I acquired a 1962 first print edition of Eliot Porter & Henry David Thoreau’s classic book, In Wildness is the Preservation of the World. Inside the book was this note from “Jackie” to “John” that reads, “For John, with very much love and hopes that we can see some of these places together… Jackie, 12/25/67.” I wonder what happened to this couple? Perhaps the relationship didn’t last, or the book was forgotten about then sold eventually. If it’s the latter, I find it sad because this was probably something that meant a lot to Jackie at the time. Hopefully the actual story of their life comes with a happy ending.
Jim Goldstein wrote an excellent blog post last year, The Subtlety of Greatness and Today’s Loss of Appreciation, where he mentions discovering this book via Art Wolfe. He goes on to say that Porter’s work might not meet some of the younger photographer’s standards of “good” nature photography today but when viewing historically significant work you have to view the work in the context of the time in which it had the most impact. This book had a significant impact on people such as those who are today considered the top veteran nature photographers, who in turn are influences on the younger generation who fail to appreciate the importance of history.
It’s very obvious when looking at modern nature photography that much of it is derived from Eliot Porter’s style. Particularly the forest and small “intimate landscapes” that are so prevalent today. Porter was doing the same stuff in color 65 years ago at a time when black and white film was king. No one was shooting pictures like this back in those days. In many ways, he was both a contemporary and the polar opposite of Ansel Adams’ style. How Porter gets overlooked as an influence on modern nature photographers is beyond me. His influence thankfully reached far beyond the niche of nature photography however as the publication of In Wildness is the Preservation of the World, played a big part in how the Sierra Club was able to become the powerful environmental activist organization that they are today. It also inspired those like Jackie to want to see more of our wonderful world with the love of her life.