In the early ‘30s a group of purist photographers calling themselves “Group f/64” reacted against a “pictorial” mode of photography that was popular at the time. “f/64″ was smallest aperture of wide-format cameras at the time… photographs using this tiny aperture seemed quite refreshing next to soft-focus stuff that was filling up photography magazines at the time. Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and others promoted ultra-sharp images. The side of a cliff at Yosemite, or a Nautilus shell. The images are beautiful.
William Mortensen was the photographer that Group f/64 hated the most. In a letter Ansel Adams called him “The Anti-Christ.” Mortensen’s photographs were seen as impure and adulterated, morally wrong. It could be said that Group f/64 approached purist photography as a religious belief.
In time, f/64 photographers rose to the top and made certain that non-purist photographers like William Mortensen were never shown in museums and galleries that carried his work.
So who is this William Mortensen and why was he characterized as being the Anti-Christ? And why do we love his work?
Everyone will discover the amazing qualities of Mortensen’s photographs when two Feral House books are published and a traveling exhibition of Mortensen’s work is seen in galleries in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle late this year.
American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen is a 9 x 12, 296-page hardcover collection of the man’s photography, many never before seen in print, emphasizing his most experimental, extreme and occult work, along with his first true biography and accounts of his innovative photography methods.
The other Mortensen book brings back the long out-of-print Command to Look, a book that Anton LaVey characterized as being one of the most influential books in his life. LaVey also included Mortensen in his dedication of The Satanic Bible.
So was William Mortensen the Anti-Christ? Or an unfairly suppressed artist?
You’ll be able to find out this Fall.