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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Eliot Porter

Dates:  1901 - 1990
Born:  US, IL, Winnetka
Active:  US
American nature photographer who early on used color in his work. His images are recognized by their concentration on the details and patterns of nature.

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Porter (brother of the painter Fairfield Porter) graduated from Harvard Medical School (1929) after earning a degree in chemical engineering. He was a professor of biochemistry until 1939. He began photographing in Maine at his familyís summer home at the age of 13 using a Kodak box camera. Introduced to Ansel Adams in the early 1930s, Adams encouraged Porter to switch to a large-format camera for increased quality and control. Porterís devotion to photography slowly escalated and from 1938 to 1939 Stieglitz exhibited his photographs at An American Place, the last solo exhibition by any photographer there (except for Stieglitz himself ). Most of his subject matter was wildlife, especially birds, and the natural landscape. At first he made black and white prints, but with his background in chemistry, Porter became an early practitioner of color photography using the dye transfer process; he made his own three color separation negatives and prints. In 1946 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he spent most of his remaining life, although he traveled for months at a time. An admirer of Henry David Thoreau, Porter was an ardent conservationist and many of his books were published by the Sierra Club. Books he published documented species of North American birds while other titles were more about geographic "place" including the final natural history documents of the Glen Canyon on the Colorado River just before it was dammed and flooded by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Other places showcased in print by Porter were Penobscot Country (Maine), Antarctica, the Galapagos, China, and Greece. 
(Author: Ken White - Rochester Institute of Technology) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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References are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 
Dick Swift
Eliot Porter in Santa Fe 
[Portraits of Photographers] 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Visual indexes

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Visual indexes for this photographer are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Internet resources

Terms and Conditions

Eliot Porter archives at the Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, Texas, USA) ... 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.192 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.403 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.225 [Includes a well written short biography on Eliot Porter with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Eliot Porter.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.216-217 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Bauret, Gabriel (ed. and text) 2001 Color Photography (New York: Assouline) [Includes example color photographs by Eliot Porter] 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.257 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Eliot Porter are included in this classic history.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Eliot Porter was represented in 64 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 


The wit and wisdom.

"A true work of art is the creation of love, love for the subject first and for the medium second."
"Every photograph that is made whether by one who considers himself a professional, or by the tourist who points his snapshot camera and pushes a button, is a response to the exterior world, to something perceived outside himself by the person who operates the camera."
"Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject."
"True art is but the expression of our love of nature."
"You learn to see by practice. It‘s just like playing tennis, you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can‘t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it."
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