Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jerry Uelsmann: The Alchemist

By Glenn Rand, Photography By Jerry Uelsmann Published in Photographer Profiles
Photographer Jerry Uelsmann has been working with image manipulation since the late 1950s, when it was considered to be bad form. He assembles his densely constructed prints from multiple silver-halide negatives, piecing together each aspect in an organic process in which he consciously avoids meaning, the classic workflow of a surrealist. Now in his late 70s, the celebrated photomontage photographer is considered to be one of the forerunners of modern image manipulation, despite continuing to work meticulously in the analog darkroom.
Photographer Jerry Uelsmann has been working with image manipulation since the late 1950s, when it was considered to be bad form. He assembles his densely constructed prints from multiple silver-halide negatives, piecing together each aspect in an organic process in which he consciously avoids meaning, the classic workflow of a surrealist. Now in his late 70s, the celebrated photomontage photographer is considered to be one of the forerunners of modern image manipulation, despite continuing to work meticulously in the analog darkroom.
"Dream Theater, 2004."

Uelsmann pushes the boundaries of his full body of work to create new and constantly evolving images. He's uncompromising in his approach. While he can tolerate uncertainty in the process of creating final images, he can't surrender the art itself. This aesthetic approach leads Uelsmann to broad experimentation with various potential elements. He doesn't settle on a final composition until it satisfies his first audience: himself. Since the mid-20th century until today, Uelsmann has created iconic images within this continuously evolving style. While we can see relationships to his earlier work, there are still new departures in his subjects, techniques and the emotional content.

Uelsmann is unapologetic about his approach. He challenges viewers psychologically and emotionally. He also challenges the critics because his images aren't easy to write about. The images don't rely on art theory; they reside in the surrealism that they create, and then each invites the viewers to interpret and enjoy their own interpretations. This flies in the face of postmodernism, which has dominated much of the photographic milieu for many years. Since Uelsmann's images vary in meaning and emotion from viewer to viewer, they can't be confined to a simplified genre nor can they be fully intellectualized through commentary.

He doesn't settle on a final composition until it satisfies his first audience: himself.
Uelsmann steadfastly remains committed to silver-halide imagery despite the fact that the uninitiated may assume that it's all digital. Resist the urge to label his process as anachronistic. Like so many great artists, Uelsmann is a master craftsman who has a profound connection to his medium. As noted at the outset of this article, you can't define the artist by his technique, and perhaps the greatest compliment to Uelsmann's vision and his importance to concepts using digital technology is that as an alchemist working with silver-based images, his work has been included in the exhibition Digital Darkroom at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles (December 17, 2011-May 30, 2012).

You can see more of Jerry Uelsmann's work at www.uelsmann.net.

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