Photographers You Should Know: Jerry Uelsmann

Journey into Night (2008) - Jerry Uelsmann

Journey into Night (2008) – Jerry Uelsmann

A forerunner of the photomontage, Jerry Uelsmann is an American photographer whose work easily makes him a Master of Photography. His surrealist art is hauntingly beautiful, rich in depth, and contemplative in content. But that’s not the most amazing aspect of his photomontages. Jerry Uelsmann produced the majority of his work in the days before Photoshop.

Jerry Uelsmann was Photoshopping before Photoshop was cool. He began over fifty years ago. In our industry we often talk about limiting ourselves to only what was possible in the darkroom in order to keep the journalistic integrity of our images. Jerry shows us that even in the traditional darkroom, practically anything was possible. Now, I am not an advocate for over-manipulation of images. I spend a lot of time deriding the goofy appearance of over processed HDR, and the use of Photoshop to try and make bad images good. But, if your product looks like Jerry’s work, consider me a card carrying member of the pixel pushers club. Not only were Jerry’s images so good to begin with, where he takes them, and what he does to them is without parallel.

Hand processed negatives, and darkroom enlargers were his playground. His work is not only unconventional; it will make your brain melt when you think of how complex the creation of them would have been. Simply put, even in our Photoshop heavy era, his work represents the finest that the photo-manipulation community has to offer. Using multiple enlargers he took hours to setup the final compositions. And the results are simply astounding compositionally and technically.

His shooting process is equally fascinating. He captures anything, whatever strikes him as interesting. He doesn’t analyze the reasons, or plan the use of the image. It is only after as he reviews his contact sheets does he begin to form his images. Finding interesting parallels and relationships between disparate subjects he begins to form his final composition. The result is a fascinating product that is decidedly bizarre and beautiful.

Here is a small segment of a documentary, “Jerry Uelsmann | Visual Poetry” where he demonstrates his technique. Also find at the bottom a small selection of his work. See more and better at his website:

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