With an eye for the occult, the grotesque, the melodramatic, and the erotic, William Mortensen was the target of scorn by famous photographers, including Ansel Adams, who called Mortensen "the Devil," and "the Antichrist." His work is reexamined in American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen.
Mortensen was a popular Hollywood studio photographer in the 1930s, known for his glamour stills of Fay Wray, Clara Bow, and Jean Harlow. He founded a photography school in the 1930s, where he taught his technique of heavy retouching, so that photographs ended up looking like etchings and oil paintings.
Morentsen died in obscurity and little mention is made of him in 20th century photography histories. But in the last decade his work has become highly sought after by a new generation who appreciate Mortensen's over-the-top technique and subject matter. American Grotesque, published by Feral House, lavishly filled with Mortensen's lush photography and detailed explanations of his photographic technique, is a an excellent introduction to a misunderstood and maligned master.