by Gerald Boerner


“I have gradually confused photography with life.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“The camera is afluid way of encountering that other reality.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“It’s equally hard and labor intensive to create an image on the computer as it is in a darkroom. Believe me.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“Of course, in order to make art, the frustration of not working has to be greater than the frustration of working.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“Did you hear about the old professor who dreamed that he was giving a lecture and woke up to find that he was?”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“Ultimately, my hope is to amaze myself. The anticipation of discovering new possibilities becomes my greatest joy.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“I have gradually confused photography and life and as a result of this I believe I am able to work out of myself at an almost precognitive level.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“Wynn Bullock is a uniquely gifted man whose personal photographic search has produced images that expand not only the possibilities of photography, but of life itself.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“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.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“Editions made sense when people worked with engravings where the plate wore down as prints were made. An early number of the edition had slightly better quality. But that’s not the case with photography. To me, it’s a false way of creating value.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“The contemporary artist…is not bound to a fully conceived, previsioned end. His mind is kept alert to in-process discovery and a working rapport is established between the artist and his creation. While it may be true, as Nathan Lyons stated, ‘The eye and the camera see more than the mind knows,’ is it not also conceivable that the mind knows more than the eye and the camera can see?”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“And young people who are learning digital skills discover that the real challenge is coming up with an image that resonates, first of all, with your self and hopefully, with an audience. They can learn all these new techniques and think that they’re easier to use, but creating great images isn’t about the tools.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“Well, I do think, particularly the way I work, the better images occur when you’re moving to the fringes of your own understanding. That’s where self-doubt and risk taking are likely to occur. It’s when you trust what’s happening at a non-intellectual non-conscious level that you can produce work that later resonates, often in a way that you can’t articulate a response to.”
— Jerry Uelsmann

“One of the major changes in attitude that occurred in the world of art as we moved from the nineteenth into the twentieth century was that the twentieth century artist became more involved with personal expression than with celebrating exclusively the values of the society or the church. Along with this change came a broader acceptance of the belief that the artist can invent a reality that is more meaningful than the one that is literally given to the eye. I subscribe enthusiastically to this b”
— Jerry Uelsmann


Jerry Uelsmann (born: 1934)

Uelsmann_Portrait-SM Jerry N. Uelsmann is an American photographer.

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. 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.

Uelsmann-House on Roots Jerry Uelsmann began assembling his photographs from multiple negatives decades before digital tools like Photoshop were available. Using as many as seven enlargers to expose a single print, his darkroom skills allowed him to create evocative images that combined the realism of photography and the fluidity of our dreams. As an artist who is not threatened by digital photography, he is convinced that it is equally difficult to produce great images no matter what tool you use. But for him, “the alchemy of the photographic process” is inextricably tied to his creative vision. A teacher for most of his life, he has helped many photographers push past their limits and challenge their own expectations.


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.

uelsmann_small_woods 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.

Uelsmann_Floating Tree 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.” Today he is retired from teaching and currently lives in Gainesville, Florida along with his third wife, Maggie Taylor. 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.

Surrealism or Unclassified

Uelsmann’s surrealistic body of work is distinguished by its complex and poetic multiple image composition, revealing the extraordinary effects that the process of photography can accommodate. In a review of Uelsmann’s 1975 monograph Silver Meditations, the critic Hilton Kramer said Uelsmann was abundantly endowed with "technical mastery and … flawless confidence in … the inspired energies of the imagination."

Uelsmann_Female Stream Uelsmann makes the absurd appear believable and the incongruous convincing – which Surrealism rarely intends or achieves – by a method he has called "in-process discovery," a term he absorbed from colleagues in the painting department of the University of Florida. However, for Uelsmann, in-process discovery is more than a harmonious relationship between medium and cognition. It is in essence a gestalt position, in which creativity is viewed in terms of one’s ability to associate dissimilar elements in meaningful ways and to restructure the entire stimulus field. To disassociate known subject relationships (reality) and reassociate them in new but perhaps mysterious ways is the aesthetic thread that runs throughout his work. When Uelsmann speaks of "questions" in referring to his work, he is promoting "doubt" as a positive and essential force within in-process discovery.

Uelsmann-dreamtheater Jerry Uelsmann’s photomontages are perhaps the most significant silver printmaking achievement of the sixties. His photographs are a curious hybrid of themes, motifs, and sensibilities. In a single Uelsmann print one might find elements of Pop and Expressionism, photography as comedy, photography as self-knowledge, aspects of surreal and romantic fantasy, and formalist and conceptual experiment. Uelsmann’s prints are as pristine and seamless as Ansel Adams’s and as expressionistic as the work of his "photographic godfathers," as he calls them, Ralph Hattersley, Minor White, and Henry Holmes Smith. No current photographer has successfully imitated Uelsmann’s eclectic vision, but his influence can be traced widely to photographers as divergent as Meridel Rubinstein and Robert Cumming.

Uelsmann_Cracked Rock Uelsmann owes a great deal to Rauschenberg’s and Cornell’s notion of photography as a collecting activity, but he may also be seen as photography’s first successful answer to Pop Art. His work bears the same ironic and parodic relationship to traditional photographic aesthetics that Lichtenstein’s work bears to the aesthetics of traditional painting. Uelsmann’s prints are gatherings of the most extreme and frequently outrageous material. Like Rauschenberg and many Pop artists, Uelsmann employs subject matter that is prototypically American and peculiarly Southern. It is quintessential Americana: gimcracks, gewgaws, whim-whams, and whimsies of the nostalgic past. He peoples his photographs with old valentines, humorous ceramic figurines, old photographs, dolls, the American flag, an eagle, amusement park rides, Gothic statuary, and all sorts of bric-a-brac.

Uelsmann_Pool Door This basic Americana he combines with the most pretentious, shopworn romantic iconography: seed pods, a painter’s easel, floating eyes, decaying ruins, tombstones, cloaked women, dead birds, sunsets, and primary biological forms. At its best, the effect is a dazzling integration of the traditional mythology of art with American popular culture.

The critic William Parker has, with good reason, compared Uelsmann to the painter Magritte. The resemblance is, however, only superficial, for Magritte’s sensibility is ultimately European and too surreal for Uelsmann. Joseph Comell is a more fitting analogy. Cornell, like Uelsmann, managed to combine commonplace Americana with the sumptuous textures and images of high art. Both created mysterious objects, souvenirs, and merry amusements.

uelsmann_symbolic_mutation Uelsmann’s work was first read as deeply serious. Yet on re-evaluation it can be seen as a gentle mockery of the metaphoric tradition, a body of work equally concerned with visual puns, mental images, game playing, and process. The image of Uelsmann as a purely expressionistic photographer has been unfortunately antithetical to the development of his own work and flamboyant humor. It might be argued that Uelsmann, never having been acknowledged as the master Pop artist and humorist of contemporary photography, began to take his own work too seriously. It now appears that he has backed himself into a cornr, merely repeating without comic relief the mannerisms of the earlier work.

The above is from a letter written by Uelsmann to Peter Bunnell in February 1974, a year before publication of Silver Meditations, which marks the end of the period discussed in this section.

TODAY … NOW … GOD ONLY KNOWS. I keep imagining that I find notes on my desk like "Stieglitz phoned while you were out." If I could only have been there when he called ~ perhaps he would know what I’m up to. I range from paralyzing self-pity to incredible productivity, I have long been nourished by enigma. I’m not trying to solve anything. All my priorities are shifting. My questions have a better ‘feel" to them and I’m still learning about being Alive.

Believe me, there’s always doubt about what you are doing. It has never interfered much with my productivity but it’s always there, filling the air with questions. It took me a long time to realize that constant sustained questioning is capable of contributing to a healthy state. Offhand I would say two conditions must exist: first, the process (camera or darkroom) must be trusted to have equal responsibility informing the questions, and second, one must establish some sense of connoisseurship that helps the questioning process grow in terms of precision and intensity.

Awards and Honors

He has been graduate research professor of art at the university since 1974. Uelsmann 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 American Society for Photographic Education, and a trustee of the Friends of Photography.

Uelsman-randy-batista Uelsmann’s work has been exhibited in more than 100 individual shows in the United States and abroad over the past thirty years. His photographs are in the permanent collections of many museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliotheque National in Paris, the National Museum of American Art in Washington, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the National Gallery of Canada, the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Galleries of Scotland, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto.

His other books are Jerry N. Uelsmann (Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture, 1970); John L. Ward, The Criticism of Photography as Art: The Photographs of Jerry Uelsmann (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1970); Jerry Uelsmann: Silver Meditations (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Morgan & Morgan, 1975); Jerry N. Uelsmann: Photography from 1975-79 (Chicago: Columbia College, 1980); Jerry N. Uelsmann – Twenty-five Years: A Retrospective (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1982); and Uelsmann: Process and Perception (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida,1985).

In 1981, a report by American Photographer ranked Uelsmann as being amongst the top ten photographers collected in America. His smaller works presently sell for between $1000 and $2500 at auction.

His photographs can be seen in the opening credits of The Outer Limits (1995). His artwork is also featured in the progressive metal band Dream Theater’s 7th studio album Train of Thought (2003).


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Jerry Uelsmann that can be found at…

Other References:

Interview with Jerry Uelsmann…