Saturday, May 31, 2014


Well, I thought it was humorous. At breakfast this morning I was reading The Moment of Seeing, Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts. I was reading an exchange of correspondence between Ansel Adams and Minor White during a particularly difficult time at the school. A large number of the students were threatening not to return after the end of the current semester. This came at a very inopportune time just shortly after the photography department had survived a very difficult probation period and was looking like it would survive. The main reason sited by the students was that Ansel was not available to instruct the students as had been promised. In this correspondence Minor confirmed that was part of the problem but he thought maybe that it was deeper than simply Adam's absence. In the correspondence, Minor wrote what he thought might be a basis for part of the difficulty.

Ansel Adams was the moving force that finally got the photography department at SCFA founded. He raised a large part of the funding, wrote the curriculum, over saw the installation of studios and darkrooms, and often taught seven days a week in order to get the school established. He devoted a number of years and considerable effort to creating the foremost school of photography in the country. Unfortunately, or fortunately for Ansel, his application for a Guggenheim grant was approved and he headed off to the American Southwest to photograph nature and the moon rising over Hernandez.

He had convinced Minor White (who I contend was the greatest teacher of photography there has been) to take his very first teaching assignment. Ansel left Minor in charge of the instructing. Minor was weird--he thought weird--he talked weird--he gave extra difficult assignments. There is probably a kinder way to phrase it but Minor was just different. He just thought differently from most people and can be very incompressible for us mere mortals. I'm still trying to understand a lot of what he has written and I've been reading it for fifty years. Ansel had written to counsel Minor to slack off but slacking was not Minor's way. 

To quote: White continued, "The second cause is still deeper, and not entirely clear to me" (remember this statement--especially the part about not being entirely clear to Minor). He explained that it began with "a lecture on the creative condition," in which White declared that the basis of a man's art was his soul, his heart or his genitals. (I cracked up--so little has changed--okay, nothing has changed in art--and I would add 'and not necessarily in that order') 

I also found a later correspondence interesting when White was informing Mac Agy (the Administrator of the school) of the students that would not be returning. (I will leave out names),

White's challenging lecture made it "possible to separate the sheep from the goats as well as the one who have something to say from those who will be good commercial men and nothing more. The strong ones are appearing in all their strength." White, in a memo to Mac Agy compiled a list of up to twelve students (of 36 registered) leaving the photography department, giving specific reasons why they decided to drop the program. Included where B____ and three others who knew "they would remain no longer than one year"; M___ who had accepted a job at the University of California, F___, who "is ready to start a business in a small town... and proved to be one of the best students, two students who were "doubtful material" and "seem to be psychologically a bit twisted"; and one student who was "without imagination and not enough intellect." (you can't say Minor didn't call'em like he saw'em)

If you can view almost any photograph made by Minor White and not know that he knew exactly what he was talking about you need a class in reading photographs. They make it clear why Minor had no idea why his statement would be a problem.  LOL Okay, maybe you need to be familiar with White's work before you find it as humorous as I did.

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