Minor White

( 1908 - 1976 )
" I'm always mentally photographing everything as practice. "

Minor White was one of the greatest American photographers of the period after the Second World War as well as one of the greatest teachers of the medium.

White was born on July 9th, 1908 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1938, he moved to Portland, Oregon where he began his career in photography. He first joined the Oregon Camera Club, then took on assignments from the Works Progress Administration and exhibited at the Portland Art Museum.

After serving in military intelligence during World War II, White moved to New York City in 1945. He spent two years studying aesthetics and art history at Columbia University under Meyer Schapiro and developing his own distinctive style.

He became involved with a circle of influential photographers including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams.


Minor White:

"While we cannot describe its appearance (the equivalent), we can define its function. When a photograph functions as an Equivalent we can say that at that moment, and for that person the photograph acts as a symbol or plays the role of a metaphor for something that is beyond the subject photographed."

Based on ideas resulting from his first contact with the work of Alfred Stieglitz and from his great interest in psychology, White launched the notion of expressive photography and the "reading of photographs". It involved using the camera to reveal one's personal feeling as symbolized by objects in the real world.

In Minor White's perspective one does not photograph something simply for "what it is", but "for what else it is".

In 1946 White was united with the faculty of the California School of Fine arts where he worked as an assistant to Ansel Adams. While working with Adams, White co-founded the magazine "Aperture" with Adams, Lange , and Beaumont and Newhall. White eventually succeeded Adams and became the Director of the California School of Fine Arts. This period of his life was covered in the 2006 book: The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts .


Minor White:

"There's no particular class of photograph that I think is any better than any other class. I'm always and forever looking for the image that has spirit! I don't give a damn
how it got made."

In 1956, White became professor of photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he served from 1956 to 1964.

White spent the last ten years of his life teaching at MIT where, among others, he taught Raymond Moore. His class on Zone System photography was very popular.

White's writings emphasized the spiritual nature of photography and often served to promote his ideas, as in Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations (1969).

Particularly impressive are White's fantastic infrared landscapes from the mid-50s. These were taken soon after he moved to Rochester from California, and he perhaps felt that the subtler Eastern landscapes needed some extra drama to match those he had been used to in the West. The photographs were taken using large format infrared film, typified by their darkened skies and glowing grass and leaves:

Minor_White_Barn_and_Clouds'Barn and Clouds', in the vicinity of Naples and Danseville, New York, 1955

Minor_White_Road_with_Poplar_Trees'Road with Poplar Trees', in the vicinity of Naples and Danseville, New York, 1955

Minor_White_Two_Barns_and_Shadow'Two Barns and Shadow', in the vicinity of Naples and Danseville, New York, 1955

Further Resources

M. White's Books

'Dreams with a memory- Minor White remembered' - MIT 'The Tech' Online Edition

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