Clarence H. White

Clarence H. White

1871-1925

Inductee Sponsor: Ohio Professional Photographers

About

Clarence White has been described by photo historian Naomi Rosenblum as the one who may be considered the archetypal Pictorialist photographer of the United States. And with that statement, many of you may wonder, so what is Pictorialism,especially if Photography Hall of Famer Clarence White is the archetypal? Before diving into his history and his contribution to photography of which the term Pictorialism will be tossed freely, let us try to define Pictorialism first. Part of learning any history comes the dutiful learning of its unique terminology.

Keith Davis, photo historian and author of An American Century of Photography: From Dry Plate to Digital beautifully describes the original ideology of Pictorialism, practiced by some of the most respected Pictorialist photographers, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Peter Henry Emerson and the entire Photo-Secession group. He states that the modern roots of this fundamentally mystical aesthetic can be found in the writings of Charles Baudelaire, who celebrated a state of hyperperception in which the things of the world became resonant with larger meanings and unexpected correspondences. In Baudelaire’s poetic realm, the world was a magical “forest of symbols” in which “perfumes, sounds, and colours answer each to each” in an ecstatic union of sensation and thought. Each of the above mentioned photographers, including the archetypal Clarence White, developed Pictorialism with the goal of elevating photography into the more respected art realm. Just before the turn of the century, the general conception was that a camera was a machine and the photographer simply operated the machine. To attempt to achieve the thought of photography as an art, photographers began to use alternative processes and printing techniques. In addition, they used a soft focus and carefully composed the subject(s) similar to painting styles of past and turn of the century masters. By implementing a combination of these techniques, the photographer would then be able to create an atmosphere and invoke thought and emotion that took precedence over the subject itself. Beauty and meaning was the ultimate goal.

White was loyal to Pictorialism long after many had abandoned the style. However, it was only by chance that White began photography. Clarence Hudson White was born on April 8, 1871 in West Carlisle, Ohio. He showed an early interested in art, but was discouraged by his parents who eventually moved the family to Newark, Ohio where White graduated from high school. In 1890, he became an accountant for Fleek and Neal, which was a wholesale grocery firm. When White married Jane Felix in 1893, he began taking photographs. As with many photographers throughout history, he was captivated by the camera. The couple quickly started a family and with a small wage, White could only afford two film plates per week. To fit his rigid office schedule, White would most often take his photographs in the early morning with his 6 ½” x 8 ½” Premo view Camera with a Taylor-Hudson rapid View Portrait Lens. Because of his limited time and money for film, White was extremely careful choosing and posing his subject matter. The setting, costumes, and subjects of those two weekly photographs were planned down to the smallest detail. Many Newark residents whose faces were immortalized by White recalled rising in the middle of the night to spend hours practicing and posing for the moment when the dawn light was just right for Clarence White to photograph them.

These intricate sessions finally led White to recognition. In 1896, the Ohio Photographer’s Association awarded him with a gold medal. However, it was White’s participation in the exhibition at the Philadelphia Photographic Salon in 1898 that won him national recognition. That same year he founded the Camera Club of Newark, Ohio, published images in The Photographic Times, and made an important trip to the East to meet Alfred Stieglitz, F. Holland Day and Joseph Keiley. He soon had solo exhibitions at the Camera Club in New York, the Camera Club in Boston, organized the first exhibit of American photographers and showed in London’s Photographic Salon. During this period he also became a member of the Linked Ring and other photographic related organizations. He also won numerous awards and medals and was selected for other group exhibitions during this time.

In January 1901 White established his first studio, The Studio of Clarence H. White, while still remaining employed with Fleek and Neal. He wrote to Stieglitz after this decision, stating I have made up my mind that art in photography will be my life work and am preparing to live a very simple life with my family to carry this out. In 1902, White was a co-founder to Stieglitz’s group the Photo-Secession. Soon, White was a frequent in the Camera Work magazine, and he was featured in the third issue. Finally, after achieving undeniable success, White moved to New York City to devote himself full-time to photography. His family followed in 1907. Many believe “the richest of his career,” as far as making imagery, was in Newark. Stieglitz was quoted from a letter written after White’s death as saying, poor White. Cares and vexation. When I last saw him, he told me he was not able to cope with life as well as he was twenty years ago. I reminded him that I warned him to stay in business in Ohio—New York would be too much for him. But the Photo-Secession beckoned. Arguably, however, to some, White’s accomplishments upon his move to New York were just as measurable.

Upon first arriving in New York City, White assisted Stieglitz at the gallery. They collaborated on a series of nudes and experiments with the autochrome process. In the winter of 1907 he was appointed as the first photography instructor at Columbia University. Just a year later he was hired at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences as their photography professor. He was pioneering a new field of study and research by becoming a photography educator. Under his instruction and influence were many of the next generation of photographers who made major contributions to photographic history, including Margaret Bourke-White, Anton Bruehl, Dorothea Lange, Paul Outerbridge and many more. In the summer of 1910, White founded a summer school of photography in Maine. Due to White’s dedication to photography education and its financial necessity, White’s personal work began to decline and Stieglitz became irritated. The two broke ties just a few years later, in 1912. The Clarence White School of Photography was founded in 1914 in New York City. While many of his previous friends and colleagues began to turn away from Pictorialism, White kept his vision and in 1916 helped to form the Pictorial Photographers of America, of which he became the first President. Until his death in Mexico City on July 8, 1925, White remained dedicated to the art and education of photography. He was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in 1986.

By Lori Oden For IPHF

…To White, photography was a very personal and individual matter. Its essence was simply the discovery and development of one’s own vision.

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