Column 08/2018

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Since Portland resembles a black and white photograph (see above photo, that I took one November morning 2016), October to May, it is easy to reminisce about the classical black/white photographers of the mid-century. Before the advent of digital photography, prior to 25 years ago, there was the physical or traditional process of photograph-making; that is, non-digital cameras, light meters, tripods, film, negatives, and photographic paper.

Regarding the history of photography, the first wave, of the most influential photographers, from the 20th century, were Ansel Adams and Edward Weston among others, who were followed by a second wave that included Minor White, Harry Callahan among a distinguished list.

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(Minor White – Portland Oregon 1939)


Minor White’s work was of particular interest to me because he was a teacher, publisher, editor, and writer as well as a master photographer (1908 – 1976, 110th anniversary of his birth in 2018). Minor White began his photographic career in Oregon in the late 1930s, he eventually taught innumerable classes and workshops at the California School of Fine Arts, Rochester Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), among others; he was an influential mentor to an up and coming group of third wave classical black/white photographers.

White photographed a wide variety of subject matter including landscapes, people, and abstract themes. These were all created with both technical acumen and a vibrant visual sense of composition.

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(Minor White – Window Sill, 1958)


One of Minor White’s lasting legacy is the creation, with other prominent photographers of his time, of the photography magazine Aperture; he was editor for many years; the magazine is still in publication.

Two of Minor White’s major contributions to photography included the concept of Equivalent which proposed that a photograph can have more than one interpretation regarding its content; secondly, the concept of Sequence, that is, a deliberate collection of inter-related photographs that evoked a collective sensation/impression or sense/feeling.

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(Minor White – two barns, 1955)


Minor White was an excellent writer, as well, and he often included philosophical text with his photographs as they appeared in books or in exhibitions. One, of his many, famous quotes:

“Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.”