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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.
Martha: I know that Jerry, you talked about making work that talks back to you. And Maggie, in the film you mentioned about that you have to make bad images to get to the good ones and ones that you love. You stressed that a lot, images that you love. And I thought I'd ask you both. How you know when an image is done? Just a simple question, right? Martha: How do you know when, when it's there? Jerry Uelsmann: When someone buys it. Martha: When someone buys it! Jerry Uelsmann: I don't know, now I think the point is you know, it's wrong when you think that there's one correct answer so.
You know, if there's a kind of time commitment and there's a point at which you get frustrated and you stop and then sometimes you can go back to that. But I think, you know, when I talk to people in other areas, like painters, they have the same problem. It's like when are you done? How far can you push this image? It is also helpful, we have friends that we share our images with to get feedback from people who are non-artists. As, I mean, people's psychologists, whatever. They are looking at the image and not just addressing the technique and, you know, when you find support for a particular image, then it's, sort of, time to move on.
Martha: I think that's so interesting. Jerry and Maggie shared that they have evenings where you'll invite a lot of friends over, and being in an academic community,. Jerry Uelsmann: Yeah. Martha: Your group of friends might include psychologists, and as you say, painters. Jerry Uelsmann: Yeah. Martha: And geographers and all, people from all different walks of life. So it must be fascinating evening to share work in progress. Jerry Uelsmann: Well, we drink a lot too, so Martha: Of course, have a little fun. But you know, I also remember, Jerry when you were teaching first at the, Ansel Adams workshop, in the early 80s, there was one particular year, where Jerry brought, I don't remember, it was an 80 count tray, or 140, but a lot of images that he had documented.
You had made an image or a slide I should say, of every image that you tried that year. And the, the lesson of course to all the photographers was that, if eight or I think ten. Jerry Uelsmann: Yeah. Martha: Images that year make it into your life's body of work. Jerry Uelsmann: Yeah. Martha: That that was an outstanding year. Can you share a little bit about that? Jerry Uelsmann: Well, I have too many, as you get older you have, you have too many stories and they're too long. But basically at one event at the university at one time other professors would come up to me and say oh, you're so lucky.
You're in the arts. You're an artist. Oh God, great. I'd love to be an artist. You know, so it was a little group in which we had different faculty members would present what they're doing to each other and on terms that lay people could understand. So if the guy was in physics or the guy was a psychologist, they would talk about what they're doing but in ways that you could question them. And so I decided then to make slides of every image I made during a year and then show them at the end of the year the ten that I like, because their point was, that you have some special gift and to me, the main gift you have to have if you, if you are an, annal retentive workaholic.
That's a good start for you know, being involved in arts and being willing to try different things. It's like saying we've just got this little interview with Swanny here let's just be profound, okay? Why don't you start, Maggie? Or Martha? You know, you can't. Just say today I'm going to make wonderful art. You start, and then you try to get invested in that image. Martha: Maggie, in the movie, you talked about sometimes it's months for an image.
Maggie Taylor: Oh, yeah. Martha: That you have the benefit of the computer, you can save things, come back, and. Maggie Taylor: Yeah, until something feels exactly right, I don't even make a proof print of it or anything. So it's just after, you know, at least a few weeks, sometimes a couple months then I'll get to the point where I like something enough I'll make a print of it and then look at that you know, for a couple of days. And usually I mark on it and circle the things I don't like and then I go back and work on it some more. And when I've reach the point where I've been making proof prints for several days, or even a week of something, and I get to the point where, in the next morning, I look at it and I can't even remember or tell what it was that was different from the previous version, then I know I'm done with it.
Martha: That's good. Maggie Taylor: You know? Martha: That's, that's a good Maggie Taylor: It's like, did I lighten the dress a little bit? I'm not sure. Martha: Yeah. And, and that can evolve over time. And probably the influence of friends and colleagues looking at it over time might give you clues as well. Maggie Taylor: Yeah, people will come over and we'll put out a couple different things that we've been working on. And I used to have more versions of things than Jerry did but now he's starting working more in the way I do where he'll end up with different versions from different days in the dark room. Jerry Uelsmann: Well. Maggie Taylor: And then, we have friends that will come and comment and look on which one's they like better. Martha: So, what about the years working on the Polaroid 24? 20 x 24, the instant camera? Jerry Uelsmann: Well, I did a couple of projects with the, the 20 x 24 Polaroid.
But that's not unlike when I work with the computer, John Reuters, the guy that comes with the cameras, and I said, yeah, he's a Polaroid guy, and we did elaborate multiple exposures but I couldn't do the kind of things I did in the dark room. I still have a bunch of those. I rarely. I don't know if I've ever shown anybody. Anyway. They're available. Martha: And that was. It was, first at, there's a university that brought six of you artists to together to use a camera. Jerry Uelsmann: Well, yeah. Polaroid used to have, they were very much interested in supporting the arts.
So there was a thing where the university in Birmingham, actually the art museum there, had six southern artists come work with the big Polaroid, and I worked with it up at Mass College of Art, on several different, it was just something to try, it was different, and you know, again, I pushed the limits of it. Martha: And, Polaroid, I'm sorry, Platinum as well, you recently did an addition in Platinum. Jerry Uelsmann: Well, I, to be doing the Platinum, you have to be super anal retentive to do Platinum, but I did work with Chuck Henningson and Taos, and I went there when the printing was being done, but it's like one drop different, and some.
But it, you know, again, it's a different process. The ultimate thing to me is the image. It is interesting to see it sometimes translated in the different media, but you have to be careful and it's, it's not just better because it's Platinum. And Platinum tends to separate the tones more and the highlights and shadows, so certain kinds of images much more subtle and work well with the Platinum process. Martha: Would you both share with us, how you mark the information on your prints? What do you include and where do you put it? I presume there is no shutter speed.
Jerry Uelsmann: No. No, shutter speed. Martha: And do you, how do you title things? How, tell us what you, what you lend in that information to your dealers and then of course to the people buying work. Jerry Uelsmann: I, well I just sign them on the back and I have a stamp that this is archivally processed and then a copyright thing, you know. And that's it because I do the selen, I do the well, selenium tone, all the things that is supposed to make these things. I'd like to be archivally processed. Jerry Uelsmann: And so how do I forget that, you know? But I do that. Just a rubber stamp and my name. And I don't, the crazy thing is now the whole world is in editions.
Like, there's only four of these? Oh, my God, only four? And you can buy one. Because once I set this thing up, like you saw in the video, you know, how many prints should I make? I mean, I'd spend a lot of time setting up, but usually I'd try to make ten prints and, you know, for 90, you know, 8% of my work, those ten prints have lasted me. You know? The few things that do sell, I go back and reprint in the same way because I don't use copy negatives. And that is not a drag.
People think, well, isn't that a drag. It's really refreshing when you're making an image that you know people like, because you can focus on the craft, and a lot of times I can figure out even better ways. And you know, everybody talks about how good photo materials used to be. There's really excellent papers available today. It's just that they cost a lot more and I'm happy when you know, I can reprint things. I think I make it better even though people tend to want the vintage reprint, I'm vintage, so the prints are vintage.
Martha: You know, Ansel used to say the same thing. He couldn't understand why people wanted to pay all that much more money for those old brown prints when he was making the best prints at that time instead. And Maggie, what about you with your notations? Maggie Taylor: Well, I print everything on a matte surface paper, so I just sign the front in pencil. I think it looks better than pen, so I just do pencil, and I do editions, even though Jerry doesn't, I edition everything and so I write down the numbers and log them into my book and everything, and. Martha: And you've used the same paper for a long time, haven't you? Martha: Stayed pretty consistent.
Maggie Taylor: Yeah. I've stayed pretty much with one paper for quite a while, and with the same, I have these Epson printers at home and I just, it's like once you have your system you try to stay with it and hope that things don't break. And just when it seems like things are going really well, something will happen. But, you know. Martha: And is it that your dealers then encourage the editioning or. Maggie Taylor: You know, at the time. Martha: Coming into the market place at this time, did you know that was? Maggie Taylor: When I was in graduate school, everyone was doing editions and I would look at photographers who were selling their work at that time and people were editioning.
So, yeah. It was like, your edition should be somewhere between, they told us in graduate school a good number for a edition of a print is something between 20 and 80. Like 80 would be too many and 20 would be too small. Now, they tell people oh it needs to be less than ten, so who knows, things change. Jerry Uelsmann: It's a marketing thing editioning, because certainly my generation, you know, who editioned, Asul didn't edition. He admitted to making I don't know, 1500 or 2000 of the moon rise and Lee Freedlander didn't, that's the generation I am.
It's only recently that then people have gotten into another way of making the things seem more rare, and to me one of the phenomenas about photography, so wonderful, you have multiple originals. I mean, editioning used to occur in print making, when you had an engraving or something because it would break down over time, so the earlier numbers were thought to be better quality prints. But in photography, that's not the case, I mean, and as things improve, and even in the computer I would think that the inks get better, more archival, but, you know, the more recent ones are better.
Maggie Taylor: I like the idea that the images don't have one particular meaning. And if that's something that you're sort of getting at. It's like, I like the idea that when I come back and look at them over time, the meaning changes, even to me. So I'm not fixated on, you know, this illustrates a particular dream that I had or this illustrates a particular moment in my life. And a lot of different things feed into each image, things that I've been seeing on television or reading in a book or whatever has just happened feeds into the work. And sometimes I don't realize it until later on when I'm looking at it that something, you know, I made an image of a girl with one glove on and I looked at it a year later and I realized.
I made that during the time that Michael Jackson died, and it was on TV all the time. And there was this glove fixation or something. And I hadn't even thought about that at the time. So, and. Jerry Uelsmann: Well, I. Maggie Taylor: You also are open to. Jerry Uelsmann: Yeah, there's a point at which if I'm honest it's psychotherapy for me at this point. I mean that, yeah, the idea to be in this little, dimly-lit room, you're just by yourself, and you're creating things. It's just, when Maggie and I have things that take us away from doing our work for a period of time, like, we're a week in New York now.
It's, you know, there's a point at which you're ready to get back to square one, where you're alone and you've got the blank piece of paper, you know, to see what can happen. So It helps me psychologically to have that. Even though it's a challenge it's not, you know, it's a wonderful kind of challenge to have. Maggie Taylor: And it feels like an important thing to be doing just because we both feel like we see ourselves better through making images in some way, so we just need to be making these things. Jerry Uelsmann: And if we're not doing it we're not nice to each other.
Jerry Uelsmann: When I want to major, as a graduate student, this is back in the 50s when it's unheard of and photography would be my studio major for a graduate's degree. My professor, Him Yom Smith word told me he says, you have to be independently wealthy. There's no way you can do this because you know, how do you survive? And then there's a whole group of us, of course word only had teaching positions. I mean it does work, humanistically, I love the way photography, I think it just makes you better people. You see the world differently, and you want the cameras are licensed to explore.
I mean it's just a way, and no matter what kind of photography you do you engage at a different level with the world. And I really like the kind of humanistic benefits that all forms of photography have. I mean I just think you should be true to yourself. I, really when I taught students I tried them, to get them to be authentic. In other words, a lot of time they'd want to take on world issues. They're going to deal with, you know, the crisis that's going on in Europe or something. They, there's starvation. Whatever. But, you're much better off dealing with things that you've experienced.
I mean, we've all been in and out of love. We've had relationships. If you deal with something that's authentic or you have some emotional base, to me that helps the images become something stronger. If if you're photographing someone you love, the images are different, then if you're just photographing someone because they're an attractive model. And you know, so that emotional base has really became a, a center of both our works. I mean Maggie finds these old people and as she works for days sometimes. You saw the one how much retouching had to be done to get back to square one with that.
Maggie Taylor: For advice for students though, I mean I would say. Jerry Uelsmann: Advice. Maggie Taylor: Learn as much as you can about the technology and just keep in mind that it's going to change. So learn what you can, but ten years from now, it's going to probably be totally different. While you're in school keep learning, and the other thing is, keep making images because most of the people that I went to school with fell away from making images and for whatever reason they stopped making images. So, it's just like, make some sort of a dedication to yourself and to your image making that your going to you know, every year come up with a certain number of images or a portfolio of images, just even if it's just to please yourself, keep making images.
Jerry Uelsmann: When I first started teaching there was no, I had to make my slides and everything, I had one day a week when I could use the university dark room to myself and at first I got, oh God, you know, it's Friday and it's my day. And, I sometimes didn't feel like it, but I got so I had to work on that day. I learned, over the years that sometimes when I didn't feel like it, I produced images that survive, because once I got in there and started working, things happened. So, to develop some regular work habit that, you know, you're really giving this time to yourself.
Maggie Taylor: Yeah. Jerry Uelsmann: It's exclusively for making. Maggie Taylor: Regular work habits. Jerry Uelsmann: Marks on paper, that's important. Even if it's one day a week, if you do it every week, you'll be amazed at the end of the year, the stuff that you have to go through to then evaluate. Martha: So I think we've all been so fortunate that you've given us a window, really into your wonderful and inspirational and creative world. Martha: And I want to of course thank lynda.com and PBN. And I want to close with a quote that I often use, and I always credit you Jerry.
Is that you say that, tonight we have redefined the word fun. Martha: Thank you so much.
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