Laguna Art Museum spotlights the lost art of Photography & Seduction: William Mortensen's Laguna Beach

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Laguna Art Museum spotlights the lost art of Photography & Seduction: William Mortensen's Laguna Beach
Untitled (Self-Portrait as magician). Metal-Chrome print. 13 1/2 x 10 5/8 inches. 1981.007 Laguna Art Museum Collection.Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John Poyas.

LAGUNA BEACH, CA.- Laguna Art Museum is presenting Photography & Seduction: William Mortensen’s Laguna Beach on view October 1, 2022 through January 15, 2023. Honoring the Laguna Beach resident, the exhibition is one of the only museum exhibitions of his work, illustrating his ascent as one of the most famous photographers of his time.

“We look forward to presenting one of the only museum exhibitions dedicated to the work of the revered and hated William Mortensen,” said Julie Perlin Lee, Executive Director of Laguna Art Museum. “In addition to showcasing a variety of pieces throughout Mortensen’s famed career, the exhibition will be accompanied by a film narrated by Vincent Price on the artist.”

Photography & Seduction takes museum visitors on a journey through Mortensen’s career from his star-studded Hollywood beginnings to his teachings, as well as influences, processes and more. Mortensen was the first American photographer to use the grotesque in a long-term series of artwork, using tools like pens, paints, pumice and razor blades to alter images. After making a name for himself in Hollywood, Mortensen was drawn to the city of Laguna Beach where he opened a photography school and was often called “The Master'' by his students for teachings known as “The Mortensen Method.”

“What we want to accomplish is to recast Mortensen and his work,” said guest curator Larry Lytle. “We will be showing the linkage between Mortensen’s photographs with—his teaching; his books and articles; the photographic processes he invented, and the ones he appropriated, using them in a way that suited his needs: his philosophy about art and photography; his use of branded products to control how students approached using his processes; and the multitude of art influences such as paintings, movies, poetry and literature, along with his connections to personalities in a variety of fields that made an impact on him.”

American photographer William Mortensen (1897-1965) is remembered as being in contention with the popularly accepted photographic techniques of his time. Rather than presenting a pure or unadulterated image, Mortensen altered his photographs by whatever means necessary to achieve his desired effect. Mortensen was at odds with Group f64 whose members included such influential American photographers as Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. It is said that Mortensen was written out of the history of photography by his peers. Ansel Adams notably labeled Mortensen as the “Anti-Christ.” His most well-known works speak to themes relating to the grotesque; however, Mortensen focused on various subjects throughout his career.

William Mortensen established his home and the Mortensen School of Photography on October 2, 1931. The school was originally located at 1731 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. Mortensen moved the school to different locations throughout Laguna Beach until his death in 1965.

In addition to Photography & Seduction, the museum is also presenting Her Great Gift: The Nancy Dustin Wall Moure Collection on display August 28, 2022 through February 12, 2023. The exhibition features 40 artworks from the 1830s through the 1970s from Wendt Award 2022 recipient Nancy Dustin Wall Moure’s collection that traces how artists documented the California experience. Discover the earliest known oil painting made in Southern California, California plein air paintings, watercolors from the WPA period, mid-century abstractions, and explorations into Light and Space.

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