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Book Review: Minor White Manifestations of the Spirit by Paul Martineau

Minow White 1

Vicinity of Rochester, 1954

Minor White by Paul Martineau, associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, contains 4 color and 160 b/w illustrations. And a well-written text entitled “My Heart Laid Bare” that provides varied information about the photographer’s life.

Minor White, born 1908 in Minneapolis, decided at the age of 28 to move West and ended up in Portland, Oregon, where he started to get seriously interested in photography. He made regular visits to the library and so became familiar with the works of Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston. He also joined the Oregon Camera Club

“Dreams and photographs have something in common; those photographs that yield to contemplation at least have a quality about them that tempt one to set associations going.” (Minor White)

Many pics in this tome radiate a spirit that puts me in a trance-like state. Take the one (Vicinity of Rochester, 1954, the caption reads) of the two barns for instance. It is the sharp edges of the barn to the right that first caught my attention, and then the shadow of the telegraph pole, and then the sky above the two barns – it is almost as if I were able to move along with the clouds. There’s something magical about this photograph, and about quite some others in this tome. “Manifestations of the Spirit” describes indeed very aptly what I often felt.

I’m aware that what we see in a photograph we usually bring to it. For, as the Talmud says, We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. Having said this, I’m even more astonished what spending time with Minor White’s pics does to me for the associations they set going are clearly of a spiritual nature. By this I mean: I do feel connected to what my eyes are showing me.

Haags Alley, Rochester, 1960

Haags Alley, Rochester, 1960

Another pic that I feel fascinated by is the partly snow-covered side of what I assume to be a barn or a house captioned “Haags Alley, Rochester, 1960”. I do not really know what causes me to be so drawn to this pic, I just realise that I am and that looking at it transports me back to my childhood where I often felt touched by such seemingly ordinary scenes. I guess it’s to do with the fact that for me the ordinary is magic.

Tom Murphy, Sam Mateo County, California 1947

Tom Murphy, Sam Mateo County, California 1947

Published here in its entirety for the first time is the series The Temptation of St. Anthony Is Mirrors that shows mostly nude photographs of White’s student and model Tom Murphy made in 1947 and 1948 in San Francisco. From the press release I learn that “White kept the series secret for years as at the time he made the photographs it was illegal to publish or show images with male frontal nudity. Anyone making such images would be assumed to be homosexual and outed at a time when this invariably meant losing gainful employment.”

The two major factors that dominated Minor White life were his struggle with his homosexuality and his quest for doing the impossible. In the words of Paul Martineau, “to make the invisible world of the spirit visible through photography.”

I do share White’s interest in Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery and feel that quite some of the pics in this tome do indeed convey a Zen-like spirit.


Minow White Cover
Minor White
Manifestations of the Spirit
by Paul Martineau
Getty Publications

For more information and to purchase the book: www.amazon.com/Minor-White-Manifestations-Paul-Martineau/dp/1606063227

About Hans Durrer

Hans Durrer is an author and addiction counsellor based in Switzerland. www.hansdurrer.com/, 12-step-addiction-treatment.blogspot.ch/. Two of his books are in English: Ways of Perception, Bangkok 2006; Framing the World, Houston 2011.

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