William Mortensen’s Witches make it to Australia for mid-winter maddness @ MONA Tasmania

William Mortensen (1897 – 1965) – “A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft and Demonology” The complete 1924 series. On view at the Museum of Old and New in Tasmania through 2018 courtesy of The Museum of Everything.


William Mortensen Reconsidered by A. D. Coleman

The inclusion of William Mortensen in our current understand- ing of the history of photography marks an end to the long-term injustice done to the man and germinal work.

Anathematized, ostracized, and eventually purged from the dominant narratives of 20th-century photography due to the biases of a small but influential cluster of historians, curators, and photographers, Mortensen plunged into an obscurity so deep that by 1980 most considered him unworthy of even a footnote. Yet the approach to the medium that he advocated, under the rubric of “pictorialism,” included practices central to photography of the past four decades: events staged for the camera, image text combinations, photomontage, “alternative processes,” and more.

Morensen not only exemplified those tendencies in his own widely exhibited and published works but argued vigorously for them in cogent, controversial articles that appeared in the photo magazines of his day, therein contending articulately and persuasively with such vehement antagonists as Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall. Furthermore, he invented several unusual darkroom processes, devised and marketed some printmaking tools, ran a school for photographers in Laguna Beach, CA and authored a series of highly regarded tutorial texts that guided several generations of practitioners.

So, inevitably, the cycle of appreciation and disregard that affects art and artists in all media returned him to our attention. Regrettably, however, the neglect of Mortensen and his contri- butions in the last years of his life and for several decades thereafter resulted in the apparently haphazard dispersal of his archive: master prints, work prints, negatives, manuscripts, correspondence, notes… scattered and, for the most part, presumed lost. So we must cherish those salvaged bits and pieces that survive. If the critical literature on this notable figure seems thin, we can attribute that in good part to the scarcity of primary source materials. The recovery of any substantial slice, such as these works from the estate of Hereward Carrington, brings us a step closer to grasping the full scope of his work as a picture-maker and the relation of his images to his ideas.


Galleriest and curator Stephen Romano with artist Joe Coleman at the opening of Morbid Anatomy Museum’s “Opus Hypnagogia” July 2015 with William Mortensen’s “A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft”.

William Mortensen appears to have given well-known British-born American investigator of psychic phenomena and author Hereward Carrington these photographs, either directly or through their mutual friend Manly Hall.. They were found in Carrington’s study amongst a pile of papers on his desk by some contractors who were owed money. One of these contractors recognized the name “William Mortensen” as being something of value and agreed to take the works as payment. After being authenticated by an expert on the subject of Mortensen, the works langusied until in 2014 they decided to post one on an aution website. Mere coincidence would have gallerist and curator Stephen Romano online at that moment whom received a notice of the listing. Immediately recognizing what this potentially could be, Romano contacted the owner immediately and asked him to take down the auction, whom send further examples of the series. Romano, an avid collector and Mortensen enthusiast, acquired all of the works, had them framed, produced an accompanying catalog and brought them out to the Metro Show in NYC January 2014, where they immediately caught the attention of the New York Times, where the first person who walked into the booth, the director of a European Foundation, saw them aquired the entire series. The series was later featured in the exhibition “William Mortensen: American Grotesque” at Stephen Romano Gallery October 15 – December 31 2014, as well as the exhibition “Opus Hypnagogia” at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn 2015. The signature photograph “Ho Ho Off To Sabbot” was featured in the exhibition “Language of Birds” curated by Pam Grossman .

William Mortensen “Ho Ho Off To Sabbot” circa 1926 in the exhibition “Language of Birds” curated by Pam Grossman.


The series is also illustrated in the hard cover book “William Mortensen: American Grotesque” one of the most celebrated art books of 2014, published by Feral House.

William Mortensen “Ho Ho Off To Sabbot” circa 1926 in the exhibition “Language of Birds” curated by Pam Grossman.

also see

Beauties and Priests, among other Beasts: William Mortensen’s Images of Witches, Demons and Sadistic Inquisitors

by Tom Patterson

see full article and more @ LEXICON MAG

William Mortensen “A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft” at The Museum of Old and New, Tasmania photo by Marta Ticha

“A Pictorial Compendium of Withcraft” by William Mortensen was first exhibited at the Metro Show NYC January 2014. The series was next exhibited in the exhibiton “William Mortensen: American Grotesque” at Stephen Romano Gallery October – January 2015, and again at The Morbid Anatomy Museum Brooklyn July – November 2015 in the exhibtion “Opus Hypnagogia” curated by Stephen Romano. Fragments of the series are on display at the Museum of Old and New Tasmania MONA through 2018.

Selection of the series were shown in the exhibtions “In Missa Interfectionis” and “Magica Sexualis” at Stephen Romano Gallery.


The Stephen Romano Gallery  and LEXICON MAG gratefully acknowledge The Museum of Everything, London and their curatorial custodianship of this series.


Barry William Hale

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