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Shawn Mortensen: Out of Mind

by Wendy Dembo
on 10 April 2007

A “zelig” in the world of photography and portraiture, Shawn Mortensen has amazing intuition proven by his ability to be at the right places at the right time. His eye for talent has created iconic images of “stars” often years before the media or public takes notice. What distinguishes Mortensen's portraits is their intimacy, emotion and sense of humor. Clearly, his subjects trust him.

His new book, Out of Mind, is an first-hand look at an incredibly broad spectrum of humanity. From provocative and authentic portraits of hip hop's A- list (Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre) and punk rock heroes (Joe Strummer, The Sex Pistols, Henry Rollins) to pop icons (Gwen Stefani, Lauryn Hill, Spike Jonze), Mortensen has pop culture covered. But the prolific photographer's work also includes images of a pantheon of iconic contemporary artists such as Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibon, Yayoi Kusama, Larry Clark, Brice Marden and William Eggleston, as well as younger emerging artists like Barry McGee, Tauba Auerbach and Ryan McGinley, just to name a few.

The celeb-heavy portraits dramatically run opposite equally compelling images from his adventures in far flung locales, including Zapatista revolutionaries in Mexico, Mongolian nomads and wrestlers, Tibetan Buddhist Monks, Jamaican "rude boys" in Trenchtown and scenes from African journeys.

As his ouevre suggests, Mortensen is as comfortable shooting guerillas in Chiapas as he is taking intimate portraits of supermodels on the runway, heading straight from the Paris fashion shows to live in and document the slums of Kingston in fall '91. Mortensen says he tries to “capture people with the poise that they carry naturally. I look for authenticity and work to create a dynamic/loaded image. I call it 'Fantastic Realism.'" He hopes that this book will introduce skate kids to legends like Genesis P. Orridge, Larry Kramer, Lee Quinones and Quentin Crisp and that older readers will google younger artists like Peaches, Kaws and Neckface.

His egalitarian approach to his subjects (everyone has the same level of importance) carries over in his desire to make his work affordable to everyone; the 224-page hardcover lists at $25 and goes for even less on Amazon.

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