As a rule, photography has not been especially generous to those of her followers possessed by the romantic imagination, but every student of the medium will have his own considerable list of conspicuous exceptions. The romantic temper is distinguished by its quickness to find universal meanings in specific facts. It would seem that this tendency has more often been productive in the literary than in the visual arts, perhaps because pictures are more resolutely physical than words, and thus less accessible to quick symbolic transmutations. It is one thing to write about seeing the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in a flower, etc., and another thing to make a convincing picture of the idea. Photography especially has generally worked best when it has tried to discover the differences between the world and a grain of sand, rather than belabor their similarities.
On the other hand, pictures that deal only with particulars are useless, if not impossible, and in one guise or another all art doubtless involves a contest between the specific and the generic. In photography Alfred Stieglitz was perhaps the first to make an overt issue of the fact that a photograph could have several meanings (or that the meaning of a photography could have several faces) when he called his late photographs of clouds and other common subjects "equivalents," suggesting that they held optional, equal, alternative meanings.
The photographer of the past generation who has most tellingly pursued this aspect of Stieglitz's thought is Minor White. White's early career was also deeply influenced by his close contact with Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and he brought to Stieglitz's concept technical mastery, a sophisticated sense of pure form, and a sensibility to the natural landscape.
In White's picture reproduced here, it is interesting to note that, in spite of the immaculately precise photographic description, one cannot be quite sure what objects are being described: stone, ice, ancient bones, desiccated leaves, fossilized wood --- or what? Nor can we be confident of our own vantage point: Does this landscape lie at our feet, or a thousand yards beneath our plane, or in the wall before us? Nevertheless, it is clear that we are being shown a true and terrifying fact of nature: the irreversible and unreconcilable conflict that shapes the surface of our world.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
This selection of Minor White's superb photographs is accompanied by extensive, revealing excerpts from White's letters and amplified by James Baker Hall's perceptive observations of the artist-teacher at work.
Published on the occasion of its sixtieth anniversary, this is the first ever anthology of Aperture magazine. This long-awaited overview provides a selection of the best critical writing from the first 25 years of the magazine--the period spanning the tenure of cofounder and editor Minor White.
- Let the subject generate its own photographs. Become a camera.