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Minor Words: Photography and Writing

By Michelle Dunn Marsh   Thursday July 17, 2014

For many years I defined myself as a disciple. As I advance in my understanding of self and move beyond the language and traditions of my childhood, I make space for occasional equality with, rather than only service toward, my teachers. I have gained in this understanding through active consumption of the words, photographs, and sequences of Minor White (1908-1976).

Sequencing is the particular gift I have received from his many contributions to the field of photography. It is the photographic sequence (distinct from a photo essay bearing a narrative, or a portfolio of discrete images) that in my mind most fully holds the breadth and depth of his polyvalent being.

White’s definition of sequence involved his belief that the balanced merging of words and images formed a unique third medium; Nancy Newhall (with White and others, a co-founder of Aperture), and Michael Hoffman, Executive Director of Aperture from 1977 to 2001, also shared this view and it is reflected in many of the books each edited.

White's sequencing can be most directly experienced in the only monograph published during his lifetime, Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations (Aperture 1969), and in many volumes of Aperture magazine created through his hands, both in the early days and in the three issues he edited in the early 1970s while at MIT: Light7, Be-ingWithout Clothes, and Celebrations.

The “words” may sometimes be a poem, or essay, or a single line of text. The interaction of photographs is intended to leave the viewer room to experience invisible, or perhaps “un-visible,” mind-photographs that are the result of holding the image you have just seen while you “inhale” the image in front of you. I cannot write of it beyond that; there is a mystery and a spirit within the process that can be studied and experienced but not explained. It is an ongoing practice guided by the photographs, and the words, and the third medium formed from their union. I offer instead a sequence (below) of Minor’s photographs all currently on view at the Getty, with a note by him from time he spent in Washington state.


Often when traveling with camera we arrive just as the sun slips over
the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film,
only time enough to expose our hearts.
—Minor White, 1960, Olympic Mountains, page 186: Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations



I look forward to seeing the Getty exhibition; we are of a time and culture that is finally ready to accept and understand aspects of White’s work through the lens of his sexuality. White was inspired by Stieglitz's Equivalents, and sought in individual photographs and in sequences to articulate expressions of the flesh and the spirit. Stieglitz said to him, "have you been in love? Then you can photograph."

 


I wonder, are we ready to also accept White’s identity as a mystic? Metaphysicist? Writer and editor and photographer and teacher? Are we willing to make room for the totality and complexity of this artist, who he actually was and who we want to know today?



Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit,
 the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1987, continues through October 19, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA. Information.

A companion volume, Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit by curator Paul Martineau, brings together White’s key biographical information as well as insightful quotations from his journals and is complemented by a selection of more than 160 images. Information.

Last year Michelle Dunn Marsh launched Minor Matters to provide a new platform for publishing contemporary art books in collaboration with their audience; two books are currently headed to print. She also was appointed Executive Director of Photographic Center Northwest (PCNW), Seattle’s lively hub for photographic presentation and education.

The images in the sequence above are, left to right:

Burned Mirror, Rochester, 1959. From Sound of One Hand, sequenced 1965. Gelatin silver print. 30.5 x 22 cm (12 x 8 11/16  in.) Purchased in part with funds provided by the Greenberg Foundation. Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013.44.5. Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University.

Tom Murphy, San Francisco, 1948. No. 30 from The Temptation of St. Anthony is Mirrors, sequenced 1948. Gelatin silver print. Image: 11.6 x 9.3 cm. (4 9/16 x 3 11/16 in.) Album page: 27.6 x 24.1 cm. (10 7/8 x 9 1/2 in.) The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White MWA 48-136. Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University.

Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley), 1941. Gelatin silver print. 18.1 x 22.9 cm (7 1/8 x 9 in.) The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White. Minor White negative number 41-33. PUAM object number MWA 41-33-1. © Trustees of Princeton University. Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum.

Tom Murphy, San Francisco, 1947. No. 12 from The Temptation of St. Anthony is Mirrors, sequenced 1948. Gelatin silver print. Image: 8.9 x 9.9 cm. (3 1/2 x 3 7/8 in.) Album page: 27.6 x 24.1 cm. (10 7/8 x 9 1/2 in.) The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White MWA 47-211. Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University.

Shore Acres State Park, Oregon, 1960. From Sequence 16: Steely the Barb of Infinity, sequenced 1960. Gelatin silver print. 9 3/8 x 7 3/8 in. (23.8 x 18.7 cm) Norton Simon Museum, gift of Mr. Shirley C. Burden, in memory of Flobelle Fairbanks Burden (PH.1970.045) MWA 60-187. Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University.

Vicinity of Dansville, New York, 1955. Gelatin silver print. 27.3 x 34.9 cm (10 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.) Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, L.2013.15.61.Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University.

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