Why Has Eliot Porter Been Forgotten?

Savoring the Last of the Light

When I started photographic seriously in the early eighties, I used Ansel Adam’s books as a guide. While I wasn’t a large format photographer, I digested as much of the Zone System as I could use and worked to get full range, high contrast prints. I still use those black and white darkroom skills in my work as one my early steps for every image is to desaturate and create a curve that produces contrast and midrange placement where it looks the best in monochrome. When I drop the saturation back in, I get my typical look of high saturation and high contrast. The saturation isn’t really boosted above that from the converted RAW, It’s just that the contrast in those tonal regions are pretty high. While I often like the monochrome rendering, putting the color information back always surpises and generally pleases me.

Today I realized that one of my other influences from that time was Eliot Porter. He introduced color to photography and I think was a great influence on the landscape photographers active today. Porter’s images were generally subtle, gentle and often small scale. These qualities still resonate with me.

I realized that the reason I had forgotten about Porter’s influence is that he is so rarely talked about these days in spite of the continued recognition of his historical contribution to color landscape photography. My Suburban Landscape project is a clear reflection of his influence on how I approach landscape photography.

Technical note: This is one of the last images I shot last night when it looked mostly dark. It’s ASA 400 shot with the 24 mm f/2.8 prime wide open at 1/15th second, availble light, hand held. When you look at the full resolution print, it’s hard not to be amazed at the technology we now have available for color photography. It would simply have been impossible to get this image with film, at least without a tripod. However, the instant feedback of digital capture was vital here for me to know that I had correctly placed the value of the tree bark of the brightest tree where I wanted it in relation to the rest of the scene.

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