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William Mortensen miscellaneous acquisitions collection

Identifier: AG 191

Scope and Contents

Collection consists of materials collected from separate sources at different times. The collection is divided into eight series: Research on Mortensen negatives; The Command to Look; Publications by Mortensen; Publications about Mortensen; Auction records for Mortensen photographs and books; Larry Lytle research materials; R. H. Cochrane, Jr. materials; Richard Bennett+ notebook.

Subgroup One, Research on Mortensen Negatives, contains correspondence and research materials collected by CCP archivist Amy Rule. Includes an inventory of the 55 gelatin silver nitrate film negatives at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House. These negatives evidently were acquired from the Louis Walton Sipley American Museum of Photography.

Subgroup Two, The Command to Look, consists of two editions of Mortensen’s book, one a damaged copy of the 1937 edition: San Francisco: Camera Craft, third printing November 1943; the second is a photocopy of a republished edition: Los Angeles: Jacques de Langre, 1967.

Subgroup Three, Publications by Mortensen, consists of The Female Figure by William Mortensen (Newport Beach, CA: Jay Curtis Publications, 1954) [photocopy]; How to Pose the Model by Mortensen and George Dunham (3rd edition) [copy of dust jacket]; The Texture Screen by William Mortensen (Newport Beach, CA: Jay Curtis Publications, 1954) [photocopy]. Miscellaneous articles including photocopies of articles in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine (May – July 1941); “The Hermits of Baltimore,” Camera magazine 78:2 (February 1953), 24-31, 88.

Subgroup Four, Publications About Mortensen, contains photocopies of photographs in International Photographer (December 1940-December 1943); Miscellaneous articles about Mortensen; Miscellaneous articles on related subjects; Publications by Deborah Irmas; Dissertation on Mortensen: The Manner of Mortensen: Aesthetic Communication and the Construction of Metaphysical Realities by Edward Montgomery Clift. University of Pennsylvania, 1992. (129 pp.)

Subgroup Five, Auction Records for Mortensen Photographs and Books, contains photocopies of records in auction catalogs, 1989.

Subgroup Six, Research Materials Collected by Larry Lytle, Mortensen Biographer, 1990s, contains copies of public records related to Mortensen’s life such as the record of his birth in 1897, Los Angeles County census records, passport application, World War I draft registration card, Orange County voters registration file, Salt Lake City directory pages, and other official public records; Bibliography complied by Lytle in 1997; Lytle photographs of Mortensen addresses in Laguna Beach; Mortensen School brochures (copies); Lytle comments on the contents of the Gray Silva Collection at CCP; Chronology of Mortensen’s addresses, 1932-1966; Transcription of telephone interview between Lytle and Robert Balcomb, 1998; 16th Annual Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach (copy; Cecil B. DeMille’s Production The King of Kings by Jeanie Macpherson, [undated] (copy; The Mode in Costume by R. Turner Wilcox, 1948; with inscription, “4-15-50 Bill Mortensen with sincere regards – Kelly L. Taulbee” [pages possibly marked by Mortensen; Four copy negatives of Mortensen images, [undated]; Photocopies of magazine articles, 1940s-1950s; photocopies of Mortensen photographs; Hood Medal, 1949 (copy).

Miscellaneous research notes from Larry Lytle.

Biographical materials related to Mortensen and Dunham, including photographs of grave stones, marriage certificate of Myrdith and William Mortensen, death certificates of Myrdith and Dunham, notes and copies of pages from city directories.

Art sources for Mortensen subjects. Copies of illustrations in books and magazines showing possible sources for Mortensen’s subjects and compositions.

“The Command to Look: The Story of William Mortensen, Parts 1, 2, 3,” by Larry Lytle. Printouts from the online journal The Scream (8 May 2002), extensively illustrated with scans of Mortensen’s photographs.

“The Illustrative Photographs of William Mortensen Used in Camera Craft Publications,” by Larry Lytle, 1997.

George Dunham: Miscellaneous copies of official records, notes, and emails related to the education of Dunham including proof that he attended Harvard University, 1921-22.

Dunham: Documents from Dunham’s career at Pomona College including his writings in student publications, 1917-1921.

Dunham: Copies of newspaper clippings, emails and other documentation of Dunham’s life in Laguna Beach, 1927-65.

Laguna Beach research materials, research materials related to Mortensen’s career in Laguna Beach. Copies of original materials in the Laguna Beach Historical Society. Supplied with the assistance of LBHS staff member Jane Janz. Also includes copies of articles by Mortensen, George Dunham, Paul Outerbridge, and others writing in the South Coast News and other publications about Mortensen’s studio and the Mortensen School of Photography in Laguna Beach, the Laguna artists’ scene, the Festival of the Arts and Pageant of the Masters, the Festival Photographic Contest, and publication of Mortensen’s photographs and books. Of special note are clippings related to the 1956 claim by the U.S. Postal Service authorities that Mortensen’s book The Female Figure was obscene.

Miscellaneous Larry Lytle research materials, including copies of The Camera magazine (1944-1946), newspaper article about Lytle lecture in Laguna Beach (2006), and various research notes.

Miscellaneous materials documenting the photographic career of Larry Lytle. These include they annual calendars (Destination 2008, Sandwich Exotica 2006, Fun & Games 2005, Tintypes 2004, Inventions of the Twentieth Century 2000, Magic & Illusion 1999, and The Best Parts 1998.

Subgroup Seven, R. H. Cochrane, Jr. Materials, contains negatives by Robert H. Cochrane, Jr., a Mortensen Metal Chrome Student, 1939.

Subgroup Eight, Richard Bennett Notebook, undated, contains a note book created by Richard Bennett, student of William Mortensen, undated (ca. 147 pages); includes extensive notes on Mortensen’s photographic techniques and materials involved in the pigment, bromoil, and texturescreen processes. The notebook was deaccessioned from the Salt Lake City Art Center Library, 2005 and donated to the Center.

Subgroup Nine, Photographs by William Mortensen, features an undated photograph of a man in monk robes, signed “Wescosco Studio William Mortensen”; inscription: “to my friend Mr. Dellarowe from Eugene H. Tracy.”


  • 1937-2004


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

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Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement

Biographical Note

Albert W. Mortensen—this is what is recorded as his name on the Utah 1900 census record—was born in 1897 in Park City, Utah. His family moved to Salt Lake City when he was 11 years old. He was interested in painting and was trained by his high school teacher, and possibly took lessons before that. He was inducted into the army in 1916 and discharged in 1918. Upon his release from the army, Mortensen spent 1919 and at least part of 1920 in New York City, possibly attending the Arts Students League while there. He traveled to Greece in 1920 and returned the same year. Traveling back to Utah, he took a job teaching art at his alma mater in Salt Lake City. By the end of the school year he left his job at East Side High School, and in 1921 traveled by train escorting a friend's sister to Hollywood. (The sister was Fay Wray.)

Mortensen evidently knew someone in Los Angeles who put him in contact with film director King Vidor. He worked in the burgeoning film industry alternately painting scenery, making masks, and engaging in various film art-related services. Simultaneously he began work at Western Costume Company photographing silent film stars in costume.

In 1924 he married Courtney Crawford, a librarian, and moved into her home on Hollywood Boulevard, where he maintained a studio from 1925-1931. Also, during this time, he began to enter and show in photographic salons both here and abroad. His work was published in various journals and newspapers, including Photograms of the Year, American Annual of Photography, Vanity Fair, and the Los Angeles Times.

Mortensen moved to Laguna Beach in 1931 and opened a studio on the Pacific Coast Highway (then called South Coast Highway)—the first of four spaces that he rented over the next thirty years. His school, the Mortensen School of Photography, officially opened in 1931 and always occupied the same address as his studio.

In 1933 Mortensen married Myrdith Monaghan and met George Dunham who became a friend and model. More importantly, 1933 is also the year when he began his long writing collaboration with Dunham, which didn't end until 1960 with an incomplete manuscript titled Composition. The 32-year collaboration yielded 9 books in multiple editions and printings, 4 pamphlets, and over 100 articles in magazines and newspapers. Both Myrdith and Dunham proved to be his most significant models, helping him to produce his most important body of work. The school remained open until a short time after his death from leukemia in 1965.


4.5 Linear Feet (seven boxes)

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Materials related to the life and career of William Mortensen (1897-1965), photographer, author, and teacher.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Subgroup 1: Correspondence and research materials on Mortensen negatives
  2. Subgroup 2: The Command to Look
  3. Subgroup 3: Publications by Mortensen
  4. Subseries 1: Monographs
  5. Subseries 2: Periodicals
  6. Subgroup 4: Publications about Mortensen
  7. Subgroup 5: Auction records for Mortensen photographs and books
  8. Subgroup 6: Research materials collected by Larry Lytle, Mortensen biographer, 1990s
  9. Subgroup 7: R. H. Cochrane, Jr. Materials
  10. Subgroup 8: Richard Bennett notebook, n.d.
  11. Subgroup 9: Photography by William Mortensen
  12. Subgroup 10: Other materials: Rubaiyat by William Mortensen

Custodial History

Subgroup 6, Gift of Larry Lytle, 2010

Subgroup 7, Gift of Elivio and Janet Serrano, 2007

Subgroup 8, Gift of James Swenson, 2005

Subgroup 9, Gift of Theresa Bitondo, 2016

Related Materials

The Center has several archival collections containing materials documenting the life and career of William Mortensen. Researchers are invited to consult the:

William Mortensen Archive (AG147)

William Mortensen & George Dunham Collection (AG43)

In addition, CCP has collections acquired from a number of Mortensen’s students:

Robert Balcomb (AG180)

Anson Beman (AG185)

Ralph D. Hosenpud (AG227)

Ben Maxey (AG112)

Grey Silva (AG134)

CCP also has collections related to other photographers from the Pictorialist tradition:

Paul Anderson (AG40)

Aubrey Bodine (AG139)

Adolf Fassbender (AG168)

Processing Information

Amy Rule did the preliminary organization in May 2003 and prepared a draft finding aid in August 2009.

Finding aid updated by Paige Hilman in February 2018

William Mortensen Miscellaneous Acquisitions Collection, 1937-2004
Finding aid created by Paige Hilman, 2018
© 2019
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid encoded in English

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States