During meditation, you calm your body and mind and just give way to the present moment. It’s not a clearing of the mind as many have been led to believe; rather it's the opportunity to give your mind something to focus on.
Museums and art galleries, while not locations where one usually physically meditates, are places where you can find a respite from the everyday world and focus. Places like this can change your viewpoint and inform you about talented people from days past.
"Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895–1925," on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is an impressive and meditative exhibit that offers a glimpse at an artist who had an important impact on the art world and originally called Ohio home.
The exhibit was organized by the Princeton University Art Museum and curated by Anne McCauley, the David H. McAlpin professor of history of photography and modern art at Princeton. The show is a survey of White’s entire career. The layout and organization is done in a way that gives you the opportunity to think about the trajectory of White’s life and how he influenced and was influenced by others.
Topics like “The Poetry of the Everyday," "Early Commercial Work," "White as a Teacher," "White and American Socialism” are used as “call-outs” with a couple of paragraphs of information beneath each subject line. This helps break up the pace of the exhibit, giving you the opportunity to learn about the artist.
Further, the show pairs White’s photography with the art world in which it evolved. Paintings by John White Alexander, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Edmund Charles Tarbell and Arthur Wesley Dow are also displayed, and this helps create a more complete picture of White’s time and illuminates his outstanding talent even further.
Clarence H. White (1871–1925) was born in in Newark, Ohio, and was an important figure in American Pictorialist photography. He “believed in the beauty of the hand-crafted object,” something he shared with the international Arts and Crafts movement.
Often, White would use family members as models and pose them in ways that created a more intriguing composition. "Spring — A Triptych," a platinum print from 1898, shows his sister-in-law Letitia Felix reaching for cherry blossoms. The image also shows the direct effect Japanese woodcuts had on White, influencing the subject and format of the piece. White was first exposed to Japanese woodcuts around 1893-1896 and went on to amass several pieces by famous Japanese artists in his personal collection.
In "Drops of Rain," a platinum print from 1902, White has positioned a glass globe in front of a window that is covered in drops of rain. His son Maynard is to the right of the globe, reaching up and holding it with his left hand while appearing to gaze into it. The light is soft and reflective like the glass surfaces in the composition. It’s a subtly dramatic image that highlights the level of care the artist took in setting his photos up.
"The Sea," a palladium print from 1909, is a photograph of Rose Pastor Stokes who gained international fame as one of Americas leading socialists, feminists and activists in the early 1900s. White conceived of this portrait as way to capture the spirit of his subject.
It looks like something out of a storybook, with Stokes standing on a rock at the edge of the sea, wind blowing her hair back as she gazes into the distance. Regardless of the intention of the artist toward whom he is portraying, this image stands out as a moment of beauty and drama, and again highlights White’s ability to elevate photography to art.
"Clarence H. White and His World" is pure joy to look at. The concept behind the exhibition and the way the display is executed create a special moment for any person who takes the time to walk through it, and it not only informs but helps to maintain the legacy of an important artist.
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