LOS ANGELES, CA.-
Controversial, eccentric, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (1908--1976) is one of the great photographers of the twentieth century, whose ideas and philosophies about the medium of photography have exerted a powerful influence on a generation of practitioners and still resonate today. Born and raised in Minneapolis, his photographic career began in 1938 in Portland, Oregon with assignments as a "creative photographer" for the Oregon Art Project, an outgrowth of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
After serving in World War II as a military intelligence officer, White studied art history at Columbia University in New York. It was during this period that White's focus started to shift toward the metaphorical. He began to create images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect called "equivalency," which referred to the invisible spiritual energy present in a photograph made visible to the viewer and was inspired by the work of Alfred Stieglitz. White's belief in the spiritual and metaphysical qualities in photography, and in the camera as a tool for self-discovery, was crucial to his oeuvre.
Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit
(Getty Publications, 2014) gathers together for the first time a diverse selection of more than 160 images made by Minor White over five decades, including some never published before. Accompanying the photographs is an in-depth critical essay by Paul Martineau entitled "'My Heart Laid Bare': Photography, Transformation, and Transcendence," which includes particularly insightful quotations from White's journals, which he kept for more than forty years.
The result is an engaging narrative that weaves through the main threads of White's work and life--his growth and tireless experimentation as an artist; his intense mentorship of his students; his relationships with Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, who had a profound influence on his work; and his labor of love as cofounder and editor of Aperture magazine from 1952 until 1976. The book also addresses White's life-long spiritual search and ongoing struggle with his own sexuality and self-doubt, in response to which he sought comfort in a variety of religious practices that influenced his continually metamorphosing artistic philosophy.
Published here in its entirety for the first time is White's stunning series The Temptation of Anthony Is Mirrors, consisting of 32 photographs of White's student and model Tom Murphy made in 1947 and 1948 in San Francisco. White's photographs of Murphy's hands and feet are interspersed within a larger group of portraits and nude figure studies. White kept the series secret for years as at the time he made the photographs it was illegal to publish or show images with male frontal nudity. Anyone making such images would be assumed to be homosexual and outed at a time when this invariably meant losing gainful employment.
Other works shown in this rich collection are White's early images of the city of Portland that depict his experimentations with different styles and nascent spiritual awakening; his photographs of the urban streets of San Francisco where he lived for a time; his elegant images of rocks, sandy beaches and tidal pools in Point Lobos State Park in Northern California that are an homage to Edward Weston; and the series The Sound of One Hand made in the vicinity of Rochester, New York where he also taught classes at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and curated shows at the George Eastman House (GEH). Paul Martineau describes this iconic series as "White's chef d'oeuvre, the work that is the summation of his persistent search or a way to communicate ecstasy." Among the eleven images in the Getty collection are Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, 1958; Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, 1959; and Pavilion, New York, 1957.
Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit accompanies the first major exhibition of White's work since 1989, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from July 8 to October 19, 2014.
Paul Martineau is associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. He is the author of Paul Outerbridge: Command Performance (Getty Publications, 2009), Herb Ritts: L.A. Style (Getty Publications, 2012) and Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature (Getty Publications, 2012).