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Thread: Eliot Porter

  1. #1

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    Eliot Porter

    Yesterday I had the fortune to come across an Eliot Porter book, which promptly became mine. (Pict of Front cover below)

    It's a biography book, titled simply "Eliot Porter" and has a quite lengthy biography written by EP himself and in the back 129 gorgeous plates of a selection of his prints. The little I have read so far of his bio, it seems to be a more of a timeline of his life, rather than a discussion of his techniques and artistic choices.

    I'd like to bring up a few questions about his (to me) remarkable work.

    The pictures and subdued colour palette of these prints resonates with me, perhaps because the i recognize that light, from the Swedish woods, to the light in a Redwood grove or in a deep Canadian hardwood forest.

    1. First of, I don't think I have see any of his prints in real life so I don't know if the reproductions in the book have "faded"..... they are certainly not "faint" - or if they indeed a valid view of how he printed. It's a rich palette of colour, with (to me) a lot of tonal range, although frankly I don't really know what I mean when I say "tonal range".

    2. The listing of the plates in the back of the book, says nothing about what film used nor camera or lenses, but all his colour prints are dye transfer prints!!!

    From one website I gleaned the information that he was using Kodachrome, which considering the timespan he worked in is not surprising. He also used 4x5 and strobes for his bird pictures. That's as far as I am right now.

    It would be great get get more info on EP, his life, techniques and printing ability. Did he do his own dye transfers for instance? Some of you must have been contemporaries with him in his latter years and your early career. Anyone today that print in the EP style?

    3. How is he considered, by the photographer and art communities today?

    4. As a side issue, considering the time this book was printed (1987) how were his dye transfer prints captured to the print process? Copy camera? Scanning?

    5. It's a bit sobering if these prints were made be techniques largely lost, that is KodaChrome and Dye Transfer? How would you print these today and stay true to Eliot Porter's vision?

    Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    I don't know the answers to most of your questions but I've always understood that he was a master dye transfer printer and did his own printing. As for his regard in the "art" community, not very high unless it's changed in recent years.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  3. #3

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    I have the paperback "In Wilderness..." which I enjoy for the Thoreau quotes interspersed with Eliot Porter photographs.

    I have no problem holding them in equal esteem for their poetry.

  4. #4

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    Hmmm... I've always had the impression Porter was always considered a real 'master' much along the lines of Ansel Adams or anyone else - so I'm not sure where Brian's coming from. VERY HIGHLY respected and a favorite of many. Dye transfer was always 'his thing' - I think he shot on color transparency film (could be neg. though) and used the standard kodak dye transfer process to make his separations - since he worked this way- (CMYK plates) - it was a very easy jump to use positive copies of the same plates (on film) to print the book etc... straight up.

  5. #5

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    he used a variation of the following process however:

    http://www.airwreck.com/dnloads/E80.pdf

  6. #6
    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Re: Eliot Porter

    Quote Originally Posted by JW Dewdney View Post
    Hmmm... I've always had the impression Porter was always considered a real 'master' much along the lines of Ansel Adams or anyone else - so I'm not sure where Brian's coming from. VERY HIGHLY respected and a favorite of many. Dye transfer was always 'his thing' - I think he shot on color transparency film (could be neg. though) and used the standard kodak dye transfer process to make his separations - since he worked this way- (CMYK plates) - it was a very easy jump to use positive copies of the same plates (on film) to print the book etc... straight up.
    No Brian is right at least in the "high" art academic crowd. UNM had first shot at his archives but they had denigrated him so often that he sent them to Texas. Seriously? That is what I heard from an inside source and I had personally heard the denigrations as far back as the early 70s and heard they had found their way back to Porter.
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    at age 70:
    "The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep"

  7. #7

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    There is a good, though brief, review of Porter at TOP by Geoff Wittig. Apparently, the print reproductions in various Porter books varied from mediocre to superb with the "In the Realm of Nature" earning the latter from Geoff. Also Porter's color pallete changed over time. I have 2 of Porter's books which I enjoy greatly (Intimate Landscapes & Iceland); and they vary with Intimate Landscape being almost a pastel.

  8. #8

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    Sotheby's Auction April 2013:

    "ELIOT PORTER
    1901-1990
    SELECTED NATURE STUDIES
    Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 USD
    LOT SOLD. 8,125 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
    a group of 3 mural-sized dye-transfer prints, comprising 'Redbud Tree in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky,' 'Foxtail Grass, Lake City, Colorado,' and 'Pool in Brook, Pond Brook, New Hampshire,' each mounted, signed in pencil on the mount, framed, 1953-68, printed later (3)
    Each approximately 36 by 29 in. (92.7 by 75.6 cm.)"

    Note size of those dye transfer prints!

    $8,000 for three prints ..... how does that compare.....

    Why was he denigrated, art politics or some serious critique?

  9. #9
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Eliot Porter

    Porter was a big deal a long time ago. He was a part (though maybe not an influential one) of the modernist crowd that Stieglitz showed at An American Place. He was also probably the first notable person to produce bodies of photographic work in color. Others dabbled, but he was a real early adopter.

    His work doesn't seem to have held up so well compared with his contemporaries'. The color pictures are more notable for being color pictures than for actually doing anything remarkable with color. They're pretty, for sure, and not as cloying as most calendar phtography, but it seems most contempoary artists interested in color have chosen other pioneers to study, like Shore and Eggleston.

  10. #10

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    Re: Eliot Porter

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Ellis View Post
    ...As for his regard in the "art" community, not very high unless it's changed in recent years.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kirk Gittings View Post
    ...Brian is right at least in the "high" art academic crowd...
    Yet another reason to totally ignore "art" and those who claim to be arbiters of it. If the OP finds Porter's work remarkable, he should enjoy it. No other opinions ought matter to him.

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