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White, Minor (1908-1976)  
 
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One of the most influential photographers of the second half of the twentieth century, Minor White was also a renowned teacher, critic, editor, and curator. A homosexual at a time when homosexuality was strictly forbidden in this country, White's sexuality was troubling to him. Nevertheless, he expressed it in his work.

Given the times in which he lived, however, it is not surprising that he suppressed the photographs of male nudes that he created early in his career.

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Early Life

Minor Martin White was born on July 9, 1908 in Minneapolis to Charles Henry White, a bookkeeper, and Florence Martin White, a dressmaker. He became interested in photography at the age of ten when his grandfather, an amateur photographer, gave him a box Brownie camera. Two years later, when his grandfather died, White inherited the older man's photographic equipment.

White graduated from high school in 1927 and entered the University of Minnesota, where he became aware of his sexual orientation. His homosexuality was a source of torment for him, and it also disturbed his parents when he told them of his feelings.

At the university, White also learned the rudiments of photography, wrote poetry, and, after a hiatus in his education, obtained a B. S. degree in botany, with a minor in English, in 1934.

Becoming a Photographer

Shortly after graduating from college, White purchased a 35 mm Argus camera and traveled to the West Coast. He worked at the Beverly Hotel in Portland, Oregon as a night clerk from 1937 to1938 and began his career in photography.

While in Portland, White lived at the YMCA. He was active in the Oregon Camera Club and spent his time photographing, exhibiting, and teaching photography to eager students.

In 1938 White was chosen as a creative photographer for the Works Progress Administration. His assignment was to photograph the Portland waterfront and the city's nineteenth-century iron-façade buildings, which were beginning to be demolished.

White also arranged two exhibitions for the WPA during that time. One was on early Portland architecture; the other, on the Portland waterfront.

In 1940 the WPA sent White to teach photography in its Art Center located in La Grande, Oregon near the Idaho border. He later directed the Center and wrote art criticism for local exhibitions while he was there.

White returned to Portland in 1941 with the intention of establishing a photography business. In the same year, he participated in the Image of Freedom exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Recognizing the high quality of White's work, the museum acquired some of his images for its permanent collection.

White's first one-man exhibition of photographs taken in Eastern Oregon was held at the Portland Art Museum in 1942. His photographs were also published in Fair Is Our Land, edited by Samuel Chamberlain during that year. In addition, the Portland Art Museum commissioned White to photograph the Dolph and Lindley houses, two historical residences in the city.

The Army Years

White served in the U. S. Army Intelligence Corps from 1942 to 1945. He participated in the battle of the Philippines and was awarded a bronze star. He took some portraits of soldiers in his unit stationed in Hawaii. He also completed a book-length manuscript entitled "Eight Lessons in Photography," an exercise that anticipated his later career as teacher.

Prior to joining the Army, White had seriously discussed the Catholic faith with a good friend in La Grande. In the army, in 1943, he was baptized by a chaplain. This was an important step on a wide-ranging spiritual search that lasted throughout White's lifetime, one that would lead him to Buddhism and mysticism. During these years, he continued to wrestle with his homosexual feelings.

The New York Years

After being discharged from the Army, White moved to New York City where he studied aesthetics and art history with Meyer Shapiro at Columbia University from 1945 to 1946.

In New York, he met Beaumont Newhall, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art and his wife, Nancy. The Newhalls introduced White to photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Berenice Abbott, Henry Callahan, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and Brett and Edward Weston, among others.

A meeting White had with Alfred Stieglitz in which the two artists discussed the older photographer's theory of Equivalents was a seminal event in White's life, especially as this meeting was coupled with viewing a retrospective exhibition of Edward Weston's work.

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