Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2002/03/23

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Subject: Re: [Leica] May I recommend?
From: "Mike Durling" <>
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2002 23:04:46 -0500
References: <>

Ahh, Mortensen!  I've had "Mortensen on the Negative" since the 60's and
still refer to it from time to time.  I don't know if his theories about
development and exposure hold up with 35mm and today's films.  I think not
but I can't help thinking that there may be something there.  Basically he
recommends slight underexposure and greatly increased development to get the
most out of photographic materials.  There is an article at that talks about this and goes into detail
about things that Mortensen leaves out, like agitation technique.  Finish
reading the book first. (I hope you don't mind that I gave away the ending!)

Ansel Adams called him the Antichrist and his pictures certainly are at the
opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum from Adams's.  Some of the more
theatrical ones are a bit too lurid for my taste.  There are a couple of
good articles on Mortensen at

Mike D

- ----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, March 23, 2002 11:59 AM
Subject: [Leica] May I recommend?

> A book I am currently reading is William Mortensen's "The Negative" (1940
> edition).  It is very interesting technical reading and at least the
> I have shows the entire process, from start to finish, equipment selection
> to printing.  Although my edition of the book was released when a
> medium-sized camera was still bigger "2-1/4 by 3-1/4 inches," and Leicas
> were not accepted at all for most types of serious photography, he did
> the possibility that one day miniature (i.e., 35mm) cameras and film could
> produce great results.  It is well written, especially for a photo book,
> has the wit that is so lacking in today's Anchell-style books (whose
> greatest and only joke was "Urinol"...)
> Mortensen, FYI, was a Hollywood photographer who was very famous for his
> high-key portraits of actors and actresses in the 1920s and 1930s and his
> pictorial portraits later.  He found himself marginalized in the 1930s,
> things became more prudish.  After the war, a somewhat bitter man, he
> a photo school and began to teach photographers (on the GI Bill) how to
> the more cheese-cake glamour pictures of women (he criticizes there
> and his pictures, from an artistic standpoint, are orders of magnitude
> better than anything from the last 30 years).
> Mortensen was really talented, blending photography, oil painting (both
> lighting and sometimes even the art through paper negatives), and even
> photocompositing (seventy years before Photoshop made it practical).
> Definitely someone to check out.  You can see a lot of his shots in the
> Eastman Collection web site.
> Cheers
> ------------
> Dante Stella
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