Beautiful and surreal, funny and provocative, the photographs of Jerry Uelsmann are icons of American photo history. The Peabody Essex Museum
presents the first retrospective of Uelsmann's work in over 30 years. The Mind's Eye: 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann features 90 works spanning the artist's celebrated and wide-ranging career, with well-known works shown alongside never-before-seen recent images.
As a pioneer of contemporary photography and master of experimental darkroom technique, Uelsmann has continuously pushed the creative and technical boundaries of photography, revealing new visual possibilities and critical considerations for the medium. In the late 1950s, Uelsmann began experimenting with multiple enlargers and advanced masking, diffusing, burning and dodging techniques, to create imaginary images in the darkroom decades before the advent of Photoshop. Uelsmann's ingenious work references Surrealists like Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, and Man Ray, as well as Modern photographers such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. He has spent his career advocating for the acceptance of experimental photography as an art form.
"For more than half a century, Uelsmann has challenged conventional ideas about what photography can and should do," said Phillip Prodger, exhibition curator and PEM's curator of photography. "Uelsmann's pictures provide a valuable touchstone for understanding new trends in photographic art. His ideas and example have become ever more relevant as photography embraces Photoshop and other computer technologies for altering and manipulating photographs."
The Mind's Eye presents works drawn from the artist's personal archive of vintage materials and, in addition to photographic prints, includes a selection of three-dimensional photographic sculptures, films, artist's books, albums and work prints to give viewers first-hand insight into Uelsmann's creative process and expressive range. Through experimental techniques, Uelsmann has explored universal themes of relationships, family, home and politics by creating unexpected and surprising juxtapositions.
"My visual quest is driven by a desire to create a universe capable of supporting feelings and ideas," said Jerry Uelsmann. "I am drawn to art that challenges one's sense of reality."
Born in Detroit in 1934, Uelsmann received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1957 and Master of Science and Master of Fine Arts degrees from Indiana University in 1960. He is recently retired from the faculty of the University of Florida, which he joined in 1960. Uelsmann received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1967 he had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.