Robert Balcomb’s “After Series”

Influenced by Vermeer’s “Milk Maid,” William Mortensen produced a signed three-color Pigment print of his own “Maid Pouring Milk,” or “Pouring Milk.” During my last visit to his Laguna Beach home studio in 1957 he saw how taken I was with the print and gave it to me. Much later, after Mortensen’s death, Myrdith Mortensen sent me a large box containing notes and samples of his Pigment Printing that he and collaborator George Dunham had amassed during their long sessions of developing the process, his answer to the old laborious Bromoil printing. In those notes were the three color prints (red, green, and black) he used in making the final print, along with several trial prints. I later donated the collection to the Center for Creative Photography at The University of Arizona in Tucson AZ.

Many of the notes and samples, along with an explanatory treatise, can be found in TheScreamOnline.

After several years I began my own attempts of producing similar prints depicting my interpretations of the works of the great master painters. My first model was a girl from Germany, whom wife Mary Balcomb fixed up with a head scarf. The result was a print that reminded me of another Vermeer, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” That print began for me a series of studies that I have named my “After Series.” Click to see my “After Vermeer.”



  1. Ted Harper said

    Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful! I have so many superlatives that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps at the beginning…
    It’s gorgeous and will take me some time to review completely.  I will. Although your application of computer technology is awesome and beautiful, I’ll jump to the chase and leave those details ’til later. Of greatest interest to me, and I’m sure to others as well, is the masterful way you, Robert Balcomb, have captured the essence of William Mortensen’s body of talent.  You deserve the highest praise as a Master Portraitist. I enjoy viewing and studying your photographs, particularly of people, and I know that each one has required much concentration and many hours of effort.

    Thank you for carrying on with something few others could attempt. I like your artistic pictures — they are more than mere photographs. Ansel Adams would hate you!

  2. Adams probably would have hated this work. His contribution to photography is truly great, but it’s too bad that he and the likes of Beaumont Newhall and Group f-64 had to attack Mortensen as they did. From their Manifesto: “Group f-64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the ‘Pictorialist,’ on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.

    “The members of Group f-64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.”

    No problem with that. However, efforts were made to denounce Mortensen’s work and the man himself, even to the extent of labeling him the “antichrist,” discouraging museums from acquiring or exhibiting his prints, and making sure his name was not included in photography compilations and history books. Sounds to me like the modus operandi of the current administration!

  3. Larry Lytle said


    Of all Mortensen’s students, I have always felt that your work comes the closest to capturing the feel, both technically and emotionally, of his later images. For that you are to be congratulated.

    Through all the changes, you are keeping a photographic process alive. I know that you’re trying to teach others to keep his techniques going. In this time of digital photography’s dominance, this is going to become more difficult. The paper and chemistry are becoming more limited in availability, if they are available at all. It is a shame. Yet, I think it’s not the process that is as important as the ideas, and the emotional content of the work.

    Perhaps how it’s done is not as important as what is done. If we are so concerned about the process, it seems that we are violating Mortensen’s philosophy about “getting the picture.” In a sense, we become like Adams, fretting over how the image was produced, that it maintain some kind of obscure, technical photographic integrity. When all we are really reaching for is a quality or emotional content that is separate from how the photograph was made.

    The reaching for that emotional quality is how I see you carrying on Mortensen’s legacy. It’s plainly there in your work. Try not to get despondent that a paper, or a type of film is no longer available. As time went on Mortensen lessened or abandoned some of his processes in favor of others. But, the content of his photographs stayed the same.

    You are truly taking up the torch of Mortensen’s work while clearly making your work your own. That is a difficult thing to do. Don’t give up. Even after all the years that you’ve been an artist there is still so much more for you to say and do. And so, I want to say, thank you for everything you have done to this point and everything that is still to come.

  4. It seems to be upgrade today

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