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  F. J. Mortimer

Francis James (F. J.) Mortimer was born in 1874 in Portsea, Portsmouth, England. His father was a dental surgeon whose interest in photography led to his being a co-founder of the Portsmouth Amateur Photographic Society. The senior Mortimer shared his leisure passions of photography and sailing with his young son. Eventually, the boy was photographing yachtsmen like a professional with a waterproof camera he made. Mr. Mortimer quickly established himself as a pioneer of yacht photography, learning how lighting in front and behind sails produced the most dramatic results. He also discovered that conventional rules did not apply to nautical photography. He preferred a box camera for portability, and rather than using screens or orthochromatic plates, he found that sunlight alone provided the most startling contrast to the sky.

An inventive technician as well as and artist, Mr. Mortimer began experimenting with the manipulation of composite negatives using bromoil - pigments and oils - along with conventional processing chemicals. In what has been dubbed as 'early Photoshop', Mr. Mortimer applied his innovations to generate the greatest emotional impact. In addition to his vivid seascapes, he also became renowned for his portraits of women. Mr. Mortimer got the opportunity to indulge his fascination of journalism by succeeding the late A. Horsley Hinton as editor of the prestigious publication The Amateur Photographer in 1908. He became somewhat of a photography international ambassador after being elected to the Australian Salon and Sydney Camera Club despite never having set foot 'down under'. He also served as a member of the British Royal Photographic Society, the Linked Ring Brotherhood, and was a founder of the London Salon of Photography.

With the onset of World War I, Mr. Mortimer realized that his photographic manipulations could serve as an important propagandist tool to arouse British patriotic fervor again against Germany. Using his vast collection of nautical negatives, Mr. Mortimer created dramatic wartime images of British sailors clinging to a lifeboat after being targeted by a German submarine. All of his battle images were staged, as civilians were not authorized to photograph actual combat. Perhaps Mortimer's most reproduced photograph is the "Gate of Goodbye," which is actually a combination of negatives of soldiers receiving emotional farewells from their families amid the backdrop of London's Victoria Station.

Despite his broad sphere of influence that extended across the Atlantic, Mr. Mortimer was a harsh critic of "American temporary art crazes" that served to isolate Great Britain’s photographic community after World War I. As a result, according to historian Professor Robert Leggat, his name and many contributions are unfairly excluded from contemporary textbooks on photography. Ironically, another world war would result in an unlikely civilian casualty. While traveling to his office, F. J. Mortimer was killed in a German bombing attack on July 27, 1944. After languishing in anonymity for decades, Molly Mortimer Robertson presented the Art Gallery of New South Wales with some of her father's most famous photographs. These moving images were proudly displayed at the Australian gallery from July 26 to October 26, 2008. Hopefully, this will be the first of many international exhibitions honoring the pictorialist master's works.

The Amateur Photographer, Vol. XLV (London: Hazell, Watson and Viney ), p. 198.

1908 American Photography, Vol. II (Boston: American Photographic Publishing Company), p. 340.

2008 Art Gallery of New South Wales (URL:

1921 Camera: A Practical Magazine for Photographers, Vol. XXV (Philadelphia: The Camera Publishing Company), pp. 385, 387.

2013 The Camera Club (URL:

2012 Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 70, 74.

1995 A History of Photography from its Beginnings till the 1920s (URL:

1978 Pictorial Photography in Britain, 1900-1920 (London: Arts Council of Great Britain), p. 82.

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2013-10-27 18:13:18

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