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Two Top Landscape Photographers At The Amon Carter

By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter

Fort Worth, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Eliot Porter and Robert Ketchum hold revered places in the environmental movement. Through the decades, their photographs convinced powerful lawmakers to preserve vast and endangered sections of wilderness, from the Hudson River Valley to Alaska. The Amon Carter Museum's Senior Photography Curator John Rohrbach says Eliot Porter taught us how to see the world in color.

John Rohrbach, Senior Curator, Photography, Amon Carter Museum: He took up color after Kodak invented color film. In the face of colleagues who thought of all photographic art being black and white, he showed the expressive potential of color.

Zeeble: Rohrbach says Robert Ketchum's work was at first a rejection of Porter. While embracing Porter's use of color, Ketchum discarded the elder's more literal. Ketchum stands in front of a Porter photograph.

Robert Glenn Ketchum, photographer: Maple and Birch trunks and Oak Leaves, Passaconaway, New Hampshire, October 7th, 1956. You couldn't be more specific about everything in the picture than that. Over there is my Brewster Boogie Woogie 11. What's that all about?

Zeeble: Ketchum says his photo of vivid red and yellow autumn leaves in a forest is about borrowing from Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie that tried to capture the rhythm of New York as seen from the painter's apartment.

Ketchum: This is about the rhythm of life I saw in the wild through my camera.
Rohrbach:What Ketchum is doing, he's blasting you with color and chaos. You have to accept that. If you don't accept it you're going to walk away. Only by spending time with that image do you find that order out of that chaos.

Zeeble: Ketchum approaches shots with composition, color & balance in mind, not with the name of the trees or of the particular landscape he's shooting. He's a post-modern child of the 1950s and 60s he says, whose first jobs involved photographing musicians, like The Doors.

Ketchum: I went from Rock n Roll to rocks and trees

Zeeble: Early on, Ketchum rankled academic authorities. He shot in both color AND black and white, at a time when critics belittled color landscapes, calling them wall-calendar work. He also helped pioneer large, prints.

Kethcum: I saw the landscape as a big thing, and I saw photographers not paying attention to that. Everything was 16x20 or 8x10. I said why aren't they 30x40 or bigger if we can make them bigger?

Zeeble:. Some years ago, Ketchum traveled to China, hoping that silk workers could convert some of his photos to silk embroidery . At first, they weren't so sure. Now, embroiderers have completed several pieces, in color and black and white. As the gallery spotlights increase and decrease their intensity, the image changes, as it does in sunlight, or moonlight.

Ketchum: I'm questioned constantly as to whether this is art or this is craft. I'm sorry, get over it. Just get over it!

Zeeble: It's art, he says, but it's different., and amazing. He wants people to come away from these embroidery panels with what he calls the wild factor. Instead of developing a shot on photo paper in a darkroom, it's developed in a color embroidery studio over many years.

Ketchum: I think it's inherently magic, and the viewer stands in front of it and goes Uhh! I've never seen anything like this before!

Zeeble: That's how Ketchum reacts sometimes, as do viewers. The Amon Carter exhibit of photos by Ketchum and Porter, Regarding the Land remains on display through January, 7th of next year. For KERA 90.1 I'm Bill Zeeble

Contact KERA's News and Public Affairs staff about this piece