In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, Eliot Porter published “Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smoky Mountains.” The book combined Porter’s nature photography with scathing texts by Edward Abbey and Harry Caudill, both of whom explained how Americans had fouled the region. The juxtaposition between the texts and the photographs was — and still is — powerful. (You can peruse some of the pictures here, via the Amon Carter Museum, which holds Porter’s archive.)
Porter was the first great American color photographer of nature. A former director of the Sierra Club, Porter did not believe celebrating nature’s beauty was enough; he believed that environmental reform could be prompted by both celebrating nature and spotlighting human degradation of the environment. (Recommended: “Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform,” by Finis Dunaway.)
I spend many of my weekends hiking in the Appalachians, so I’m particularly fond of the pictures Porter took in the East’s gentle, forested mountains. Here’s an art historical rhyme that hinges on Porter’s Appalachian series. Readers are encouraged to contribute via the comments.
Eliot Porter, Dogwood and Tree Trunks, Road to Walnut Bottoms, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, April 11, 1968. Collection of the Amon Carter Museum.
Eliot Porter, Balsam Spruce Forest, North Carolina Side of Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, May 11, 1968. Collection of the Amon Carter Museum.
Bill Viola, Going Forth by Day (still), 2002. Collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.