William Mortensen, Self-Portrait, 1932, gelatin silver print, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection. © William Mortensen Estate


What's It All About?

Join expert panelists as they debate and discuss the legacy of the revered and hated William Mortensen on the occasion of his 125th birthday. Stephen Romano moderates the conversation among panelists Deborah Irmas, Matthew Rolston, Michael Moynihan and Brian Chidester.

Note: This is a pre-recorded program. Ticketholders will receive a link to view the program at approximately 12:00 pm on January 27th. The link will be valid for 24 hours.

Museum members: $5
Non-members: $10



American photographer William Mortensen (1897-1965) is remembered as being in contention with the popularly accepted photographic techniques of his time. Rather than presenting a pure or unadulterated image, Mortensen altered his photographs by whatever means necessary to achieve his desired effect. Mortensen was at odds with Group f64 whose members included such influential American photographers as Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. It is said that Mortensen was written out of the history of photography by his peers. Ansel Adams notably labeled Mortensen as the Anti-Christ. His most well-known works speak to themes relating to the grotesque; however, Mortensen focused on various subjects throughout his career.

William Mortensen established his home and the Mortensen School of Photography on October 2nd, 1931. The school was originally located at 1731 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. Mortensen moved the school to different locations through Laguna Beach until his death in 1965.



Brian Chidester – Brian Chidester is a Creative Historian with a background in curation, documentary filmmaking, and journalism. He has written for publications such as “The American Prospect,” “The Atlantic,” “L.A. Weekly,” “Paste,” and “The Village Voice.” He is the author of “Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film, and Fashion from the Bohemian Surf Era” (Santa Monica Press), and his forthcoming book is titled “Out of My Head: The Imaginary Creatures of Josep Baqué” (Norton/Fantagraphics). He has produced documentaries for the BBC, PBS, and Showtime, and is the director of the feature-length film “As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez.” Chidester holds a Master’s in Art History from Brooklyn College and currently lives in New York City.

Deborah Irmas – Deborah Irmas is a philanthropist and retired art advisor based in Los Angeles. Trained as a photographic historian at Boston University, Irmas’ first curating project was The Photographic Magic of William Mortensen for the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies. The exhibition appeared at Barnsdall Park Galleries in Los Angeles, The Daniel Wolfe Gallery in NYC and the Oakland Museum in Oakland, CA*. In the 1990s she lived in Paris and wrote about exhibitions in France for Frieze, Art and Auction, Vogues Hommes International, Artforum and other publications. In the mid 1990s she returned to Los Angeles for a stint to open the photography department in Beverly Hills at PaceWildenstein.

In the 1980s she began a collection of photographic self-portraits that today number close to 200 images. The collection is housed at (and was donated to) the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where it is exhibited frequently. She has curated two exhibits using the material and written two books about the collection: The Camera I (1993), and This is Not a Selfie (2015)

Today she is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A. and an Advisory Council Member of Art Division, an art school in the MacArthur Park district of L.A. She is also a trustee of three foundations: The Crossed Purposes Foundation, the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation, and the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Foundation.

Matthew Rolston – Born in Los Angeles, Rolston studied drawing and painting in his hometown at the Chouinard Art Institute and Otis College of Art & Design, as well as in the Bay Area at the San Francisco Art Institute. He also studied illustration, photography, imaging and film at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where in 2006, he received an Honorary Doctorate.

While still a student at Art Center, Rolston was “discovered” by Andy Warhol, for Warhol’s celebrity focused Interview magazine, where he began a successful career in photography.
Rolston’s photographs have been exhibited at museums and institutions. Selected group shows include Beauty CULTure (with Lauren Greenfield, Herb Ritts, Andres Serrano, and Carrie Mae Weems, 2011), The Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles, California; The Warhol Look: Glamour, Style, Fashion (curated by Mark Francis and Margery King), The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1997); and Fashion and Surrealism, FIT Gallery, New York, 1987 (traveled to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK, 1988).

Rolston’s works are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, NY, and the National Portrait Gallery (Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at The Smithsonian, Washington D.C.) among others.

Michael Moynihan, Ph.D. is an author, translator, and editor. Over the last forty years he has collaborated on various books and journals dealing with the netherworlds where art, religion, and subculture meet. He was a regular contributor to the music and art magazine Seconds (1986–2000), for which he interviewed a number of notorious personalities including Anton LaVey. As an author his work includes of the award-winning music and crime book Lords of Chaos (2nd edition, 2003; written in collaboration with Didrik Søderlind), which is the basis for the 2018 motion picture directed by Jonas Åkerlund.

During the 1990s he worked for Adam Parfrey running the Feral House imprint, collaborating on titles such as Apocalypse Culture II, Sex and Rockets, and Cult Rapture. He is the translator of the book Barbarian Rites by Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, PhD (Inner Traditions, 2011), and has edited a number of academic books, articles, and essays for scholarly imprints.

He co-edited (with Larry Lytle) and introduced the monograph American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen (Feral House, 2014), which presented the photographer’s work to a new generation of enthusiasts and continues to be the definitive volume on the artist. He is the editor of The Command to Look: A Master Photographer’s Method for Controlling the Human Gaze by William Mortensen and George Dunham (Feral House, 2014), to which he also contributed an essay “Infernal Impact: The Command to Look as a Formula for Satanic Success.”

He is co-editor of the journal TYR: Myth—Culture—Tradition, established in 2002. In the most recent volume he contributed a major essay on the work of film director Godfrey Reggio, “A Preview for the Eschaton: Koyaanisqatsi as a Documentary of the Technological Apocalypse.”

Stephen Romano (Moderator) – Stephen Romano is a collector, curator, and private art dealer in Brooklyn, NY. His Stephen Romano Gallery has collaborated with many cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Reina Sophia in Madrid, Gagosian Gallery in New York, the Dark Mofo Festival in Tasmania, Morbid Anatomy at Greenwood Cemetery, the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland. Selections from his collection were included recently in the touring exhibition “Supernatural America” curated by Robert Cozzolino, and selections from his collection of photographs by William Mortensen are featured in the new Tashen book “WITCHCRAFT”.

Romano has published several catalogs and essays by some of the most engaging and provocative writers of our time, including the late Thomas McEvilley. Romano’s exhibitions have received widespread critical acclaim, his exhibitions and curation having been covered in the “New York Times” and many other publications. He is the primary representative for the art of Charles Dellschau, William Mortensen, Burt Shonberg, and the North American presentation of the art of Wolfgang Grasse and Darcilio Lima. (See www.romanoart.com) )

Stephen began collecting and perpetuating the art of William Mortensen in 2014, and today has custodianship of a collection numbering over 500 original works. He has published two catalogs, curated several exhibitions including “American Grotesque”, an exhibition at his New York Gallery which coincided with the release of the book of the same name on the artist by Feral House Publishing.

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