Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd presents a rare collection of Eliot Porter’s vintage prints. The exhibition traces his early beginnings with black and white images, some of which were shown in Eliot’s first exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s An American Place, in 1939.
An American Place
“My dear Eliot Porter:
I have your letter. I have been wanting to write to you but have been swamped with people & “things”. And I am far from being physically equal to the demands I make upon myself – …
I think I know how you feel about me. Men really don’t have to thank each other. – Still I must thank you for having given me the opportunity to live with your spirit in the form of those photographs that for three weeks were on our walls. – And “our” includes you. – Some of your photographs are the first I have ever seen which made me feel “there is my own spirit” – quite an unbelievable experience for one like myself – I wonder am I clear? Probably not. …
– Once more my deepest thanks to you & Mrs. Porter. Also the same from O’Keeffe –
Beginning in the early 1940s, Eliot Porter was one of the first photographic artists to explore printing in color using the complex medium of the dye-transfer process, which offered him the freedom of creative expression, artistic control, and permanence. While color is now accepted and embraced in contemporary art, it is hard to realize how resistant the art world was to color photography until the early 1970’s. Color was criticized for being too literal and therefore limiting in its creative potential to be as interpretive and emotional as a black & white print.
His commitment to color was furthered by his relationship with his brother, the painter and art critic, Fairfield Porter, and his wife, Aline Kilham Porter, a painter and an assemblage artist.
Porter’s introduction to photography started with his interest in birds at the early age of 10, in 1911, when his father gave him a box camera (also on view at the studio).
He tells of his evolution from black & white to color…
… In 1941 I took a portfolio to a Boston publisher, where an editor for whom birds were an avocation looked at them all, made encouraging comments, and then pronounced his edict on my work. “We cannot publish these,” “because they are in black & white, and the birds cannot be unequivocally identified.” I must have shown my disappointment, for he went on to suggest that he could publish my photographs if they were in color. I am sure he had no conception of the problems entailed in making color photographs of birds in 1941.
Nevertheless, I took his remark as a sort of promise, and went to Eastman Kodak Company for advice on using synchronized flash along with Kodachrome film, which had recently appeared on the market.
That spring, I began photographing birds in color. A Guggenheim Fellowship for the project followed, and after I had learned to make color prints using the wash-off relief process, the precursor of dye-transfer prints, I returned to Boston with a portfolio of color prints in which I took inordinate pride. I was admitted to the same editor’s office, and again he looked at the collection, making comments that were still more enthusiastic than before. But he said nothing about publishing them, until in an agony of suspense I asked a direct question. In reply he said, “We can’t publish these, it would cost far too much.”
Eliot Porter, April 1972
Eliot Porter, Birds of North America, A Personal Selection
E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1972
Eliot Porter : Vintage Works
June 22nd– July 27th, 2019
Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd
812 Camino Acoma
Santa Fe, NM 87505