Only experts take great photographs, and a great photograph (about as common as a great painting) is creative. Its impact is a stinging slap to the jaded or flagging attention. And its result will always be some deepened insight into the very nature of one aspect of this life that we are all, flower, man and beast, enjoying together on this our dusty, colorful planet home.
—Donald Culross Peattie in This is Living: A View of Nature with Photographs (1938)
June 1st, 2016 is the tenth anniversary of Hugh Morton’s passing. During the years that we have been writing for A View to Hugh, we have primarily featured Morton’s photographs of historical events from a factual perspective because that is the mainstay of the North Carolina Collection. Today, however, presents a marvelous opportunity to explore Morton’s nature photography—and following that link leads you to well over 700 photographs assigned that subject heading.
As you will see, certainly not every Morton photograph is great; there never has been, nor will there ever be, a photographer for whom this could be true. And even an amateur can make a great photograph now and then. Not every photograph, however, needs to be great. The trillions of photographs that we have made are micro expressions of singular moments in time. Hugh Morton was a gifted photographer who made many great photographs, many more good photographs, and many that were merely visual explorations along the way to making many good and great photographs. We are all honored that his prolific body of work is available in Wilson Library for all to utilize for our own explorations in life. There is great benefit to all in having one person’s lifelong photographic vision available beyond his or her place in time.
The opening quotation above comes from Donald Culross Peattie’s introduction to his commentary on more than 120 nature photographs by various photographers selected by Gordon Aymar. Most of the photographs are not great, some are far from it. Brought together, however, Aymar’s selection and sequencing of the photographs into chapters titled “Life-Force,” “Young Beginnings,” “Home,” “Living Together,” “Hunger,” Mysterious Ways,” “Death,” and “Life the Conqueror” leads readers through many photographic observations that celebrate living. Morton, with his ever-present camera, explored these very same categories, and more, in his nature photography.
On this tenth anniversary of Hugh Morton’s death, I invite you to explore his nature photography. Doing so will give you the opportunity to celebrate life as Morton saw it spanning seven decades through his eyes, cameras, and lenses. To quote Peattie once more:
It is a slender world in the cosmosphere that is set aside for us to inhabit—no more than the surface of one drifting bubble. The limits of life as we know it are terribly strict. Within these frail dimensions all living things are crowded, flung together in an intimacy that means struggle. We are conscripted to that struggle by the fact of birth, delivered from it, generally against our will, by death. This is living.