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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: This girl is a type from about 1850 or so I'm guessing maybe a little bit later than that. And it's just an incredible image. It's so sharp, and of course you never know until you scan it in exactly how much detail you're going to get or what it looks like, but I was just amazed when I scanned her in. She's got incredible expression, beautiful eyes, this nice little kind of headband on. And I liked everything about her, except that she's not really doing anything in particular, so I had to kind of come up with an idea of what objects she might be interacting with.
And, when I first scanned her in she also had a lot of little spots on her and things that needed to be retouched, so I spent a pretty long time initially when I'm working just retouching everything. And eventually once she's cleaned up she kind of looks like this and then I have to start to kind of separate her from her background. And I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep the chair initially, so I got rid of that. I got here separated from her background. For some reason, I had this small saw, it's like a toy from a doll house, and I thought it might be kind of interesting to scan it in just to see what it looked like scanned.
She looked like she had this gesture as if she could be holding something especially once I removed the table, she looked like she could be holding something. So I liked it right away. I thought this was just really simple and nice and I like the idea that she's alone with just the saw and maybe I'll try some different backgrounds and for a little while she looked like this. I lifted her up so she was kind of floating and I tried various bucolic scenes behind here and I gave her a little bit of a floor. It's kind of like a little stage set. And just to get to that point would take, a couple weeks of working on it really, to tell you the truth.
Like changing my mind about things and adding skin tone to her and eye color and everything like that. So it's kind of tedious. And if I show you, like, for example, this is how she would look. When I've retouched her and separated her from the background and then I have the ability to move her up. But she obviously needed to have more skirt added. So, then I have to kind of fake it and either copy from her own skirt, or scan something else in. A lot of times I'll scan in other fabrics and things if I need to to add clothing for someone.
So, once I was working on it this far and I knew I wanted the saw in there with her and I had some various colors I could try for her dress. When I'm switching around the clothing color, that often is a kind of playful and interesting time for me to come up with sort of what the overall mood of the image is going to be. So, like for example with this. When I would change her spots on her dress, slightly differently from the darker areas of her dress and when I would start to play with those it kind of helps me decide, gee am I thinking a girl with a really blue dress, like a sort of nighttime scene or what really looks good for this particular person for their color.
Course these things change a lot as I'm working on it. And see then that's kind of interesting have like a green dress with the sort of, these dots, becoming red down there. For a while the girl was indoors and I was trying to come up with different rooms for her to be in. And this was like a sort of room with windows in the background but the lighting wasn't quite right and it didn't do that much for me. So, then at some point she was outdoors with a drawing which almost read as a kind of wallpaper in the background, and I didn't really love that.
And of course everything is on different layers so I can change the tile floor if I want to, I can change the color of it, I can change the whole pattern on the floor. We had been in at a museum in Germany, in Munich that had a Roman mosaic floor in a little section, and I photographed it just like with the point shoot camera that I use when I travel. And, since that was kind of fresh in my mind, I thought, oh yes I remember that floor that could give a kind of depth there, and I'll put that in there. So she's got her floor, and then she's got some part of the sunset scene still behind her, but I had to try a lot of different sunset clouds before I found ones that I liked.
And a lot of times, lets see if I can find, I have some pictures of beach clouds and of skies from the car that I like lately. So this is just a folder full of skies from the car. And when I'm working on something I kind of look quickly and see if any of these skies look interesting, and if they do, actually that's kind of those clouds aren't bad. And I play with the blend modes a lot, Which means you don't have to have the totally. Normal photograph of the sky there, you can make it kind of interact with the other layers in a different way.
And see actually, that's not bad, but that's like a totally stormy sky, completely different. My basic hope for this image was that it could be like just a enigmatic portrait of this girl with an object, and, you know, could have gone in any number of different directions, because as I started working on it, if I hadn't come upon that saw. In the drawer here that I wanted to scan, you know it could have been any number of things, it could've been that she was holding a dog or some animal. I mean she just had this great gesture of her arm kind of, you know, being posed there in such a way that it could go around something.
So, there's a certain element of randomness and just being prepared and working a lot and scanning things a lot, kind of helps me to make these decisions. So, when I get to the point where I'm nearly done working on it, what I like to do is make a proof print. And then once I see it on paper, it usually entirely changes my attitude about various aspects of it because, you know, whether it's too, a little too dark or the color's not exactly the way I want it or it needs a little more contrast and that sort of thing. I work and work and work on making really good prints.
So, and when I get to the point where I'm making prints of the images, I often will just tack them up on the wall or take them across the street to show Jerry in the evening and then kind of live with them for a couple of days before I really decide if I like something and if it's finished. And it's never quite finished because then it usually goes on and on where it's like well the watermelon's not quite big enough or this or that is not what I wanted, and then I change things again.
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