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West Coast: Kales, Mortensen, Weston and Mather Dec 1, '09 9:29 AM
by Vlad for group historicalziegfeld #185
Arthur F. Kales
Time Period: 1910s-1936
“Arthur Kales (1882-1936), a prolific American pictorialist photographer during the 1920s. Pictorialist photographers believed that photographs should emulate the formal elements of etchings or paintings. Pictorialists renounced the sharp accuracy of a photographic image, thus the film was subdued by soft focus and other photographic techniques. The photographers often planned the picture's scenarios, much like a painter composes a painting. Arthur Kales joined this movement while he was in his late 20s. Born in Arizona in 1882, Arthur Kales moved to California in 1903 where he remained for the rest of his life. Initially pursuing a law degree, Kales found photography instead. By 1918, Kales was deeply committed to the popular Los Angeles pictorialist movement. By 1922 he was a regular essayist for the journal, Photogram of the Year. In 1928, Kales was awarded a fellowship from the United Kingdom's Royal Photographic Society and was given a fifty-print retrospective by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Despite his vast repertoire of subject, matter, his work can be identified by his ethereal yet exquisitely intricate compositions.
Arthur Kales' portrait of Ruth St Denis gives dimension to a compelling artistic discourse about cultural diversity in America. This photograph was taken in 1910 just after St. Denis had finished a three-year United Kingdom dance tour of Translations, a series of decorative solo dances inspired by ethnic traditions ranging from the Middle East to Japan. Ruth St. Denis reclines in an exotic costume while smoking a cigarette. The shadow design in the background completes the intended suggestion of a faraway land, and in this image Ruth St. Denis becomes the quintessential embodiment of America's turn-of-the-century infatuation with exotica.
Ruth St. Denis is known as a fundamental innovator of modern dance in America, and is cited among other major dance figures, such as Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and Loie Fuller (1862-1928). She co-founded the influential Los Angeles dance school, Denishawn, in 1915. Dissatisfied with traditional ballet, St. Denis integrated eastern forms of movement and costume into her dance theory. Her choreography was performed in vaudeville and elite theatres alike. She sought a dance that did not merely entertain, but rather maintained a deeper spiritual and philosophical expression that was often linked to non-western traditions.
Kales' ethereal, sepia-toned representation not only supports St. Denis' 'exotic' identity but also exemplifies fundamental aspects of pictorialist photography. Any personal artistic expression could be seen in the manipulation of photographed image. Thus, there was a heavy emphasis on image-altering methods, such as soft focus, special filters and lens coatings and new darkroom processes.
Thus, this picture attests to the most fashionable social and aesthetic practices of this time period. Kales' portrait captures the fabricated foreignness of St. Denis' persona and dance theory while asserting the formal tenets of pictorialism.”
© Kayla Erickson (SC '10), 2008-2009
Time Period: 1910s-1965s (?)
“William Mortensen was the antichrist of early 20th century art photography. An innovative technician with an outre' artistic sensibility, he disbelieved in verisimilitude as an end of photography so manipulated his negatives radically and irrationally.”
© David S. Shields
THE COMMAND TO LOOK:
The Story of William Mortensen
“Albert W. Mortensen—this is what is recorded as his name on the Utah 1900 census record—was born in 1897 in Park City, Utah.(5) His family moved to Salt Lake City when he was 11 years old. He was interested in painting and was trained by his high school teacher, and possibly took lessons before that. He was inducted into the army in 1916 and discharged in 1918. It is unclear where he served or what he did, however in one of his notebooks he mentions being in California.(6) Upon his release from the army he says in The Command To Look that he attended Arts Students League in New York City. Their records are incomplete for those years and so there is no documentation of his attendance. However, it is clear from the subject matter and dates in his sketch book and his etchings that he spent 1919 and at least part of 1920 in New York City. He traveled to Greece in 1920 and returned the same year. Traveling back to Utah, he took a job at his alma mater in Salt Lake City and taught art. By the end of the school year he left his job at East Side High School, and in 1921 traveled by train escorting a friend's sister to Hollywood [the sister was Fay Wray].(7)
Mortensen evidently knew someone in Los Angeles who put him in contact with film director King Vidor.(8) He worked in the burgeoning film industry alternately painting scenery, making masks, and engaging in various film art-related services. Simultaneously he began work at Western Costume Company photographing silent film stars in costume.
In 1924 he married Courtney Crawford, a librarian, and moved into her home on Hollywood Blvd. This is also the address of his studio that he maintained in Hollywood from 1925-1931.(9) In 1926 he worked for Cecil B. DeMille on the King of Kings, shooting all the stills with a small format (3-1/4" x 4-1/4") camera during filming (this is purported to be a first, since most still work was done using a large format camera posing the actors after filming had ceased). Also, during this time (1925-1931) he began to enter and show in photographic salons both here and abroad. His work was published in Photograms of the Year, American Annual of Photography, Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, and others.
The final phase of his life took place in Laguna Beach, California (1931-1965). Why he moved to Laguna is a mystery. He says that it was due to the depression and changes in Hollywood brought about by sound.(10) Fay Wray gives us a different possibility in On The Other Hand. In 1928 photographs of her (taken years before by Mortensen) appeared in a movie magazine. Evidently they were not nude but were immodest for the time, and the pictures were run with an account of her unchaperoned trip to Hollywood seven years earlier. Her mother and her husband, along with Paramount's publicity arm, pressured Mortensen to sign a document denying the pictures and the story.(11) Perhaps, this helped push him to seek a new locale.
He moved to Laguna Beach in 1931 and opened a studio on Pacific Coast Hwy (then called South Coast Hwy)—the first of four spaces that he rented over the next thirty years.(12) His school, the Mortensen School Of Photography, officially opened in 1931 and always occupied the same address as his studio.(13) Although, according to students I talked with, he at times maintained a darkroom at home as well.
In 1933 Mortensen married Myrdith Monaghan and met George Dunham who became a friend and model.(14) More importantly, 1933 is also the year when he began his long writing collaboration with Dunham, which didn't end until 1960 with an incomplete manuscript titled Composition.(15) The 32-year collaboration yielded 9 books in multiple editions and printings, 4 pamphlets, and over 100 articles in magazines and newspapers. Both Myrdith and Dunham proved to be his most significant models, helping him to produce his most important body of work. The school remained open until a short time after his death from leukemia in 1965.(16)
Mortensen was a restless and relentless darkroom technician. He invented his own texture screens, an abrasion tone process (which employed the use of a razor blade to carefully scrape away emulsion off the print, and used first pumice and then in later years switched to soft carbon pencil to change the tone), the Metalchrome process (a chemical color process that utilized chemical toning—locally applied— to turn black and white prints into color prints), and a non-silver pigment process that incorporated two colors registered together to change a black-and-white negative into a color print. He was also master of the bromoil and bromoil transfer processes and the paper negative. During all this he kept his hand in etching processes, learned from his early days in New York.(17) There are some small prints at CCP, showing that Mortensen also experimented with poured or painted-on developer on film. He then made prints using these as a background, working figures and objects into the abstract pattern.(18)
He was also an early photographic entrepreneur. Using his fame created from his publications, he marketed his school, his texture screens, an abrasion tone kit, a viewing glass (helping the photographer to see in monochrome), and developed a mass-production approach for sales of his images.(19) He was, in a sense, photography's first superstar, leveraging the celebrity he created for himself to merchandise products bearing his name. Later, others cashed-in on his created celebrity by producing his texture screens and reprinting two books, Monsters and Madonnas and The Command To Look, after his death.(20)
© Larry Lytle
Monsters & Madonnas: Looking at William Mortensen
“William Mortensen (1897 - 1965) was one of the most well known and respected photographers in America in the thirties. He worked primarily in Southern California as a Hollywood and studio portraitist and later taught his methods and ideas to younger generations. (See Larry Lytle's online biography of Mortensen.) Mortensen's obscurity today is mainly due to his championing of Pictorialism, a force within photography that promoted retouching, hand-worked negatives, chemical washes, and an artistic, painterly approach that soon faded with the advance of modernism.”
© Cary Loren
In Defense of William Mortensen & the C.C.P.
“John Szarkowski, in a review of the book,William Mortensen: A Revival, published by the Center for Creative Photography, chides the Center for spending resources and talents upon a photographer not worth attention (Art on Paper, 5.5 (May, June 1999): 69-71). As one who closely followed the famous 1934 Camera Craft debate between the stalwarts of the f.64 Group, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, versus the guidon bearer of the Pictorialists, William Mortensen, I must spring to the defense of the C.C.P. The book is a valuable contribution to photographic history.
Szarkowski questions essayist A.D. Coleman's statement that Mortensen was "indisputably…an influential figure in his own day….and thus deserves a place in [Beaumont] Newhall's history."
He goes on to argue that he is not aware of any "good notice [about Mortensen] from any photographer of substance since he published his first photograph more than three-quarters of a century ago." But a direct line of influence from one photographer to another, as Szarkowski seems to require, is not necessary. Art is an expression of culture, and cultures are very complex with myriad reciprocal influences at work, not all of them obvious. In the new field of planetary discovery, the wobble of a star may indicate existence of an unseen body.
. . .
I would suggest the Camera Craft debate at least helped define issues. Mortensen drove Ansel Adams and Edward Weston to distraction. Ansel had conniptions that were a delight to behold. They wished him dead. Mortensen was a bit more gracious. Here was a strange body of sufficient mass encircling these two most highly regarded figures to make them wobble. Is it not within the Center's responsibilities to attempt to explore the nature of any such mysterious force? I suggest Mortensen, even as anomaly, is a figure worth study and should not be set aside as irrelevant.”
© by Ira H. Latour
The life and times of William Herbert Mortensen: United States, 1897-1965 - photographer
“1944--World War II was raging and things didn't look too good for the United States. I wasn't old enough to go into the service. Here I was going to Laguna Beach to study photography with the great William Mortensen. This one man had photographed every movie star of any importance and he was going to teach me how it was done.
The second day of school we had a model- and she was naked! Plus, I was supposed to photograph her. Here I was a kid from Nebraska, only 16 years old, and had never before seen a naked lady. This had to be the most difficult day of my young life. Looking back, I guess the gods were on my side that day because it was also the first time this model had ever appeared naked before a camera.
Mr. Mortensen realized the difficulty and the uncomfortable position we were both in and explained that nakedness is an awkward situation. It is like being in a dark room without any clothes and suddenly the lights come on and there is a stranger of the opposite sex looking at you. Nudity on the other hand is a beautiful situation. It's like skinny-dipping with your friends on a beautiful summer day at your favorite swimming hole. We talked at great length about the beautiful nudes done by the great artists of the world. Before long, the model and I were very comfortable with our newfound situations.
Yes, I was just a kid. But I had been to the Ray School of Photography in Chicago, had taken the correspondence course from the New York Institute of Photography and had learned a lot about photography. I knew that there were three types of lighting--the Loop, Butterfly and the Triangle. Now, this man Mortensen was telling me there are five types and they are called the Basic, Plastic, Semi-Silhouette, Dynamic, and the Contour. He also said we expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows. He talked about Gamma Infinity. Hey! Wait a minute! What's going on? Was he playing with my mind? Then he showed me how it all works.”
© J. Stephen Gillette
PSA Journal, June, 1997
Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather
Time Period: 1910s-1958
“Edward Henry Weston was born March 24, 1886, in Highland Park, Illinois. He spent the majority of his childhood in Chicago where he attended Oakland Grammar School. He began photographing at the age of sixteen after receiving a Bull’s Eye #2 camera from his father. Weston’s first photographs captured the parks of Chicago and his aunt’s farm. In 1906, following the publication of his first photograph in Camera and Darkroom, Weston moved to California. After working briefly as a surveyor for San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, he began working as an itinerant photographer. He peddled his wares door to door photographing children, pets and funerals. Realizing the need for formal training, in 1908 Weston returned east and attended the Illinois College of Photography in Effington, Illinois. He completed the 12-month course in six months and returned to California. In Los Angeles, he was employed as a retoucher at the George Steckel Portrait Studio. In 1909, Weston moved on to the Louis A. Mojoiner Portrait Studio as a photographer and demonstrated outstanding abilities with lighting and posing.) Weston married his first wife, Flora Chandler in 1909. He had four children with Flora; Edward Chandler (1910), Theodore Brett (1911), Laurence Neil (1916) and Cole (1919). In 1911, Weston opened his own portrait studio in Tropico, California. This would be his base of operation for the next two decades. Weston became successful working in soft-focus, pictorial style; winning many salons and professional awards. Weston gained an international reputation for his high key portraits and modern dance studies. Articles about his work were published in magazines such as American Photography, Photo Era and Photo Miniature. Weston also authored many articles himself for many of these publications. In 1912, Weston met photographer Margrethe Mather in his Tropico studio. Mather becomes his studio assistant and most frequent model for the next decade. Mather had a very strong influence on Weston. He would later call her, “the first important woman in my life.” Weston began keeping journals in 1915 that came to be known as his "Daybooks." They would chronicle his life and photographic development into the 1930’s.
In 1922 Weston visited the ARMCO Steel Plant in Middletown, Ohio. The photographs taken here marked a turning point in Weston’s career. During this period, Weston renounced his Pictorialism style with a new emphasis on abstract form and sharper resolution of detail. The industrial photographs were true straight images: unpretentious, and true to reality. Weston later wrote, “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.” Weston also traveled to New York City this same year, where he met Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler and Georgia O’Keefe.
In 1923 Weston moved to Mexico City where he opened a photographic studio with his apprentice and lover Tina Modotti. Many important portraits and nudes were taken during his time in Mexico. It was also here that famous artists; Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Orozco hailed Weston as the master of 20th century art.
After moving back to California in 1926, Weston began his work for which he is most deservedly famous: natural forms, close-ups, nudes, and landscapes. Between 1927 and 1930, Weston made a series of monumental close-ups of seashells, peppers, and halved cabbages, bringing out the rich textures of their sculpture-like forms. Weston moved to Carmel, California in 1929 and shot the first of many photographs of rocks and trees at Point Lobos, California. Weston became one of the founding members of Group f/64 in 1932 with Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham and Sonya Noskowiak. The group chose this optical term because they habitually set their lenses to that aperture to secure maximum image sharpness of both foreground and distance. 1936 marked the start of Weston’s series of nudes and sand dunes in Oceano, California, which are often considered some of his finest work. Weston became the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship for experimental work in 1936. Following the receipt of this fellowship Weston spent the next two years taking photographs in the West and Southwest United States with assistant and future wife Charis Wilson. Later, in 1941 using photographs of the East and South Weston provided illustrations for a new edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Weston began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in 1946 and in 1948 shot his last photograph of Point Lobos. In 1946 the Museum of Modern Art, New York featured a major retrospective of 300 prints of Weston’s work. Over the next 10 years of progressively incapacitating illness, Weston supervised the printing of his prints by his sons, Brett and Cole. His 50th Anniversary Portfolio was published in 1952 with photographs printed by Brett. An even larger printing project took place between1952 and 1955. Brett printed what was known as the Project Prints. A series of 8 -10 prints from 832 negatives considered Edward's lifetime best. The Smithsonian Institution held
the show, “The World of Edward Weston” in 1956 paying tribute to his remarkable accomplishments in American photography. Edward Weston died on January 1, 1958 at his home, Wildcat Hill, in Carmel, California. Weston's ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Pebbly Beach at Point Lobos.”
(b. Emma Caroline Youngren March 4, 1886 - d. December 25, 1952)
“was a photographer who, through her exploration of light and form, helped to transform photography into a modern art. In her youth she may have worked as a prostitute.
Mather was associated with Edward Weston. They were close companions who collaborated on many photographs. His fame continues to overshadow Mather's considerable work from the period of their collaboration and afterwards. Mather and Weston met in 1913 and worked together until he departed for Mexico in 1923 with Tina Modotti. The photographs Mather made, both alone and in collaboration with Weston, helped set the stage for the shift from pictorialism (softly focused images giving the photograph a romantic quality) to modernity. Many of her photographs were more experimental than those being produced by her contemporaries.
Mather found a dear friend and model in a young man named William Justema, who would later write about her in his memoir. Her last exhibition was held in 1931 at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. This exhibition consisted of a group of images in which objects such as seashells, chains, glass eyes, and combs were arranged in repetitive patterns to demonstrate how photography could be used to create prototypes for fabric designs. Mather's work is featured in the book, Margrethe Mather & Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration (W.W. Norton & Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2001).”
- William Mortensen, self-portrait
- Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather, 1922 Imogen Cunningham 01
- Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather, 1922 Imogen Cunningham 02
- Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather, 1923 Imogen Cunningham 01
- Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather, 1923 Imogen Cunningham 02
- Margrethe Mather on Horsehair Sofa, 1920 Weston
- Margrethe Mather, 1912 Weston
- Margrethe Mather, 1920 Weston
- Alice Jeannette Seaman, 1917 Weston
- Alice Leone Moats, 1924 Weston
- Anna Q Nilsson Mortensen profdash
- Bertha Wardell, 1927 Weston 01
- Bertha Wardell, 1927 Weston 02
- Bertha Wardell, 1927 Weston 03
- Bertha Wardell, 1927 Weston 04