Ansel Adams called photographer William Mortensen "the Antichrist"


A photograph is rarely just a photograph these days, seen without filters or retouching.

There is no era where a photograph was “just” a photograph. The development process is just that- a process. Artistic vision comes into play with how you process the photograph, beyond the decisions you make when you take the photograph.

I am perpetually annoyed by the purists who pretend that there’s a higher level of honesty in darkroom manipulations versus, say, levelling a digital photograph.


Mortenson was discussed warmly but critically, and at length, in Judy Seigel’s short run (9 issue) journal, The World Journal of Post-Factory Photography. Issue #1 can be downloaded, and the rest can be ordered, from here

1 Like

Reading the article, it sounds more like the stuff that annoyed Adams et al. was the fantasy aspects of Mortensen’s photography, not the actual photographic techniques that he used. But I may be mis-reading. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to dislike somebody’s work, but still appreciate the techniques they used to create that work.

1 Like

I have stared in awe, standing in front of some of Adam’s original prints, wondering ‘how the f**k’ he managed to get those tones of gray. I couldn’t never get tired of them. I’ve yet to see any reproduction of Adams’s prints that matched the originals’ peerless qualities.

Call me a purist if you want, but I’m completely unmoved by the works of and by people with ‘artistic vision’ but no craft, no mastery of their medium or of their chosen field. Yawn. I’m so bored with digital manipulations.

I’m off to read the criticisms and replies, so this may be premature, but at first glance, Mortensen used photo technology and techniques to essentially make paintings reflecting a tired, old, artsy-fartsy European ethos. On the other hand, Adams, along with Weston, showed us what photography is, what it can be. They revolutionized the art form and changed the way we all look at the world.

As far as Adams using Mortensen’s techniques, I’d say that Adams owes much, much more to Weston’s patient, careful research into exposure, and he polished that research into a diamond.

Edited to add:
If this had been created by digital/photoshopping techniques, it wouldn’t be a remarkable photo. It wouldn’t have reflected Dali’s work at all - that guy was a master of his craft and a true artist.


It’s not a matter of the One True Truth. Surrealism, realism, and idealism go in and out of artistic fashion, in photography as in everything else. The community speaks to itself in a language which is common and yet constantly changes. Photographs, like any other artistic work, are all without exception artifices, as much as the cave paintings at Lascaux. Art is indeed old, but ‘tired’ may well be in the mind of the beholder.

1 Like

In comic-book movies such as Spider-Man and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, special effects merge seamlessly into the action and the monsters appear as real as humans. A photograph is rarely just a photograph these days, seen without filters or retouching. And, thanks to sites like Instagram, many of Mortensen’s painstaking techniques can now be applied with the touch of a button.

And maybe, just maybe, some of the f.64 groups techniques/aesthetics made it to gigapixel imagery.

1 Like

If the Antichrist took up photography then wouldn’t his prints all look more like this?


This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.