Born in 1925 in Portland, Oregon, Walter Chappell studied architectural drawing at Benson Polytechnical School and piano and musical composition at Ellison-White conservatory of Music.
From 1943-46, he served in the U.S. 13 th Airborne Division.
Chappell's friendship with Minor White, which began in 1942, was renewed in San Francisco in 1947, and although his creative interests would later turn to photography, his main pursuits then were music, painting, and writing.
Logue and Glyphs, a book of his poetry, was published in 1948. In 1952, he attended the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Fellowship in Arizona.
In 1957, Chappell settled in Rochester, New York, to study photographic printmaking technique with Minor White. Here he wrote and edited for Aperture magazine and assisted White in early intensive workshops.
Gestures of Infinity, a collection of images and poetry was produced in 1957.
In 1960, Under The Sun, images by Walter Chappell, Nathan Lyons, and Syl Labrot, was published by George Braziller.
Chappell founded the Association of Heliographers Gallery Archive in New York and directed its activities until 1965.
The Association of Heliographers (Founding Members):
Following a relocation to Big Sur, California, where he was commissioned by MGM to photograph Sharon Tate (see featured article in "W" Magazine August 2001), Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton, his growing interest in the imagery of the human form in nature and experimental film-making instigated a move to Taos, New Mexico, to photograph the nude and landscape and to study Native American ceremonial life.
After still another move to San Francisco where he lived from 1968-74, he began experimental work with electron photography: high voltage/high frequency electron imagery of living plants. This work was presented in his Metaflora Portfolio in 1980.
In 1977 Chappell was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Photographer's Fellowship. From 1977-79, he lived in Hilo, Hawaii, accepting an Artist in Residence position at the Volcano Arts Center. In 1980, he returned to New Mexico, was awarded his second Photographer's Fellowship and ninety print retrospective exhibition appeared at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in Denver.
His Solar Incarnate Portfolio was introduced in 1981.
His third National Endowment for the Arts Photographer's Fellowship was granted in 1984.
In 1987, Chappell moved to the remote village of El Rito, New Mexico and from there continued to exhibit, lecture, give workshops and make fieldtrips.
In 1989, he was invited by the Polaroid Corporation to work on their large format 20"x24" camera in New York where he produced his Immediate Mythology Collaboration.
His final concern was the preparation of a retrospective monograph on his work in photography, entitled Collected Light. It was in progress at the time of his death in August 2000.