Lavish retrospective of grotesque, occult, and erotic images by forgotten photographer William Mortensen


I love his work but some of his written ideas are a little odd.

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This is a wonderful book, I was just leafing through my copy last night. Nicely produced, it includes some interesting essays by Mortensen and some fine examples of his work. I was hoping it would include some of his work that I hadn’t seen before, but if you’re already familiar with him there is little new here. The images are clearer than many reproductions I’ve seen. But they would have been better on a higher-quality, glossy stock.

At least Feral House did a fairly respectable job this time. Their republished version of “The Command to Look” was not as well produced. The print quality was a little suspect, with tone that changed from page to page. And I don’t care how much Anton LaVey was influenced by Mortensen, tacking on a tangential essay to Mortensen’s work was not a good idea. It seemed like a cheap ploy for PR through notoriety.

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In regard to the claim that there being “little new” in American Grotesque: there are at least 75 never-before-printed images anywhere… so this is absolutely a false assertion. Further, “The Command to Look” was printed as a separate book in its original format, a decision made to respect William Mortensen’s aesthetic decisions.

Perhaps this commenter is not interested in Mortensen’s occult fixations, but it’s a huge part of Mortensen’s life and influence. He was good a friend with occult researcher Manly Palmer Hall. Further, his influence on Anton LaVey is seen in his dedication to William Mortensen in the Introduction to The Satanic Bible. The book has been acknowledged by others for its great design and print quality.


I appreciate that as the publisher of this book you would want to defend it. It’s worth defending, as it is well done. I did not mean to imply otherwise. However, I will stick by my initial views.

Although the book may contain 75 never-before-published works, they do not contribute significantly to one’s knowledge of Mortensen’s work if you are already familiar. Some of them are variations on a theme, such as the expanded series of “Lazarus” or “Human Relations.” Others are from works in progress, the finished results of which are already known to fans of Mortensen. Or they are stills and portrait work from his time working for the movie studios. I guess I should have been more clear in my comment, I was hoping for more images with an occult theme. And there were no new works in that vein that I hadn’t seen before.

As to “The Command to Look,” I just want to make it clear I have no issue with occult subjects, I find them very interesting. You mention that the book was published in its original format to respect Mortensen’s aesthetic decisions. That’s commendable. However I doubt Mortensen’s vision for his book on photography and composition techniques included an essay on his influence on an occult leader.

Mortensen was the nemesis of Ansel Adams, and represented everything Ansel was trying to get away from. This is very well discussed in Mary Alinder’s new book on Ansel and the group of photographers who came together in the early 1930s in Oakland, CA to fight against pictorialism. I highly recommend Mary’s book!

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