Above: A Zapatista, photographed in Chiapas by Shawn Mortensen. Courtesy Peter Relic.
Shawn Mortensen was a passionate photographer, activist, storyteller and human being, who expected the best out of everybody. He gave much, much more than this world gave him.
Shawn was a friend, a fellow traveler, a comrade.
It is fair to say that his personal and professional support helped bring Arthur Magazine into being, and without him there would be no Arthur. He helped me see that I could edit and publish a culture magazine—not just that I could, but that I had to—and he rallied support from others, and provided countless instances of support, much of it in private. I still have an email he sent to me and our friend Peter Relic on July 28, 2000 at 1:30am, entitled ‘MORTY”S MANIFESTD,’ [sic] which was a typically typo’d, irreverent, stream-of-Mortensen call to (publishing) arms, written from the green zone (the real one, not the one that they’d build in Baghdad three years later) where we had spent so much time together, turning each other on to stuff, generating ideas and figuring out how to get The Work done.
Shawn realized how it (culture, politics, love) all fit together; his success was in embodying it, to the degree that he could; his frustration was that others couldn’t (yet) see what he did. But of course, who could, really? Who else among us had seen as much as Shawn had—the good, the great, the bad, and the really bad? Shawn was almost over-aware.
Shawn’s photograph of Beck performing at Aron’s Records was used in Arthur’s pre-launch promotional materials. His photograph of Peaches ran in Arthur No. 1. For our ‘real’ first issue, Arthur No. 2, he photographed Devendra Banhart (possibly Devendra’s first-ever “photo shoot”?) and Genesis P-Orridge & Douglas Rushkoff. As the magazine matured, Shawn always offered his services, free of charge, in addition to his contacts, his wealth of knowledge, his archives and his moral support. That we did not collaborate further was (mostly) a matter of bad timing. I profoundly regret that we did not achieve together what we had set out to do, on the scale we had hoped for.
That said: Without Shawn, my life would be significantly different, and not nearly as good.
I am in shock that he is gone at this moment, forever.
For those who never met him, or who want to see (and hear) him today, this video shows a lot of what he was about.
Journalist Drew Tewksbury has posted a long piece from Shawn about the early to mid ’90s, composed in 2007 for Flaunt Magazine, on his website. Shawn’s writing voice was always enthusiastic, manic, exciting to read. This is no different, and I am happy that it’s been shared with us all.