Sunday night I took a few moments to look at my copy of Eliot Porter’s "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World". For those that are unfamiliar with Eliot Porter he was one of the first photographers focusing on nature and wildlife in color versus black and white. His work has proven to be quite influential inspiring several of today’s iconic wildlife and nature photographers including Art Wolfe.
In fact it was Art who urged me to pick up a copy of "In Wildness is the Preservation of the World" and I’m really happy that he did. In viewing the photos with in this book and his other work on display in various museums across the country I’ve come to not just appreciate Porter’s fine eye , but the incredible influence technological advances have had on this genre of photography.
For most modern day photographers looking at Eliot Porter’s work it may likely be anti-climactic as many of the photos will likely seem common by todays standards. In fact over the past year, although not directed at Eliot Porter, I’ve read more than one blogger claiming that modern amateur photographers are worthy of being considered artists and their work “art” as their work is as good if not better than past photographers. Personally I find such claims to be a joke and easily discarded. Why?
What people lose track of when viewing older, historically relevant, photography regardless of genre is that the artist in question often pushed the technology of the day to its edge if not beyond. Looking at Eliot Porter’s work in “In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World” I’m reminded of this with each turn of the page. At first glance the photos will appear to be common and perhaps unfocused. Yet a closer look at the composition, lines, and arrangement of color and texture tells another story. Considering how easy it is for modern photographers to generate color images digitally or with modern film the difficulty in attaining such images 20, 30 and even 50 years ago is completely lost. Seeing as how most photographers are off the cuff shooters these days an appreciation for technique is almost nil.
Sadly in this day and age contemporary photographers assume the work of past greats was as easy to capture as it is today. Larger cameras, reliance on technical knowledge versus in camera light meters, the lack of preview, etc. are but a few factors many easily look past. When I look at each of Porter’s images I don’t just see or appreciate what has been captured, I see the challenges to how it was captured. It is that facet of appreciation that transforms an every day image into a great image.
For those making the claim many of todays modern photographers are on par with those considered photographic greats I most certainly laugh at the claim. Photographic greats whether historical or contemporary are not defined by access to audience alone, but by how well they combine aesthetics and push modern photographic technology & technique to its limit. Something to think about the next time you view a photograph from your favorite photographer.
On that note I’ll end this entry with my favorite photograph with in “In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World’.
Spruce Trees in Fog, Maine, 1954
courtesy of Off the Coast, A Landscape Chronology
[tags]Eliot Porter, nature, landscape, photography, philosophy[/tags]