Clarence Hudson White
(From Wikipedia, the free
Clarence Hudson White (April
8, 1871 – July 7, 1925) was an American photographer and a founding member
of the Photo-Secession movement. During his lifetime he was widely
recognized as a master of the art form for his consummate sentimental,
pictorial portraits and for his excellence as a teacher of photography.
Toward the end of his career he founded the Clarence H. White School of
Photography, which produced many of the best-known photographers of the
Twentieth Century including Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, and
White was born in 1871 in West Carlisle, Ohio. He moved with his family to
Newark, Ohio when he was sixteen. He was avid amateur young artist, and
filled sketchbooks with his drawings and paintings before taking up
photography in his late teens or early twenties. His father was a salesman
for Fleek and Neal, a wholesale grocery, and after high school White
joined the same firm as an accountant. In 1893 White married Jane Felix,
who became White's business manager, critic, and inspiration.
White produced many of his most famous images between 1893 and 1906, while
he was still in Ohio, despite holding a full-time job unrelated to
photography and only being able to afford two plates a week. Most of his
photographs from this period depicted relatives and friends, carefully
posed in their homes. He enjoyed collaborating with other photographers
and seeing their work, and in 1898 White founded the Newark Camera Club,
an association for the town's enthusiasts, prefiguring his role as a
teacher and mentor.
While in Newark, White's photographs
gradually became nationally recognized, first winning a gold medal from
the Ohio Photographer's Association in 1896 and then participating in the
Philadelphia Photographic Salon exhibition in 1898. That year, on a trip
east, White met Alfred Stieglitz, photography's most prominent figure of
the time, who praised his work. Stieglitz, White, and several other
pictorial photographers co-founded the Photo-Secession, an elite group
dedicated to furthering photography as an art form.
As White's artistic renown spread, it became increasingly difficult for
him to balance his amateur photography with his accounting career. In 1906
he decided to quit his job, move to New York City, and devote his full
attention to photography. Stieglitz included White's photos in exhibitions
at his Photo-Secession gallery and published them in his highly acclaimed
magazine, Camera Work. Stieglitz devoted an entire issue of Camera Work to
White's photography and the two men were jointly credited on several
images, most notably The Torso.
In 1907, Arthur Wesley Dow hired White to teach photography at Columbia
University. He quickly became a renowned instructor, encouraging and
inspiring his students rather than formally expounding on technical or
aesthetic principles of photography. Although White's teaching never
provided him with a significant amount of money, it enabled him to work as
a full-time photographer and he deeply loved to teach. In 1914, he founded
the Clarence H. White School of Modern Photography. White taught many
students who went on to become notable photographers, including Margaret
Bourke-White, Anne Brigman, Dorothea Lange, Paul Outerbridge, Karl Struss,
and Doris Ulmann.
White, Stieglitz, and the other Photo-Secessionists initially imitated
traditional fine arts in order to elevate photography to high art.
Referred to as pictorialists, they used camera and printing techniques to
emulate etchings and achieve soft focus. However, in 1910 Stieglitz
renounced pictorialism in favor of sharply focused "straight" photographs,
emphasizing the camera's optical clarity and precision. White did not
follow Stieglitz's initiative, and after their separation White emerged as
the leader of pictorialist photography. In 1916 White co-founded the
Pictorial Photographers of America (PPA), a national organization
dedicated to promoting pictorial photography. Like the Photo-Secession,
the PPA sponsored exhibitions and published a journal. But unlike the
Photo-Secession, the PPA consciously refrained from exclusivity and
advocated using pictorial photography as a medium for art education. White
served as the association's first president until 1921.
White's photographs are black-and-white,
romanticized, pictorialist images. Women and children were favorite
subjects, and White was praised for capturing the character of his models.
In a rare interview, White said, "I do not believe [a photographer] should
go with a preconceived idea of what he is going to get. He should be moved
by his subject. If he is not, he will become blind to the most beautiful
aspects of nature."
White composed his images carefully, often taking hours to pose models and
frame the photograph. White also experimented with darkroom techniques
including platinum and gum bichromate prints. During his lifetime, White's
images were widely acclaimed as the pinnacle of the art form.