Eliot Furness Porter



Eliot Furness Porter



Birth Date



Chicago, Illinois, US

Death Date


Biographical Text

Eliot Furness Porter was born in Chicago, 1901. He was given his first camera at age 10, when he began to develop his lifelong passion photographing birds.

Although graduating with degrees in science and medicine from Harvard University in 1929, he never let go of his love for photography and fascination for nature. In the 1930s he was introduced to the acclaimed photographers Ansell Adams and Alfred Stieglitz who encouraged his art practice, and he finally gave up teaching and began work full-time as a freelance photographer in 1939.  He soon realized that all of nature, and particularly the need for conservation, was his true subject.

Rather than continuing to work solely in black and white, Porter almost immediately took up colour to create more accurate photographs of birds. Assisted by Guggenheim fellowships in 1941 and 1946, he began to achieve remarkable results experimenting with Eastman Kodak’s new colour film, Kodachrome. Porter’s favourite colour printing refinement was the rich and vibrant dye transfer process. He continued to photograph in both black and white and colour as it suited his purpose and topic, adding other woodland subjects to his repertoire. He became the first established artist-photographer to commit to exploring the colourful beauty and diversity of the natural world, and furthering the cause of environmental preservation. His book 'American Birds: 10 Photographs in Colour' was published in 1953.

In 1962 he presented his landscapes in an exhibition 'In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World'. This was accompanied by a catalogue of the same name, published by the US conservation organisation, The Sierra Club. An immensely popular book, it combined his evocative colour photographs of New England woods with excerpts from the writings of Henry David Thoreau, and revolutionised photographic book publishing by setting new standards for design and printing and proving the commercial viability of fine art photography books. Its success set Porter on a lifelong path of creating similar photographic portraits of a wide variety of ecologically-significant places around the world.

In his long career he had 25 collections of nature photographs published, including those in 'The Place No One Knew' (1963), 'Baja California' (1967), 'Galapagos' (1968), and 'The Tree Where Man was Born' (1972). His book 'Birds of North America: A Personal Selection', published in 1972, is regarded as a classic. His bird photographs are considered scientifically important because of their meticulous detail, but also of artistic note in their fine technique and composition. Porter served as a director of the Sierra Club from 1965 to 1971, and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.

Porter captured vitality and grandeur in the detail of small subjects, patterns and textures to make his comment on the value of nature and the reason for its conservation. In doing so, he invigorated the environmentalist movement and revolutionised the field of nature photography as we know it.

He died in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1990.



“Eliot Furness Porter,” Tyler Collection of Romanian and Modern Art: University of Tasmania, accessed August 11, 2022, https://tylercollection.omeka.net/items/show/2279.