About Minor and Ray

I’m not sure when I first got to know the work of Minor White. Like many my first introduction to the wide spectrum of photographic history and contemporary practice came through Helmut & Alison Gernsheim‘s ‘A Concise History of Photography‘ from which he is remarkably entirely absent, not fitting the ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ vision that both focused and constricted their view of the medium.

Probably I had already seen some of White’s work when I got to know Raymond Moore (who got two pictures and an appreciative mention in the Gernsheim’s opus) through a series of workshops with him and Paul Hill at Paul’s Photographers Place in Derbyshire in the late 70s, but it was Ray’s appreciation and understanding of his work that really got me interested. Ten years ago I wrote:

In 1970, Ray read a feature in an American magazine about Minor White. He was already aware of White’s photographs, but the description there of White’s ideas, especially his interest in Zen, excited him as they seemed so similar to his own views. On a sabbatical from Watford, he decided to go to America to visit White, and photographers Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, whose work he knew from in books. Ray stayed with White in America and they got on well; Ray saying “It came as something of a relief to find that people felt the same way as I did. I had been interested in Zen for a long time, even while I was a painter, and it was very exciting to see how this had been developed in photography.”

Ray’s work went down very well in America, and he was given solo shows at both the Art Institute of Chicago and George Eastman House in 1970, with a further show at a in Boston gallery in 1971. (Carl Siembab Gallery)

(You can read more of my thoughts and some comments on Ray and the workshops at Remember Ray Moore, posted here in 2010.)

It was perhaps an indication of how little White’s work was known in the UK at the time that I found it very difficult to get hold of a copy of his then out of print major work, Mirrors Messages Manifestations (1969), the only copy that could be located for loan to British Libraries was at the British Library in Boston Spa, which I was required to sign for in blood to be allowed to live with for a month. It certainly changed my photographic thinking at the time.

It was a Facebook post by film-maker and photographer Rina Sherman with a link to Minor Words: Photography and Writing by Michelle Dunn Marsh that sparked off my thoughts about Minor White and led to this post. Marsh’s article, mainly about his sequencing, includes a short sequence of his prints and was written as the first major retrospective of his work since 1987 is on show at the J Paul Getty Museum  until October 19, 2014.

I had been thinking of writing more about White, but a little Googling found to my surprise something I had made earlier,  one of my own articles on White, first published in two parts on another web site in 2001, as  Minor White – Spiritual Journey and Minor White – Equivalents which save me the bother and may still be of some interest. But don’t expect any of the links to work after 13 years – and I gave up maintaining them in 2007.

It is slightly easier to find examples of White’s work on-line than it was when I wrote that piece, but there are still relatively few examples given his importance in photography.

There are some pictures on Luminous Lint, a usefully encyclopaedic site on photography, and also at major museums such as SFMoMA (only 10 of the 26 images in their collection have images on-line) and MoMA, but I was able to find very little at the Princeton University Art Museum which houses the Minor White Archive and has loaned 30 pictures to the retrospective. The largest collection on line is at the Art Institute of Chicago which has around 50 images on line, but on a disappointingly small scale.

There is of course an article about him on Wikipedia, and also some images on the Masters of Photography site as well as scattered images elsewhere across the web. You can also read John Szarkowski’s comments on White from ‘Looking at Photographs‘ where White’s Capital Reef, Utah, 1962 was reproduced, along with some other of his pictures at Atget Photography.

Work by Raymond Moore is harder still to find. His archive, prepared at considerable expense after his death by his young widow, Mary Moore Cooper, failed to find a buyer (another reflection of the lack of interest in the UK cultural establishment in photography) and his negatives, contact sheets made from them, drawings, correspondence, publications and between 700-1000 prints – estimated according to a Guardian article in 1990 to be valued at £440,000 – still so far as I know languishes in store at Sothebys.

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