The book was first published by the Sierra Club, and Porter was elected to its board of directors in 1965, serving until 1971. In 1970, Porter wrote, "It has been said that wildness is a luxury, a commodity that man will be forced to dispense with as his occupancy of the earth approaches saturation. If this happens, he is finished. Wilderness must be preserved; it is a spiritual necessity."
|Aspens by Lake, Pike National Forest, Colorado, September 14, 1959|
When "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World"... appeared in November of 1962, nothing like it had been seen before. The book combined childhood wonder, modernist art, breakthrough color-photography technology, scientific acumen, and political awareness—a convergence that Porter and his editor, Sierra Club executive director David Brower, would refine through subsequent books and years.... Unlike his contemporary Ansel Adams, whose work located itself through landmarks, Porter’s did so through representative specimens—the sandstone of the Southwest, the warblers of the Midwest, the maple leaves of New England. With Adams’s monumental scenes, viewers felt they were remote from civilization; with Porter they could be a few feet from it. The creatures are small—caterpillars, moths, songbirds; the bodies of water are brooks, not rivers; the trees are maples, not bristlecones. In 1962, simply depicting the quiet splendors of the natural world was a powerful argument, in part because it had never been made as Porter made it. As one reviewer later wrote, "A kind of revolution was under way, for with the publication of this supremely well-crafted book, conservation ceased to be a boring chapter on agriculture in fifth-grade textbooks, or the province of such as birdwatchers."
Ironically (or perhaps fittingly), Porter himself started out as a birdwatcher, making ornithological photographs in the scientific-aesthetic tradition of artist John James Audubon. From this modest initial definition of nature as birds and details of the New England landscape, Porter’s photography grew into a global picture. His work evolved as the environmental movement did, from protecting particular species and places to rethinking the human place in the world, a world reimagined as an entity of interconnected natural systems rather than one of discrete objects. In his densely layered pictures, Porter comes as close as any artist has to portraying ecology.
As his brother, the painter and critic Fairfield Porter, wrote of Porter’s color photographs: "There is no subject and background, every corner is alive." Porter’s most distinctive compositions are the close-ups. Unlike landscape photography, which generally depicts an empty center of open space, waiting to be inhabited, in Porter’s work nature itself fills that center, whether with leaves, stones, creatures, or clouds. This is nature photography, a wholly new genre Porter founded, with wild stuff in its own place for its own sake. Nature, not man, is the true inhabitant of Porter’s places.
|Views of kettle lakes in New Hampshire|