L'Amour (1935). Photograph: William Mortensen
Our friends at Feral House have a new book coming out on the work of photographer William Mortensen, called American Grotesque. Chris Campion of the Guardian has a nice profile of Mortensen and his lurid, heavily retouched photographs of "death, nudity and torture." Ansel Adams and his pals in Group f/64 loathed Mortensen (even though they happily used processing techniques invented by Mortensen).
Even after Mortensen's death in 1965 from leukemia, Group f/64 and their flunkies the Newhalls could not stop talking of their loathing for him. Beaumont described his work as "perverse"; Willard Van Dyke, a founder of Group f/64, said "his work was disgusting"; and Adams summed him up with the words, "For us, he was the antichrist."
Ultimately though, for all the griping of Adams and f/64, it turns out that Mortensen was the true modernist all along, not them. For today, we are surrounded by images of the fantastic and unreal. In comic-book movies such as Spider-Man and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, special effects merge seamlessly into the action and the monsters appear as real as humans. A photograph is rarely just a photograph these days, seen without filters or retouching. And, thanks to sites like Instagram, many of Mortensen's painstaking techniques can now be applied with the touch of a button.