Photography and Art

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eliot Porter

It's my birthday and my lovely wife gave me a cool toy (everyone should get a toy on their birthday!). It's a Kindle. Despite the hubbub about the iPad, I still think the Kindle will continue to sell very well. While the iPad is a jack-of-all-trades tablet, the Kindle is designed for one thing alone and that is reading. To that end, the screen is not back-lit and the type is lovely. It's extremely easy on the eyes and you're soon buried in your book as if you were reading it conventionally.

I explored the Amazon Kindle store looking for samples of neat stuff and downloaded a New York Times Sunday edition, a PC magazine and a Reginald Hill mystery. All good stuff. Then I thought I'd try a photography book and scanned the hundreds of titles on the store shelves. There were lots of erotic photo books (surprisingly) and lots of how-to books (that Scott Kelby must be making lots of dough), but very few books of photo art.

I did find one that looked appealing called Nature's Chaos, text by James Gleick and photography by Eliot Porter. Gleick writes about science and science fiction. In this book, he has collected essays on Chaos theory, fractals and how they describe nature. The essays are eminently readable and thought-provoking. Porter contributes wonderful photos of the colour and texture of nature to support the notion that nature is both chaotic and beautiful.

The bad news is that the Kindle is a black and white device, so these stunning colour photos don't really suit the Kindle at all. The good news is that Amazon provides a downloadable PC Kindle reader and I was able to download the book to my PC and view these wonderful photos on my colour screen.

Porter donated his life's work to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth Texas and quite a few of his images are online here.

While his works are very nice on a large colour screen, Porter made his mark as a dye transfer printer. For a description of this incredibly complicated process, there's a good article here. I'm not sure I would have the patience to produce prints this way (although some days when the print heads of my Epson 4880 plug up I'm not sure I have the patience for modern printmaking either). Dye transfer prints have a reputation for being extremely vivid and I'd love to see a Porter print in person. Maybe a trip to Texas would be fun.

A number of Porter's prints were made in east Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) in the sixties and seventies and we'll be going there in July. Some of his images are rather conventional pictures of animals, but there are some outstanding images like this one of people dancing. What a gorgeous, sensuous photograph! And the skin tones are delicious. I hope I can bring back one or two images of that calibre.

The Online Photographer is wrapping up a sale of Ctein's dye transfer prints in case you are wondering what one looks like. If you hurry you might be able to order one. I'm not a huge fan of Ctein's work (and he's probably never even heard of me), but I've been tempted to order a print just to see what a dye transfer print looks like. I think it's interesting that Mike Johnston and Ctein sell a ton of these prints when the whole emphasis is on the medium, not the art. It kind of reminds me of buying stereo demonstration records or the current trend in 3D movies like Avatar. Once you've gotten over the WOW! factor of the fidelity, you're still stuck with the print or the record or the movie. Why not buy art by someone you really like made with a more conventional process? Listen to me talking - the guy who's planning on producing two large prints on metal for his next show.

Fortunately, with Eliot Porter, you have the best of both worlds: the dye transfer technology and wonderful images. How could you go wrong with that?

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