This chronology presents an overview of Eliot Porter’s life and accomplishments. It draws upon several sources, including the bibliography compiled by Milan Hughston in Eliot Porter (Boston: New York Graphic Society Books, Little Brown and Company, in association with the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1987); the autobiographical material included in the same publication; the chronology included in Eliot Porter: The Grand Canyon (Munich: Prestel; New York: ARTnews, 1992); Nancy Barrett’s chronology in Intimate Landscapes (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979); and material from Porter’s archives, housed at the Amon Carter Museum. Those interested in a fuller view of Porter’s life are encouraged to consult these sources.

1901-1944 | 1946-1970 | 1971-2002


  • Eliot Porter is born December 6 in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, into an upper-middle-class household; his parents are James Foster Porter, a biologist, architect, and nature enthusiast, and Ruth Wadsworth Furness Porter, a social activist
  • Is the second child after sister Nancy; other siblings include Edward, Fairfield, who later becomes an accomplished painter, and John


  • Takes several trips with his family to Florida, New England, and the Grand Canyon


  • Father purchases Great Spruce Head Island, Penobscot Bay, Maine; family summers there beginning in 1912


  • Receives a Brownie box camera as a Christmas gift from his parents


  • Photographs around Winnetka and on Great Spruce Head Island, first using his Brownie box camera and later a Graflex; takes his first photographs of birds
  • Becomes interested in chemistry while in high school
  • Enters Morristown School, a boarding school in New Jersey, and photographs athletic events there


  • Enters Harvard University and studies chemical engineering; interests broaden to include biology and physiology


  • Graduates from Harvard and enters Harvard Medical School


  • Suspends studies at Harvard Medical School and enters University of Cambridge, England, to study biochemistry


  • Leaves Cambridge and returns to Winnetka; resumes studies at Harvard Medical School


  • Marries Marian Brown
  • First child, Meredith, born (exact date unknown)


  • Receives M.D. from Harvard Medical School


  • Researches and teaches bacteriology, biochemistry, and biophysics at Harvard Medical School


  • Resumes photography after purchasing a Leica camera; photographs architectural and object close-ups around Boston
  • Meredith dies of meningitis


  • Eliot, Jr. born January 21


  • Charles Anthony born December 24


  • Divorces Marian
  • Meets Alfred Stieglitz in New York City and Ansel Adams in Boston (ca. 1934)
  • Purchases a 9-by-12 cm Linhof camera


  • Travel: Switzerland and Austria, summer


  • Marries painter Aline Kilham
  • Exhibition: Exhibition of Photographs by Eliot Porter (Delphic Studios, New York, February 24–March 8; thirty-seven prints)


  • Resumes bird photography


  • Jonathan born March 25
  • Exhibition: Eliot Porter—Exhibition of Photographs (An American Place, New York, December 29–January 18, 1939; twenty-nine prints)


  • Father dies, July 30
  • Resigns from teaching and research to pursue photography as a career
  • Begins photographing birds in color using Kodachrome film; continues photographing other nature and landscape subjects in black-and-white
  • Through the late 1950s contributes regularly to nature photography competitions presented at the American Museum of Natural History, New York; the New England Museum of Natural History, Boston; the Museum of Natural History, Chicago; and other venues
  • Through the early to mid-1960s, writes articles about bird and color photography and contributes photographs to publications focusing on American birds and nature


  • Experiments with making color prints in his Chicago darkroom; settles on using Kodak’s wash-off relief process


  • Stephen born July 23
  • Receives a Guggenheim Fellowship to photograph birds in both black-and-white and color


  • Mother dies, May 31
  • Exhibition: Photographs by Eliot Porter (New York Zoological Society, May 30–June 30; eighty prints)


  • Suspends Guggenheim bird project and moves to Cambridge, Massachusetts, during World War II; works as a job scheduler in the Radiation Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  • Exhibition: Birds in Color: Flashlight Photographs by Eliot Porter (Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 9–April 18, and other venues through 1944; fifty-four prints)


  • Moves back to Winnetka and resumes photographing birds; occasionally makes color photographs of nature and landscape subjects

1901-1944 | 1946-1970 | 1971-2002