Pictorial Lighting
William Mortensen’s
1935 book

Toronto. Many well known photographers of the late 19th and early 20th century embraced the off shoot of photography called pictorialism. A bit late to the game, but a prolific photographer and author, William Mortensen joined the Hollywood fraternity in the early 1930s.

Before he embraced photography and pictorialism, Mortensen described himself as a painter (artist). He established a studio just south of Hollywood in nearby Laguna Beach.  There he exploited his knowledge of painting by emphasizing pictorialism in his portraits of Hollywood denizens. His books were published by Camera Craft Publishing Company up in San Francisco, California.

Nearly everyone has or has seen one of his many books on the theory of pictorialism photography. Included here is the back cover of Pictorial Lighting and its frontispiece (the photograph of a girl titled “Greta“). This book was first published in 1935  – I have a copy of the book’s fourth printing in May, 1937, a couple of months before I was born.

By the end of the second world war, pictorialism was passé and reality and photo journalism with its demand for accurate, gritty, and detailed photographs had taken over. Before the war, Leitz made the Thambar lens, a soft focus portrait lens ideal for pictorialism. Unfortunately, the lens and its 9mm central silver spot to block the central light rays was finicky and hard to use reliably. Post war, a few lenses were made from pre war parts, but economical demand no longer existed.

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