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Thread: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

  1. #1

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    Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Glen Canyon.

    Before the dam and it was flooded to create Lake Powell.

    Porters images are excellent. Most locations have not been seen again above water since the lake filled.
    With the drought conditions - are any of the locations now out of the water? Or maybe so little water one can get to them to photograph?
    "My forumla for successful printing remains ordinary chemicals, an ordinary enlarger, music, a bottle of scotch - and stubbornness." W. Eugene Smith

  2. #2
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Our family didn't have a lot of money, and my older brother was only the 8th person in history to survive open heart surgery, and was hospitalized for an entire year afterwards. Now they do that kind of thing on almost an assembly line basis, and people are out in few days. But a few years later he wanted to become a pro photographer and coveted a copy of the newly released Glen Canyon book. It think it was around $75 then, and set a new standard in the quality of the reproductions. The pages were even varnished. I don't know who inherited it after he passed away. But I eventually acquired a copy of my own.

    Last week, the color movie pictures David Brower took on that same trip were shown on a PBS documentary about it. Remarkable as a reminder of what was lost. A friend of mine ran into David uphill from here and photographed him and his wife, shortly before he passed away a few years ago. Only once has Lake Powell been low enough to revisit places like Cathedral in the Desert. Usually it is kept relatively full. But Lake Mead downriver takes the hit instead, and now is at an all time low. Just maybe Las Vegas could learn to live without 90 golf courses and giant fountains? Soon they won't have a choice!

    One of the people who repeatedly floated down through Glenn Canyon and loudly protested its damming was Sen Barry Goldwater from Arizona, better known for his failed Presidential run. Some of his black and white shots of it, well before Porter, were published in early issues of Arizona Highways and Desert Magazine. But even he was pressured into giving permission for the dam, then later deeply regretted it.

    I'm hoping to still have opportunity to backpack into some of the side canyons once again, but drought years are not a good idea, and I'm not getting any younger. You have to carry enough water not only to get to a reputable spring, but to get you back just in case it has dried up. The last canyon trek I did a number of years ago, I was actually carrying 8x10 format - quite a load.

    There's an excellent interview with Jim Bones on the web, who did most of Porter's dye transfer printing. It's filmed back in Porter's own digs in New Mexico, where the whole darkroom with its supplies has been preserved for posterity. Jim goes through a demonstration of dye transfer printing technique using Porter's own vintage equipment. The book itself was made directly from the original chromes by highly skilled offset technicians, not from prints. That was the case with most of Porter's coffee table books. With a much later classic book, Intimate Landscapes, the color separations were made from actual DT prints instead.

  3. #3

    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    It was quite a place. We had two family boating vacations there in 1965 & ‘67. All that visible sandstone with an infant lake was something to see. In 1967 we went in June and the lake had so much water coming into it, it was rising about 20” each night we camped.
    --- Steve from Missouri ---

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    Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    One of my favorite photo books that I bought when Porter couldn’t get respect, and therefore paid pennies for it, remaindered at a bookstore.

    Later, I bought the commemorative edition that came out in 2000–also cheap—mostly because we have to buy books like this if we want to see books like this.

    But my favorite Porter book is In Wildness..., which demonstrates that clarity doesn’t mean images can’t be busy with detail.

    Rick “longtime Eliot Porter fan” Denney

  5. #5
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    In Wildness put him on the map with the general public, though he had already made his mark with Stieglitz. Another "keeper" book on my shelves, the original version with glossy pages. Current outdoor photographers would do well to study his many images where hue relationships exist mainly on the level of nuanced neutrals, especially in his winter scenes. To be effective, color does not always need to be loud. And yes, look long enough and you'll discover a certain sophistication to how he handles details, which might not instantly be apparent, but which set him apart from the numerous clone wannabees. A mere pattern or tapesty doesn't quite cut it.

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Concerning the two lakes (Mead and Powell)...in a long-term drought situation, if might pay to drain one of the lakes and keep one near capacity. Much less water loss due to evaporation -- half the surface area.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Some years ago, I found a copy of his Glen Canyon book free from a library who was "cleaning out" their stacks for newer editions. It had a stamp inside, "free, not for resale". So goes the value of grand photo books in an instagram era. Some of those images are among his best (though I have a general preference for his Adirondacks, Iceland and Antarctica books). His work has unfortunately become completely undervalued compared to A. Adams and lost among the hoards of his "digital" successors. He was a pioneer on so many fronts, and his aesthetic style/approach and choice of subject matter were unique (perhaps Philip Hyde should be included as pioneers during this time).

    His development of DT prints was cutting edge, and IMHO, and notwithstanding the BIF afficianados who have eclipsed his work since with use of vast technological innovations and digital imaging, I find many of his images of birds in flight superior as art work. Imagine using 4x5 Kodachrome film (ASA 10?) and strobes to take images of birds moving to and from the nest. To the best of my knowledge, noone else has attempted this using the same film, cameras and strobe techniques (Hosking used Hasselblads for nesting birds, but most were B&W). Today these types of images are frowned upon due to the loss of 68% of wild creatures worldwide in 50 years (an astonishing and dreadful statistic, equally so for homo sapiens) and a need to further reduce stress on breeding birds with perhaps a 40-50% reduction in their numbers during same period. It seems Great Salt Lake is close to having its own catastrophe and with it loss of a unique habitat and a huge diversity of wildlife.

    But, if it wasn't for the support of Adams and Porter by the Sierra Club, it is not clear to me what prominence they would have today. Likewise, the aesthetic that the Sierra Club was founded upon has been garbled by immediate natural catastrophes: historic fires and drought, and massive floods in some areas. The photographers and those organizations (I include Audubon and Wilderness Society among them) raised the consciousness of the middle and upper classes during periods when there was a perception of greater financial stability and opportunity in the US. We can thank Teddy for his foresight in setting aside natural lands, whose birthday I share.

    The feud over Colorado River and tributary water rights began as early as 1899 with JW Powell's raising awareness and will continue until there is no water left. I fear, if current trends continue unabated for years, that the Western states will evolve into something similar to the Namibian Coast, with massive sand dunes, little vegetation, and mostly uninhabitable.

    Adams is best known for his California and New Mexico subject matter, while Porter covered a greater range of locations including non-US (Iceland, China, Galapagos, Greece). Many of his images show incredible detail with colors less "glamorous" and more contrasty than was realized with successive Ektachrome and Fuji films, processing, and print output. Though protege careers were relatively short lived, many cloned Porter's style and techniques and survived: Muench, Clifton, Clay, Dykinga, Gnass, etc...

    I understand that Barry Goldwater, (politician cum 4x5 shooter) initially tried to halt the Glen Canyon dam, capitulated, and regretted this later decision the rest of his life.

    If I could add access to Glen Canyon for imaging to my bucket list, it would go right to the top.

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    "The feud over Colorado River and tributary water rights began as early as 1899 with JW Powell's raising awareness and will continue until there is no water left. I fear, if current trends continue unabated for years, that the Western states will evolve into something similar to the Namibian Coast, with massive sand dunes, little vegetation, and mostly uninhabitable."

    "Beyond the One Hundredth Meridian" by Wallace Stegner is a good book about water in the west and how JW Powell understood the problems in not protecting watersheds. Unfortunately, manifest destiny won out and still prevails today. What has happened with the Escalante national monument in the last few years is one example.

    Tad Nichols did a good book of black and white photos of Glen Canyon- "Images of a Lost World". I think him an Eliot Porter were friends and did some river trips together.
    Last edited by Thad Gerheim; 22-Jul-2021 at 08:57.

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    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Well, DT printers can be a catty lot, and some have sneered at Porter's own abilities as a printer. He mostly used an assistant, and much of his equipment was at first home-made. Porter got into DT printing hoping to make accurate color images of birds, his primary subject matter at first. After all, DT was the up and coming "easy" way to do color, in contrast to carbro printing. My modest experiments involve a modern tweak on the previous wash-off relief method. Philip Hyde was just too poor to have serious printing gear, and his DT prints were quite unsharp. Cole Weston's were commercially printed. But I was never a competitor in that field, so some of that previous generation of dye printers were quite kind and encouraging to me when I showed up in the same neighborhood with Ciba prints.

    But alas, water wars are only going to get worse. B&W footage of my own father supervising a major section of the Central Valley Project showed up in a recent PBS documentary on the central Calif water wars (distinct from the earlier Owens Valley war). It was only later in life, when he learned that most of that water ended up being delivered free to giant corporate farms owned by oil companies, and not family farms, that he regretted it all. Some of that imbalance has been rectified; but between mindless urban sprawl out onto farmland and now thousands of years worth of fossil water being sucked out of the ground, something has to give. More dams won't help a bit as snowpack itself dramatically diminishes - more lakes will just equate to evaporation pits and empty mud holes. The classic book Cadillac Desert expressed it well, the West has developed a genius for wasting water. I'm just glad to have lived and photographed while so much was still left, semi-intact ecologically in the mountains at least. It's changing fast.

  10. #10

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Really interesting insight and personal history Drew. Thanks for sharing it. How difficult for your father to have realized the result of his efforts were inequitable.

    On the DT front, I know little, but I assumed that the difficulty in printing was more the result of challenges with the taking film (and quality of lenses) itself not the printing process. Kodachrome from its outset was high contrast (what was the DR rating for KII I wonder?)) and so behaves better in lower light - and I think many of Porter's (and Philip Hyde's) best images are where contrast does not overwhelm the image, i.e. there is a nice range of tones, but there are certainly exceptions. But isn't there a "translation" required with DT to shift the Kodachrome (or Ektachrome) color cast to something a bit more "accurate" (or preferable), reducing contrast with masking? Just curious. Having worked Ciba prints, I can say that the paper and process was more suitable for reds, yellows, and warm colors generally, with greens in particular being a bit off. So you sought internegs for high contrast images, or where the predominant colors were mostly greens or blues.

    I wonder if some of Porter's best images could be drum scanned, and printed using Fuji Archival or Durst Lambda as a compare to his DT prints. The objective, to further reduce contrast and improve tonal range and slightly adjust color where appropriate. A Porter retrospective using new printing techniques, hmm.

    As you suggest, we have lived during the convergence of matured social concern for the preservation of the natural world with the emergence of high quality fine art photography. I feel privileged to have participated. (I also feel privileged to live in the mid-atlantic states where water, at least, is not an issue).

    As the Colorado River watersheds dry up and assuming the western fires continue to rage annually, populations will migrate elsewhere (the move out of CA and AZ has already begun - NV is next I expect). The real danger (and the statistics bear this out so far), is the continuing increase in world population by 300% every 75 years. This is untenable and I believe a contributing factor to current social anxiety (uncertainty of individual survival in the context of inadequate resources to support growing populations).Wars, famines, diseases contributed to moderating that growth in the past. We have become too complacent with our success perhaps in extending, and the procreation of life. Some districts in India have recently created new ground rules which penalize those who have more than 2 children. They recognize that resources will be outstripped quickly with current growth rates. Yet China has eliminated its former limitations which makes one wonder why (I think the answer may be quite obvious with its expanding "global reach").

    Otherwise, space, here we come!! ... and finding a new home or two. To think that Gene Roddenberry's vision may not have been pure fantasy.

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