One of the things I got interested in while working on Earth Now is how photographs in books, calendars, and other publications reached a broad audience and stimulated interest in environmental conservation. In the exhibition, I’ll be displaying two books from the Sierra Club’s Exhibit Format Series, launched in 1960 by club president David Brower. Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall provided the first volume in the series, This is the American Earth, based on an exhibition they organized in California in 1955. A few volumes later came the first color entry, “In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World,” Selections & Photographs, by Eliot Porter (1962). These were large, beautifully printed picture books for grown-ups – the first coffee-table books.

Adams and Porter were both participants in using their art to seduce their fellow Americans into admiring and, perhaps, caring about the country’s unique landscapes. Many photographers I have spoken with cite their first experience with Porter’s 1962 book -- in which his photographs were made to accompany passages from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 book Walden, or Life in the Woods – as something of a revelation about both photography and conservation issues. I don’t remember my first encounter with photo-illustrated books, but as a young person, I did carry around a copy of my father’s Modern Library edition of Thoreau’s writings.

What books have affected you?