Francis James (FJ) Mortimer FRPS (1874 – 1944) was one of the pioneers of pictorial photography, with the sea as his favourite subject. Born in Portsmouth, Mortimer was surrounded by the sailing life and he was often seen climbing up rocky cliffs or braving the waves alongside sailors in their boats, with his self-made waterproof camera by his side.
Mortimer was also known for his innovative techniques, such as using multiple composite negatives – the Edwardian version of Photoshop – and the use of bromoil, in which artist’s pigments and oils were used alongside the usual photographic chemicals. Through such techniques, Mortimer pushed the boundaries to produce images that he felt enhanced the reality of the natural world, and pushed photography squarely into the realm of fine art.
When not photographing seascapes and sailing life, Mortimer also photographed women in various settings, many of which also incorporated water or the seaside. In addition to these celebrations of femininity in nature, his other work featuring women ranged from intimate portraits to documentary-style shots of women in the workplace.
Mortimer also recognised that photography could serve more than just a creative purpose with the onset of World War I, when he turned his lens from the sea to the trenches, photographing the brave men who gave their lives as his contribution to the war effort.
Not only did he spend many years as editor of some of the best known photographic publications of his time, such as Amateur Photographer (1908-1944) and Photograms of the Year (1912 – 1944), he was also a founding member of the London Salon and a member of the Linked Ring. As such, Mortimer became one of the most influential figures in British photography, and his fame soon spread around the world, leading to exhibitions in New York and election to the Australian Salon and Sydney Camera Club.
In a sad twist of fate for someone known to have captured such moving images of the First World War, the Second World War caused his untimely death in 1944, when on his way to his editorial offices, he was fatally injured in a German bombing.