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Nature Photographer Eliot Porter

"Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject" (Porter 1996 113). This quote by one of America's great nature photographers well sums up his work. Next to Ansel Adams, who has received far more public publicity, Porter was one of the eminent nature photographers, describing with his pictures the natural wonders, large and small, of his native country.

Porter was born in 1901 in Winnetka, Illinois, and educated at Harvard's School of Engineering. He then went to Harvard Medical School, where he also later taught and tutored. He was actually a practicing physician before becoming a full-fledged photographer at the age of 37. It was the wonders of nature that turned him to photography, first merely as a naturalist's hobby, and finally as a full profession. It may be the combinati9on of an engineering and biochemist's background, as well as that of an intense doctor, that made him so much more keenly aware of his subject matter.

Like many other photographers who specialized in depicting nature, porter began by photographing birds. It was his "patience and thoroughness (which) have been put to good work in waiting out the precise moment in the actions of a bird, the exact nature of light or bloom or foliage in the making of a landscape photograph" (Anon 1996 101).

Porter was also one of the first of the professional naturalist photographers to use color. "When color film became available in the 1940s, it was not highly regarded by those photographers who practiced photography as an art. They disparaged color photography as too literal a medium for persona interpretation" (Anon 1996 101). Porter had a ready answer for his use of color film: "As my color photography shifted from the portrayal of birds to other nature objects, I began to realize that their appeal depended very largely on the subtleties of color lost when the subject was rendered in black-and-whiteĆ " (Anon 1996 176).


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