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Red Osier, near Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Eliot Porter
Red Osier, near Great Barrington, Massachusetts
April 18, 1957
Dye transfer print
10 ¾ x 8 ¼ inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Snead, 1985
© 1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Eliot Porter (1901–1990) grew up in Illinois but spent summers with his family on Great Spruce Head Island, off the coast of Maine. Given a camera at the age of eleven, he began photographing nature and was especially interested in birds, a subject that would lead him to master color photography. Porter attended medical school and later worked at a research laboratory at Harvard University. After meeting Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz, in 1939, he was inspired to devote himself fulltime to photography.

This photograph is from a series titled The Seasons, in which the artist created pictures to complement Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, or Life in the Woods. This combination of images and text was published, in 1962, by the Sierra Club as In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, Selections and Photographs by Eliot Porter, when Porter was sixty-one years of age. Accompanying the photograph is the following passage from Thoreau’s journal entry for March 17, 1859:

When I am opposite the end of the willow-row, seeing the osiers of perhaps two years old all in a mess, they are seen to be very distinctly yellowish beneath and scarlet above. They are fifty rods off. Here is the same chemistry that colors the leaf or fruit, coloring the bark. It is generally, perhaps always, the upper part of the twig, the more recent growth, that is the higher-colored and more flower or fruit like. So leaves are more ethereal the higher up and farther from the root. In the bark of the twigs, indeed, is the more permanent flower or fruit. The flower falls in spring or summer, the fruit and leaves fall or wither in autumn, but the blushing twigs retain their color throughout the winter and appear more brilliant than ever the succeeding spring. They are winter fruit.