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William Mortensen

Presented by Dark Mofo, Salamanca Arts Centre,
and Stephen Romano Gallery

An INVISIBLE HOUSE event, curated by Brendan Walls
for Dark Mofo 2018

Grotesque and visionary photographic creations
from William Mortensen,
the man Ansel Adams once called ‘the Antichrist’.

Loaned to us by the Stephen Romano Gallery,
these thirty works have never been exhibited before.

Presented by Stephen Romano Gallery (New York). This is an exhibition of 30 photographic works by William Mortensen to be exhibited in a purpose-built temporary gallery within the Long Gallery at Salamanca Arts Centre.

Mortensen is a controversial figure in 20th century photography. His pictorialist style of manipulating photographs to produce romanticist painting-like effects earned him criticism from photographers of the modern realist movement, in particular, Ansel Adams. However, Mortensen’s visionary work has finally received the recognition it deserves with a recent series of extensive retrospectives. The collection provided by the Stephen Romano Gallery has never been seen before and is a world exclusive.

Thursday 14 – Monday 25 June 2018

Thursday 14 June 2018, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Exhibition to be opened by Stephen J King

Stephen J King is a leading authority on the British mystic, magician, poet and philosopher, Aleister Crowley.  He regularly lectures internationally on Crowley’s system of “Magick,” initiatic Orders, and revealed religious tradition of Thelema.  Stephen is presently editing Crowley’s last book, Magick Without Tears, for the Crowley estate.  Under his religious name “Shiva,” Stephen is the Australian National Grand Master General ad vitam of the fraternal Thelemic Order, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), once led by Crowley.  A member of OTO for 30 years, he has been collaborating, co-creating and generally getting up to mystical mischief and mayhem with Australian artist-magician Barry William Hale for about the same length of time.


Thursday 14 June 2018
6:00pm – 9:00pm
 OFFICIAL OPENING EVENT (see details above)

Friday 15 June 2018, 10:00am – 12:00midnight

Saturday 16 June 2018, 10:00am – 12:00midnight

Sunday 17 June 2018
12:00midnight – 8:00am
10:00am – 4:00pm

Monday 18 June 2018, 10:00am – 4:00pm

Tuesday 19 June 2018, 10:00am – 4:00pm

Wednesday 20 June 2018, 10:00am – 4:00pm

Thursday 21 June 2018
10:00am – 4:00pm
6:00pm – 12:00midnight

Friday 22 June 2018
10:00am – 4:00pm
6:00pm – 12:00midnight

Saturday 23 June 2018
10:00am – 4:00pm
6:00pm – 12:00midnight

Sunday 24 June 2018
8:00am – 12:00midnight

Monday 25 June 2018
12:00midnight – 8:00am


Biography: William Mortensen

William Mortensen (1897 – 1965) was an American Photographer, primarily known for his Hollywood portraits in the 1920s-1940s in the pictorialist style.

Ansel Adams called him ‘the Antichrist’ and wanted him written out of history. But William Mortensen’s grotesque photographs of death, nudity and torture and are now having their day… Mortensen’s methods often made it hard to distinguish whether the results were photographs or not. He used traditional printmaking techniques, such as bromoiling, and developed many of his own techniques. He created composite images, scratch, scrape and draw on his prints, then apply a texture that made them look like etchings, thereby disguising his manipulations. Consequently, every print was unique. Ultimately, Mortensen’s aim was to create something that, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be a photograph, yet portrayed scenes so fantastic they caused wonder and astonishment in the viewer.

His love of the fantastic and the grotesque was, then, partly an outward expression of his love to shock, but it had another purpose: by giving form to such emotions as fear and hatred, Mortensen, a Christian Scientist, believed “we are enabled to lessen their power over us”. He added: “When the world of the grotesque is known and appreciated, the real world becomes vastly more significant.”

It was these kinds of ideas that so angered Adams and his Group, brethren devoted to photography that depicted a pure, unmediated reality. However, Adams did not stop there, suggesting in a personal letter to Mortensen that he “negotiate oblivion”. When fellow photographer Edward Weston wrote telling of his excitement at photographing a “fresh corpse”, Adams replied: “My only regret is that the identity of said corpse is not our Laguna Beach colleague.”

The critics Beaumont Newhall and his wife Nancy held the same view: Beaumont consciously excluded Mortensen from his grandiosely titled 1949 book The History of Photography, From 1839 to the Present Day. Their distaste would not even allow them to acknowledge Mortensen’s mastery of his craft. Ultimately though, for all the griping of Adams, it turns out that Mortensen was the true modernist all along, and not them.


Images Credits:
Image courtesy of Stephen Romano Gallery, New York.
William Mortensen. The Old Hag With Skull (1926).
William Mortensen. The Worship of Isis, The Moon Goddess (1924).

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