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THE COMMAND TO LOOK:
The Story of William Mortensen, Part III

by
Larry Lytle

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Author’s note—As I began my research for the intended subject of Part III of this essay—Mortensen’s writings—I realized that a potential elephant lurked in the closet when discussing this issue. The elephant of course being George Dunham. I began to think less about the text and more about who wrote it. The essay that will follow this (in the next issue of TheScreamOnline) will be an analysis of what Mortensen/Dunham left photography, but I felt compelled, for now, to address the issue of who wrote the words before I could address what the words said.

“Who put the bomp in the bompshoobomp? Who put the ram in the ramalamadingdong?”—Unknown

From the start, a discussion about the authorship of William Mortensen’s writings is more problematic than one about his photographs. For no matter how you feel about the subject matter of his images, the results are his alone. The discussion will always center around his choices, his vision—the photographs are his without the intervention of another’s view point.

What represents Mortensen’s writing, on the other hand, apparently doesn’t have that singularity of voice. It is a shared voice with his friend, model, research assistant, and co-author George Dunham.(1) And, like much of Mortensen’s life his literary relationship with Dunham is obscured by self generated P.R. and a lack of records exposing specificly who did what. Their writing relationship could be compared to a binary star system—Mortensen’s being the larger, brighter, and more observable star from earth, and Dunham’s being the dimmer, smaller orb obscured by our atmosphere and the other sun’s size and brightness. However, using a large enough telescope and the right equipment one can tease out some interesting data that may shed further light upon what constituted the nature of their collaboration.

The question of authorship in Mortensen’s case is important. Aside from the important and apparent art historical ramifications of Mortensen’s writings, more than any photographer of his time he used the books and articles as a fulcrum to raise the level of his celebrity.(2) They also outline his approach to art and photographic aesthetics. It is through this outline that we see his connection to the photography of today. As a teacher of photographic methods the writings form the basis of his school and reach out to students of photography unable to make the trip to Laguna.(3) The next essay will deal in full with these issues.

“Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;”
—William Butler Yeats

Who was George Dunham? When searching out the facts of his life he does seem more shade than man. He was born George B. Dunham Jr. to George B. Dunham Sr. and Jessie Dunham on October 9, 1896. He died on June 25, 1976 of “Acute Cardiac Arrest” brought about by a “metastases to brain.” He was 79 years old, was never married, and his occupation was listed as a writer of “technical photography.” He was cremated and his ashes handled by The Neptune Society.(4)

These are statistics found on the formal papers generated by the state: certificates that announce our coming into the world and our leaving it. They represent for most of us the only literature of our lives, the proof of our existence, birth—death. But what lies in between? What constitutes the years that make up who we were and what we became? For George Dunham the answers are there, some presented in part here, some still waiting to be uncovered.

He was born on his family’s orange ranch in the Moreno Valley, near the city of Moreno in Riverside County, California.(5) Soon after he was born, the family moved to nearby Redlands were his father became manager of the Barton Ranch.(6) He attended Pomona College and received a B.A. in English, graduating in 1920.(7) He went on to Harvard to pursue graduate work in English and Music.(8) Dunham’s tenure at Harvard was crucial to his development as a theater director, for it was there that he took the important and influential class 47 Workshop taught by George Pierce Baker (1866-1935).(9)

In 1923 his family moved to Laguna Beach, and constructed a house at 123 Wave St. where he and his parents lived; both mother and father passed away in 1942.(10) Sometime after his return from the East Coast, possibly before moving to Laguna, he directed “…The First Californians, the annual pageant representing the San Bernadino Valley, as well as an outdoor annual pageant for Pomona College, known as the May Masque.”(11)

“It’s one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man can count on steady work—the night watchman.”
—Tallulah Bankhead

By 1925 he became associated with the Community Players of Laguna Beach, the company that would in later years become the well respected Laguna Playhouse.(12) By 1929 Dunham was appointed director of plays and opened in March with Expressing Willie by Rachel Crothers (1878-1958).(13) He directed 4 other plays in 1929, followed by five in 1930, and three in 1931 with the Community Players.(14) Dunham was a vital and important force in shaping little theater in Laguna Beach. We read about him and other members of the Players entertaining a production company from Altadena, and of his group being invited to the opening of a new little theater in Claremont.(15)

He was a respected and well liked member of his theatrical community. “Association with George Dunham in Little Theatre work is always a source of joy and interest. He has the essence of good fellowship, and brings it to the casts with which he works. He helped build the first Little Theatre here. Believe it or not, he put most of the shingles on the roof. He is literally a theatre builder. And when he is not at work he is like a fish out of water.”(16)

Dunham was respected for his abilities as a director. “‘The Old Soak’ company have not been dissipating. They have been working, studying, keeping busy. They have to. George Dunham keeps them ever at it, clipping off an unnecessary idiom here, and a useless gesture there, demonstrating, calling on his performers to interpret.”(17) And, in another review, “Every actor gave a fine account of himself, so many were the remarks that it fell but little short of the perfection of the professional production. Another great triumph for George Dunham.”(18)

In the newspaper reviews and articles we catch glimpses of his character. “I have been told that George Dunham directed the show, although with his usual modesty he didn’t allow his name to appear on the program.”(19) From his short profile Arthur O’Connor wrote, “George is of the lean and wiry kind, slow of speech but careful of every statement, quite obviously a student of words. He admits to having a superficial knowledge of Latin, German, and French but says he is master of none.”(20)

However slim these descriptions are they give us some small insights into Dunham’s personality, work ethic, and impact upon his community and colleagues. The newspaper articles and reviews were almost always positive in their assessments of the plays, including ones he did not direct. It was a small town after all, and many of the Players were the town’s lawyers, merchants, and artists. But one does get the sense of real support and that the positive personal references about Dunham were genuine.

Even though seats for the productions cost 75¢ general admission or $1 reserved, the theater relied on dues from members to cover operating expenses. By mid-1931 the Players ran into financial difficulties due to a drop in membership. In order to survive, the Players’ board of directors decided to open the theater to anyone who wished to put on a production.(21) This happened despite a packed house for every play.(22) With the Players producing a mere five productions a year, each play only having a run of two or three nights, the theater and company must have been hard pressed to make the overhead.

Too, we must take into account that Laguna Beach was a small ocean-side artist enclave with a rather small permanent population. Located 65 miles south of Los Angeles and about 85 miles north of San Diego, Laguna was a central location to the burgeoning population centers of Southern California. Due to its artist colony, Laguna was a popular seasonal tourist destination.(23) Townspeople and tourists could make the trip to or from Laguna by car or train. Even so, and for whatever reason, the plays never ran more than one weekend, even during the summer.

Dunham’s vision for the Players was most likely at odds with what the public wanted to see at that time. In articles written by him and presumably by the board in the local paper, one can hear some frustration. Dunham felt that the theater and company should offer more challenging plays. In 1931 he proposed a turn away from, “An unrelenting succession of American domestic comedies…” and instead hoped to present a season of comedies that would trace the history of The Comedy In Theater from Aristophanes to Shaw. This article shows us Dunham’s awareness of the theater production/audience dynamic (i.e. good plays = selling tickets), his sense of irony and humor, and most importantly, for our purposes, his style of writing prior to his collaboration with Mortensen.(24)

There is another essay/article that appears a year later. It comes with the slow down of production and the impeding end to Dunham’s turn at directing the company. The article is called “The Art Of Directing” by The Quiet Observer.(25) It reads like the article previously discussed and the author uses biographical references that make it seem Dunham’s alone. It is these two articles from 1930 and 1931 that I use as a starting point to compare the similarities in Duham’s writing before and during his collaboration with Mortensen.

“When speculation has done its worst, two and two still make four.”
—Samuel Johnson

But first I would like to speculate on how they may have met. It was kismet that in the very same edition (August 21, 1931) of the South Coast News there is an announcement of George Dunham’s success in the revival of East Lynne, and the Arts section on page 19 heralds that “William Mortensen Opens Laguna Studio.” We can only imagine that Mortensen, who had just spent the last seven-or-so years around actors and movie studios would naturally gravitate toward the town’s theater. Indeed, we know that before October of 1931 he had already used the theater for a photograph.(26) It was only a matter of one-and-a-half-months since the announcement of his arrival. He evidently wasted no time contacting the Players, and presumably their leader George Dunham.

In Dunham he must have found a kindred spirit. Mortensen was already established in his directorial mode, as A. D. Coleman describes it. If we look at Mortensen’s photographs we see many examples of that approach before his placement in Laguna—“Preparation for the Sabbot” (1927), and “The Vampire” (1926), to name but two. Also, we see in Dunham theories and approaches of direction, before Mortensen’s arrival, a resonance with those in Mortensen’s books. A paragraph in Art Of Directing by the Quiet Observer, points out a sympathetic approach to Mortensen’s method of shooting. “It would seem the finest method of directing might lie between these extremes, allowing all the artists of the stage a chance to contribute something of their own idea and interpretation of the play; then stepping in to coordinate; to weed out the ideas that do not harmonize; to heighten whatever enhances the general design of the whole; for the director is, probably, the only one of the group who sees the production as a unit in his minds eye; who carries the sound pattern, the visual pattern, the rhythm and tempo of the whole affair in his head and constantly tunes up his orchestra to that inner keynote.”(27)

Although Mortensen came from Hollywood and had the experience of working around famous actors and directors, Dunham was no country bumpkin. He was well read, well educated and understood the processes of direction and theatrical artifice. It was Dunham’s world that Mortensen was entering—Dunham’s home town, Dunham’s Players, Dunham’s connections. It was, one may assume, a relationship/friendship that was based on mutual respect and a feeling of equality. They were what we might now call mid-career artists. Both men had accomplished a similar height of accomplishment in their fields and both were poised to move on to something higher. Their artistic approach and stature was in a word—simpatico.

Mortensen met Dunham at his apex in Laguna’s theatrical world. If the financial downturn of the Players hadn’t happened, who knows how long and how far Dunham would have carried his career? I think his meeting with Mortensen was, as I said before, kismet: a meeting at the right place at the right time to form a partnership based on mutual artistic respect and mutual financial gain.(28)

“Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family—but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.”
—Willa Cather

The question remains. Did Dunham write Mortensen’s books and articles? The answer must be Yes, with a proviso. Really though, the question would be better put if we ask, how much of the work is Dunham and how much is Mortensen? How much of their own distinct personalities exists in their writings? It is only through the paragraph on the back of the dust jacket of the 1956 edition of The Model, the small nugget in the 1960 O’Connor piece on Dunham, and that nebulous mention of him in the brochures as “an extensive writer on photographic subjects,” that we know of Dunham’s involvement at all.(29) If it weren’t for these three mentions, he would be remembered only as another of Mortensen’s models.

I think that the amount of Dunham in these books and articles would be subject to a few factors. How quickly could George have educated himself on Mortensen's theories and procedures specifically and the technical aspects of photography in general? Overcoming that, the bigger and most important question that must be considered is, how much control was Mortensen willing to relinquish to Dunham? Did Mortensen consider the writings as important as his photography? Many of the original drafts of their manuscripts are in the Dunham Archive at the Center for Creative Photography. They are type written, some with abundant handwritten notes, some with very few. But in whose hand are they written? It’s a tantalizing question!(30)

Why was the silence broken so late? I think the answer is rather simple, it was simply business. Mortensen was the NAME, it was his methods, his theories and his dictums, that his audience wanted. Who was George Dunham? It would have damaged the franchise to know that another person was involved in the work. It was much cleaner to make it seem that everything emanated from Mortensen. By 1956 nobody cared any more. Mortensen’s star had fallen and it didn’t matter that anyone knew about Dunham’s input, except perhaps George. I think that his name finally appears on the book jacket and the O’Connor profile happens because of Mortensen’s friendship with him, and perhaps this was a way to unload some guilt, by setting the record straight.(31)

Did Dunham affect Mortensen’s photography as the dust jacket implicates? I don’t think so. I think Dunham supplied the words, and probably the structure. As his familiarity with the subject matter grew and the kinks that come from any collaboration worked themselves out, the writing became more his own.(32) As mentioned before, Mortensen was already on his path as a photographer and a maker of images, just as Dunham was already on his path as a theater director and a lover of words. Each man’s concept of showmanship and theatrical artifice probably complimented the other’s. As model and photographer, I’m sure that Mortensen wasted far less film getting what he wanted from George than from most other models.

As far as the writing goes, I believed it happened just as Dunham said in the O’Connor article, “Nine books and several brochures which resulted from innumerable ‘bull’ sessions, as George puts it. ‘I am not a rapid write—in fact a bleeder, while Bill always wanted to forge ahead. Sometimes we would have a brainstorm, turning out what we thought was immortal prose, only to discover the following morning that the stuff was silly.’”(33) Previously in the article Mortensen confirms this, “Discussing the subject of his books, Bill unhesitatingly admitted that he had no literary talent, that he could not have got to first base without the collaboration of George Dunham, who did all the writing while he supplied the ideas and the technical knowledge.”

When one considers the prodigious output of both Mortensen’s photography and his writings it makes perfect sense that it is the work of two men. Added to that, the time Mortensen took to teach at his school would have made it impossible for him to do it all himself. We don’t know how much money the writings brought in nor do we really know what the financial arrangements were between the two men. We do know that Dunham got one-third of the take for Projection Control.(34) We don't know if that was for the article, pamphlet, or book. Dunham was, as said before, a modest man, yet I doubt their collaboration or their friendship would have lasted so many years if Dunham had felt cheated.

Dunham must have had a life apart from his enterprise with Mortensen. We know through programs of The Pageant Of The Masters that George was a long time participant as one of the cast.
The O’Connor profile mentions that Dunham directed? a stage version of Dracula in 1940, his “last production.” And, in 1960 he was asked to play a small part in Our Town. Whatever else he did in those years after Mortensen’s death is waiting patiently to be uncovered.

One final thing to consider, before I leave with a sample of Dunham-as-Dunham and Dunham-as-Mortensen, is the fun they must have had in creating the character of William Mortensen on the written page. In a way, they confabulated a man—mostly real, part P.R. fantasy(35)—something that truly puts them in a league with Andy Warhol. If this is true, and I think it is, Dunham wrote the play that was always in him.

South Coast News, February 14, 1930, p.33
Points To Pitfalls Of Little Theatres
By George Dunham

“The last ten years have seen the birth of many young and hopeful theatrical ventures, mostly heralded with loud, triumphant trumpetings. But the mortality rate of young hopefuls is high, and the same period has witnessed the quiet and unsung demise of a large proportion of these ventures. Some have died from financial insufficiency; some from unenterprising imitation of Broadway; some because they cultivate artiness and sacrilegiously murmured ‘Damn the Public’; some because, while mounting good plays well, they have remained in the worst sense ‘amateur’ in their acting; and some, of course, have died as they had no particular reason to be alive at all.

“In a program, such as the tentative one published herewith, there is strong medicine against these many ills that best the amateur theater. An unrelenting succession of American domestic comedies does not develop flexibility of style in actors nor flexibility of appreciation in audiences.

“Let none breathe the ancient bogey-word ‘highbrow.’ These plays were the hits of their day: Aristophanes was the George M. Cohen of Athens.”

Camera Craft, April, 1934, p153.
Venus And Vulcan; An essay On Creative Pictorialism,
2. Sources And Uses Of Material
By William Mortensen

“A sort of Hamlet-neurosis that prevents them from making up their minds or arriving at any useful course of action seems to grip most photographic beginners when they at last hold in their hands the earnestly desired and long-dreamed-of camera. In their fond imaginings they had glimpsed themselves producing (with a simple turn of the wrist) prints of supernal loveliness which were instantly accepted for the London Salon and hung amid universal acclaim. But when the passionately coveted camera is at last a reality, the nasty thing leers at them with its glass eye, and they suddenly realize that they haven’t the vaguest idea what they want to take pictures of. In the very young, such indecision is perhaps to be expected, but many photographers old enough in their craft to know their own minds show evidences of the same malady of uncertainty, and give themselves over to futile dilettantism, dillying with still-life and dallying with landscape, and, in a word, rapidly getting nowhere. Even the sincerest worker will, in his candid moments, admit to spells of doubt and confusion, when his purposes and plans seem all awry and his well-ordered world a chaos. It was such a moment that I once imagined a picture in the grand style (possibly a mural for a camera club) that might be called ‘The Frustrated Photographer’—a huge monumental figure of a man standing on the curve of the world; in his hands, a camera; on his face, an expression of bewilderment and depression. Surrounded by a world teeming with people, colours, shapes—he stands appalled and utterly at a loss.”


Notes

1. George Dunham listing in the Mortensen School of Photography brochures, never mentions that he co-authored. “GEORGE DUNHAM, Research specialist for the Mortensen School of photography, has done graduate work at the University of California and Harvard University. He is an extensive writer on photographic subjects. It was through his research into the nearly obsolete Fresson procedure that Mr. Mortensen evolved his new colloidal method, the Mortensen Pigment Process.” I have four brochures for the Mortensen School. Only the ones that mention the G. I. Bill list Dunham, and we can assume that those are post WW II. [BACK]


2. See the biographic portion of The Command To Look; A Formula for Picture Success, (Camera Craft Publishing Company, San Francisco) 1937, pp. 9-17. [BACK]

3. Former Mortensen students have told me that it was the books they saw first, attracting them to the school. [BACK]

4. Information taken from the certificate of death, county of Orange, Ca. [BACK]

5. Arthur O’Connor, “George Dunham: Ghost Writer of Mortensen’s Many Books,” The Laguna Beach Post; Thursday, July 21, 1960, Section 2, p. 9. [BACK]

6. O’Connor, p. 9. In an answer from an e-mail inquiry to the Heritage Room at the A. K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, California, I was given the following information by archivist Allison Peyton:

George Dunham, Sr. was manager of the Barton Land and Water Co. He first appears in our Redlands City Directories in 1905. From 1905-1911 he is shown as manager of the Barton Land and Water Co. Then he is shown as an orange grower in the 1912-1923 Redlands City Directories. The Barton Land and Water Co. is connected with the ranch of Ben Barton. In George Beattie's book Heritage of the Valley, Dunham is quoted on page 35, “G. B. Dunham, who lived in the Barton dwelling adjoining the asistencia for several years says, ‘When I was there in April 1900, the [floor] bricks had been dug out and used to fill a deep well and the ground was set to orange trees.’”—Dunham to Beattie May 8, 1929. [BACK]

7. Verified by the Pomona College Alumni Association, e-mail to Larry Lytle. [BACK]

8. This is reiterated in several newspaper articles about Dunham. The first article found was in “Steady Advance Made By Players Here” (no by-line), South Coast News, February 14, 1930, fourth column, p. 33. It says “He took not only Drama 47, which was known as the 47 Workshop, but also English 14 and Greek 11.” Next in an article by Wayne Morris, “Cues And Reviews, Curtain Calls,” South Coast News, September 4, 1931, p. 20., fifth column. Then in O’Connor, p. 9. An inquiry was sent to the Harvard University Archives, but no answer came before publication of this article. [BACK]

9. Baker’s class was English 47, also called The 47 Workshop. Baker wrote several books on theater and went on to teach at Yale in 1925 when the Workshop became the Yale graduate school of drama. Some of Baker’s students were Eugene O’Neill, John Dos Pasos, George Abbott. And, as mentioned in the O’Connor article, Thomas Clayton Wolfe and Phillip Barry. Both Wolfe and Barry attended the class from 1920 -1922, the same time that Dunham would have been there. Baker and Wolfe information is from Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia Of American Literature, edited by George Perkins, et al, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, New York, 1991. Information about Baker and Barry is from Benet’s and Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co., Publishers Springfield, MA, 1962. [BACK]

10. Dunham left the house on Wave Street in 1963 to take up residence, until his death, at 516 Hazel Dr. in Corona Del Mar, a short distance from Laguna—this information was taken from city directories. His father was a member of the school board serving as clerk, secretary, and trustee, and helped start the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. South Coast News: “Death Claims G. B. Dunham”, March, 10 1942. The article states that his wife had preceded him. I could find no obituary for Jessie Dunham, but she is mentioned in several articles in 1930 and 1931. She served as both president and chairman of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. [BACK]

11. “Steady Advance Made By Players Here,” S. C. N., p. 33. [BACK]

12. O’Connor, p. 9. Also alluded to (although no dates are given) in the article, “Steady Advance Made By Players Here.” [BACK]

13. “Steady Advance Made By Players Here,” S. C. N., p. 33. [BACK]

14. From announcements and reviews in the South Coast News. [BACK]

15. “Laguna Invaded by Visiting Thespians,” South Coast News, September 12, 1930. “At The Playhouse,” South Coast News, December 5, 1930. [BACK]

16. Morris, p. 20. [BACK]

17. “‘The Old Soak’ Weekend Show,” South Coast News, February 25, 1930, front page. [BACK]

18. “‘East Lynne’ Is Huge Success,” South Coast News, August 21, 1931, p. 4. [BACK]

19. “Hay Fever Not To Be Sneezed At,” by Sumner Crosby, South Coast News, May 1, 1931. [BACK]

20. O’Connor, p. 9. [BACK]

21. South Coast News article that begins May 8, 1931, and ends June 12, 1931. [BACK]

22. In reading the various reviews of the plays directed by Dunham, a full or packed house is always mentioned. To give you an idea, this is from South Coast News article dated August 21, 1931, for the last play I could find that he directed, a revival of East Lynne. “‘East Lynne’ achieved its ultimatum. Not only did it furnish entertainment for the play-going public of Laguna Beach (and quite a number from out of town) but it made money. The proceeds from the three performances amounted to well over $200. Half the profit goes to the Community Players and half to George Dunham, the director, as a compensation for the time and energy he expended on the production.” [BACK]

23. “Why Thousands Tour Laguna’s Art And Curio Shops Each Year,” South Coast News, April 17, 1931. This article mentions, “…from the city of the stars, Hollywood, comes Laguna’s biggest return in money. Thousands of dollars are spent in the art shops here by Hollywood stars and their coterie of lesser satellites. Laguna has arrived in the shopping life of Hollywood. And why? Because Laguna offers more desirable trinkets—gifts—art objects at a lesser price than can be secured in other places.” Perhaps this is how Mortensen became aware of the city. [BACK]

24. South Coast News, “Community Players Activities,” February 14, 1930, p. 33. This is a full page on the Community Players broken up into six stories. One of them, “Points and Pitfalls Of Little Theater,” is by George Dunham. [BACK]


25. South Coast New, February 13 and 20, 1931. I think this is Dunham’s essay because it has the same jocular feeling and expressions, i. e. “We could imagine the latter, poor worm, turning on the stylistic director and asking, ‘Why don’t you write your own play?’” Also, the author talks about “…meeting, many years ago, the then dramatic coach of Yale University…” a possible reference to Baker who moved to Yale. In Dunham’s credited essay he writes about the failure of some little theaters, “the same period has witnessed the quiet [my italics] and unsung demise of a large proportion of these ventures.” The Quiet Observer’s essay one year later is in part about the demise of little theater in Laguna due to lack of good direction, good material, and the failure to build an educated audience. It is an expansion of the ideas in Points To Pitfalls. [BACK]

26. South Coast News, “Mortensen School Of Photography Now Open” October 2, 1931, p. 19. “Recently a picture ‘Myrdith,’ a young woman in Elizabethian (sic) dress, taken in the Community Theatre, was accepted for publication in the British Almanac.” The British Journal Photographic Almanac, Henry Greenwood & Co., LTD, London, 1931. [BACK]

27. The Mortensen version of this idea we find on page 15 of The Model; a book on the Problems of Posing, (Camera Craft Publishing Company, San Francisco), 1948. “More than any other of the graphic arts, photography is dependent on the presence of the model. For instance, it is not possible in the model’s absence, as in the other arts, to work up the finished picture from preliminary sketches. Nor is it feasible photographically, though just barely possible, to make a composite of Mary’s face, Susie’s body, and Anabella’s hands. In other words, the model must be there, and she must closely conform in all points to that which she is to represent. And when she is there in front of the camera, and she proves to conform physically to that which is desired, the problem of the model is but partly solved; for she must be made to understand and be brought to express that which the photographer is seeking to tell in his picture.” [BACK]


28. For an alternative approach to their collaboration see; Diane Dillon, “William Mortensen and George Dunham; Photography as Collaboration,” in The Archive 33, William Mortensen; A Revival, The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, 1998. [BACK]

29. This is the third edition, How To Pose The Model, by William Mortensen and George Dunham, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, New York, 1956.

“Meet The Authors”

When William Mortensen, sometime in the spring of 1931, fled from the depression in Hollywood and took up residence in the artist colony of Laguna Beach (where one could be poverty-stricken with a moderate degree of comfort), he had no idea that, by that move, he would become noted as a writer on photographic subjects. At the same time, George Dunham, erstwhile actor and thoroughly unsuccessful writer, who was sitting out the same depression in Laguna, had not the slightest notion that he was destined to learn quite a lot about photography.

In this new edition of The Model, Dunham’s name appears for the first time as co-author, thereby taking official note of a collaboration that has for a long time been an open secret. For, within a year of their meeting, which occurred shortly after Mortensen’s departure from Hollywood, Mortensen and Dunham entered into a remarkably fruitful Rodgers-and-Hammerstein sort of agreement, with Dunham writing the lyrics to Mortensen’s pictures, or Mortensen illustrating Dunham’s words. Out of their joint efforts there have ensued nine familiar and standard books on photography (most of which have, like this one, gone through numerous printings and revisions), several smaller brochures, and more than a hundred magazine articles. They report that they still have several books “on the fire.” [One wonders if Dunham wrote this too?] [BACK]

30. In a series of email interviews and reminiscence (this one dated 1/16/02) former Mortensen student (early 50’s) Anson Beman gave me this anecdote, “About Bill and George. At separate times I asked each one about the other one. I asked Bill about George and he made some comment like, ‘George couldn’t take a picture.’ When I asked George about Bill he said something like, ‘I can sign Bill’s name better than he can.’ I think the way they worked was Bill would get an idea from the world of art or some suggestion that George or someone else said or did. Then Bill would start to experiment and if the idea looked good then George would do endless research that Bill would try and boil down to something that he could teach. Bill once told me that he had developed many processes that he could do (as an artist) but couldn’t teach to students. To sum it up, I think the research and the book part was mostly George with Bill’s approval and the actual processes were Bill’s.” [BACK]

31. When one reads Projection Control the writing is stiff and brittle. It reads like a text book. Dunham hadn’t yet developed his voice. By the next set of articles, Venus and Vulcan, we see the development of his “style” and the voice that sustains for the balance of their collaboration. It didn’t take George long to find his legs. [BACK]

32. O’Connor, p. 9. “‘You should talk to George,’ said Bill. ‘He would make a fine subject for one of your profiles.’” [BACK]

33. When George “bled” he did it at an amazing rate. 1933—1 article; 1934—1 pamphlet; 1935—1 book, 7 articles; 1936—1 book, 3 articles; 1937—2 books, 4 articles; 1938—1 book, 10 articles (including one condensed version for another publication); 1939—3 articles; 1940—2 books, 6 articles; 1941—1 book, 12 articles, 1 long article, 33 columns for the L. A. Times, and the reprint of 2 articles for International Photographer; 1942—1 book, 2 L. A. Times columns; 1943—7 articles; 1944—3 articles; 1945—2 articles; 1946—2 articles; 1947—1 book revision, 1 book reprint with small changes; 1948—1 book reprint, 1 article; 1949—1 article; 1950—1 book revision, 10 articles; 1951—1 book revision, 1 article; 1954—4 pamphlets; 1956—1 book revision; 1960—2 article reprints; 1961—6 article reprints. Add to this 8 known unpublished essays, the handouts and brochures for the school, handling some of the correspondence to Camera Craft’s publisher (found at various points in the Dunham Archive at CCP), and one incomplete book—all in the Dunham Archive at CCP. I intend to provide a complete bibliography of their writings at the end of this series of essays. [BACK]

34. Center for Creative Photography, Dunham Archive, AG 43, Box 1, Folder 3. Mortensen assigns Dunham one-third of the royalties from Projection Control and puts him in charge of writing the instructions/enclosure for the texture screen. [BACK]

35. I am not suggesting that the Mortensen we experience as a photographer was not the true Mortensen. But one can’t help but take notice that some of Mortensen’s biographical “facts” were glamorized in The Command To Look. We must also consider that even if Mortensen ok’ed the text, it was written in the voice of George Dunham. This is not to say that the humor, wit or irony that makes Mortensen’s work so fun to read was not shared by him. But it makes it impossible to know where the dividing line between the two personalities lies. Reading the books today, without the experience of personally knowing him, we can never know if the feeling we get from the personality who wrote the works were Mortensen, Dunham, or a hybrid of both men. [BACK]

© 2002 Larry Lytle • All rights reserved

Caricature of George Dunham by Marjorie Cummer.
It appeared in the South Coast News, 1930.

Larry Lytle is a native Angelino. He has an MA in Art from California State University Northridge. Larry is a fine artist whose work has been most recently seen at the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles and the Society for Contemporary Photography in Kansas City. He is also a commercial artist specializing in theatrical and video key art photography, and is an instructor at the Otis College of Art and Design continuing education. Larry contributed to "William Mortensen: a Revival," published by the Center for Creative Photography, and is currently at work on a biography of William Mortensen. He can be reached via the webmaster (replace [AT] with @).

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