WHM CXXV: the 125th anniversary of visionary American photographer artist William Mortensen

William Mortensen “Ho Ho Off To The Sabbath” 1928, manipulated photograph. Courtesy of The Gallery of Everything, London

William Mortensen (January 27, 1897 – August 12, 1965) was an American photographic artist, who first won acclaim for his Hollywood portraits in the 1920s in the pictorialist style and later for viscerally manipulated photography, often addressing occult themes .

Several cultural institutions took the opportunity to pay tribute to William Mortensen on the occasion of his 125th birthday.

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Places paying homage:

The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Wizardry will mount an exhibition of original works curated by museum director Steven Intermill. This is the second exhibition of Mortensen’s works that the museum has undertaken. Until March 15, 2022

William Mortensen “A Tantric Sorcerer” 1934″ manipulated photograph Courtesy of Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland

The gallery of everything in London will present the series “A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft and Demonology”. The Museum of Everything has one of the most extensive collections of works by William Mortensen. Until February 6, 2022

Orange County Heritage Museum, Santa Ana CA, will mount an ambitious installation of original works by William Mortensen in both the Maag Farm and the historic Kellogg House. The exhibits are curated by Annabella Pritchard and the exhibits are designed by Jamie Hiber. William Mortensen’s final resting place is also in Santa Ana. Until March 31, 2022

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will highlight online their recent acquisition of William Mortensen’s hand-crafted book “The King of Kings” which was commissioned by director Cecil B. DeMille. ibit.ly/awXq In progress.

The Laguna Art Museum William Mortensen is included in the museum’s current exhibition “Sky Space Time Change” until April 25, 2022.

Etienne Romano Gallery in Brooklyn will have a raffle for an original William H. Mortensen. To participate please like this post ibit.ly/tsp3

“Thoughts and emotions cannot be photographed, despite the protestations of some mystically-minded portrait painters. The physical fact is ultimately the only pictorial material.” -William Mortensen

William Mortensen was born in 1897 in Park City, Utah. His family moved to Salt Lake City when he was 11. He was interested in painting and was trained by his high school teacher, and may have taken lessons before that. He was inducted into the army in 1916 and discharged in 1918. Upon his discharge from the army, Mortensen spent 1919 and at least part of 1920 in New York City, attending the Arts Students League.

“Nature is an unpleasant, stupid, lumpy, pompous girl.” -William Mortensen

Mortensen obviously knew someone in Los Angeles who put him in touch with director King Vidor. He worked in the burgeoning motion picture industry, alternately painting sets, making masks, and engaging in various services related to the motion picture art. Simultaneously, he began working at the Western Costume Company photographing silent film stars in costume.

William Mortensen “The Old Hag” 1928 manipulated photograph Courtesy of the Heritage Museum of Orange County, Santa Ana, CA

In 1924 he married Courtney Crawford, a librarian, and moved into her home on Hollywood Boulevard, where he maintained a studio from 1925 to 1931. Also during this time he began entering and exhibiting at photographic salons here and abroad. Her work has been published in various magazines and newspapers, including Photograms of the Year, American Annual of Photography, Vanity Fair, and the Los Angeles Times.

“Emotion may be expressed, or its total absence may be expressed, but the only important fact is that of expression.” -William Mortensen

Mortensen moved to Laguna Beach in 1931 and opened a studio on the Pacific Coast Highway. His school, the Mortensen School of Photography, officially opened in 1931 and still occupies the same address as his studio. Over the years, the school has enrolled thousands of students from all over the world.

In 1933 Mortensen married Myrdith Monaghan and met George Dunham who became a friend and role model. More importantly, 1933 was also the year he began his long writing collaboration with Dunham, which would not end until 1960 with an incomplete manuscript titled Composition. The 32-year collaboration has produced 9 books in multiple editions and printings, 4 pamphlets, and over 100 articles in magazines and newspapers. Myrdith and Dunham proved to be his most important role models, helping him produce his most important work. The school remained open until shortly after his death from leukemia in 1965.

“If tone is allowed to be subject to control, why not line too, which has equal emotional significance? And if line, why not shapes and shapes? And if shapes and shapes, why not allow elision or accentuation of detail? And if all these things are permitted, what becomes of the current record?… Sink without a trace!” -William Mortensen

For more information, contact Stephen Romano at [email protected]

see www.WHMCXXV.com or www.WHMCXXV.net (nsfw)

Michael E. Marquez