Eliot Porter's Nature

Eliot Porter's Nature

Eliot Porter was the foremost landscape photographer of the 20th century, a consummate environmentalist whose legacy in color rivals that of black-and-white champion Ansel Adams. The brother of painter Fairfled Porter, Eliot Porter was raised in a Chicago family that summered in Maine at Great Spruce Head Island. His experiences in the state shaped his perceptions of the power of nature and the importance of wild places. Although he was trained as a physician and spent his young adulthood working for Harvard University as a biomedical researcher, Porter increasingly immersed himself in the practice of photography, and by the 1940s it had become his life's work. Porter is best known for his lyrical and highly specific images of the natural world; his initial interest in nature photography blossomed into a long-lasting working affiliation with the Sierra Club, which published five books by Porter, including the landmark 1962 book In Wildness is the Preservation of the World (available for purchase in the PMA Store), a crucial publication in the history of environmental awareness and preservationism.


Eliot Porter (United States, 1901-1990), Sunflower and Sand Dune, 1959, dye transfer print, 16 x 11 3/4 inches. Gift of Owen W. and Anna H. Wells, 2013.17.50 © Amon Carter Museum of Art

Eliot Porter's Nature surveys the PMA's holdings of Porter's oeuvre, a collection which now nears 30 photographs thanks to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust's 2017 gift of a complete portfolio titled Certain Passages, which was produced in 1989 by Daniel Wolf Press. In this exhibition, Porter's unique vision of the majesty of the natural world marries with his exquisite grasp of the technical demands of early color photography.

Don't miss our upcoming Noontime Talk on Eliot Porter with Maine Audubon Society on Friday, January 26, as part of our community voices series.

Eliot Porter's Nature is generously supported by Charles Butt. 
Corporate sponsorship is provided by McCandless & Coburn LLC

Image (above): Eliot Porter (United States, 1901-1990), Whiteface, New Hampshire (detail), circa 1956, dye transfer print on board, 10 7/16 x 9 1/8 inches. Gift of the Jonathan Stein Collection, 1993.160.5

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January 9, 2018
Deputy Director and Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic Chief Curator

Jessica May, PMA Deputy Director and Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic Chief Curator, was the project director of the museum’s acclaimed reinstallation project, Your Museum, Reimagined. May served as co-curator and co-author of Richard Estes’ Realism (PMA and Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2014), and curated the 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial, Piece Work. Her research and curatorial interests include the history of documentary practice, contemporary photography, and postwar figurative painting in America. Prior to coming to Portland, May was Associate Curator of Photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. She is the co-author of American Modern: Documentary Photography by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White (University of California Press, 2010), and the Subhankar Banerjee: Where I Live I Hope to Know (ACMAA, 2011). She graduated from Barnard College and received her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where she wrote a dissertation on Walker Evans. She lives in South Portland with her wife and son.