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 Jerry N. Uelsmann  (1934 - )

About: Jerry N. Uelsmann
 

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Lived/Active: Florida/Michigan      Known for: abstract, still life painting, photography

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Biography from Collier Gallery, Fine Art Estate of Lon Megargee:
Uelsmann was born in Detroit, Michigan.  When he was in high school, his interest in photography sparked.  He originally believed that using a camera could allow him to exist outside of himself, to live in a world captured through the lens.  Despite poor grades, he managed to land a few jobs, primarily shooting weddings.  Eventually Uelsmann went on to earn a B.F.A. degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and M.S. and M.F.A. degrees from Indiana University.  Jerry Uelsmann dropped out of Indiana University before earning a degree.  He began teaching photography at the University of Florida in 1960.  In 1967, Uelsmann had a solo exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art which opened up doors for his photography career.[1]

Uelsmann is a master printer producing composite photographs with multiple negatives and extensive darkroom work.  He uses up to a dozen enlargers at a time to produce his final images.  Similar in technique to Rejlander, Uelsmann is a champion of the idea that the final image need not be tied to a single negative, but may be composed of many.  Unlike Rejlander, though, he does not seek to create narratives, but rather allegorical surrealist imagery of the unfathomable. Uelsmann is able to subsist on grants and teaching salary, rather than commercial work.

Today, with the advent of digital cameras and Photoshop, photographers are able to create a work somewhat resembling Uelsmann's in less than a day, however, at the time Uelsmann was considered to have almost "magical skill" with his completely analog tools.  Uelsmann used the darkroom frequently, sometimes using three to ten enlargers to produce the expected effect.  Photos were still widely regarded as documentary evidence of events, and Uelsmann, along with people like Lucas Samaras, was considered an avant garde shatterer of the popular conception.

Yet if one fears that Uelsmann will begin taking advantage of modern day conveniences, he reassures, “I am sympathetic to the current digital revolution and excited by the visual options created by the computer.  However, I feel my creative process remains intrinsically linked to the alchemy of the darkroom.”[2] Today he is retired from teaching and currently lives in Gainesville, Florida along with his third wife, Maggie Taylor.[3].  Uelsmann has one son, Andrew, who is a graduate student at the University of Florida.  But to this day, Uelsmann still produces photos, sometimes creating more than a hundred in a single year.  Out of these images, he likes to sit back and select the ten he likes the most, which is not an easy process.[4]

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