Jerry Uelsmann

Jerry Uelsmann, Jack Welpott, 1972. Collection Center for Creative Photography, Purchase.
© Jerry N. Uelsmann. 76.7.49

Innovator and experimenter, Jerry N. Uelsmann (born 1934) was captivated by photography at a young age. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Uelsmann became intent on photography as a vocation in high school. He pursued this interest at Rochester Institute of Technology where he worked with Minor White and Ralph Hattersley and received his BFA in 1957. Uelsmann continued his studies at Indiana University and earned an MFA in 1960. There, under the mentorship of Henry Holmes Smith, Uelsmann’s distinctive approach to photography began to burgeon. In 1960, Van Deren Coke invited him to teach in the Department of Art at University of Florida where he taught for nearly forty years until his retirement in 1997. For Uelsmann the darkroom functions as a visual laboratory. Uelsmann uses multiple negatives and enlargers to create a single unified image. Uesmann often photographs with this in mind, selecting specific objects with the intention of isolating and then combining them with additional negatives in the darkroom. At times elements of Uelsmann’s visual vocabulary resurface, with these repeating motifs an additional hint to his process of assemblage. Uelsmann’s attention to print quality and his mastery of craft allow for the combination of elements to form a seamless and harmonious whole. The resultant images reflect his imaginative vision, subverting the viewer’s expectations of photographic depictions of reality. Although this method of combination printing originates in nineteenth century practices, modernist photographic trends discouraged such inventive darkroom strategies. Thus Uelsmann’s work was a harbinger of critical changes in contemporary photography of the 1970s and 80s. Uelsmann’s work is recognized for its influential role in expanding the field of photography. Despite their contrasting approaches to photography, Uelsmann was friends with Ansel Adams. Uelsmann served on the board of Friends of Photography in Carmel, California and in 1973 Ansel Adams invited him to teach at the Yosemite workshop. Subsequently, Uelsmann made playful portraits of Adams in honor of his friend. One of the key components of Uelsmann’s working strategy is “post-visualization,” a reference to Adams’ concept of “pre-visualization”. In 1967, Uelsmann was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for "Experiments in Multiple Printing Techniques in Photography." That same year he received a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and in 1972 a Photographer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Uelsmann helped to found the Society for Photographic Education (SPE). His work has been widely exhibited and is held in collections internationally.

The Jerry N. Uelsmann archive contains papers and photographic materials, including correspondence, writings, book maquettes, publications, posters, videotapes, memorabilia, portraits, and extensive files of contact sheets and proof prints. Research files include clippings, announcements, and catalogs document many of Uelsmann’s exhibitions and books. The collection currently holds 359 fine prints.

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