“The simple act of having a camera, not a cell phone, but a camera-camera, there’s a kind of a heightened perceptional awareness that occurs. Like, I could walk from here to the highway in two minutes, but if I had a camera, that walk could take me two hours.” –
Jerry Uelsmann is a master of a process he has named “post-visualization.” He has spent 50 years photographing places, objects, figures, nudes, rocks, fields, skies, clouds — the list is, frankly, endless. Yet he doesn’t print a single one of them. He layers many images together onto a single print. Did I mention that Jerry Uelsmann does all of his work on film? His mysterious, evocative prints are made in the analog darkroom.
He spends hours with his library of contact sheets considering which images will work together. He spends hours in the darkroom setting up numerous negative in his seven enlargers. He performs his print in a magical way using masking techniques that he has invented to blend many negatives into wondrous works in black and white.
Visual self challenge
In an interview with James Estrin from The New York Times’ Lens blog, he says,
“One thing I try to tell students is that the illusion of knowledge is more detrimental to growth than ignorance, because once you think you know something, the questioning stops. And it’s that ongoing ability to question your own imagery. You should even question your own thinking. I find it exciting to constantly challenge myself visually.” He goes on to note, “If I have an ultimate goal, it’s to amaze myself.”
Three images a year
Jerry Uelsmann makes a hundred images a year. Usually, only three make the cut. Uelsmann says he works hard at his art. He sets up an idea then runs tests. It can take days to arrive at a final image. When an image is finished, making duplicates is repeating the process of moving the paper from enlarger to enlarger and so on until developing the print and fixing it into a finished, archival photograph.
“And once I get a completed image, I consider — how many prints should I make? Most of mine have never sold that many. At that point, you want the Holy Ghost to whisper in your ear, “Just do two of those.”
Analog vs. Photoshop
Uelsmann does everything in the wet darkroom, testing, developing the trial then testing and processing some more. He compares his work to that of his wife Maggie Taylor,
“t can takes days, literally, to make the print. And the one thing I’m most jealous of — well, there’s several things. My wife Maggie can work at the computer for an hour, two hours and just save it. Once I’m set up in the darkroom, I have to have a minimum of five hours, and preferably seven or eight hours, because you’ve got liquids, you’ve got wet prints. You can’t just leave ‘em overnight. And you’ve got to carry through this process. And now, because I guess I’m in the big leagues, I have to do the archival processing, which is additional steps — so I need toning. So that just takes time.”
Consider these …
To close out this session of On Photography here are some things to think about from Jerry:
- “Photography is just light remembering itself.”
- “The camera is a license to explore.”
- “There are no uninteresting things. There are just uninterested people.”
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