Picture crisp, black and white photographs beckoning with clever compositions and a steamy undercurrent. Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit is now open at the J. Paul Getty Museum through October 19, 2014. Bring your fellow photographers to this first major retrospective of White's work since 1989. It's free.
Controversial photographer Minor White (1908-1976) captured not only what he saw, but what it suggested. A closeted homosexual, White often used his photography to express his struggle with his sexuality. For example, a fascinating series of rocks in Point Lobos reveals his sexual frustration. Stony Brook State Park (New York, 1960) exposes White's unresolved feelings about a brief homosexual relationship that ended badly, according to curator, Paul Martineau, who read White's diaries.
Sometimes, White photographed his lovers. Tom Murphy (San Francisco, CA, 1948) (see photo on left) is part of the series of 32 photographs of Murphy titled The Temptation of Anthony is Mirrors, which is published in it's entirety for the first time in the accompanying exhibition book by Martineau. The back of Murphy's Nude Foot (San Francisco California, 1947), which is also in the exhibition, is sweetly intimate. For years, this series remained a secret since it was illegal to publish or display images with male frontal nudity. Since anyone creating these kinds of photographs at the time would have been viewed as a homosexual, the series could have damaged White's career.
Another of White's lovers was William Smith, but in Rochester (New York, 1963) only his beautiful hands, offering a bowl, are visible. In San Mateo County, CA / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach (Marin County, CA, November 1947), Nelson balances himself on the rocks, but White's composition lends a feeling of instability. White's assistant and muse, captured in William LaRue, Cape Meares (Oregon, 1961) features a powerful division of dark and light, which might be a clue to LaRue's personality. In Under the Arches of the Dodd Building (Portland, Oregon 1938), where gay men regularly cruised for sex in the '30s, a lone man discreetly points to his crotch, revealing an anonymous approach to the task at hand. White's Self-Portrait (West Bloomfield, New York, 1957) continues to suggest his ongoing struggle by focusing on a diagonal line separating what's happening on the top from the bottom.
White continued to delve below the surface until he died of heart failure in 1976. His spiritual quest culminates in the stunning Sound of One Hand sequence, which addresses, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" He strives to make the invisible world of the spirit, visible in this gorgeous compilation, which requires active contemplation.
Make a major effort to see Minor White.
Details: Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit. July 8, 2014 - October 19, 2014. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Getty Center. 1200 Getty Center Drive. Los Angeles 90049. (310) 440-7360. $15 per car to park, but only $10 after 5 p.m. on Saturdays.