Published: November 7, 2017
PRINCETON, N.J. – The vision and legacy of photographer Clarence H. White (1871-1925), a leader in the early Twentieth Century effort to position photography as an art, is the focus of a major traveling exhibition organized by the Princeton University Art Museum. The first retrospective devoted to the photographer in over a generation, “Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895-1925” surveys White’s career from his beginnings in 1895 in Ohio to his death in Mexico in 1925.
On view at the Princeton University Art Museum through January 7, the exhibition draws on the Clarence H. White Collection at the museum and the deep holdings at the Library of Congress, as well as loans from other public and private collections. “Clarence H. White and His World” reasserts the artist-photographer’s place in the American canon and, in the process, reshapes and expands understanding of early Twentieth Century American photography.
White’s career spans the radical shifts in photographic styles and status from the Kodak era of the 1890s and the corresponding fight for art photography primarily associated with his friend and fellow photographer Alfred Stieglitz to the postwar rise of advertising and fashion photography.
While living in a small town in Ohio, White received international recognition for his beautiful scenes of quiet domesticity and his sensitivity to harmonious, two-dimensional composition. With his move to New York in 1906, he became renowned as a teacher, first at Teachers College with Arthur Wesley Dow, then in the summer school he established in Maine and finally with the Clarence H. White School of Photography, founded in 1914.
Among his students were some of the most influential artistic and commercial photographers of the early Twentieth Century: Laura Gilpin, Doris Ulmann, Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner, Margaret Watkins, Dorothea Lange, Karl Struss, Anton Bruehl and hundreds more who did not become professional photographers but were shaped by White’s belief that art could enrich the lives of everyday Americans.
“The goal of the exhibition is to locate White’s own diverse and rich body of work within a period of great social and aesthetic change, from the Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties,” said Anne McCauley, exhibit curator and David Hunter McAlpin professor of the history of photography and Modern art at Princeton. “Far from staying stuck in the Nineteenth Century, White embraced new media like cinema and new commercial uses for photography, including fashion and advertising.”
The exhibition features photographs by White’s fellow Photo-Secessionists and his students, as well as a selection of paintings and prints by other artists whom he knew and admired, and was influenced by or whose work he shaped, including William Merritt Chase, Thomas Dewing, Max Weber, Edmund Tarbell and John Alexander.
Also explored within the exhibition are White’s links to the American Arts and Crafts movement, his embrace of socialism, his radically modern representations of childhood and his complicated printing and framing processes.
Of particular note is his lifelong investment in photographing the nude model, culminating in series that he made with Alfred Stieglitz in 1907 and with Paul Haviland in 1909, brought together here for the first time.
“As an artist and a teacher, White emerges as one of the essential American innovators of the early Twentieth Century, dedicated to the creation of beauty,” notes James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher-David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director. “Through significant new archival research and bringing together works not seen in one setting since the artist’s lifetime, this exhibition and publication aim to reaffirm White’s astonishing accomplishments.”
After premiering at the Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition travels to the Davis Museum, Wellesley College (February 7-June 3), the Portland Museum of Art, Maine (June 30-September 16) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (October 21, 2018-January 21, 2019).
The exhibition is accompanied by a sumptuous 400-page catalog by Anne McCauley, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press.
The Princeton University Art Museum is at the heart of the Princeton campus on Elm Drive. For information, 609-258-3788 or www.artmuseum.princeton.edu.
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