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Remembering Jerry Uelsmann Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

8 April 2022

Jerry Uelsmann, the master of photomontage, has died in Gainesville, Fla. Uelsmann suffered a major stroke two years ago which caused the loss of vision in one eye. A more recent stroke is believed to have led to his passing. He was 87.

Uelsmann was born in Detroit where he attended public school, becoming interested in photography at the age of 14 as an escape from the world.

He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and both MS and MFA degrees from Indiana University. From 1960 until his retirement, he taught at the University of Florida, Gainsville, becoming a graduate research professor of art in 1974.

For Uelsmann, the image wasn't created with any finality in the camera. Instead, he collected images of what he was attracted to, imagining one as a background, another as a foreground. His art was in putting together what had never been in one place.

The world is full of compromise, he pointed out, so art should be free of it.

He was amused that he could pair a 20 year old image with one taken only a couple of years ago. It argued for a consistent vision or style. But not something predictable. Art, for Uelsmann, was an adventure.

He spoke very clearly about art and his students profited enormously from that.

He celebrated the inescapable self doubt of the creative process. You have to take risks in art, he would say, but they aren't the sort of risks that destroy the planet. Risks in art lead to one's growth as an artist.

But that requires an acceptance that there's more than one right answer, as he put it, to artistic questions.

Even so, he insisted on the uncompromising nature of art. If he could fix or improve an image, he would. The world is full of compromise, he pointed out, so art should be free of it.

He admitted that manipulated photos were not for everyone. And there certainly was, during his lifetime, resistance to the idea that anything done after the click of the shutter was legitimate photographic art.

But Uelsmann's enlarger was the camera in which he copied aspects of the world he found himself in and his camera was the enlarger in which he put the pieces he had found together into a window on a world never seen before.

His photographs are in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Metropolitan Musuem of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Museum of Modern Art, New York.

He is a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship recipient (1967), a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship recipient (1972), a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, and a founding member of the American Society for Photographic Education.

His Web site features his selected works. And we featured him and his piano playing in a Saturday matinee in 2015.

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