William Mortensen: A Revival. Center for Creative Photography, 1998, 136 pp. If it weren't for the discussion forums on photo.net, I would have never heard of William Mortensen. So, I must extend my deepest gratitude to those who have kept him alive in spirit on our message boards. This collection of essays and photographs marks the first (and hopefully not the last) serious attempt at reviving and redeeming the nearly annihilated and forgotten reputation of the late American photographer, William Mortensen (1897-1965). While it is often true that a great artist never lives to see his ship come in, the opposite was true of Mortensen: In the late 1920s through early 1940s, his star was ascending, seemingly without end. Based in Laguna Beach, California, he was photographer to many of Hollywood's most famous, working with such acclaimed figures as Fay Wray, Cecil B. deMille and Marlene Dietrich. While his "pictorialist" style of photography -- painterly and posh, relying on soft-focus and darkroom knowhow to produce luxuriously toned and finished prints -- was favoured by the stars, clearly Mortensen found himself on the wrong side of history when it came to fine arts photography. The new "purist" movement, which celebrated the "straight," unadorned, print and a more documentarian style, was afoot and found no place for the Gothic-inspired Mortensen. Except that's not quite the way it happened. For the f/64 group, spearheaded by Ansel Adams and Beaumont and Nancy Newhall (curators with the Museum of Modern Art), it was not enough merely to disagree philosophically with Mortensen. Had they done so, it would have been unlikely that Mortensen would have been forgotten and ignored so during his own lifetime and after his death, for he was something more than just another painterly salon photographer: His compositions were steeped in Gothic and Romantic traditions, his subject matter often whimsical, often bizarre, his style a strange combination of Lorenzo de Bernini, Edgar Allan Poe, Man Ray, Salvador Dali and Maxfield Parrish. In his essay, "Beyond Recall," photographer A.D. Coleman -- who is quite sympathetic to the Adams aesthetic -- presents a scathing indictment of Adams and the Newhalls, and their active campaign to completely shut out Mortensen from the elite artistic inner circles. Although he never said so, it is evident from reading these essays that Mortensen died a broken man. Even after Mortensen's death, "Saint Ansel" Adams tried to prevent Mortensen's work from being archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Fortunately, for posterity, curator James Enyeart (who, though a friend of Adams) remained objective, and was instrumental in finding a permanent home for Mortensen's artistic legacy. Sadly, little remains of his artistic output: Most of Mortensen's negaives are missing, whereabouts unknown. He also left few notes or letters. No conclusions can be drawn, but it is strongly suggested that by the time he died Mortensen felt so irrelevant to the history of photography that he never bothered to leave much behind. However, the authors and editors of this handsome book have constructed a strong foundation on which to rebuild Mortensen's reputation. Michael Dawson's essay "William Mortensen: Gothic Modernist" and "William Mortensen and George Dunham: Photography as Collaboration," by Diane Dillon go a long way in providing a narrative to Mortensen's often quiet and secretive life, and in outlining his artistic method (Dunham's collection of prints, articles and memorabilia filled in many of the gaps in the Mortensen archive). However, Dillon's treatment of the Mortensen/Dunham legacy is written entirely through the lens of the "queer theory" perspective. While I don't discount the possibility of a possible sexual relationship between the two collaborators, I think it's a bit overindulgent of the author to try and psychologically project a secret gay life onto Mortensen on what amounts to inference and inuendo at best. What is at best a parenthetical mention or query, worthy of a few paragraphs for sure, becomes an almost desparate attempt to claim Mortensen for the gay camp, as though the purpose of the reader is to keep score in such matters. That said, however, her theory is not without merit, and she does bring to the table much heretofore unknown information about Mortensen. The book's only shortcoming is that while it has three excellent essays and a bibliography and chronology that put Mortensen's work in context of the greater photographical history of his time, it is a bit short on photographs. There are only about three dozen plates of his work, which -- while representative -- don't really do full justice to fleshing out his life's work. I would have loved to have seen more of his color portraits and nudes. That said, don't let this stop you from buying this book. The printing is first rate, and so is the treatment of its sorely neglected subject. Admirers of William Mortensen can only hope for a more exhaustive book of photographs to be released in the near future.