Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Another vampire picture mystery

Some time ago, I discussed well-known 'picture of a vampire with a stake embedded in its heart' (left), and thought I'd discovered its illustrator—William Mortensen (1897–1965). But I'm not a hundred percent sure he did it.

Mortensen 'was one of the most well known and respected photographers in America in the thirties' and his 'obscurity today is mainly due to his championing of Pictorialism, a force within photography that promoted retouching, hand-worked negatives, chemical washes, and an artistic, painterly approach that soon faded with the advance of modernism.'

The version you've seen in books, is taken from the Bettmann/CORBIS photo archives. It's called 'Engraving of the Death of a Vampire', but gives no further details than that. Not even a date. The picture hosted by them—at least, on their website—is also black and white.

However, Mortensen's vampire (left) was rendered in a sort of sepia tone. So where does this colour version come from? Was Mortensen actually its original illustrator, after all? Was it merely 'colourized' by someone else at a later time? If so, who? Why?

Was the picture an example of Pictorialist technique? If so, what was the original image? Could the colour version actually be a painting which Mortenson, uh, Pictorialised? If so, why would Bettmann/CORBIS list it as an 'engraving'. Hmm.

I'd love to get to the bottom of its origins, as it's one of my favourite vampire images. It's a graphic late-nineteenth century style engraving—I have my doubts that it was actually created during that period—and, apart from the fangs, gets close to what a staked vampire corpse of folklore would've looked like.

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