Happy 100th Birthday Minor White!
Today marks the 100-year anniversary of Minor White’s birth (1908-1976). White, who co-founded Aperture magazine in 1952 along with seven other visionaries, had an impact on photography that extends far beyond the realm of this foundation. During his lifetime, White was a photographer, critic, poet, writer, editor, and educator. His life and work is extensively detailed by James Baker Hall in Minor White: Rites and Passages, published by Aperture.
When Minor White was a child, his grandfather instilled in him an appreciation and love of photography. White took photography classes in college but, after graduation, he was unable to afford the necessary equipment, so he channeled his creative energy towards poetry. Five years later, White bought a 35mm Argus for $12.50 and headed west with $100 in his pocket to pursue a career in photography. His new career was interrupted by World War II, where he served in the Army Intelligence Corps. Upon his return, White began to rediscover photography and define his relationship to the art. Hall notes, “The rest of White’s life, after his release from the army in 1945, can be seen as one sustained effort, more and more successful as time went on, to find a spiritual home.” It is often said that White found spirituality through photography. This kinship between art and its meaning vastly influenced his work. White also used photography as a way of self-discovery. Without abstracting images, his photographs exemplified his metaphorical concepts.
Minor White strove to take photography beyond the mechanical aesthetic. In the post-war world, photography ran the risk of becoming a resource: a mechanism used solely for documentation. White wanted to revisit photography as an art form and thus engineered a way to explore it that went beyond providing basic information. As editor of Aperture magazine from its creation in 1952 until his death in 1976, he committed himself not only to influencing the way photographers think, but how the audience thinks as well. In a world where anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture one must wonder what makes a photograph art? White used Aperture to boldly distinguish between photojournalism and journalism about photography. Over half a century later, Aperture continues to play with these distinctions. The Summer 2007 issue, for example, portrays Iraq-war veterans in a way that is both provocative and informative. To expound upon the literal and find meaning in photographs is the embodiment of White’s philosophies. White not only had a significant role in the development and creation of Aperture, but he helped to heighten photography to a new level of art form. On his hundredth birthday, it seems only fitting to not just celebrate his life, but also to celebrate his legacy.
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