To answer Christina's question as to what she thought Mr. Van Dykes'
Well - other than the VanDyke outburst provoked by my question AS to
whether Van Dyke had changed his opinion of Mortensen's work....
my opinion is based on historical knowledge....
Group ƒ64 promoted photography as a fine art on its own terms- sharp
rectilinear lenses, large depth of focus- crisp blacks and whites of
realistic true-rendered subjects...
They fought the pretentious art crowd that saw photography as a lesser
art- and why did they judge photography so- it was the newest art and
depended on technology.
Drawing and painting and sculpture still needed the direct application
of the human hand- but not photography....
BTW- the harpsicord and clarinet were considered less artistic
instruments at first due to their mechanical nature... but were as we
know eventually accepted....
So - Mortensen comes along and prints paper negatives and even dares
to do pencil work on them. Its not drawing- its not photography-
its photo illustration- but not to sell beer and wristwatches- but for
purely artistic purposes. In fact- only now with photoshop can one
duplicate the sort of thing he was doing-
well without following his techniques of paper negatives.
I ran across Mortensen's Monsters and Madonnas in 1977 and could not
figure out what it was- I though the work was pure pencil illustration
misfiled in the photo book section.
I thought - no wayyy is this photography...
Yes- Ansel Adams had been nearly successful in killing the memory of
this man's work... but there were too many old books of his techniques
lying around to
erase his legacy.
In my humble opinion - Mr. Van Dyke saw Mortensen as a traitor to
photography- which they saw the true vestal flame of which to be in
the straight category.
his fear- and the root of his hatred- stems from thinking that
Mortensen was muddying the waters of pure photography and would have
it devalued as a fine art form.
VanDyke may have seen Mortensen as a freak- perhaps to be placed in
either the world of the fine arts of drawing, painting and mixed
media- BUT NOT as a photographer.
I think Mortensen is even today greatly underappreciated... it has
been noted that Ansel Adams tried to track down and destroy all of his
work in any significant photo collections.
Mortensen was greatly invested in the nude female figure- which has
long been a prime subject of fine art- but not so much with the
slightly more prudish members of the ƒ64 group.
Also - Mortensen used the nude as a drawing card for his ( mostly male
students ) in his photo classes. I have been told that over 20K
students went through his classes over the years he taught.
Mortensens own justification for all the female figure work was that
it was the underlying structure under all clothed peoples compostions.
Sort of why docs study the skeleton in anatomy...
Here I will also make a direct defense for his use of the female nude-
they simply in general have more artistic bodies than men-
A survey a few years ago found that even female photogs most often
specialize in the female form.
BTW- I saw the inscription on a 1935 Mortensen book on nudes that read
something like "to Frank from Lauren"- a gift from a very
A gift from Frank's model and lover?
or perhaps a gift from a sister in a very progressive open artistic
yes when it comes to anything concerning the nude - even in the case
of fine art- there is still the obvious titillation factor. ( no pun
On Nov 9, 2008, at 10:56 AM, Christina Z. Anderson wrote:
Oh what a wonderful story, Richard!!! When someone reacts so