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Walter Chappell | American, 1925 - 2000

Chappell was born in 1925 in Portland, Oregon. His formal studies included architectural drawing at the Benson Polytechnical School, and piano and musical composition at the Ellison-White conservatory.

He was curator of prints and exhibitions at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York from 1957 to 1961 and was affiliated with Aperture Magazine founded by Minor White in 1952. He left the George Eastman House in 1961 to settle in Wingdale, New York with noted painter and artist, Nancy Chappell (then Nancy Barrett Dickinson). Soon after building their home, a fire destroyed their house and nearly all of Chappell's photographic work to date, including photographic negatives and their corresponding prints. In the early 1960s, he was a co-founder of a group of seven photographers who called themselves "The Heliographers": Chappell, Paul Caponigro, Carl Chiarenza, William Clift, Marie Cosindas, Nicholas Dean, Paul Petricone. Although most of them were affiliated with the Carl Siembad Gallery in Boston, Chappell proposed to open a gallery in New York City that he ran for the group: The Heliographers' Gallery Archive opened its doors in 1963 at 859 Lexington Avenue.The gallery closed in 1965.

Chappell re-located to San Francisco where he became re-acquainted with Minor White and joined a circle of photographers that included Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams. Walter Chappell traveled extensively during his career. His growing interest in the imagery of the human form in nature and experimental film-making instigated a move to Taos, New Mexico, where he also photographed the expansive landscape of the Southwest. He continued to study Native American ceremonial life and became intimately connected with the Taos Pueblo.

After moving to San Francisco, he began experimental work with electron photography: high voltage/high frequency electron imagery of living plants, or Kirlian photography. Bleeding Heart is an example of these electron photographs. This work was presented in his Metaflora Portfolio in 1980. Chappell continued his photographic exploration of electron photography in Hilo, Hawaii in 1984 after being awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Photographer's Fellowship for the third time (1977, 1980, 1984). Chappell moved to his final residence in the remote village of El Rito, New Mexico in 1987.