Second, it owes so much to his friend, collaborator, model and ghost writer George Dunham that it is a bit naughty to credit Mortensen as the sole author. Together they had a wonderful turn of phrase. Consider for example their description of the prudy-nudy nude who “disposes of her hands with such accuracy and cowers in such an ecstasy of modesty that the blushing observer feels a kindred embarrassment.”
Third, the “monsters” are not his famous grotesques, as many imagine, but what he calls “the machine”: the camera as the focus of consumerist and technical obsession, as master rather than servant. As he says, "The Monster, symbol of all that is mechanical, technical and mathematical in photography has its opposite pole in another symbol, one of infinitely greater antiquity . . . the Madonna."
Monsters and Madonnas is an attempt to reconcile these two poles. It is not always successful, but it is still well worth reading, and in the newer edition the pictures are worth looking at even if you don't read the text. Mortensen is far less well known than he should be, as a result of a vindictive campaign against him by Ansel Adams and his cronies, who hated the way he manipulated pictures, combination printed them, used pencil-work and generally went as far as is readily imaginable from their self-declared "purism".
Some of his work seems very old-fashioned nowadays, but some of it is curiously up-to-date in a digital world; and it is well worth seeking out.
Go to Books
Go to Index
Go to Home Page