Jerry Uelsmann

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Jerry Uelsmann
Born June 11, 1934
Detroit, Michigan
Nationality American
Alma mater Indiana University
Rochester Institute of Technology
University of Florida

Jerry N. Uelsmann (born June 11, 1934) is an American photographer, and was the forerunner of photomontage in the 20th century in America.


Uelsmann was born in Detroit, Michigan. While attending public schools, at the age of fourteen, there sparked an interest in photography. He believed that through photography he could exist outside of himself, to live in a world captured through the lens. Despite poor grades, he managed to land a few jobs, primarily photographs of models. Eventually Uelsmann went on to earn a BA from the Rochester Institute of Technology and M.S. and M.F.A. degrees from Indiana University. Soon after, he began teaching photography at the University of Florida in 1960. In 1967, Uelsmann had his first solo exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art which opened doors for his photography career.[1]

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, and has a large archive of negatives that he has shot over the years. Uelsmann does not carry multiple attachments, but only one camera, "Most photographers carry many cameras with multiple attachments. Most photographers have one enlarger. I have half a dozen." When beginning to create one of his photomontages, he has a strong intuitive sense of what he's looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an understanding that mistakes are inevitable and are part of the creative process. His process begins after a day of shooting. He returns to his work station in his home and covers a large drafting table with hundreds of proof sheets. He folds and overlaps various contact prints, explores the visual possibilities, then brings the options into his darkroom. He then sets his selected pieces into the large number of enlargers that he owns in his darkroom, and moves the photo paper progressively down the line, building up an image.[2] The negatives that Uelsmann uses are known to reappear within his work, acting as a focal point in one work, and background as another. Similar in technique to Rejlander, Uelsmann is a champion of the idea that the final image need not be tied to a single negative, and may be composed of many. During the mid-twentieth century, when photography was still being defined, Uelsmann didn't care about the boundaries given by the Photo Secessionists or other realists at the time, he simply wished to share with the viewer, the images from his imagination and saw photomontage as the means by which to do so. Unlike Rejlander, though, he does not seek to create narratives, but rather "allegorical surrealist imagery of the unfathomable".Boi is able to subsist on grants and teaching salary, rather than commercial work.

Uelsmann's interpretations of landscape elements, reworked, tweaked, and recontextualized, force the viewer to actively interact with his subjects.[3] Continually in his photographs the viewer is confronted with entrances, whether they be gates, windows, trap doors, or ordinary doors. Usually the entrances are shut, but even when they are not, Uelsmann does not allow his viewer to see inside so the viewer must imagine what is inside. This is an example of the viewer having to actively interact with the photo they are forced to think more deeply and critically about their own interpretation. In Uelsmann's art there are many right answers - and discovering them is a process that involves both artist and viewer.

Today, with the advent of digital cameras and image editing software, 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. At the time Uelsmann's work first came to popular attention, photos were still widely regarded as unfalsifiable documentary evidence of events. However, Uelsmann, along with Lucas Samaras, was considered an avant garde shatterer of this popular mindset and help to expand the artistic boundaries of photography.

Despite his works' affinity with digital techniques, Uelsmann continues to use traditional equipment. "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."[4] Today Uelsmann is retired from teaching and lives in Gainesville, Florida. In 2016, he divorced his third wife, Maggie Taylor.[5] He has one son, Andrew. Uelsmann still produces photos, sometimes creating more than a hundred in a single year. Out of these images, he likes to select the ten he likes the most, which is not an easy process.[4]

His photographs can be seen in the opening credits of the television series The Outer Limits (1995), and the illustrated edition of Stephen King's Salem's Lot. In addition, his artwork is featured on the cover of Dream Theater's 2003 album Train of Thought, and Bon Jovi's 2016 album This House Is Not for Sale.

Chronology through 1985[edit]

  • 1934 — Born in Detroit, Michigan.
  • 1948 – after attending public schools, develops an interest in photography at age 14.
  • 1955–1960 – Attends Rochester Institute of Technology (B.F.A., M.A.) and Indiana University (M.F.A.). Inspired and influenced by teachers Minor White, Ralph Hattersley, and Henry Holmes Smith.
  • 1960–1966 – Join faculty of Department of Art, University of Florida, as Instructor of Art, at invitation of Van Deren Coke. Founding member and elected to Board of Directors of the National Society for Photographic Education.
  • 1967–1970 – One-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Receives Guggenheim Fellowship. Conducts workshops and delivers lectures throughout the United States at major universities and art institutions. Promoted to Professor of Art, University of Florida. Cited for outstanding contributions to photography by the American Society of Magazine Photographers. Portfolio of work presented in major U.S. and European publications. First retrospective exhibition, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Complete issue of Aperture (15:4) devoted to his work, with essay by Peter C. Bunnell.
  • 1971–1973 – Invited to deliver fourth Bertram Cox Memorial Lecture, entitled "Some Humanistic Considerations of Photography," at the Royal Public Society, London. Continues to lecture and give workshops throughout the United States and Europe. Receives National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Limited-edition portfolio of photographs issued by the Witkin Gallery, New York. Made Fellow of Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. Participates as one of several featured artists at fourth Recontres Unternationales de la Photographie in Arles, France.
  • 1974–1977 – Appointed Graduate Research Professor, University of Florida. Receives Certificate of Merit from the Society of Publication Designers and Certificate of Excellence from American Institute of Graphic Arts, both for contributions to The New York Times. Publication of first monograph on his work, Silver Meditations, Introduction by Peter C. Bunned. Work included in international exhibitions at more than a half-dozen commercial galleries and at an equal number of major museums and art centers, including a 225-print retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
  • 1978–1981 – Receives a Bronze Medal at 19th Zagreb Salon, International Exhibition of Photography held in Yugoslavia. Included in major national and international exhibitions, including Mirrors and Windows (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and group shows in the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and Japan. Honored as Visiting Professor, Nihon University, College of Art, Tokyo. Named one of top ten most collected photographers, preceded only by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Lewis Hine, in a report by American Photographer.
  • 1982Jerry N. Uelsmann: Twenty-Five Years: a Retrospective is published.
  • 1985 – Uelsmann publishes Process and Perception, where he uncovers his creative process from negative, to print.


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 Society of Photographic Education, and a former trustee of the Friends of Photography. He was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame in 1994.


Uelsmann's work is world-renowned, and has been featured in over 100 individual shows across the United States and abroad over the past forty-years. His work is featured in the permanent collections of, but not limited to:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Museum of Modern Art in New York
  • The Chicago Art Institute
  • The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville
  • The International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum in London
  • The Bibliothèque nationale 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
  • The National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto
  • The Museum of Photography in Seoul, Korea


  • Moth and Bonelight. 21st Editions [1], South Dennis MA, 2004.
  • Uelsmann: Yosemite. University of Florida Press, Florida, 1996.
  • An Aperture Monograph." Aperture, Inc., 1971.
  • Other Realities. Bulfinch Press, New York,2005


  1. ^ Shutterbug: Master Interview; Jerry Uelsmann
  2. ^ Orland, Ted (1996). Uelsmann/Yosemite. Gainesville: U of Florida: University Press of Florida. p. ix. ISBN 0-8130-1444-1. 
  3. ^ Forgang, David (1996). Uelsmann/Yosemite. Gainesville: U of Florida: University Press of Florida. p. v. ISBN 0-8130-1444-1. 
  4. ^ a b Shutterbug: Master Interview; Jerry Uelsmann
  5. ^ "Dissolution of Marriage Records". Florida Department of Health. Retrieved 24 February 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bennett, Lennie (2006-02-19). "Focusing on a spiritual medium". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  • Hirsch, Robert. "Maker of Photographs: Jerry Uelsmann". PHOTOVISION Magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  • Ames, John (1991). Uelsmann: Process and Perception. University of Florida Press. 
  • Coleman, A.D. (1992). Jerry Uelsmann: Photo Synthesis. University of Florida Press. 
  • Enyeart, James (1982). Jerry N. Uelsmann; Twenty-Five Years: A Retrospective. Little, Brown and Company. 
  • Garner, Gretchen (2003). Disappearing Act. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  • Uelsmann, Jerry (1971). An Aperture Monograph. Aperture, Inc. 
  • Uelsmann, Jerry (1996). Uelsmann: Yosemite. University of Florida Press. 

External links[edit]