I started making photographs in high school, which was long enough ago to mean that we learned on film. Actually, we began creating photograms, then making Quaker Oats pinhole cameras. It was only after we learned the basic mechanics of light, that we were able to move on to using actual cameras, which, for us, meant the tired and true Pentax K1000. Though I was glad to graduate from oatmeal boxes to a proper camera, the thrill for me was always what happened in the darkroom. I’ve said this before, that seeing an image fade up in a tray of developer is like alchemy. I somehow convinced my Mom to let me build a darkroom in the garage and, for several years, I spent many a late night, bathed in the amber glow of a safe light. When I first discovered the work of Jerry Uelsmann, I was blown away, not only by the content, but also because I have an understanding of just how much work goes into creating his wonderful composite images. Getting a great image from one enlarger is hard enough, but Uelsmann uses up to seven, moving the paper from one to the next until the image is complete. It’s an exacting and time consuming process, compounded by the fact that you can’t really know what you have until the paper hits the developer.
Photoshop, on the other hand, is, for the most part, immediate; something I discovered for myself with version 3.0, which introduced Layers. For the first time, you could quickly (relatively) create images with “multiple exposures” in a digital environment; which is where Uelsmann’s wife, Maggie Taylor, creates her amazing composite images. Vintage black and white photographs become hand-colored focal points of her surrealistic worlds, embellished with all manner of elements, both found and created. Though digital, her work is every bit as exacting and precise; a perfect digital compliment to Uelsmann’s analog creations.
A brand new film, called Jerry & Maggie: This is Not Photography, explores the lives of artists Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor. It looks to be a fascinating glimpse into not only their lives, but also the unique way each of them approaches their work; Uelsmann shoots on film and still does all of his post-processing in the darkroom, while Taylor has completely embraced digital and incorporates vintage photographs, scanned objects (including goldfish) and all manner of ephemera into pieces she assembles and finishes in Photoshop.