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First Retrospective of Jerry Uelsmann

By Claire Fenton

Over the summer the Samuel Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida is exhibiting “The Mind’s Eye, 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann,” the first major retrospective of an artist known for his iconic surrealistic compositions and his innovative printing techniques. This exhibition was organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and includes 89 pieces that typify each phase of this creator’s extensive career.

“From the beginning of his career, Uelsmann has advocated for the acceptance of photography as an experimental art form,” - notes Phillip Prodger, curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum. “Uelsmann’s photography provides a valuable touchstone for understanding new trends in photographic art. His ideas and work have become even more relevant as photography embraces Photoshop and other computer technologies for altering and manipulating photographic pictures.”

Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled
, 1976
, Gelatin silver print, 9 5/8” x 14 ¼”

This exposition stresses the influence of Uelsmann’s revolutionary method in the field of photographic composition, which has cemented his reputation as the leader of a movement not satisfied with merely capturing reality, but rather preferring to construct other universes based on the real. Since the end of the 1950s, this artist has worked combining negatives in the darkroom to create fanciful compositions similar to those currently achieved with software utilized to compose and manipulate digital images. The images created by Uelsmann often represent scenes with powerful metaphoric content. He himself comments on his oeuvre: “My visual quest is driven by a desire to create a universe capable of supporting feelings and ideas. I am drawn to art that challenges one’s sense of reality.”

Born in Detroit in 1934, Uelsmann received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1957 and Masters of Science and Fine Arts degrees from Indiana University in 1960. He joined the University of Florida faculty as a graduate research professor in 1960 where he remained until his retirement in 1998.

This exposition, which tracks different moments in his career, shows visitors the evolution of his creative process and the conceptual development of his work. “The Mind’s Eye, 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann” is on display until September 11.

Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. University of Florida. SW 34th Street and Hull Road. Gainesville, FL., 32611. For more information visit www.harn.ufl.edu.

Claire Fenton is an arts writer based in Miami.

* All images are part of the artists’s collection. © Jerry Uelsmann. Courtesy Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. University of Florida, Gainesville.