Happy Birthday, Mr. White

| July 9, 2013

This morning I wanted to take a moment to commemorate the birthday of Minor White, who is one of my greatest inspirations. I was first introduced to White’s work by way of Ansel Adams’ biography and after reading the Daybooks of Edward Weston. The transition from one to the next seemed like a continuum, from the exuberant and meticulous style of Adams, through the thoughtful, and at times cantankerous, tone of Weston to White’s world of peaceful and contemplative abstractions; and there I felt like I found a kindred spirit.

White’s images of Capitol Reef are among my favorite photographs ever made, though I did not realize he was as enamored with the place as I am. A couple of years ago, while hiking in a little known canyon in the park, I unexpectedly ran into a photographer lugging an old camera pack with a well-used 4×5 system. He turned out to be a former student of White and told me that Minor often described Capitol Reef as his favorite place. As some readers may know, I was so moved by this place when I first came here years ago that I ultimately made my home here. Today, still, as I walk among the sandstone canyons and high plateaus, I often find the things that caught Minor’s eye, sometimes not even knowing they were there.

While many photographers spend their hours and days extolling the virtues of the photographic medium, it never seemed all that important to me. The camera fit into my lifestyle since I was a young adult, and when I decided to pursue the path of an artist, it was the best tool available to me to engage with my subjects and convey the significance of moments, things and stories. Beyond the simple fascination of recording light, I don’t find photography all that interesting other than in the ways it may be used. In that, I found myself at odds with the likes of Adams and others who invested so much in efforts to venerate photography as a medium, sometimes (in my opinion) at the expense of actually employing it to create meaningful images. White was almost the opposite. In a late interview he stated: “I’m always and forever looking for the image that has spirit! I don’t give a damn how it got made.”

There are times when the emotional essence of some experiences is difficult to convey, in either images or writing, without the fear of revealing too much, allowing readers and viewers to get a little too close for comfort. White had a rare gift for articulating such things, and the courage to open the doors to his turbulent inner world to his students and audience, and I admire him greatly for it. His images are more moving and important to me, knowing something of his thoughts, history and struggles.

“I seek out places where it can happen more readily, such as deserts or mountains or solitary areas, or by myself with a seashell, and while I’m there get into states of mind where I’m more open than usual. I’m waiting, I’m listening. I go to those places and get myself ready through meditation. Through being quiet and willing to wait, I can begin to see the inner man and the essence of the subject in front of me. I reach for the esoteric side of my life and usually nature cooperates. So do man-made artifacts – so do people … Watching the way the current moves a blade of grass – sometimes I’ve seen that happen and it has just turned me inside out.” –Minor White

Happy birthday Mr. White, wherever you may be, and thank you.

Silent Dance

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About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (2)

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  1. Guy, Thank you for sharing this tribute. I made a post about Minor White today as well, without knowing it was his birthday until I saw this post of yours: http://landscapephotographyblogger.com/san-francisco-art-institute-photography-history-15/ As we discussed via e-mail, Capitol Reef was one of my father pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde’s favorite places in all of Utah, and that says a lot considering his photographs helped expand Canyonlands and turn Arches from a monument into a national park, as well as being part of the protracted efforts that eventually led to the founding of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and others. Dad first visited Canyon Country in 1951, right after finishing photography school under Minor White and Ansel Adams. Guy, when you mentioned that Minor had written about Capitol Reef and photographed it, I was reminded that in the correspondence between Dad and Minor for many years, my father sung the praises of the Southwest. As I mentioned, it is quite possible that Minor first heard about Capitol Reef from Dad. While Ansel and Edward Weston had also photographed the Southwest to a much lesser degree than Dad and may have talked to Minor about it as well, they were not nearly as vociferous about it as my father. My dad had what he described as a love affair with the Colorado Plateau from the minute he set eyes on it.

  2. Michael Hill says:

    Happy Birthday! He has inspired me as well … thank you Guy for your thoughtfulness!