William Mortensen the “Devil” and “the anti-Christ” (pictorialism beyond the norm)
William Mortensen (1897–1965) was an American art photographer. He is primarily known for his Hollywood portraits in the 1920s- 1940s in the pictorialiststyle.
Mortensen choice in style brought him criticism from straight photographers of the modern realist movment. His arguments defending romanticism photography led him to be ostracized from most authoritative canons of photographic history. In an essay, Larry Lytle wrote "Due to his approach—both technically and philosophically in opposition to straight or purist adherents — he is amongst the most problematic figures in photography in the twentieth-century”.
Historians and critics have described his images as “…anecdotal, highly sentimental, mildly erotic hand-colored prints…”, “…bowdlerized versions of garage calendar pin-ups and sadomasochist entertainments…”, “…contrived set-ups and sappy facial expressions…”, and finally he was described by Ansel Adams as alternately the “Devil”, and “the anti-Christ”.
In “Venus and Vulcan” — a series of 1934 Camera Craft magazine essays — Mortensen defended Pictorialism against criticism from the f.64 school and other “straight shooters”:
Photography, like any other art, is a form of communication. The artist is not blowing bubbles for his own gratification, but is speaking a language, is telling somebody something. Three corollaries are derived from this proposition.
a. As a language, art fails unless it is clear and unequivocal in saying what it means.
b. Ideas may be communicated, not things.
c. Art expresses itself, as all languages do, in terms of symbols