Last week a link was making its rounds on social media reminding people of an artist documentary being shown publicly on Direct TV and much to my surprise it was of Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor. I’m not as familiar with Maggie’s work as I am with Jerry’s, but I was super excited to check out the show nonetheless.
Back in college, one of my professors Fred, was head over heels for Jerry’s work and once I saw it, I realized why. Uelsmann is a magician of the darkroom. Not only is he a visionary with how he even thinks of his compositions, but he manages to somehow dodge and burn his way into creating the most exquisite & surreal moments in time.
I’ve always been in awe of his work and being able to actually watch him create in the darkroom during this documentary had me completely geeked out. Uelsmann recounts stories of his entry into photography at RIT and how one of his first assignments was to create “doorways to an ominous portent” and how he had to look up what that even meant. (It’s always comforting to hear even the greats can be perplexed at times!) It seems to me as if Uelsmann has kept this phrase in the back of his mind with everything he has done. He’s opening the world into his own world that’s mysterious, sometimes dark, strange world and his work begs us to wonder just what we’re looking at and then wonder how on earth he made it!
One of the biggest things I took away from Jerry’s part of the documentary was his encouragement to “post visualize”. He talks about how as photographers, often we only ever pre visualize and fall prey to thinking that’s it. He urges photographers to rethink looking at the negative (or RAW) as only the starting point to what it could be. Not halfway. Not the end. The start. I found this to be an interesting point to ponder and one that I plan on taking with me and applying.
The other part of the documentary focused on Maggie Taylor who at one point in time was a student of Uelsmann’s. Having not been as familiar with her work, I was fascinated to see the documentary go back to her early work and show her evolution from her “suburban portraits” of houses to her collages of today. Her early work seemed stiff and I just didn’t “get” it. However, being able to watch that evolution in compressed time was a fascinating glimpse into the artistic process we all go through while trying to find our own voices.
To me, I find it interesting to think that Maggie had a voice inside all along, but it took technology (Photoshop) time to catch up with her! Not many would have never thought of using a flatbed scanner and found objects the way Maggie does. Like Uelsmann, she too, has this amazing ability to look at these separate components and know how to put them together and when she does, her Photoshop skills are so profoundly finessed you’re left picking up your jaw from the floor when you look at one of her images.
Overall, the documentary left me inspired. Inspired to listen a little more to those crazy ideas I have from time to time. Inspired to not let myself be limited by technology. And inspired to delve back into some Photo History and see what else I can learn. If you missed the airing on TV, you’re in luck! You can view the documentary on lynda.com and as Photofocus readers you can take advantage of the 10 Day Free Trial. Watch and learn to your heart’s content!
Lisa is co founder and lead photographer of SoftBox Media Photography, a D.C. based wedding & portrait studio. Follow along on Twitter!
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