PDN Photo of the Day

Minor White’s Portland Roots

In 1937, long before Minor White co-founded Aperture and became interested in the spiritual possibilities of abstraction, he moved to Portland, Oregon, and checked himself into the YMCA. A new show at the Portland Museum of Art explores White’s time in the city and the images he made there, which range from building studies for a WPA project and explorations of the Eastern Oregon landscape to formalist views of the city’s waterfront and industrial landscape. “In the Beginning: Minor White’s Oregon Photographs,” which was curated by Julia Dolan, the museum’s Minor White Curator of Photography, opens December 9 and runs until May 6, 2018. A second phase of the show  follows, and runs until October 21, 2018.

White was 29 when he came to Portland, following a few years of doing odd jobs and some graduate work in botany in Minnesota. At the YMCA, he instituted a darkroom program and taught photography classes to young adults; he also joined the Oregon Camera Club. In 1938 he was hired by the Oregon Art Project, a division of the federal government’s Works Progress Administration, to document buildings on Front Avenue that had been slated for demolition. The photos he made, “much more than straightforward government documents, mark a critical period in Portland’s history and hold clues to White’s mature modernist approach,” the museum writes in a statement. In 1942, the WPA images were shown around the country and were acquired by the Portland Art Museum, which gave White his first solo show the same year. (The previous year, MoMA bought several prints and included White in their “Image of Freedom” exhibition, an open call juried by Ansel Adams, Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall, among others.) White was drafted into the Army in the spring of 1942, and although he never lived in Portland again, he returned to teach workshops in Oregon in the 1950s and ’60s. As the museum writes, “his bonds to the community remained strong,” and he continues to be “a significant influence on photographic practice in the Northwest and beyond.”

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