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Reflections in Pool, Escalante River, Utah
1965, 22 September
J. Paul Getty Museum
© 1990 Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Courtesy Getty Museum
"Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature" will be at the Getty Center June 13-Sept. 17. (2006)
Color is vulgar. At least, it was long thought to be so by fine art photographers. Color was the medium of advertising and masscult magazines; gelatin silver (black and white) was the medium of art.
Ansel Adams was so opposed to color that he walked out of the room when Eliot Porter tried to show him some prints. Porter staunchly defended his use of color. Yet he had his own ways of deflecting its vibrancy, muting the lushness that the natural world took on in a Kodachrome transparency.
Never did he find a better baffle for his color photography than when he worked in Glen Canyon. Because of the narrow walls through which the Colorado River and tributaries such as the Escalante flowed, little direct daylight reached the bottom where Porter traveled by raft. The dazzle of sandstone cliffs in sunshine could be captured there only as it was reflected in dark water.
In this 1965 picture, Porter used his camera to pan for a few nuggets of gold, letting the water break the rock face high above him into scattered fragments. In many Porter photographs employing this strategy, the dash of brilliant color is constrained by a composition that otherwise looks as if it had been photographed in black and white.
[Originally published in West Magazine : June 11, 2006, p.13]