Jerry Uelsmann is considered a darkroom magician and a master of contemporary photography. His work is at once witty, dreamlike, mysterious, and provocative. The Michener Art Museum is exhibiting more than 90 iconic photographs from Uelsmann’s celebrated career through April 28 in The Mind’s Eye, a major retrospective organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The Michener exhibition sponsored is Jon Paton.
“At the core of the show are examples of his most famous technique: seamlessly fabricating photographs from apparently unrelated negatives, creating scenes both imaginary and intensely real, with well-known works shown alongside never-before-seen recent images,” says Michener Director and CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover. This is Uelsmann’s first retrospective in 40 years.
“Beautiful and surreal, funny and provocative, the photographs of Jerry Uelsmann are icons of American photo history,” says Exhibition Curator Phillip Prodger. “As a pioneer of contemporary photography and master of experimental darkroom technique, Uelsmann has continuously pushed the creative and technical boundaries of photography, revealing new visual possibilities and critical considerations for the medium.”
In the late 1950s, Uelsmann began experimenting with multiple enlargers and advanced masking, diffusing, burning and dodging techniques, to create imaginary images in the darkroom decades before the advent of Photoshop. “Uelsmann’s ingenious work references Surrealists like Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, and Man Ray, as well as Modern photographers such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams,” says Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest Chief Curator Brian H. Peterson. “He has spent his career advocating for the acceptance of experimental photography as an art form.”
For more than half a century, Uelsmann has challenged conventional ideas about what photography can and should do. Through experimental techniques, Uelsmann has explored universal themes of relationships, family, home and politics by creating unexpected and surprising juxtapositions. “My visual quest is driven by a desire to create a universe capable of supporting feelings and ideas,” said Uelsmann. “I am drawn to art that challenges one’s sense of reality.”
His pictures provide a valuable touchstone for understanding new trends in photographic art, and his ideas have become more relevant as photography embraces Photoshop and other computer technologies for altering and manipulating photographs.
The Mind’s Eye presents works drawn from the artist’s personal archive of vintage materials and, in addition to photographic prints, includes a selection of three-dimensional photographic sculptures, films, artist’s books, albums and work prints to give viewers first-hand insight into Uelsmann’s creative process and expressive range.
Born in Detroit in 1934, Uelsmann earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1957 and Master of Science and Master of Fine Arts degrees from Indiana University in 1960. In 1967 he had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He is retired from the University of Florida, where he joined the faculty in 1960. Uelsmann is recipient of both a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.