4/04/2014

Strange Beauty: Minor White

 72 N. Union Street, Rochester gelatin silver print 1958

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) often photographed mundane subjects with the intention of creating an emotional and spiritual symbolism.

In the above 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, several dandelion flowers that have gone to seed have been picked and placed beside Minor White's night window. The surprise is in seeing them indoors, their shimmering white evanescence a stark contrast to the murky blur of the dark night outside the glass pane. 

Minor White completed this photograph five years after he had relocated from his beloved San Francisco to Rochester, New York to take a teaching position at the Rochester Institute of Technology. There is evidence of unhappiness in his journals and letters from the years leading up to the time he took this photograph. "There is something about this town that blows a dry dust calculated to make any spirit wrap itself in a cocoon...about the only project I can think of for this town is a slum clearance one...my files will not miss if I threw everything I have made here away."

White's earlier work in California had concentrated equally on complex street scenes, and, under the influence of his friend Edward Weston, sharply defined natural images and landscapes. This photograph, taken when White had recently turned 50, signals a new introspection and spiritual consciousness. White was introduced to the I Ching in 1956, read widely on comparative religion, and created spaces in his home in Rochester for the practice of Zen meditation

The ephemeral dandelions engulfed by the surrounding darkness seems a visual depiction of the brief and delicate intensity of a human life. White, initially a poet, was a man of deeply felt emotions, but he made a distinction between "expressive" and "creative" photography, as well as in art in general. After reviewing a young photographer's portfolio, White wrote "Your photographs are still mirrors of yourself. In other words, your images are raw, the emotions naked...These are private images, not public ones. They are "expressive", meaning a direct mirror of yourself rather than "creative" meaning so converted as to affect others as mirrors of themselves."

Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York gelatin silver print 1959

Snow on Garage Door, Rochester, New York gelatin silver print 1960

Warehouse Area, San Francisco  gelatin silver print 1949

Untitled gelatin silver print 1950

Windowsill Daydreaming gelatin silver print 1958
Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence. 
One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are. 
A very receptive state of mind... not unlike a sheet of film itself - seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second's exposure conceives a life in it.- Minor White 
Ansel Adams Minor White 1956

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