Minor White

Quick Facts

Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, MN
Date of Birth:
July 9, 1908
Place of Death:
Boston, MA
Date of Death:
June 24, 1976

Minor White was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1908. He was an only child and spent much of his time with his grandparents. It was his grandfather, who was an amateur photographer, who gave White his first camera. However, he would not seriously focus on photography until later in his life. White would take a variety of images, including black and white landscapes of the locations he visited in national parks, that changed the field of photography.

In 1927, White attended the University of Minnesota and majored in botany. He did not finish his degree the first time he attended college. He left college and became interested in poetry. White wrote about his struggles with his sexuality, notes about his photography, and thoughts about his life. When he re-entered college in 1932, he double majored in botany and poetry. By the time he graduated, White had lost interest in becoming a scientist, and instead focused his interests on the arts.

White moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1937. He landed a job teaching photography to groups of students at the YMCA and, within a year, was offered a position at the Works Progress Administration. He primarily photographed old buildings in Portland. White was asked to teach photography at the La Grande Arts Center but left the position within a year to pursue his own photography. He photographed landscapes, buildings, and farms. In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art in New York accepted three of his images, which was the first time White’s photos were launched into the public eye.

White’s photography took a pause when he was drafted into the Army in 1942. When he was discharged in 1945, White traveled to New York City, where he met Beaumont and Nancy Hall, photography curators for the Museum of Modern Art. He was offered a photography position and was heavily influenced by Newhall, another influential photographer.

In 1946, White met a number of prominent photographers who influenced his work. Ansel Adams offered White a position at the California School of Fine Arts in the newly formed photography department. White accepted. During his time there, he continued to hone his skill with landscape photography. He was influenced by the landscapes of national parks and took many of his iconic photographs in parks. Ansel Adams was a major influence for his landscape photography as both traveled to national parks to photograph the natural beauty found there. White continued to struggle with his sexuality, which also heavily influenced his photography during this time. He created several series of photographs that reflected his emotional state.

In 1952, White helped create Aperture magazine with several other prominent photographers of the time. The magazine depicted photographs and contained articles that were influential to the field of photography. White did not produce as many pictures during this time of his life, but he dabbled with color images for the first time in his career. From 1953 to 1957, White worked at the George Eastman House. He also taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology during this time.

White moved to Boston in 1965 to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He continued to share his knowledge with students while creating his own photography works. White continued to edit Aperture until 1970 and, in that same year, won a Guggenheim Fellowship. He continued to work hard on his photography and teaching, despite his declining health. He became more spiritual in his practices and in his photography. After a particularly grueling work schedule, White suffered from a heart attack. He continued his work until his death from a heart attack in 1976.

Minor White’s philosophy on photography, his passion, drive, and focus makes him one of the most influential figures in photography. His work continues to inspire photographers to this day.

Last updated: May 9, 2018