Thursday, July 3, 2008

Minor White (1908-1976)

As part of the series of Journal entries about contemporary alternative gay male art versus traditional gay male art I explore the history and relationship of photography in general to gay male photography in particular.

Minor White was perhaps the most influential 20th century Fine Art photographer having been one of the founders and editor of Aperture Magazine from its inception in 1952. Some claim he was bisexual, others that he was homosexual. In either event, he was extremely conflicted about his sexuality, and worked most of his life to develop a disciplined spirituality in order to compensate for the conflict, first through Catholicism, and later Buddhism. That spiritual approach became the hallmark of his work, and exposes the lie to the “old saw” that sexual orientation, specifically of the homosexual variety, has nothing to do with art production.

I decline to write a summary of Whites life and accomplishments here because that has been done repeatedly and can be found in the linked title above and in my sources below. Suffice it to say that White through his professional life as photographer, editor, teacher, and writer compensated for his sexuality at a time when same sex love was extremely taboo and gave to Modern Art of the Twentieth Century its most important photographer.

White is best known for his approach to the photographic subject through "equivalents," and his extremely detailed and spiritual photographs of great contrast.*3 White said of his photographic process, (I)“...recognized an object or series of forms that, when photographed, would yield an image with specific suggestive powers that can direct the viewer into a specific and known feeling, state, or place within himself."(Gantz) His subjects include landscapes of upper New York State, California and Wyoming, Barns, and aged weather distressed walls, and industrial subjects. He brought the same photographic devout discrimination to his male nudes though he kept them from the public eye. The first publication of these was done posthumously in The Eye that Shapes, 1989,” (jpeg image above), Princeton University Art Museum.*2 Whether spiritual or not, these are male nude photographs, and they do not demonstrate the conflicted nature of Whites professional life, nor the relationship of one to the other. In fact the nudes almost seem separate from and in contrast to the entire body of Whites work. Place these male nudes next to the work of Lynes, or Ritts, and I believe the visual result is similar. Thus, despite his conflcts and the spiritual nature of his landscapes, I believe White’s gay male nude photographs belong in the first category of my list.


*1 & 2 I am unable to find uncopyrighted images of White’s work based on the male nude figure on the Web other than the book cover from the 1989 retrospective of his work. That book was published by Princeton University in that year and is based on the retrospective exhibition of White’s work from 1937 to 1976. “Minor White: The Eye that Shapes, 1989,” jpeg image, Princeton University Art Museum.'s%20webpage/Minor%20White%20the%20Eye%20that%20Shapes.htm. Captured 8:33 A.M., Wednesday, July 2, 2008.

*3 See Gantz, Ryan in Sources below.


Bunnell, Peter, ed. Minor White: The Eye that Shapes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Art Museum, 1989.

Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Gantz, Ryan. "The Transmissions of Minor White" Viewed 9:32 A.M., EDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008.

Lockard, Ray Anne (2002). “Minor White (1908 - 1976)”. glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, ane queer culture,, © 2002, Updated 8:15 A.M> EDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008.

“Minor White,”
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Updated 00:30, June 8, 2008, viewed 8:10 A.M., EDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008.

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