Everything that has a beginning has an end

Minor White

Jerry Uelsmann studied under Minor White, a photographer whose interests leaned toward mysticism. White mastered and then taught the Zone system, a process to manipulate photos starting from the exposure of the negative through the chemical development of the film and then through the printing process to achieve precise predictable tones along a grey scale in the finished black and white print. Along with a focus on a more traditional subject matter in landscape photography like Ansel Adams, Minor White also concentrated on a more interior vision.

As Peter Marshall writes, “White was strongly influenced in his early landscape photography by the photography of Edward Weston, but in the 1950s he developed a much more individual approach. White’s work moves away from the reality of the landscape into a dream world of unreal tonal values, whether by filtration or the use of infrared film.”

“It is a world (as in dreams) where unusual connections are made, where the shadow of a telegraph pole leads across a glowing field towards a small light shed standing next to a larger dark shed with a white rectangle, all beneath a dark sky with unusual streaks and clouds (‘Two Barns and a Shadow in the Vicinity of Naples and Dansville NY, 1955‘). Or where a brilliant white lines of poplars in bright grass line a black road leading into the distance, or a dark barn points up like a the end of a signpost into a black sky with light clouds. The whole body of work from this area has a powerfully surreal quality.”

White incorporated a concept from Alfred Stieglitz called Equivalence. (from Wikipedia) “The “equivalents” of White were often photographs of barns, doorways, water, the sky, or simple paint peeling on a wall: things usually considered mundane, but often made special by the quality of the light in which they were photographed. One of his more popular photographs is titled Frost on Window, a close-up of frost crystals on glass. However, in regard to an equivalent, the specific objects themselves are of secondary importance either to the photographer or the viewer. Instead, such a photograph captures a sentiment or emotionally symbolic idea using formal and structural elements that carry a feeling or sense of “recognition”: a mirroring of something inside the viewer. In an essay titled “Equivalence: The Perennial Trend”, White described a photographer who took such pictures as one who “…recognized an object or series of forms that, when photographed, would yield an image with specific suggestive powers that can direct the viewer into a specific and known feeling, state, or place within himself.” (Gantz)”

White’s mysticism is reflected in his ‘The Three Canons’

Be still with yourself

Until the object of your attention

Affirms your presence

Let the Subject generate its own Composition

When the image mirrors the self

And the self mirrors the subject

Something might take over

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