Eliot Porter

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Eliot Furness Porter
Born (1901-12-06)December 6, 1901
Winnetka, Illinois, United States
Died November 2, 1990(1990-11-02) (aged 88)
Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
Known for Photography
Notable work Color nature photographs

Eliot Furness Porter (December 6, 1901 – November 2, 1990) was an American photographer best known for his color photographs of nature.[1]

Early life[edit]

An amateur photographer since childhood, he was known for photographing the Great Spruce Head Island owned by his family. Porter earned degrees in chemical engineering (A. B. 1924, Harvard College) and medicine (M.D. 1929, Harvard University), and worked as a biochemical researcher at Harvard.[2]


After meeting photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz in 1934,[3] Porter showed his work to Stieglitz, who continued to critique Porter’s black-and-white work, taken with a Linhof view camera.[4] In 1938, Stieglitz showed Porter's work in his New York City gallery, An American Place.[5] The exhibit's success prompted Porter to leave Harvard in 1939 to pursue photography full-time.[5]

It was around this period when he began to shift his attention to color film after a book proposal on birds was rejected because the publisher believed black and white wouldn't clearly differentiate the various species. Color photography up to this point was exclusively used in a documentary capacity. Porter, ever the scientist, sought to master it in an effort to get a book on birds published. In the 1940s, he began working in color with Eastman Kodak's new color film, Kodachrome to achieve this end.[6]

Porter's reputation increased following the publication of his 1962 book, In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World.[5] Published by the Sierra Club, the book featured Porter's color nature studies of the New England woods and quotes by Henry David Thoreau.[2] A best-seller, several editions of the book have been printed. Porter served as a director of the Sierra Club from 1965 to 1971.[7] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.[8]

Porter traveled extensively to photograph ecologically important and culturally significant places. He published books of photographs from Glen Canyon in Utah, Maine, Baja California, Galápagos Islands, Antarctica, East Africa, and Iceland. His cultural studies included Mexico, Egypt, China, Czechoslovakia, and ancient Greek sites. His book on Glen Canyon, The Place No One Knew, memorialized the canyon's appearance before its inundation by the Lake Powell reservoir.

James Gleick’s book Chaos: Making a New Science (1987) caused Porter to reexamine his work in the context of chaos theory. They collaborated on a project published in 1990 as Nature's Chaos, which combined his photographs with a new essay by Gleick.[4] Porter died in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1990 and bequeathed his personal archive to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Porter was also a friend of modernist painter Georgia O'Keeffe, who accompanied him on several camping expeditions including a rough raft trip down the Colorado River in 1961.

Eliot Porter's brother, Fairfield Porter, was a realist painter and art critic. His brother-in-law, Michael W. Straus, was a commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation.


  1. ^ Amon Carter Museum. Eliot Porter collection guide. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Amon Carter Museum. Biography of Eliot Porter. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
  3. ^ "Eliot Porter: A Chronology". Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c Amon Carter Museum. Eliot Porter: a chronology. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c J. Paul Getty Museum. Eliot Porter: in the realm of nature. June 13 - September 17, 2006 at the Getty Center. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
  6. ^ Honan, William (November 3, 1990). "Eliot Porter, Photographer, Is Dead at 88". New York Times. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "Roster of Sierra Club Directors" (PDF). Sierra Club. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 10 April 2011. 

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