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William Mortensen (American, 1897–1965)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 14.7 cm (7 1/4 x 5 13/16 in.)
Frame: 43.2 x 35.6 cm (17 x 14 in.)
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1975
Not on view
Mortensen began his career as a Hollywood studio photographer, turning out glamour portraits of stars such as Clara Bow and Jean Harlow. In the early 1930s he established a photography school in Laguna Beach, where he refined and promoted his own aesthetic—an eccentric blend of late Pictorialism, Surrealism, and Hollywood kitsch. Restlessly inventive in the darkroom, he employed a wide variety of techniques, including combination printing, heavy retouching, and physical and chemical abrasion of the negative. At times, his use of textured printing screens gave his photographs the appearance of etchings or lithographs, as in this audaciously grotesque picture, which was prompted, according the artist, by an overcharged long-distance telephone bill.