Minor White was born over 100 years ago, just after the turn of the 20th century, and yet his influence on photography continues to this day. In his perspective one does not photograph something simply for "what it is", but "for what else it is".
The first camera White used was a Kodak Box Brownie but he bought himself a 35mm Argus just bought before the second World War.
After the War was over, he returned to photography and began to develop and express his spiritual life through the art of the lens.
He studied with Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz and worked closely with Ansel Adams. Among his lasting achievements is being one of the co-founders of the photography magazine Aperture. He had several of his photographs exhibited at MOMA in New York in 1941, and his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in 1942.
He went on to become a highly influential photographer and teacher, and his ideas of abstraction and spirituality in photography were particularly influential. He was deeply interested in the natural world, no doubt fostered by his studies in botany which led to a degree from the University of Minnesota in 1933.
As part of his degree, White also studied English and came across the work of poet and mystic William Blake who was his first great influence and a life-long one. Both Blake and White were mystical artists whose central subject was Spirit.
"When you approach something to photograph it, first be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence. Then don't leave until you have captured its essence."
His spirituality was of paramount importance to him and he explored Zen Buddhism and Christian mysticism and even converted to Catholicism. Alfred Stieglitz's theory of 'equivalents' whereby the subject of the photography is considered to be a metaphorical gateway to deeper meaning, had a profound impact on the content of White's photographs as did the Zone System developed by Ansel Adams.
White, however, took Adams' System and developed it to include psychology. He also incorporated abstract expressionist ideas which he felt freed photography and allowed it to better express the inner emotional state of the photographer.
Although he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his manuscript: "Consciousness in Photography and the Creative Audience", his photographs were sometimes controversial and he has been accused of mystical obfuscation.
White was also a renowned teacher and taught at the California School of Fine Arts as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He edited Aperture for many years but gave it up due to ill health in 1974 although he continued to make photographs until his death in 1976.
I will leave you with two Minor White quotes which I particularly like. The first is: "No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen."
But perhaps the second one sums him up his work the best: "When a photograph functions as an Equivalent... the photograph acts as a symbol or plays the role of a metaphor for something that is beyond the subject photographed."
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