Minor White

At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Orga­nized by The Art Museum, Princeton Univer­sity, with a cata­logue by Peter C. Bunnell.

(Orig­i­nally published in The Boston Phoenix March 1989)

In Minor White’s photo­graph Gallery Cove, Point Lobos, Cali­fornia (1948), smooth white stones on a rocky beach have an incred­ible pres­ence. They look like clas­sical sculp­ture, but they seem almost alive — beau­tiful naked bodies sleeping in the sand. In 72 N. Union Street, Rochester (1956), a door opens slightly to reveal a stair­case caressed by soft white light. The photo­graph exudes a thrill of expec­ta­tion — the feeling that some­thing is just about to be revealed. In Barn and Clouds, Vicinity of Naples, New York, 1955, trees along a country road quiver in the sunlight. They point straight up to the sky and cast tall, man-shaped shadows across a road that leads up to a dark, looming moun­tain. The atmos­phere is elec­tric — charged with energy and light.

Perhaps to the average viewer a door is a door, but to Minor White it was some­thing more like the title of Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Percep­tion,” comments Clif­ford Ackley, Curator of Prints, Draw­ings, and Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts.

White’s silvery, crystal clear photographs of nature, door­ways, or male nudes convey a sense that behind the visible world is another world — a world filled with meaning and magic. He was fasci­nated by the trans­forming power of photog­raphy — its ability to show what he called “things for what else they are.” For White, seeing was a mystical expe­ri­ence. He studied Chris­tian mysti­cism, Zen, Gurd­jieff, Sufiism, the I Ching, and he liked to quote the thir­teenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart:

…the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”

A pair of photographs — Tom Murphy (1948) and Cypress Grove Trail, Point Lobos, Cali­fornia (1951) — illu­mi­nates the way elements of mysti­cism and eroti­cism inter­twine in White’s work. The first photo­graph shows a beau­tiful naked man crossing his arms over his heart. The second shows the gnarled branches of a cypress tree, mirroring the shape of his body and his hands; in the distance, the ocean ripples against a rock, then reaches out into the infi­nite distance.

For White, the camera was “a means of self-discovery,” “a means of self-growth,” “a way of life.” He wrote,

Ever since the begin­ning, the camera has pointed at myself.”

White was also an inspiring teacher — he taught photog­raphy at MIT from 1965 until his death in 1976, and influ­enced many Boston photog­ra­phers. Former students remember him as

hypnotic” — “mesmer­izing” — “deeply spir­i­tual.

Minor White was one of the central figures in the 60s and early 70s scene in Boston. It was a perfect corre­spon­dence between the spirit of the time and what he was about,” says Ackley. “He was a real guru.

by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.