Jerry Uelsmann works in a darkroom, creating multiple exposure images, meaning he uses many negatives to produce a single print, and sometimes as many as seven enlargers to work with one print. He started using this process in the 1950s and 60s. "He originally believed that using a camera could allow him to exist outside of himself, to live in a world captured through the lens." (Wikipedia)
According to his website, he "received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1972. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, a founding member of The Society of Photographic Education and a former trustee of the Friends of Photography."
"When I studied photography at RIT each darkroom had one enlarger. Then when I started teaching we had a group darkroom. I was still using one enlarger, which was labor intensive for multiple printing. One day while I was waiting for some prints to wash, I looked across at the enlargers and thought to myself that if I had the negatives in different enlargers and simply moved the paper, the speed with which I could explore things or line them up would increase a hundred times. That was the moment that changed the way I worked with multiple images."
"During the early 1960s I was the only photographer in an art department at the University of Florida at Gainesville. I worked with painters and sculptors who were interacting with their art as it was being created. That’s when the post-visualization idea occurred; that the darkroom could serve as a visual research lab. I spend much time in my darkroom building images from separate negatives, hopefully into something cohesive. My main technique involves combination printing. I did not invent this method; it was widely used by Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson in the 1850s. When I began re-investigating darkroom options I was reminded of the saying that “nothing is new except what has been forgotten.”
"My creative process begins when I get out with the camera and interact with the world. A camera is truly a license to explore. There are no uninteresting things. There are just uninterested people. For me to walk around the block where I live could take five minutes. But when I have a camera, it could take five hours. You just engage in the world differently. If you can get to a point where you respond emotionally, not intellectually, with your camera there’s a whole world to encounter. There’s a lot of source material once you have the freedom of not having to complete an image at the camera.
Of course as I developed a way of building images in the darkroom, this also fed back into the way in which I saw the world. So if I find an interesting tree or rock I think, “Gee, that could be a wonderful background for something.” I begin to build a vocabulary based on things that I encounter and then I start photographing things specifically for use in my darkroom. I may photograph objects on a light box so they have a white background or shoot things on black velvet so I can sandwich those negatives later in the darkroom."
But my initial approach is very non-intellectual. I just can’t emphasize that enough. Today there is a lot of conceptually based art that begins with a particular theory and then the individual makes the images to fit. It’s like an assignment, all planned and then they just follow through and do the work. My approach is a lot less premeditated."
"Of course, in order to make art, the frustration of not working has to be greater than the frustration of working. I try to push images as far as I can. Sometimes I go too far, then as time passes, I think, “That was stupid or overkill” or whatever. But you have to go to those places. You can’t just say, “We have an hour to talk on the phone, let’s only be profound.” You start wherever you can and then you work at it.
For me, every year I produce at least 100 different images and at the end of the year, I try to sit back and look at them and find ten that I like. Many years, it’s hard to find those ten. "
“I often get called a surrealist because people like labels, and I like being part of that tradition though I don't really consider myself a surrealist. I like art that is inner-directed. I like to explore my own innermost realities.”
"Although photographers must contend with implied veracity they are always inventing other realities. The “straight” photograph does not literally replicate a scene. An Ansel Adams picture of Yosemite is not what you experience when you go there. There is always a transition that breaks from reality. Photographic veracity is an effective tool because it implies a real situation and allows the viewer to respond to it accordingly."
His wife is Maggie Taylor, whose work I have blogged about before here. She also works with a collage process of photography. Her work is in color, and though she started out using traditional negatives, she has since switched to digital processing, using a lot of 19th century images.
“I'm more interested in quirky characters, so a lot of the people I use tend to look Victorian. I see them as actors on a stage, and there is usually a story to go along with the image. But I like for it to be open-ended, so people can use their imaginations. I think we both like surrealism, but it's not a conscious thing. We both like narrative and symbolism.”
They live in Gainsville, Florida.
A Playlist of Uelsmann's photos is here
"The camera is a license to explore. It grants you societal permission to go out and interact with the world. It gives value to my life. Even if I did not have the finished images that I made, I still would be content with all the experiences that the photographing has given me."--Jerry N. Uelsmann