(United States of America 1908 – 1976)
11.8 x 8.8 cm image/sheet; 24.4 x 18.5 cm card
‘I believe that, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, with the camera one comes so close to the real that one goes beyond it and into the reality of the dream.’ Minor White 1953 1
Minor White’s search for the awakening of a conscious state in photography was with the aim to reveal the interconnectedness of everything. If the mind, he asserted, was in a receptive state, those rare moments of insight, vision and revelation result in the photograph being ‘a message more than a mirror, and the man a messenger who happens to be a photographer’.2 His search for the minor mysticism of photography was a lifelong quest that was shared, along with his writings, with his students and colleagues over several decades.
Tim Asch studied with White and Ansel Adams in the late 1940s to early 1950s at the California School of Fine Arts. Asch and White had travelled to Edward Weston’s home in Point Lobos and it is here that White and Weston took many photographs of the area. This unconventional ‘portrait’ of Asch is an intriguing abstract study of the student who would later combine his interests in photography and anthropology as an ethnographic filmmaker. White’s juxtaposition of the abstracted contours of a sandstone path with palpable organic shapes on the surface, complement that of Asch’s feet, with the rich tonal variations and close crop forming a balance held together by the centre cleft in the rock. The two halves of the image joined by the ‘T’ shaped cleft constantly shift in and out of the picture plane, the scale of objects and formations visually confusing the space between the photographer and his subject. The intensity of White’s imagery reflects his attempt to ‘look at things till I see what else they are’. 3
1. White M 1982, preface to ‘Mirrors, messages, manifestations’, Aperture, New York. In a letter written to Helmut Gernsheim, 4 Sep 1953
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'A postwar modernist vision', pg.209-225, Sydney, 2007, 218 (illus.).