November 12, 2019 The Amon Carter Museum of American Art Presents Exhibition by Esteemed Color Photographer Eliot Porter
Explore rarely-seen photographs of birds presented alongside the writings of the pioneering color photographer.
Fort Worth, TX, November 12, 2019—The Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents Eliot Porter’s Birds, an exhibition highlighting rarely seen color photographs of birds by the esteemed photographer that Ansel Adams described as the “master of nature’s color.” While Porter is widely celebrated for his color photographs of nature, his career-long focus on photographing birds is less known. This exhibition features these avian photographs drawn from the Carter’s extensive holdings of Porter’s work that is part of the museum’s renowned collection of American photography. On view January 4 through May 10, 2020, Eliot Porter’s Birds features over 30 photographs and archival objects presented alongside excerpts from the artist’s extensive writings about his activities, giving visitors an opportunity to feel a direct connection with the artist.
Eliot Porter’s Birds offers an intimate look at an artistic fascination a lifetime in the making. Porter’s successful career included travels from Maine to China photographing the architecture and people he met there, but the subjects he returned to year after year were birds in their natural habitat. Committed to exploring the colorful beauty of the natural world, Porter found particular fascination in birds, photographing them every spring for more than 40 years. His continuing exploration of this subject was rooted in his desire to set a new artistic model for bird photography that aligned with the great lithographs of the nineteenth-century artist-naturalist John James Audubon. Like Audubon’s detailed illustrations of birds in nature, Porter’s photographs reflect carefully constructed compositions that purposefully depict his subjects in their natural habitat.
“The first group of small songbirds to attract my attention as a photographer and student of birds were the wood warblers. Finding them and their nests very early became a game that challenged my sleuthing skill and all the woodcraft I had absorbed during my school days,” Porter wrote in his 1972 book Birds of North America.
Eliot Porter’s Birds offers visitors an entrance into Porter’s perspective, presenting the photographs alongside the artist’s own descriptions of observing and making photographs of these creatures. These first-person excerpts are drawn from Porter’s publications, letters, and journals, giving viewers a new way to see art through the artist’s eyes.
“Porter clearly loved birds,” stated John Rohrbach, the Carter’s Senior Curator of Photographs. “This exhibition shares his tales about seeking and photographing them, and his experiences sharing his images with others. It additionally reveals the remarkable lengths he went through to create these exquisite photographs.”
The artist pushed the limits of photographic technology to set a new standard for bird photography. Working before the wide use of telephoto lenses and flash synchronization, Porter built his own extensive outlet incorporating car headlamps, light-beam sensors, and portable generators to capture the activity of birds in nests. The exhibition will include his original photography equipment presented in a demonstration of this inventive camera setup. In addition, visitors can experience a rare glimpse of Porter’s dye imbibition printing process, a complex and remarkably subtle print method Porter used to finesse the exact hues in the era before the invention of digital printing technologies. Visitors can learn more about this exacting technique through Porter’s own printing materials, notes, and recipes.
“This engaging exhibition is made possible by Eliot Porter himself. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art owns the Eliot Porter archive, including more than 1,200 of his bird photographs, his equipment, and his writings,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director. “Eliot Porter’s Birds takes full advantage of these materials, interpreting his masterful photographs through his own words.”
In 1990, Porter bequeathed his professional archives to the Carter, consisting of approximately 7,500 original dye transfer prints and 1,800 gelatin silver, black-and-white photographic prints covering the breadth of his career; 84,000 original color transparencies and slides; 4,400 black-and-white negatives; the photographic components he created in the process of making his dye transfer prints; and approximately 2,600 work prints. The collection also holds copies of the artist’s books, portfolios, and albums; approximately 40 linear feet of business papers and correspondence; his 1,100-volume professional library; a small assortment of family photographs; photographs given to the artist by friends and associates; some of his dye transfer printing equipment; and his work table.
Over a fifty-year career, Eliot Porter (1901–1990) became celebrated for his color landscape photography. Born in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1901, Porter began to photograph birds and landscapes at the age of 10, quickly developing curiosity for photographing the natural world that became a defining characteristic of his career. Initially pursuing a career as a biochemical researcher at Harvard, he continued to explore his love of photography and, spurred by introductions to the acclaimed artist-photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams in the mid-1930s, ultimately turned his attention to developing his photography career. An artist with strong scientific and environmental interests, Porter took up color in 1939, long before his fellow photographers accepted the medium, to produce more accurate photographs of birds. He also introduced color to landscape photography, an innovation that defined his legacy. Porter’s career culminated in thousands of richly hued photographs and 25 books that were celebrated by environmentalists and museums alike, and his work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and more.
Porter’s enduring fascination with birds brings to light the photographer’s compassionate devotion to our natural world. An avid environmentalist and conservationist, Porter created photographs that offer a glimpse of nature that is both intimate and subtle while also being vibrant and respectful. Though he gained popular acclaim for his color photographs of New England woods as published in his landmark 1962 book In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, Porter’s lesser-known photographs of birds demonstrate his contemplative commitment to both nature’s animal inhabitants and also to his enduring passion for art.
Eliot Porter’s Birds is organized by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and opens to the public on January 4, 2020. Visitors will be able to learn more about the exhibition in a variety of family and adult events happening this spring. For dates, prices, and details, visit cartermuseum.org.
Images: Eliot Porter (1901–1990), Alder Flycatcher, Great Spruce Head Island, Maine, July 1940, dye imbibition print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, bequest of the artist; Eliot Porter (1901–1990), Purple Gallinule, Everglades National Park, Florida, March 2, 1954, dye imbibition print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, bequest of the artist; Eliot Porter (1901–1990), Chipping Sparrow, Great Spruce Head Island, Maine, June 19, 1971, dye imbibition print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, bequest of the artist.
About the Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Located in the heart of Fort Worth’s Cultural District, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art explores the breadth and complexity of American creativity through an important and dynamic art collection. The Carter opened in 1961 to benefit its community by sharing the wonder of American art, fostering the growth of a vibrant cultural spirit, and stimulating artistic imagination. Housed in a building designed by Philip Johnson (1906–2005), the Carter features one of the great collections of American art including masterworks of painting, sculpture, and works on paper by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, John Singer Sargent, Frederic Church, Thomas Eakins, Grant Wood, Alexander Calder, and Stuart Davis. The Carter is also home to a world-renowned photography collection that spans the history of the medium from the nineteenth century to today. It is also home to Amon G. Carter Sr.’s collection of nearly 400 works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, two of the most significant artists of the American West. Admission is free. Open: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday 12–5 p.m. Closed Mondays and select holidays.