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Nature in the Details

On December 6, 1901, American landscape photographer Eliot Furness Porter was born. A chemical engineering graduate from Harvard and a medical graduate from its School of Medicine, he taught biochemistry at the university.

As a boy on family camping trips, Porter had been attracted to photographing birds in their environments. Throughout his schooling and adult career, he continued his photo studies of birds, spending many hours waiting for just the right composition. His attention to the detail around his subjects led him to realize that his topic was all Nature and especially its conservation. His brother, American painter Fairfield Porter, introduced Eliot to New York gallery owner-photographer Alfred Stieglitz who arranged a showing of Porter’s photographs in An American Place. His work was so well received that Porter decided to pursue his photography full-time.

Eastman Kodak had recently introduced its colour film, Kodachrome, and Porter experimented with it. It was exciting to have film with the potential to show the full colour range he wanted to capture in his images of birds… then in images of the natural features around them. Porter’s favourite colour printing refinement was the rich and vibrant dye transfer. He continued to photograph in both black and white and colour as it suited his purpose and topic.

After the Sierra Club’s publication of Porter’s In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, he focused on portraits of ecologically important locations around the world. He captured vitality and grandeur in the detail of small subjects and textures to make his comment on the value of nature and the reason for its conservation. Porter published over two dozen books, continuing to raise standards for the design and printing of commercially successful fine art photography.

Photographs from Porter’s book, The Place No One Knew, underpin the following environmental history video project to document how both photographs and photographer have influenced conservation efforts.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage