Thirty-five years ago this July, I was accepted to participate in a master landscape workshop with Eliot Porter at the
Maine Photographic Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops) in Rockport, Maine. I was twenty-six years old.
To say that the experience was a turning point for me as an artist would be an understatement.
I first become aware of Eliot's superb artistry with the camera fifteen years before after receiving a copy of his book,
In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, as a gift. Though I had been involved with photography pretty much all
of my life up until then, I had never seen the full potential of what the medium could convey about a subject such as
nature. Little did I know that I would eventually meet and study with the artist and that he would sign my copy of
his book. While I treasure that book to this day, what I value most was meeting, learning and being inspired by the
man who created it.
While driving from my home in Delaware to Maine in my 1974 Mercury Capri, I began to experience self-doubts about
participating in a workshop led by such an accomplished artist. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Was I out of
my league? Even though I had passed the portfolio review process, the feeling that I wasn't good enough as an artist
continued to grow within me. Upon arriving, I even considered bailing out and going home before everyone discovered
that a great mistake had been made in accepting me. For some reason, I stayed.
During the first group critique, my fears were put to rest when Eliot commented that he couldn't see how one of my
images (shown below) could be improved. I may be paraphrasing slightly, but that's pretty close to what he actually
said. Talk about a confidence booster!
Maybe that's what all artists need from time to time. Encouragement and a pat on the back. While a sincere
compliment doesn't provide the money needed to fill a food pantry, it most assuredly fills the pantry of our fragile
Even though the workshop only lasted a week, it seemed much longer. That's because our days began early and
lasted late into the evening. Field sessions, reviews, and conversation during travels and meals created an
environment for a young artist such as I that far surpassed my expectations.
I have a wealth of memories of Eliot that include his discussions about his family's island in Penobscot Bay, as
well as stories about other artists that he knew including Ansel Adams. I absorbed all the experiences like a
sponge and they have lasted to this very day.
The workshop experience with Eliot most definitely encouraged me to pursue my goals as an artist. It also inspired
me to lead nature photography workshops of my own which brought my future wife, Karen, and I together, and for
that I will be eternally grateful. While Eliot's path as an artist and that of my own are unique, we share a common
bond that connects all artists to one-another like the links in a creative chain.
Six years after participating in the workshop, I heard the sad news on television that Eliot had passed on at the age
of 88. Not only did I know that the world had lost a great artist, I felt like I had lost a friend as well. I dedicated the
following session of a workshop that I was leading at the time in his memory, though doing so seemed inadequate.
Eliot Porter once said, "A true work of art is the creation of love, love for the subject first and for the medium second."
How true. As artists, we sometimes get so wrapped up in technology that we loose sight of the subject that first
attracted us. I firmly believe that a work of art celebrating nature can be created using a ten-thousand dollar camera
or a simple homemade, cardboard box camera. What matters is not the equipment we use, but rather our
creative vision. This applies to all subjects and artistic mediums.
For me, 1984 was much more than the title of a classic book. It was also the year that I had the opportunity to meet
and learn from a master artist...an experience that would dramatically change my life! Thank you, Eliot.