Artist Spotlight: Minor White and Christopher Sean Powell

March 17, 2017

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)

Minor White was an American photographer whose art was guided by spirituality and philosophy. White’s grandfather, an amateur photographer, gifted him his first camera when he was seven years old. However, White did not initially plan on pursuing photography. He first began a career in botany and then turned to writing after college. It wasn’t until 1937 that White decided to delve into photography. Years of teaching and writing about photography in Oregon culminated with White’s inclusion in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition and his first one-man show at the Portland Art Museum. Shortly after these events, however, he was drafted into the United States Army to fight in WWII. After he returned, White befriended eminent photographers like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams. They inspired him to delve further into symbolic and controversial photography. In a time when homosexuality was unacceptable, White was able to express his closeted sexuality through brave and suggestive portraits of men. Navigation Markers exemplifies White’s later photography, with its emotive abstraction of nature.

Christopher Sean Powell (American, b. 1976)

Christopher “Pow Pow” Powell is a self-taught rhythm scholar, producer, and sound designer in living in Philadelphia. Since 1999, he has recorded and performed with influential artists like the Sun Ra Arkestra, Yoko Ono, and The Boredoms. He currently performs with the experimental Philadelphia-based band Man Man. Powell’s musical skills are complemented by his technical prowess—in recent months, he has been creating custom-made synthesizers for instrument company Critter and Guitari.

For his piece created in response to White’s “Navigation Markers”, Powell reimagined his own past compositions written during trips to Nova Scotia. He used a custom-built polyrhythm sample player for the composition. In his own words, the sample player was elemental in providing “rhythmic motion and urgency” while expressing the expansive terrain and “spatial depth” of Minor White’s photography. When paired with Navigation Markers, Powell’s piece artfully complements the photograph’s dark abstraction and almost unsettling ambiguity.