William Mortensen is an art historical hero not well known to the masses. Mortensen began as a Hollywood artist; a contemporary of Cecil B. DeMille who worked in everything from set decoration to costumery. He was a photographer too, and as the jack-of-all-trades grew more popular in the film industry, he was able to photograph the likes of Jean Harlow and Peter Lorre, the resulting images ending up in glamorous magazines and bestselling books. Except Mortensen was no typical portrait artist.
Influenced by the burgeoning genre of horror film growing inside studios like Universal in the 1920s and ’30s, he produced portraits that were more nightmare than reality. Manipulating his images with printmaking techniques and rather primitive collage-like practices, his artworks looked like paintings rather than photographs. Given the subject matter — monster primates, transfixing nudes and anything occult — it was just easier to assume the former. His non-celebrity imagery had no limits, as he obsessed over torture, death and unbridled sexuality. (text from here)