About the Work of Art:

Eliot Porter (1901–1990)
Twilight Canyon, Glen Canyon, Utah, May 26, 1962
Dye transfer print
© 1990, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist


Eliot Porter (1901–1990), Twilight Canyon, Glen Canyon, Utah, May 26, 1962, Dye transfer print, © 1990, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, bequest of the artist, P1990.51.5103.1





As the Colorado River winds its way through the Utah and Arizona deserts, it slowly carves the warm-colored earth. Over a million years, the Colorado has created deep cuts like Glen Canyon and Twilight Canyon. These lesser-known gorges are just northeast of the river’s Grand Canyon.

In 1956 the United States government began building a dam in Glen Canyon to control the Colorado River and to provide hydropower. The Sierra Club opposed the government’s construction of this dam, which would create a huge lake and flood the 186-mile-long canyon and its many side canyons. Photographer Eliot Porter partnered with Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower to publish the book The Place No One Knew (1963). They hoped this large-format, photographic documentation of Glen Canyon would convince President Lyndon B. Johnson and the federal government to halt completion of Glen Canyon Dam.

Porter traveled through Glen Canyon eleven times. He was fascinated with the rock faces, reflections, and colors he encountered. Twilight Canyon and its neighboring canyons had “ribbons of color that cling like folds of wet curtains to the rock,” he exclaimed. In this photograph, one can see slight evidence of these water-streaked walls. It was called Twilight because the walls were so steep and narrow that light barely reached the bottom of the canyon. Here, Porter captures a moment when the sun illuminates the steep-sided canyon walls, which twist and turn because of the forceful waters that created them.

Although he made his photographs for a book, Porter carefully approached each image as an individual work of art. This photograph of Twilight Canyon demonstrates how he often used details to give a sense of the whole. He lets the shaded boulders and canyon walls frame the image, while drawing attention to the wide range of colors in the canyon’s warm-colored sandstone.

Porter and Brower were unsuccessful in halting the Glen Canyon Dam, and today people can only experience what Porter saw through his photographs. But The Place No One Knew helped stop other damming projects in the Southwest. The fight over damming rivers in the region helped further the modern environmental movement’s efforts to heighten awareness of the country’s natural places and save them. The Sierra Club, at that time, also became more politically active on a national level with its goal to preserve natural places.

Eliot Porter continued to partner with the Sierra Club and other publishers to make large-format books that illustrated in color the beauty of both the United States and the world.


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