One of the first prominent photographers ever to embrace color film, Eliot Porter used his art to advocate for the conservation of endangered western landscapes. Porter, an Illinois native fully under the influence of Stieglitz in the late 1930s, ultimately followed him and Georgia O’Keeffe to New Mexico, where their home served as a base camp for his journeys into the arid wilderness. By the Sixties, Porter was working with the Sierra Club and publishing books devoted to the un-owned and un-trammeled. In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World became one of the first important volume of color landscape photographs.
“Photography is a strong tool, a propaganda device, and a weapon for the defense of the environment,” Porter wrote in the introduction to In Wildness. Porter’s most important work on behalf of the environment came in his next volume, The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado, which was published to acclaim in 1963. The book thoroughly documented the rock formations surrounding the Colorado River, which had just been dammed up. The images were warm and welcoming in a way Ansel Adams’s sweeping landscapes and O’Keeffe’s formalist paintings had never been. Porter’s photographs of Glen Canyon, which showed a beautiful place just before it became a giant earthworks project, served as publicity materials for the movement to pass the Wilderness Act in 1964.
In the late Sixties, Porter became the director of the Sierra Club and he spent decades traveling the world in search of virgin landscapes but always returned to his home in the small town of Tesuque north of Santa Fe, an area he once described as “a place of high adventure and romance.”Back to top