Approaching invisibility : experiencing the photographs and writings of Minor White

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Within his published writings on photography Minor White (1908-1976) makes frequent use of the term 'invisible'. While his use of this term is always suggestive, often provocative, and sometimes allusive, his meaning is rarely made clear. Nonetheless, White appears to refer to intangible aspects of photography that go beyond the visible elements of photographs themselves. This thesis aims to elucidate White's use of the term 'invisible' by determining (i) precisely what he is referring to in his use of this word, (ii) where the 'invisible' resides, and (iii) how it is encountered. In order to achieve these objectives a close examination and analysis of the writings of White is made, with particular emphasis being given to fifteen identified uses of the term 'invisible'. Since White's use of this term is always open to interpretation it is first necessary, however, to establish a comprehensive foundation from which explanations can be made. Hence, the first chapter of the thesis provides a brief overview of the formative years of White's life up until 1946. On the basis that six of the fifteen uses of the term 'invisible' refer directly to Alfred Stieglitz and/or his theory of ‘equivalence’, an analysis of ‘equivalence’ from the perspectives of Stieglitz and White respectively will be given in chapters two and three. The theory of ‘equivalence’ invests a photograph with an ability to express more than its literal representation, in doing so the viewer’s subjective experience is paramount. In addition to analysis of the writings of Stieglitz and White the writings of post-Stieglitz photographic critics and commentators such as Peter Bunnell, Joel Eisinger, Allan Sekula and John Szarkowski are also examined. The thesis then assigns each of White’s uses of this term to one of three categories developed in my research and reflection that I have named ‘extra-invisibility’ ‘intra-invisibility’ and ‘interinvisibility’. Thus it will be shown that the majority of the occasions on which White uses the term ‘invisible’ pertain both to the viewer’s experience of photographs and to the affective qualities of the photograph. While the meaning of White’s term ‘invisible’ is not always the same, the thesis concludes that the usage that dominates within his writing, pertains to feeling states that are evoked within a viewer’s internal world via his or her interaction with a photograph. How such experiences of invisibility are encountered is thus determined by the viewer’s personal background and approach to the photograph, by the social context in which the image is seen, and, to some extent, by the visible elements of the photograph itself.
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