Beep! Beep!

Eliot Porter at Paula Cooper is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: Eliot Porter's great bird photos captured them at work.

I don’t seem to be able to avoid the work of Eliot Porter these days: He’s in the Venice Biennale, he’s in Trisha Donnelly’s curation at MoMA and he’s got a solo at Paula Cooper gallery in New York – from which this photo of a roadrunner is taken. Not that I’d want to avoid Porter’s work – I’ve become a huge fan. Porter (1901-1990; brother of Fairfield, the painter) was a fine-art photographer with a scientific training and bent. His bird photos, shot on large-format film then printed as startling dye transfers, read as formal portraits of birds at work, almost in the mode of August Sander’s images of tradesmen. What particularly strikes me is how Porter captures a sense that the birds don’t have full intentionality; it feels as though, driven by blind instinct, they are unaware of what they do, like a human under hypnosis. Normally, dogs and cats and humans seem to be guided by some kind of volition – but of course that may be flattering ourselves. Beep! Beep! (©1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.)

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