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He experiments in a darkroom. She composes on a computer screen. Together, husband-and-wife artists Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor broke free of traditional notions of photography to create haunting, layered dreamscapes that challenge the medium's possibilities. Step inside their Florida compound to see their complementary work and contrasting processes—and find out how they overcame the early skepticism of their art-world peers to become luminaries in their field.
Evon Streetman: We have really lived through, experienced, and watched the end of what at one time was a greater phenomenon than the computer: the fixed image on a piece of paper. At this moment, Jerry works in an antique photographic process. Phillip Prodger: I don't think Jerry's work has ever been more relevant or more resonant than it is today.
Because of the digital technologies that are available, it may be that younger artists who look at Jerry's work think, okay, yeah, I could do that, in a way that artists in the '60s and '70s couldn't. But having said that, I think the material looks really fresh to young eyes, and there's a whole generation, or more, of artists who really haven't studied this work before. And it's not just technical; it is artistic. It is emotional. It is expressive. And it's Jerry's approach to this kind of subject matter, I think, more than his technical sophistication, that really resonates with people today.
(music playing) Keith Davis: Jerry began when there was no economic incentive to make art photographs, and Maggie began when there was very little economic incentive to be making computer art. In both cases, what we see stems from something deeply felt and deeply personal. And that continues. Jerry Uelsmann: I knew that somehow this medium had possibilities that certainly were beyond this portrait studio in Detroit that I initially envisioned.
I couldn't define them from any other occupational point of view. All I knew was that this is incredibly interesting to me. And I don't know what all the clues that caused that watching that first print in the developer, but there was a point in which it was-- I believed it was engaging for me and it would sustain that kind of feeling for a long time. (music playing) Maggie Taylor: I'm very open to the idea that we're all changeable and that I can't say a few years from now if I'll be doing the exact same sort of thing that I'm doing now.
I'm really happy with the fact that the computer came into my life at the time that it did, and allowed me to change and my work to grow in this way. Jerry: Edgar Weston said he defined art as the outer expression of inner growth. The quote was basically, when I was young, in my early 40s, I defined art as outer expression of inner growth. He said, "I can't define art any better today, but my work has changed. Art is not something to be learned apart from books and rules.
It is a living thing that depends on full participation. As we grow in life, so we grow in art, each of us in his unique way." (music playing) Keith: Jerry represents the beginning of time, with the enlarger. Maggie is representing modern age, and so we have this fusion between the two that influence the people here at The Annenberg.
Male speaker: Why are we all here? We're here because of Jerry Uelsmann. I believe that Photoshop may have existed, if I didn't see Jerry's work, would I have gone onto Adobe, would I have helped them make Photoshop? Would I be here? Would any of you be here? I don't think so. (music playing) Phillip: He has given a whole new generation of photographers the inspiration to engage with experimental photography.
What that means in the future, what kinds of photography in coming decades, remains to be seen. (music playing) Ted Orland: I sometimes think of the world of artists as sort of this large balloon that's filled with artwork, and each artist is busy pushing at some edge or another of that balloon and slowly enlarging that universe and making it a little richer for us.
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