William Mortensen – America’s greatest visionary photographic artist turns 125!

William Mortensen was born on January 27, 1897 and died on August 12, 1965. Last January was his 125th birthday and he is celebrated internationally with exhibitions and other events, including a birthday party at the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana California where his final resting place is.

It’s only in the last decade, really since the advent of digital photography and Photoshop, that the true genius of Mortensen’s art, made mostly in the 1920s and 1930s, has come to be appreciated.

More info: whmcxxv.com

William Mortensen (1897 – 1965) “Ho Ho Off T the Sabbath” 1928

Manipulated photography, courtesy of Gallery of Everything, London Mortensen used multiple negatives, stencils and texture screens to create his images, which often depicted scenes of witches and demonic figures. Mortensen is a leading figure in the world of “gothic” culture, but also highly respected for his technical skills.

William Mortensen’s 125th birthday cake was made by Annabella Pritchard, curator of the exhibit at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, Santa Ana, California.

Photography critic AD Coleman writes:

“William Mortensen’s inclusion in our current understanding of the history of photography marks the end of the long-lasting injustice done to man and germinal work.”

“Anathema, ostracized and ultimately purged from the mainstream narratives of 20th century photography due to the prejudices of a small but influential group of historians, curators and photographers, Mortensen plunged into such profound obscurity that in 1980, most considered it unworthy of even a footnote.

“Unfortunately, however, the neglect of Mortensen and his contributions in the last years of his life and for several decades thereafter resulted in the seemingly haphazard dispersal of his archives: master prints, working prints, negatives, manuscripts, correspondence , notes… scattered and , for the most part, presumed lost, so we must cherish those salvaged pieces that survive.

“Marie Antoinette” by William Mortensen played by silent film actress Nancy Cornelius in 1924 on display at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, near Mortensen’s final resting place at Fairhaven Memorial Park

A place that has participated in the tribute to the artist includes the Heritage Museum of Orange County, which has installed works in the museum as if they had always belonged there, the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland Ohio, The Gallery of Everything in London, the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, and the Laguna Art Museum which organized a panel discussion on the artist and which present the artist’s works in a group exhibition until April.

The artist is best known for his chilling subjects and for inventing and perpetuating photographic techniques that use multiple negatives to construct images that suspend the viewer’s disbelief. But rather than exploit this technique to create the novelty images that were popular in this tie, the artist used his methods to create a sublime and beautiful world that helped welcome photography into the realm of serious art. .

William Mortensen (1897 – 1965) “Marie Antoinette and the Looking Glass” portrayed by silent film actress Nancy Cornelius in 1924 on display at the Heritage Museum of Orange County

Much of Mortensen’s art is NSFW, you’ll have to find them on your own. In 1956, Mortensen and the layman Curtis Publications (publisher of her book The Female Figure) were accused by the U.S. Post Office of distributing “lewd, lascivious, obscene” materials through the mail. Mortensen said:

“Honest artists are made to suffer for the sins of a few pipsqueak pornographers…the official mind seems to follow this highly questionable reasoning: some nudes are despicable. This is a nude. Therefore, it is despicable.

This comment is even more relevant in today’s social media culture, where platforms such as Facebook and Instagram prohibit users from posting artwork that even their own “community standards” allow.

Enjoy the fantastic art of William Mortensen, the greatest visionary photographic artist you’ve probably never heard of!

Curator Annabella Pritchard with William Mortensen’s 1928 photograph “The Old Hag” at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, Santa Ana. California

Photograph of William Mortensen “The Old Hag with Skull” from 1928 with textured screen on display at the Heritage Museum of Orange County

Self-portrait of William Mortensen and his first wife and muse Courtney Crawford from 1924 to 1925. On view at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, Santa Ana, CA. William Mortensen is buried nearby

William Mortensen “Preparation for the Sabbath” on display at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, Santa Ana, CA

WHM CXXV William Mortensen at 125 exhibits at Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland Ohio

William Mortensen ‘Circe’ 1932 A depiction of Circe an enchantress and goddess in Greek mythology. On display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland

William Mortensen title unknown, a rare photograph of actress Fay Wray from the early 1920s among the masks Mortensen made for silent films. On display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland Ohio

William Mortensen “Fear” 1928 On display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland Ohio

William Mortensen “Human Relations 1932”. On view at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland Ohio

William Mortensen ‘A Tantric Sorcerer’ 1934. On display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland, Ohio

William Mortensen “A Vampire’s Retribution” 1928 on display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland, Ohio

William Mortensen “King of Kings” handmade book consisting of still images taken by Mortensen on the set of Cecil B. Demille’s 1927 film about the story of the last days of Jesus

Mortensen printed 50 copies of this large-format book, one of which is in the Vatican collection in Rome. Exhibited at the Museum of Fine Art in Houston.

William Mortensen “The Repentant Judas” 1926 from the book “King of Kings”, commissioned by director Cecil B Demille

Detail of William Mortensen from “The Repentant Judas” showing the texture screen effect used by the artist

A fan looks at ‘A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft and Demonology’ series, on display at the Gallery of Everything, London

William Mortensen “LUCII FERRARIS” 1928, one of the very rare images in the series “A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft and Demonology”

Gallery goers admire William Mortensen’s 1928 ‘Ho Ho Off To the Sabbath’ on display at the Gallery of Everything, London

William Mortensen “Monsters and Madonnas” hosted by Vincent Price!

WHM CXXV – WILLIAM MORTENSEN AT 125 – A MULTI-LOCATION CELEBRATION OF THE 125TH ANNIVERSARY OF AMERICA’S GREATEST VISIONARY PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTIST

Michael E. Marquez