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Walter Landon Chappell (June 8, 1925 — August 8, 2000) was an American photographer and poet who forged his career in black and white photography in a unique journey that aligned his understanding of a deeper reality with a deliberate and precise photographic technique culminating in what he called camera vision.
Chappell was a constant presence in American black and white imagery among other noted photographers Minor White, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston, with whom he studied. Chappell was curator of prints and exhibitions at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York from 1957 to 1961 and was affiliated with Aperture Magazine founded by Minor White in 1952.
Chappell left the George Eastman House in 1961, to settle in Wingdale, New York with noted painter and artist, Nancy Chappell (then Nancy Barrett Dickinson). Soon after building their home, a fire destroyed their house and nearly all of Chappell's photographic work to date, including photographic negatives and their corresponding prints. In the early 1960s, he was a co-founder of a group of seven photographers who called themselves "The Heliographers": Chappell, Paul Caponigro, Carl Chiarenza, William Clift, Marie Cosindas, Nicholas Dean, Paul Petricone. Although most of them were affiliated with the Carl Siembad Gallery in Boston, Chappell proposed to open a gallery in New York City that he ran for the group: The Heliographers' Gallery Archive opened its doors in 1963 at 859 Lexington Avenue. The gallery closed in 1965.
Chappell re-located to San Francisco where he became re-acquainted with Minor White and joined a circle of photographers that included Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams. After recuperating from tuberculosis in Denver, Colorado, he studied with the photographer Winter Prather, a photographic technician in the printing process.
Walter Chappell traveled extensively during his career. Following a relocation to Big Sur, California, where he was commissioned by MGM to photograph Sharon Tate, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton, his growing interest in the imagery of the human form in nature and experimental film-making instigated a move to Taos, New Mexico, to photograph the human form and the expansive landscape of the Southwest. He continued to study Native American ceremonial life and became intimately connected with the Taos Pueblo.
After still another move to San Francisco where he lived from 1970–74, he began experimental work with electron photography: high voltage/high frequency electron imagery of living plants. Fern, in te collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, is an example of these electron photographs. This work was presented in his Metaflora Portfolio in 1980. Chappell continued his photographic exploration of electron photography in Hilo, Hawaii in 1984 after being awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Photographer's Fellowship for the third time (1977, 1980, 1984). Chappell moved to his final residence in the remote village of El Rito, New Mexico in 1987 and from there continued to exhibit, lecture, give workshops and make field trips. In 1989 he was given access to and use of one of the famous 20x24" Polaroid view-cameras.
Chappell has a significant representation of works in collections at: the Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York); the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House (Rochester, New York); Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.); Museum of Art, Stanford University (Palo Alto, California); Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studio (Culver City, California) among many others.
- Contemporary Photographer, summer 1963
- Smith, Roberta (August 12, 2000). "Walter Chappell, Photographer of Nature, Is Dead at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2010.