In meeting a man along the way, greet him neither with words nor with silence. Now tell me, how will you greet him?
— An old Zen koan

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Minor White, 1974. Reproduction courtesy of the Art Museum, Princeton University, the Minor White Archive and the artist. © 1974 John Weiss

In the late 1960s, Minor White was fondly known as the Eastern guru of photography because of his unusual teaching methods, which included techniques borrowed from Eastern spiritual traditions. Over six feet tall, with a wild mane of silver hair, Minor was a magnetic and fascinating presence in the world of the arts.

When I first heard of him, Minor was teaching photography in the Architecture Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Russians had just launched the Sputnik, and there was much criticism of America’s schools and universities because they seemed to be producing technicians rather than innovators. Minor’s job at MIT was to open up the students’ “creative side.” I began to follow his work through Aperture magazine and learned that he taught photography as a sacred art. The first time I saw one of his photography exhibits, I understood why.

The exhibit, called “The Sound of One Hand Clapping,” was being shown in a small gallery in Massachusetts. Curious to see Minor’s work in person, I drove up from New York. What I saw moved me in a way I was totally unprepared for. Minor was a “straight photographer,” which meant he didn’t manipulate his images during the developing process. Yet Minor’s way of using natural light and shadows to produce a wide range of tonality in his prints was incredible. Looking at his photographs, I felt myself being thrust into another realm of consciousness. I realized then that there was a lot more to photography than I had previously imagined.

I started photographing when I was ten, and by the time I reached my mid-thirties, photography had become an integral part of my life. I had worked as a physical chemist for seventeen years, but had also started to teach college photography part time, and was seriously thinking of turning it into my profession. For a while my work as a research scientist was fulfilling, but at a certain point the questions that had led me to science to begin with became larger than their container, and I saw that they were fundamentally religious questions.

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