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Daily Art Moment: Minor White

“This photograph by Minor White has long been a favorite of mine, and it resonates more deeply these days. In 1938, White, who moved to Portland from Minnesota in 1937, was hired as a ‘creative photographer’ for the Oregon Art Project, a division of the federal government’s Works Progress Administration. The WPA provided meaningful work and living wages to over eight million people during the Great Depression, even supporting work by artists, actors, writers, and historians. White was charged with photographing a rapidly changing and modernizing Portland. He repeatedly documented Front Avenue buildings slated for demolition, capturing the beauty of iron-front facades as well as the cultural undercurrents of a city under transition.

Lately, my interpretation of this image shifts with my mood, and I find myself paying extra attention to the near emptiness of the scene: Although filled with architecture, the city street is nearly devoid of people. I always wonder about the solitary figure: Who was he, and how did the Great Depression affect him? Did he have a family in Portland, a steady income, any hope for the future during a time of great national pain? Eighty years from now, will people look back at photographs made here this year and wonder about our necessary isolation and how deeply it affected us?”

Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography

Minor White (American, 1908–1976). Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street), 1938. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration. New Deal Art Project, L42.3.39

Watch a clip from OPB’s Oregon Art Beat on White’s early photos of the city.