I must admit that before seeing this marvelous exhibit I did not know much about the life and works of Eliot Porter. However, the 75 exquisite photographs of birds and landscapes in this collection, spanning a career which began in the 1930s, makes it abundantly evident that his contribution to the world of photography, and his use of the camera as a powerful instrument for raising conservation consciousness, will remain historic.
Eliot Porter was born in 1901 in Winnetka, Illinois. As a young boy, he summered at Great Spruce Head Island in Maine which his father purchased as the family’s summer retreat. He received his first box camera at the age of 11 and began photographing landscapes and birds on the island.
During his 50-year career, Porter not only influenced the course of photography, but through his association with the Sierra Club, was also a key player in the country’s conservation movement. In his search for new ways to present the natural world of landscapes and birds, he traveled to 14 states across America, as well as Mexico and Iceland. He was the pioneer in the introduction of color in landscape photography, and forever reshaped the direction of that genre.
In his watershed exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in New York, he received great honors for his 1938 black-and-white photograph capturing the sun setting over East Penobscot Bay in Maine, and was recognized as one of the most promising photographic artists of his day. These accolades persuaded the Harvard-educated doctor to leave his work as a bacteriologist and academic and devote himself fully to his art.
Ignoring the popular belief that color photographic materials were inferior for artists, color became his preferred medium, and he pursued his goal to revolutionize the quality of bird photography and elevate it into an art form. He developed a special method for photographing birds that sometimes included the construction of a high wooden tower next to a tree so that he could view a nest without disturbing it.
Eliot Porter died in 1990 at the age of 89, leaving behind a remarkable body of work as well as achieving his dream of having his own book of bird photographs entitled Birds of North America: a Personal Selection.
Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature will through September 17. You owe it to yourself to experience the work of this deeply emotional artist and…take the children, as it could inspire their awareness and perhaps future artistic contributions.
The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., LA 90049, 310.440.7300