Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor: This is not photography
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Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor: This is not photography

with Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor

Video: In depth: Jerry's darkroom process

Speaker 1: This is the foreground for the image we're working on. The first thing that you have to do, is to try to eliminate any dust.

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Watch the Online Video Course Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor: This is not photography
3h 56m Appropriate for all Oct 02, 2012

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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.

Jerry Uelsmann Maggie Taylor

In depth: Jerry's darkroom process

Speaker 1: This is the foreground for the image we're working on. And, when I look on the back of this contact sheet, we see it's number 3,322. So, I've already taken those negatives out from the file drawer. 3,322, and the negatives are really the truths of thing in black and white photography. You have to treat them very kindly, so it's in these protective sleeves. And you don't want to touch it, you just hold it by the edges.

I'm going to take this over and put it into the enlarger. The first thing that you have to do, is to try to eliminate any dust. This is a brush that supposedly eliminates static, from attracting dust. And then the negative, goes into this negative carrier. Like this, between these little nubs. We can sort of preview it here. Yeah, that looks about right. This then goes into this enlarger, once it's seated.

And then we take a plain piece of paper because you want to be critical of the focus, and turn off the white lights. And then if I had this on you can see, that particular image. You can focus, somewhat with your natural eye but I've had cataracts removed and all that so, it's more important for me to use, it is important for me to use this grain focus. Literally, permits me to focus on the grain, and once I have that in place, I know that this particular image is going to be blended into something else.

In order to do that, I have to have a soft edge, not a hard edge, like this line would show up instantly. So, by taking a piece of cardboard like this, I can block below the enlarger lens if your see down here, see this would be a soft edge, and I'm doing it in the sky area which already helps. Makes this a little bit easy, and once I have that properly blocked, like that, I then clip it up here and this is a unique thing most photographers don't have this on their larders.

But, you know, I've learned that there's a closer I block, the sharper that edge and if I change my f stop, that will move down, it moves down into the. I'm using this at the brightest, so you can see how that would be. So, that in essence is ready to be printed. This is the cloud negative that we're going to use here, and it is contact sheet 4,010, was shot in June of 2004, and that is what I'm going to invert.

I'm going to print it this way on the top of that other image even though it was taken from an airplane, flying to California shooting down from the plane. Speaker 1: And it will go in this enlarger. All of these enlargers have a, black and white variable contrast heads, and it permits me to affect the contrast of the image very subtly. So I can have different contrasts, in printing one negative as opposed to printing another.

We'll take this blank piece of paper. And this is going to be the top half of that image. Speaker 1: And there's the sky. What we have then, in this enlarger is the background, blocking below the enlarger lens here to create a soft edge. And in this enlarger we have the foreground, blocking on this side. So that if I print this, and print that, they can blend together to become a sort of believable landscape.

An, and once you accept the fact that you're not always going to use a traditional negative or single negative, you could put two negatives together. You could put other things in that same carrier, and print it down here, and it would just, you know, be something that you might be able to use. As long as you can think of something, it's worth trying, because otherwise you talk yourself out of it. So, I basically, and as I said, I'm no longer any great pressure, I don't have to please a client or I don't have a deadline.

You know like, like you have to get this done by Tuesday, or something. Speaker 1: This is ridiculous to try this, but I'm going to show you something that we can maybe pull off. We're going to take a piece of paper, right out the box here. Not going to print anything on it we're going to just simply put it in the developer. And this is because that emotional gets soft, but there's nothing been printed on it okay. And this is the kind of primitive open experimentation I would do a lot of the times. I normally would have that, wash a lot longer then it has.

Then when I, but we put this on a hard surface, we take this out of here and, believe me there's better ways of doing this now. Put it emulsion to emulsion like this. Take this rubber roller here, and it's slippery when they're wet like that, but just giving it good contact, okay. And you go like this, like this, like this. Put this down, and then you go like this, and you go, like, you know, one Ansel Adams, two Ansel Adams, whatever.

See what happens, put this over here. Put this in here, and you have then soon, a negative print on paper. Talk about a psychological dimension here. And it's just, it's going to get a little, I may have to pull this print, because I'm not controlling the exposure that well, but it's not that difficult to at least the options of a negative print. I can't tell you how I thought of doing that.

People in the years 19th century used paper negatives at times but they didn't use them to create negative prints. And people would object to this kind of thing. Well, why a negative print? But, to me the negative image is a part of the photographic process. Now, all we have going here is, this is crudely done, mind you? But we have this image, on paper, being used to create a negative print.

The rocks work kind of well with the mysterious face, but this gets way too dark up in here. But if I spent more time, and I printed this on like a resin coated paper, and I could control it, I mean I have ways which I can control the light source I drew it under larger. It go, can go on and on, you know, it's we could then go back, but this would be really weird. Another piece of paper. Normally this could even be done dry. And oh, I get so much more control when these things are dry. But I'm doing this just because that print won't have been washed properly, but, it expands, it softens.

I used to use a cafeteria tray from the school, I had it on extended loan, it's much harder than this, the hard surface. And we'll take this and here's what we're going to do, let's tear this and. Let's see what happens on this side, I never done this before or maybe I have, I don't know. I'll put this like this and, and we gotta get the contact is the key thing, so it's tight, and I see it takes less exposure than I gave it before, with the tear.

And then, the problem with this is, of course, no two would be alike, but you could have a more controllable light source. Turns our one Anselm is going to be enough. 1,001, I think, I think that'll be better. Put that back in there, look at that already. Those are, this may be art, one of a kind. But, as I say, we could do this for weeks. This is going to go back to the positive, so we'll still have the figure on the hill. Oh, I should have torn it in the other direction, had I known.

They're gaining in contrast, like a cross in the sky now. But that's pretty bizarre. Who knows. Is it art? I don't know. But as I said the disadvantage of this, you'll see this becomes more grainy because it's not on film anymore, but it's just is attitude is the primary thing of what you, you know, think you can do and, you know, letting it happen. We connect, I want to tear it the other way, I want the tear to go that way. I have to tear it this one now, I don't know how may we can do.

But I mean you can go, endlessly. The problem I had then and I still have now, I mean every time I do this it's three bucks, and then it's like why am I doing it, but I like the playing around of that, see I tore that way. Even the combination when you see it, let's see what these look together. If you put, you know people, if they did a collage afterwards, there's a weird, I don't know if that does anything or not. But the blocks, it's interesting, the rocks have a similar tone in negative as positive.

You could line it up where the sh, the, well no. I was going to try to get the horizon to line up, but that wouldn't work, I don't know. I find it fun to do this sort of thing, but there's a point at which I have to say, well, what does this image mean? And more and more, I've been locked into a kind of, you know, there's a kind of narrative quality that this has. But kind of I like the idea that, you know, there's sort of a story line. That you're not overwhelmed by the technique so much, well maybe some people are but, the idea that there is some bizarre thing happening with the relationship.

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