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My First Teacher

Eliot Porter

An enounter with a single photograph by Eliot Porter triggered something in me. The image was Redbud Trees In Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky. It was the signature image of Porter’s exhibit, Intimate Landscapes at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1979 and the cover of his book of the same name. It is the first image below.

The tree was the center of interest and yet floated against a background that was as important as the tree. It seemed to me more ephemeral than his other images and struck a chord. Whether it would lead anywhere I had no idea and it took three years to find out.

In 1981 driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike eastbound in Weston, for the first time I noticed red maples coming into bud.

When the Turnpike was built some of the valleys were filled in. This gave an unusual perspective: high and close to the tree canopy: the perfect place to photograph the budding trees. But that was hardly the end of the story.

Weston Overlook: Maple Trees in Early Spring

Early Buds on Maple Trees I

Eliot Porter: Redbud Tree in Bottomland

Eliot Porter, Redbud Trees in Bottomland

There were a few problems. First, there was no place to park. Second it was difficult to place the camera since the land dropped so sharping. Fortunatley my tripod could extend its legs far enough.

The was essentially no place to stand on the ”safe” side of the guard rail and it was a bit uncomfortable having that much high speed traffic so close by.

And then there was the Turnpike Police.

With my camera aimed over the valley of truly beautiful trees with just a hint of red. “What are you doing?” “Taking pictures.” “Of what?” “You know you’re not suppossed to be here.”

After several such conversations I was told to get permission from the Turnpike Authority, which I did. Only once in the next ten years was I asked “Do you have permission?” “Yes.” That was the last of it. No one ever talked to me again either in Weston or Millbury where I also photographed. Click on an image to see it larger.

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