I've used this thread as an excuse to look through my Mortensen books. The reproductions are quite poor. I wish that I could get a look at some original prints. (On the other hand, I have seen a large number of original Weston prints. The print quality is outstanding.) My favorite Mortensen photographs are his portraits, actual portraits not his characters like Machiavelli. He composed his photographs very well.
What I find a little disturbing, though, is a lack of texture. I'm not talking about the super texture of an 8x10 contact print, but, well, some texture, especially in skin tones. Maybe there's much more in his actual prints. I hope so.
I'm also curious why Mortensen simply didn't draw, perhaps even from his photographs. It's clear that he loved the technicalities of the photographic process. Even Adams admitted that M. understood sensitometry. Maybe he like hanging out with pretty young girls? Can't really blame him for that, but he could've done so whether he photographed or drew them. It's a conundrum.
Apparently Mortensen was a very fine craftsman who thought he was an artiste, but appears to have had a very limited imagination.
I'm not sure why he was so despised by the f:64 crowd, unless it was basically a turf battle between Californians. Was Mortensen just as vitriolic against Adams and Weston?
I believe the f64 folks wanted to promote photography as an end unto itself, not just a technology for pictorialsim...which is, I believe the basis for their disdain for pictorialists and in particular Mortensen, who's profile and writing made him a target. There's an irony in how, as photography became more documentary...or more conceptual...or more of a consumer technology, it effectively (to an extent) made the likes of Adams a pictorialist himself...dismissed by many as a technician and a maker of pretty pictures.
No, he was not, at least not in his published writings.
Originally Posted by Bill Mitchell
Here's a sample of the type of comments he made on this matter.
" 'Definition' in photography is concerned with the clear indication of edges and contours.
" 'Detail,' on the other hand, is concerned wit ht eh rendition of small and characterisitic differentiaions of texture--the difference between the reflection fromsilk and from velvet, between the highlight on an egg and on porcelain, between the shadows of wood and of flesh.
"Good rendering of detail involves and includes good definition, but good definition does not necessarily include good detail.
"Although they are so closely related optically, definition and detail belong to quite different schools of art, and are expressive of altogether different attitudes of mind. The clear statement of gtood definition belongs to the classic meithod of thought and of artistic expression. it says, in effect, "Here one thing ends and here another begins". It is interested in grandess of formation. It subordinates the parts to the more significant whole.
"a prediliection for detail, on the other hand, belongs to the so-called "decadent" phase of art and expression. He who looks at detail must, of course, scrutinize more closely and not see so far. In decadent art, as Havelock Ellis puts it, the part is greater than the whole.
"These two approaches to subject matter are mutually incompatible. Large structure and small detail can not be simultaneously considered. One or the other must be chosen as the method of approach. Too much detail will detract from the definition of large forms. And large forms will likewise distrub the appreciation of fined detail.
"This difference of method runs throughout the history of artistic expression. As a typical instance of the working of these two impulses--one for the realization of the whole in terms of contour, and th eother for the realization of the parts in terms of fine detail--we may cite the Doric and the Corinthian capitals. Thje large form is the principal concern in the first case, and all details are subordinated to its realization. But with the Corinthian capital the mass and the main contour are less important than the delicate and charming detial of the acanthus leaves.
"There are, of course, no moral considerations implied in the use of such terms as "classic" and "decadent." Nor does it follow that one or the other is necessarily "better." In the history of art the pendulum swings, and sometimes one phase is emphasized and sometimes the other. Both are entirely legitimate and consistent means of expression, but they are at all points opposed to each other. It is, therefore, futile and foolish to try to combine the two.
Note: The classic exposition of these two opposed phases of art is found in the essay on Huysmans, i Havelock Ellis's The New Spirit.
This is something I always wondered about, and have never been able to identify. (Kind of like trying to find the exact offense that caused the Hamilton-Burr duel....)
Originally Posted by Bill Mitchell
In another thread I asked if the text of the Mortensen-Adams debate (or were they just separate articles?) in Camera Craft magazine in the 1930's was available anywhere....I wonder if the casus belli is there. Certainly Mortensen made photographs ridiculing the f64 philosophy (see "The Quest for Pure Form", on the cover of A.D. Coleman's book "Depth of Field") - maybe one of those got Adams' goat.
Or it could have been something more personal. Fay Wray mentions how Mortensen got access to one of the studio's wardrobes, and offered its use to her - he would photograph her in the various costumes. She accepted, had fun dresssing up, WM took lots of pictures. (Remember that WM knew her from the age of 14, and acted as her guardian at one point.) And she was stunned weeks later when he sent her a large bill for the photography....
We may never know...