PHOTOS: Minor White at the Getty

White believed the camera was a tool for self-discovery, but his photographs illuminate the viewer as well.

BY Christopher Harrity

July 23 2014 8:30 AM ET

One of the great photographers of the 20th century, Minor White, was aware of a camera's power.

"Self-discovery through a camera? I am scared to look for fear of discovering how shallow my Self is!" he once said. "I will persist however ... because the camera has its eye on the exterior world. Camera will lead my constant introspection back into the world. So camerawork will save my life."

White struggled with his sexuality. He is variously described as gay or bisexual, and his sexual interest in men managed to manifest in his photography despite the need for cover.

An exhibit at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the accompanying book, Minor White: Manifestation of the Spirit by Paul Martineau, reveal White's visionary relationship to photography. Of special interest in the book, published in its entirety for the first time, is White's stunning series "The Temptation of Anthony Is Mirrors," consisting of 32 photographs of White's student and model Tom Murphy made in 1947 and 1948 in San Francisco. White's photographs of Murphy's hands and feet are interspersed within a larger group of portraits and nude figure studies. 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 homosexual and outed at a time when that invariably meant losing gainful employment.

Click here for more information about the book and the exhibit at the Getty, ongoing through October 19. See some of his work on the following pages.

 

Peeled Paint, Rochester, N.Y., 1959
Gelatin silver print
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Courtesy: Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

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