Anne Darling Photography

Jerry Uelsmann (1934-)

Jerry Uelsmann is an American photographic artist who creates surreal images through the use of multiple negatives and up to a dozen enlargers in his darkroom.

Even though he is "sympathetic to the current digital revolution and excited by the visual options created by the computer" he still works in film today as he feels that the "creative process remains intrinsically linked to the alchemy of the darkroom."

Uelsmann's photomontages are highly skilled and well thought out, but he sees himself as a kind of "image midwife" who creates the conditions for the image to happen. Although modern photographic practice aims at a previsualisation of the image, Uelsmann suggests that photographers remain more open to discovery during the making of a picture, a process he calls "post visualisation". Other areas of art such as sculpture or painting, he claims, allow for discoveries during the process, they allow for a dialogue between the art work and the artist - why not photography too?

jerry uelsmann - other realities - book of photographs Right: Other Realities

Early in life, Uelsmann developed an interest in photography while still at school, and went on to study for a BA at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he was influenced by the teachings of Minor White.

He regarded White as something of a mystic, and from him he realised that photography could not only capture the world outside but, more importantly, express the emotional and spiritual life within.

Another major influence on his photographic work was Henry Holmes Smith, an American photographer and fine art photography teacher who Uelsmann met at Indian University while studying for a Masters Degree. Although Smith's photographs did not achieve recognition, he challenged Uelsmann as an artist at a time when photography was not recognized as being an art form of any real merit.

According to Uelsmann, painting was "somewhere at the top and photography was somewhere very near the bottom" of the media hierarchy. In fact, photography was seen as merely a means of documenting events and Uelsmann was one of the avant garde of the time who helped to dispel this idea.

Another early influence in Uelsmann's work was that of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the decisive moment of selecting a slice of life to capture on film, allowing us to study it in depth at a later time.

jerry uelsmann book of photographs Left: Photo Synthesis

But what excites Uelsmann most is the ability of an image to be read on more than one level. Probably the main influence for this was, again, Minor White who said that "one should photograph objects, not only for what they are but for what else they are".

Uelsmann's pictures open a window into the world beyond everday life so when reading one of them we need to go beyond the surface detail. Again we find Minor White's influence who talked about the camera as a metamorphosing machine, the idea that the photograph could represent more than the literal subject matter.

White said that there were "inexplicable moments when things come together in a synchronistic way, not necessarily consciously or intellectually understood." Perhaps this explains why Uelsmann claims he is unable to understand many of his images. The most we can glean by way of insight into his work is that he thinks of his "photographs as being obviously symbolic but not symbolically obvious."

Jerry Uelsmann was also a frequent contributor to Aperture, the prestigious photography journal Minor White helped found and edited for 16 years.


  1. Jerry Uelsmann's website:
  2. Focusing on a Spiritual Medium by Lennie Bennett
  3. Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present by Vicki Goldberg

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