Minor White

(1908 – 1976)

He always stressed the revelation of self, and in his photographs we find assured reason to believe in beauty, confidence, and enlightenment – surely one of the great achievements of any work of art at any time.

-Ansel Adams (Minor White, A Living Remembrance, Aperture, 1984)

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Minor White Biography

As an influential photographer, theoretician, critic, and teacher, White followed an independent path regardless of the changing styles in the photographic world.  White studied botany and English in college while writing poetry.  In 1938/39 he served as a “creative photographer” for the federal Work Progress Administration, completing projects on iron-front buildings and the waterfront of Portland, Oregon.  By 1942 his work had been exhibited nationally, published, and purchased by the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1946 White met Stieglitz, whose concept of equivalence became central to White’s art.  Stieglitz concept that the photograph can be an equivalent-a metaphor for an internal state- White extended this idea, applying it to a mode of personal photography and teaching in which photography was conceived of as a spiritual discipline both for the photographer and the active viewer.  Another approach that White began to develop in the 1940’s was that of sequencing photographs-arranging them in series so that individual prints borrow significance from each other and make a unified statement.

White taught for many years at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), at the Rochester (New York) Institute of Technology, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as at many public and private workshops.  One of the founders, in 1952, of the influential photographic publication Aperture, he served as publisher-editor until 1975.  White produced a large body of writing, both published and unpublished.  His photographs were unmanipulated and often realistic-what they signified was always as important to him as their formal composition.  In exhibitions and publications he freely used his work and that of others in a lifelong journey of self exploration.

Selected publications:
Zone System Manual, Morgan and Morgan, 1961
Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations, Aperture, 1969
Minor White, Robert Heinecken, Robert Cumming.  John Upton, 1973
The New Zone System Manual.  Morgan and Morgan, 1976
Minor White:  Rites and Passages, Aperture, 1978
Aperture, Published and edited by White 1952-75
Exposure 14, No. 3 1976

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