Post by Charnell

Cover of book by Eliot Porter

Cover of a book by Eliot Porter

“I give him credit for teaching me to see”, said Dr. Elliott (Eliot) Porter, a New Jersey physician turned professional photographer of Western landscapes and nature.

The Amon Carter Museum, which houses Porter’s professional archives in Fort Worth, TX, says of him, “Eliot Porter introduced color to landscape photography. In so doing, he created a new way of viewing the world that today has become commonplace.”

untitled painting by Quincy Tahoma, 1948, Courtesy of Joseph M. Montoya II

1948 untitled painting by Tahoma, Courtesy of Joseph M. Montoya II

Giving credit to Quincy Tahoma in a 1976 letter to Arthur Silberman, Indian art expert and curator, Porter wrote, “…he saw beauty in everything, I couldn’t paint, but I liked (still do) photography, he would say, stop the car, get a picture of ‘that’—I give him credit for teaching me to see. This is another thing we had in common.”

Now, I don’t know what else they had in common besides art, but I do know there was a special bond between this unlikely pair that went driving and trekking through Navajoland just to “see”!  At that time, Anglos had little respect for Indians in general, but that seemed not to be an issue with Porter.

Their friendship  had a smattering of reciprocity: Tahoma sharing his artist’s eye with Porter, and Porter providing assistance – often financial – to Tahoma.

Although Porter knew Tahoma from 1949 to 1954, their paths crossed only intermittently when Porter was visiting New Mexico or Arizona. Porter was part of the circle of artistic friends of Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, and he traveled with them in New Mexico also. We can’t help but wonder if Tahoma ever met O’Keefe, since their time in New Mexico art circles overlapped.

The photographer bought several of Tahoma’s paintings in 1951 and, concerned about the artist’s alcoholism, joined several other Tahoma supporters in trying to keep him sober.  Even though that didn’t work, Porter remained a faithful friend.  In 1953, Tahoma sent the photographer a telegram urgently asking for $50 in exchange for a painting or repayment. Porter later reported that he did send the fifty dollars to Tahoma but “never got a picture or the fifty—and I don’t give a dam (sic).”

Telegram from Quincy Tahoma to E.R. Porter

1953 Telegram from Quincy Tahoma to E.R. Porter

Now, that’s a true friend!

[Note: Although nearly all the references found on the Internet spell his first name as Eliot, in Dr. Porter’s hand written letter, which we cite in Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, and which we copied from the Amon Carter Museum files, he signature reads quite clearly Elliott Porter. Since his book titles are all spelled with one “l” and one “t”, that is apparently the way he spelled his name during most of his life. We have no explanation for why he spelled it differently in the letter regarding Tahoma, but we decided to follow his own spelling in the book.]

High praise indeed for the Navajo artist from the world famous photographer!  Have you had a friend who gave you the same kind of praise and encouragement?

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