William Mortenson Photograph, ca. 1930
Appraised Value: $2,000 - $3,000 (2013)
IMAGE: 1 of 3
Appraisal Video: (2:49)
Vice President & Director of Photographs
Swann Auction Galleries
GUEST: In the mid-1960s, I was living at Big Sur and I was living with this woman. Later on, I moved back down to Los Angeles and she came to visit me and she gave me the photograph.
APPRAISER: The photograph is by William Mortensen, and he was something of a very colorful figure in the photography world. He started his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, and very involved with the theatrical aspects of the photographic figure. In 1931, he left Hollywood and opened up a studio in Laguna Beach. You had been researching Mortensen and found out a little bit about his relationship to some other photographers?
GUEST: It mentioned Ansel Adams-- that Ansel Adams didn't particularly like his method of photography.
APPRAISER: If we think about an Ansel Adams photograph and the very crisp rendering of the landscape and look at the Mortensen photograph, the background has a rather fuzzy kind of effect. What Mortensen was known for was a romantic or pictorial version of photography, which was the antithesis of what was known as the f/64 school, where the aperture is very tiny and every detail in the photograph is highly refined. With Mortensen, he liked to work with multiple negatives, so you see a sort of soft painterly representation of photography. One of the other reasons I think there was criticism of Mortensen was he made a lot of sensual images of the female figure, some of them nude. He also did a lot of surrealist studies of men and portraiture that were very symbolic and very non-f/64. The picture has been adhered to this board, and it's a kind of shellacked picture that may not be the best presentation of the photograph. In the lower area, we're seeing a little discoloration, which might be due to humidity, it might be due to sunlight. So you want to keep this picture in a nice, dark area of your home. In today's marketplace, at auction, I would estimate a photograph in this size, of this format, in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.
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