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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.
Speaker 1: I was invited by the Friends of Photography, which is a group that was founded by Ansel Adams and Imogene Cunningham and Wynn Bullock, and this is in 72 or 3, it's early 70s. And Ansel was the head of that group. And although I knew that he was not a big fan of my work, he thought I made a very intelligent presentation and case for what I was doing. Speaker 2: At first glance, it would seem like a unlikely friendship. Here's Ansel, the straight nature photographer.
And then, here's Jerry inventing this whole psychedelic world. I think that the basic respect for that friendship was because, well, Ansel was without a doubt, the master technician, you know, took God's light and divided it into ten zones. He obviously had to have full respect for Jerry because Jerry, essentially, had the same skills.
Speaker 3: There was a complete respect between Ansel and Jerry on the technical aspects. At the time I was working as Ansel Adams' summer workshop assistant at his Yosemite workshops, and it really was the golden age of workshops. It was at a time when you could corral half a dozen really great, genuinely great photographers to come and teach for a week or two. At some point, Ansel decided that he wanted to have a broader artistic view of Yosemite in play at the workshops.
He wanted counterpoint to his own viewpoint. Speaker 1: He had finessed the craft to a level where people thought he had some different zones. He could get blacker blacks, whiter whites, whatever. I mean, the craft was essential and he was a true believer in the zone system. And I would be at workshops where, you know, Ansel would have a group of students here and they'd be spending like an hour figuring out the correct exposure for this tree with the shadows and the light on the back rock there and this kind of thing, like, just figuring out what, how to set the camera and they'd run a Polaroid test.
In the meantime, I'm over here and I've shot five rolls of film because I'm just going up, if my camera has auto-exposure on, hey, oh, look at that, oh there. You know, much more actively interacting with the subject matter. I like, I don't get the assembly that much, just big rock looks interesting to me. I don't know what I'm going to do with it but. So, it was a whole I didn't have to make the deep commitment at the camera as to this being a meaningful image that other people would respond to in some way.
Speaker 3: This is sort of the way he would work. Here we are, we're up at Sunrise Lakes in the High Sierras at dawn with a little group of fellow travelers. And Terry comes out in the morning and looks out at this beautiful, beautiful lake that is flawlessly calm. And he sets up his camera as if he's going to take a picture of it, and gets it all set up, and takes the camera, camera release in his hand. And then he picks up this big rock and waits for the, the water to be absolutely glassy calm and then lobs this rock about 50 feet out into the water.
So, there it goes splash, click. That's the picture. It's not the Sierra Nevada. It's not the lake. It's the ripple. Speaker 1: It's a trap for photographers to go to Yosemite because they know Yosemite through the eyes of Ansel and Edward Weston, and others. So the joke is they try to find the marks left by Ansel's tripod so you can get there. When you go to a place that's that magnificent, it's like the mountains are calling out, take my picture! You know, I'm from Florida.
It's flat, you know, it's like I live in the swamplands, not even on the coast. And to go there, even when you go to Carmel. The waves hitting the rocks and all this kind of full orchestra of visual stuff going on. But in Yosemite, it's the same thing, the waterfalls and all this. And I finally realized, look, I've gotta take those pictures just to get it out of my system. But gradually, and it took a while, I began to find ways in which then, you know, I could collect elements that still related to Yosemite, but I could add things to them that made them more like my imagery.
I could add a psychological dimension by putting a door in a rock. You know, I could embed figures into that landscape. I could get the deep foreground background relationships. And then we got involved both Maggie and myself, in these pack trips with other artists. because it's a, it's a huge park and to have time where there's no pressure, you know, you know, like, you only have an hour here, to just settle into that environment and relax. It just, you know, made me get more and more comfortable with it.
And to this day, I mean, Yosemite is like, like the river experience of Florida to me, that there's a peaceful quality to it, particularly if you are willing to hike at high altitudes for long distances and find yourself alone in these spots. And we have many wonderful stories to tell about the adventures we had, you know, doing that.
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