Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Minor White: Photographer and Contemplative....

"Exposure occupies my mind while intuition frames the images."
Minor White 

    Minor White is, indisputably, one of the 20th century's photographic masters. I would also call him a "Photographic Sage"(I hope he wouldn't mind!).  He never, to my knowledge, used the phrase "contemplative photographer" to describe himself but I would. White's work exemplifies every characteristic I believe contemplative photographers must have to practice their art. He was committed during his 40 years as a photographer to the transcendental aspect of the visual experience surpassed in this approach, I believe, only by Alfred Steiglitz. Although he was a highly skilled practitioner of the photographic medium, his prints were technical perfection, his concern was always for the spirit behind the image.

"I'm always and forever looking for the image that has spirit!  
I don't give a damn how it got made."

   White spent his life studying the photographic medium.  He studied with the best and he was a mentor for a generation of photographers that came after him. His most memorable achievement, in my humble opinion, was an idea he worked on his entire life. White expanded on a theory put forth first by Steiglitz in the 1920's; the concept of "Equivalence".  It is the metaphoric backbone of contemplative photography.

   For White, the very essence of photography's claim to being an art lay it this metaphoric capability.  Minor White practiced photography like some practice religion and he imbued it with the same spirituality,  This is why I consider White a true contemplative photographer and not merely a symbolist.

    This is more clearly shown in his idea that photographs act as a catalyst, merely a step in the process, and not an end in themselves.  A photograph is a function and not a "thing". This is a startling and far-reaching idea.

   For the contemplative photographer, the photograph's function is for shedding light on an inner truth.  One can share in that truth to the degree one is able to enter into this metaphoric relationship.  What is so exciting to me is that each person will see their own truth and this is the essence of the art.

"At first glance, a photograph can inform us.  At second glance it can reach us."
Minor White.



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