Shawn Mortensen with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
When word came that photographer and BlackBook contributor Shawn Mortensen had passed away, our last issue had just come in from the printer. In it was a portfolio of Shawn’s most recent work, including some of the most fabulous images we’d ever seen of the Gossip’s Beth Ditto and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and a soulful moment with Clive Barker in his studio. It was an art issue, and Shawn’s images were both celebrations of the wild forms of self-expression from these creative types and works of art in their own right. Shawn wasn’t the kind of guy to sit still, and his lust for life came through in his subjects. He had an uncanny way of working with people, who often became more like collaborators in his photos, ignited by his passion.
Mortensen’s favorite shot of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
When I last saw Shawn, he was thrilled about the turnout for his art gallery opening and the number of books he had signed the previous night, and excited to embark on all kinds of new creative adventures. A television show was in the works, one that would see him travel the world as an artist and activist. Shawn was always turned on by art and music, and it was part of his mission in life to turn others on to it, too.
A candid moment from his Beth Ditto shoot.
That morning, when we met for brunch at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, he was raving about two new accessories designers that I just had to write about: Dee and Ricky, whom he’d just photographed. Over a round of strong coffees, he insisted on giving me the white Lego heart brooch they designed, which he had pinned to his chest. Similarly, he’d given Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a red version of the heart when he shot them for BlackBook; she loved it so much she wore it in the pictures for our shoot and left with it. Shawn was that kind of guy: always at the ready to give a little piece of his heart. The soulfulness in his art, and in his own heart, left a lasting impression.
Dee and Ricky, photographed by Mortensen.