring the natural world. Each summer, Bill would arrive from the city and stay for a month or more with my grandparents who lived on a farm adjoining ours.

Being a rather lonely child, I treasured those times together. We wandered the open fields searching for Indian arrow points and studied the various plants in the forest. On warm summer nights, we would lie on our backs in my grandparent’s yard and gaze at the clearly visible Milky Way and the infinite number of brilliant light points in the dark sky above.

We also had tons of fun recording mock man-on-the-street interviews and, of course, Bill always had a camera ready for snapping photos. Anyone — family or otherwise — who might be around at any given moment risked being dragged into the scenario.

From an early age, Bill developed a love for photography and exhibited a true talent for capturing both the human spirit and his beloved natural world. There was also plenty of silliness involved at times.

My cousin Beth (Bill’s youngest sister) and I were always willing subjects for his photo shoots during those summer visits. Thankfully, our grandmother had many trunks filled with costume supplies. 

©William Butler Bryan

Our grandfather, Crawford Bryan, and Bill’s sister, Beth, on the North Carolina farm where the family would always gather. 

©William Butler Bryan

Gotta love that ‘do! Bill photographed his sisters, Beth on the left and Cindy on the right, in the family car. 

©William Butler Bryan

Bill was very close to his older brother, Douglas, who was killed in a tragic accident. 

©William Butler Bryan

As soon as he could, Bill headed to the great American West and began to explore and photograph National Parks and other Wilderness Areas.

His idols were Ansel Adams and John Muir — two pioneering figures in early environmentalism — who were instrumental in protecting America’s wilderness areas from development. Bill saw this as his calling as well, and his photography and writing was the means to that end.

 

Bill resting on a rocky mountain trail, and completely in his element. This may have been a self-portrait — I’m not sure.

Eventually putting down roots in Seattle, Bill hiked just about every trail in both the Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges. He was influential in my decision to move to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s.

Mt. Rainier –seen here with a triple lenticular cloud above — from Tipsoo Lake in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. Another of Bill’s shots of this rare cloud phenomenon was published in the book The Sacred Landscape by Edwin Bernbaum, and was also featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. 

©William Butler Bryan

Bill’s photo of Mt. Rainier on the cover of the Italian edition of The Sacred Landscape.

Bill’s photo of Mt Rainier which was featured in the The Sacred Landscape, which has been translated into multiple languages.

The first Pac NW hike Bill took me on in August 1987 was to Spray Park on the northwest side of Mount Rainier (called Tahoma by the original tribes in the region). He wanted to do a sunset hike, which meant we would be descending from the snow line and flower fields of a gorgeous August day into a dark forest for most of the trek back to the car. While the footing on the trail was dicey at times on our dark descent, it was, nevertheless, a great adventure and ensured my devotion to spending as much time as possible in the Pacific Northwest’s great outdoors.

Never interested in self-promotion, Bill’s talents for writing and photography didn’t lead to any degree of financial success as measured by USA’s capitalistic standards. Still, he freely shared his keen wit and richly textured stories of outdoor adventures with anyone who was willing to listen.

While I don’t have access to Bill’s vast catalogue of work at the moment — which has never been digitized — I’m sharing scans of some photos he made over the years. All of Bill’s photography was done in the pre-digital age and much of it is in black and white, which I adore.

This photo of Bill with his PA was taken several years ago at the care facility where he was living.

I got to visit with Bill in 2019. Here he’s pictured with his son, Matt, and cousin, Diane Bell. What a character he was that day!

So, cousin Bill, thank you for all the wonderful memories and for being that big brother I always wanted. Forever wishing you healing, comfort and happy trails. I love you.

peace~henry

Categories: Nature, Visual ArtsTags: , , , ,

35 comments

  1. That is a very loving tribute. He seems a nice person. You have some rich memories. I really like the Ranier photo. I wish him better health.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wonderful, deserved celebration of someone who is loved and who pursued what came from within. I wish him a speedy recovery.

    PS I would have recognised you instantly Henry.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a beautiful portrait of Bill. Wishing him strength through his health crisis.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m so sorry. A lovely tribute. I hope he gets through this terrible time and you have many more years together. Sending love and healing thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks so much for writing such a lovely tribute to my brother. I am so thankful for all the good times we have shared together and the memories we can cherish. I told Bill this morning while his eyes were open that you wrote a lovely tribute on your blog. I plan to read it to him shortly and hope he can hear and remember those good times as well. Love you cousin.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Having heard about Cousin Bill over the years it’s fun to see some of his work commemorated on your blog. It’s sad to think that covid is robbing us of the opportunity to see other great work created by talented people like your cousin. That photo of Mount Rainier is magnificent!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kristy,

      Yes, you have certainly heard many stories over the years! I miss seeing ‘The Mountain’, but then again, it is winter so maybe I’m not missing too much. See you in June 🙂

      Like

  7. Some great pictures. Wishing Bill the best in his battle with COVID.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Henry, thanks for sharing your joyful days spent with your cousin Bill, so evident in his family photos. Sending my best wishes for his recovery ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Best wishes for your cousin Bill’s complete recovery.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow, what a great tribute Henry. Your last sentence said it all!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi John and Susan,

      I think the most difficult part of losing someone to Covid is knowing they’re going through it alone, although the nurses have been amazing. Thanks so much for your support!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Earl,
        thank you so much for this. I was sort of a different generation than you and Billy so I have learned a lot about him through your eyes. The relationship you 2 had was remarkable and I can see the similarities in you two: passion for nature, photography, exploration

        Lane

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Lane,

        It’s been interesting looking through old photos and reminiscing about those family gatherings. Thanks for adding your comments, cousin. Wishing you and Paula well.

        Like

  11. Oh, hell, Henry. My thoughts are with you. And him.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I hope he recovers. Thanks for the insight into his life.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Out of curiosity, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you eliminate and shut down the comments in your recent blog post? I didn’t think there was anything negative or disruptive about the comments section. Did you think the comments distracted from your message? What exactly were you responding to in making that decision?

    Anyway, it made me sad to see the comments disappear. That is what I love about the blogosphere, the open and casual dialogue with different people. I hope my comments weren’t perceived as out of place. I was only trying to offer some interesting background to Buddhism, as it’s a fascinating topic.

    I appreciate your blog that I’ve followed for a while now. And I’d hate to think that my comments were seen as unwelcome or somehow not contributing to the intended purpose of your blog. I never want to impose on others, even as I so enjoy engaging with others. I apologize if my comments were somehow out of sync with your own intentions.

    As someone who also blogs, I understand how a blog is very much a personal space and a personal expression. A commenter should act as a guest in treating a blog with respect and accepting what a blogger wants for their own blog. But that is always challenging from the perspective of a commenter in not necessarily knowing what is deemed desirable and acceptable by a given blogger.

    So, if my kind of commentary isn’t what is expected according to whatever purpose you had in mind, please let me know. I realize not everyone is interested in my style of commenting. Or maybe it had nothing to do with me at all. I’m not offended by the comments being removed, just a bit saddened, but I’ll get over it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Benjamin,

      I’m feeling very overwhelmed with life at the moment and I thought it was easier to eliminate comments than to try to ignore responding to them, which is something I simply can’t do at the moment. Now, I’ve eliminated the post in question. A close friend said I was misrepresenting Buddhism as a pessimistic school of thought/religion. My post was simply meant to be an introduction to the syncretic nature of Buddhism and not a thorough examination of all Buddhist teachings from the many different schools of Buddhist thought.

      Benjamin, I always respect your comments. You possess vast quantities of knowledge on a wide range of topics and express yourself far better than I or most other writers in the blogosphere. Thanks and take good care.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sorry about your feeling overwhelmed. I understand and sympathize. If it makes you feel any better, I considered your piece to be a worthy set of thougths about Buddhism. I must admit that I didn’t get the sense at all that you were portraying Buddhism as pessimism or misrepresenting it in any way.

        I took your post apparently in the way you intended it, as I interpreted it a simple and brief but useful introduction, according to your own experience and study. It didn’t need to be anything greater beyond that. Blogging doesn’t have to match some overly demanding standards of scholarship in fully covering every aspect of a topic.

        Blog posts tend to be snapshots of thought, a glimpse into what is on the bloggers mind. There is no reason it needs to be more than that. I woudn’t let the words of critics get you down, not even the words of a well-meaning close friend.

        Please kno that there are plenty of us who follow your blog and appreciate it for what it is without expectation of it being something else. This is your blog and it doesn’t need to meet someone else’s standards and demands of what is right, true, and worthy. Your writing is expressing what matters to you in your present understanding, even if it is imperfect and limited.

        But I know how a critical response can feel, as I’ve struggled with dealing with critics on my blog, some that are also well-meaning, if demoralizing as none of us enjoy being criticized when expressing ourselves or it can feel like a personal judgment. Try to not let it get you down. Take care of yourself.

        Liked by 1 person

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