San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 14

February 16th, 2012 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Space Analysis Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s 1947 Class Notes

California School Of Fine Arts, Now The San Francisco Art Institute

Photography Program Founded By Ansel Adams, Minor White Lead Instructor

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13.”)

(View the photograph large: “Ship ‘China Victory,’ Fishing Boats, San Francisco Waterfront.”)

Ship “China Victory” And Fishing Boats, San Francisco Waterfront, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. The fishing boat hulls on the left are an example of planes parallel to the focal plane.

Landscape Photography Blogger Note:

Perhaps one of the most renowned, yet mysterious concepts that Minor White taught was Space Analysis. Few of Minor White’s students gave any indication that they understood the idea completely. Interviews with Philip Hyde, William Heick, Ben Chinn, Stan Zrnich, David Johnson and others bear this out. Little has been written or described anywhere regarding the definition of Minor White’s Space Analysis. Now, here, published for the first time ever are Philip Hyde’s class notes from August 1947 covering Minor White’s lecture on Space Analysis.

Space Analysis Lecture By Minor White

August 26, 1947

Philip Hyde’s Class Notes


  • Composition in the Graphic Arts consists of organization and construction; as contrasted with photography. Composition in photography consists of analysis and organization of existing elements.
  • In photography, the frame of the viewfinder or ground glass isolates or selects elements desired.
  • Closeness –> Restraint;  Distance –> Freedom
  • Implication of horizontal plane (as viewed from above) from Vertical Plane is part of Space Analysis. Arises from conventions, knowledge and due to the third dimensional effect inherent in a photograph.

The subject can dictate the organization of the rest of the photograph and the rest of the photograph should conform to the subject.

Space-Depth Concept

  1. Planes (or a plane) which are parallel to the focal plane
    1. Perhaps the simplest type of subject is one single plane photographed. For example: a wall.
    2. Parallel planes in depth—a series of objects without an intervening horizontal plane. For example: a series of stage sets. Sometimes called banding.
    3. Horizontal plane with lines of demarcation. For example: waves on the ocean photographed from a high cliff.
    4. Vertical lines open the space up a little more. For example: a series of planes in depth with vertical edges.
  2. Planes at an angle to the focal plane.
    1. Diagonal or Receding Planes. For example: a road going away from the camera.

Negative Space

The space between objects or around objects has existence and weight. This volume or space is exceptionally important in photography, as is the control of this space, as effected by the tone of respective objects, lighting of objects and placement of the horizontal plane—in tonal values. For example: Screens are placed near each other; the space between may be expanded or contracted by the control above.

(Continued in the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15.”)



  1. pj says:

    As important as space analysis is, I can see where it would be extremely difficult to grasp the concepts intellectually. It’s intuitive — you see it but you really can’t explain it in words. I don’t doubt that Minor White struggled to teach it without it sounding like a bunch of rules.

    I’m not sure it can even be taught. It comes from the gut, not the head.

  2. Hi PJ, I believe you are correct, but I’m not sure Dad or any of his classmates fully understood even intuitively Space Analysis or many other subjects Minor White lectured on. Nonetheless, I know Dad incorporated much of it on some level into his photography and into the artist he became. While the student photographers used to poke fun at Minor White and his esoteric approach in class, they all expressed in one way or another that their outlook and depth of appreciation of what they were doing grew tremendously as a result of his coaching.

  3. pj says:

    He was like a zen master. They maybe couldn’t grasp it at the time, but the seeds he planted grew as the students matured.

  4. That is an adept way to explain it, PJ. Minor White was very much the Zen master of photography.

  5. Mark says:

    I suppose we all develop our own definitions of what “Space Analysis” may mean to our compositions. For me, I try to be quite aware of intersecting elements and if they conflict with each other. Sometimes a subtle change in camera position can offer more separation between such elements, and open up the space in the image. I also think the balance of an image is part of this, positive and negative space together. Balance is something that is very difficult to describe in words, but in images you can usually tell if the picture “feels” right.

  6. I appreciate your input on this in particular, Mark, because your photographs display all of the qualities of balance and intuitively right relation of space you describe.

  7. Greg Russell says:

    I think PJ nailed it in the head…in some regards it is an intuitively easy concept to grasp (especially when we see an image that breaks the “rules”) but very difficult to explain…

    Interesting post, David. Thanks for sharing…its great that you have your Dad’s old class notes.

  8. Hi Greg, it’s interesting that both you and Mark mention the role of intuition in relation to Space Analysis. Minor White also emphasized intuition in composition. He taught Space Analysis as one tool in the photographic process, but he suggested it become integrated with everything else that intuitively makes up a photographer’s process with time and practice. I believe Space Analysis was also meant to be used after the exposure when looking at negatives or prints in selecting images to show.

  9. Sharon says:

    David, I haven’t read any of Mr. White’s teaching on space analysis but when I look at photographs like this of his I get it. I understand his views on space analysis without ever hearing them when I look at his work.


  10. Great addition to the discussion, Sharon. I wonder if all the lines and angles in that photograph, that so well illustrate Minor White’s teaching, are part of what helped to make that photograph one of his most renowned and widely exhibited.

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