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White, Minor (1908-1976)  
 
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The California Years

In 1946 White accepted an invitation by Ansel Adams to become his assistant on the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. He remained on the faculty until 1953. During his six-year career there White discovered that he and Adams shared the same approach to aesthetics and photographic technique. They became close friends and also shared a friendship and many discussions about photography with Edward Weston.

A small group of photographers, including the Newhalls, Dorothea Lange, and Barbara Morgan, met at Adams' house, where they decided to found a photography magazine that would publish and discuss serious photography. White became the editor of the newly founded Aperture quarterly in 1952. Modeled after Stieglitz's publication Camerawork, Aperture continues today. It did more than any other publication to improve the quality of photographic publishing in the last half of the twentieth century.

Sponsor Message.

His Photographic Sequences

Meanwhile, in the immediate post-World War II years White struggled with one of his photographic sequences. Entitled Second Sequence / Amputations, the series was completed in 1946 and was scheduled for exhibition at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor. The exhibition was, however, canceled because White refused to exhibit the pictures without the accompanying poetry that he had written, which the museum decreed was too personal and insufficiently patriotic.

White's first encounter with censorship did not prevent him from continuing to create work out of step with his times. However, it may have made him increasingly self-conscious about the content of many of his images and it may have led him to think of a divide between work that was for public exhibition and work that was for his personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

White's 1946 groupings of photographs in a non-narrative form attempted to depict the private emotions of the individual soldier and the ambiguity of post-war patriotism. Despite the cancellation of the Palace of the Legion of Honor show, within a short time White exhibited a sequence entitled Song without Words. It was circulated around the country by the American Federation of Arts. It and related sequences were White's attempts to suggest obliquely the emotional turmoil he felt over his love and desire for men.

White's Style

White had been interested in the theater throughout his life, beginning in high school, and it was natural that he sometimes worked as a photographer for theater groups. The influence of theatrical work can be seen in much of his photography in his dramatic compositions, expressionistic lighting, and the manner in which he revealed the character of his models.

More than any other photographer of his time, White attempted to explore the depths he perceived beneath the surfaces of things and within his models. He avoided the pictorialism of photographers such as F. Holland Day or the surrealism of artists such as George Platt Lynes, but he attempted to infuse into his photographs a spirituality that might transform the worldly and the carnal.

White's Nudes

An early sequence that White entitled The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors serves as an example. Consisting of nudes and portraits of a model named Tom Murphy, the sequence is one of White's most evocative. It was also the first time he allowed himself to portray the nude male body.

A famous image from the sequence simply entitled Tom Murphy (1947) illustrates White's theatrical lighting, as well as his need to closet his homosexuality and to transform the carnal into the spiritual. The model is depicted seated on the beach, feet and hands pushed flat on a piece of textured wood. A beautifully formed piece of driftwood is artistically placed to rise up through the bend in the model's left leg to rest on his right shoulder. The wood covers the model's genitals, but it also makes a telling statement about what is unrevealed and forbidden.

The subject of the photographer's gaze is concealed but the subject of the photograph is definitely declared. Murphy's head is buried in such deep shadow as to appear decapitated. He was the "hidden" subject of four other male nudes in a group that White created during 1948.

By 1950 the photographer was working with another young man. In the Fifth Sequence / Portrait of a Young Man As Actor, White worked in collaboration with the sitter, Mark Adams, who was also an artist and amateur actor.

Although his male nudes are an important achievement, they were not shown in public until the important 1989 exhibition entitled Minor White: The Eye That Shapes.

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