Minor White

Minor White "Tom Murphy" 1948


Minor White.
"Tom Murphy (San Francisco)."
From 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors. 1948'.

(See notes on this image and book from my research at The Minor White Archive, Princeton University)



Another photographer haunted by his sexuality was the American Minor White. Disturbed by having been in battle in the Second World War and seeing some of his best male friends killed, White's early photographs of men (in their uniforms) depict the suffering and anguish that the mental and physical stress of war can cause. He was even more upset than most because he was battling his own inner sexual demons at the same time, his shame and disgust at being a homosexual and attracted to men, a difficulty compounded by his religious upbringing. In his photographs White both denied his attraction to men and expressed it. His photographs of the male body are suffused with both sexual mystery and a celebration of his sexuality despite his bouts of guilt. After the war he started to use the normal everyday bodies of his friends to form sequences of photographs, sometimes using the body as a metaphor for the landscape and vice versa. In the above photograph, based on a religious theme, we see a dismembered hairy body front on, the hands clutching and caressing the body at the same time, the lower hand hovering near the exposed genitalia. As in the photographs of Platt Lynes we see the agony and ecstasy of a homoerotic desire wrapped up in a religious or mythological theme.

Other images (such as the one below) seem to have an aura of desire, mysticism, vulnerability and inner spirituality. White photographed when he was in a state of meditation, hoping for a "revelation," a revealing of spirit in the subsequent negative and finally print. Perhaps this is why the young men in his photographs always seem vulnerable, alone, available, and have an air of mystery - they reflect his inner state of mind, and consequently express feelings about his own sexuality. I know that I found viewing them a very intense, rich and rewarding experience and this is made clear when reading through the Thesis notes on his photographs at The Minor White Archive. It was amazing to find Minor White photographs of erect penises dating from the 1940s amongst the archive but even more amazing was the presence of these photographs. Another overriding feeling when viewing the images was one of loneliness, sadness and anguish(?), for the bodies seemed to be observed and not partaken of, to be unavailable both physically and in a strange way, photographically. For a photographer who prided himself on revealing the spirit within through photography these are paradoxical photographs, visually accessible and mysteriously (un)revealing, photographs of a strange and wonderful ambivalence. As with Platt Lynes photographs of men, very few of Minor White's male portraits were ever exhibited in his lifetime because of his fear of being exposed as a homosexual.


Minor White "Nude Foot" 1947

Minor White.
"Nude Foot."