When Minor White, the prolific American photographer and founding editor of Aperture magazine passed away in 1976, he bequeathed his entire archives to Princeton University. His former student Peter C. Bunnell, then a professor and curator at the university’s art museum, had helped facilitate the acquisition, which comprises over 26,000 objects that include negatives, undocumented finished photographs, and the artist’s archive of correspondence, personal and public writings, and exhibition notes.
Now over 6,000 prints and proof cards are available for your perusal, digitized and uploaded to a new website launched by Princeton University Art Museum, which also owns the copyright to all the material. Funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the two-year digitization project represents the most comprehensive guide to White’s photographic career yet, and will continue to grow as museum staff work through the rest of the trove. The new website also arrives with an illustrated, timeline-style biography that provides a straightforward but detailed overview of the photographer for those who may not be very familiar with his life or work.
The archive in its current form provides a comprehensive survey of White’s career, from his early captures of Portland, Oregon in 1938 to his latest work in 1974 of portraits and landscapes taken around the US. Although White worked primarily with black-and-white film, he also began shooting in color in the 1950s, and you can find a number of these multihued images on the website as well. You can search through the thousands of images by keyword, title of work, date, and location, or through subject: the museum has organized some pictures into a word cloud of the objects and places White was most drawn to photograph. It’s a telling visual that speaks to his diverse vision and knack for finding alluring form and subtle emotion in the quotidian — like clouds or cars. Eventually, you will also be able to search the archive by an image’s original location by clicking on a map; from glancing at the preview image, however, you get an immediate sense of just how much White travelled across the country throughout his four decades of dedicated shooting and teaching at different schools. It’s clear he was a restless artist, always on the move with an inquisitive and wide-open eye.