The Husband and Wife Pioneers of the Photomontage
Just as great minds think alike, great artists attract one another. Don’t believe us? Just look at Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Inez and Vinoodh—the list goes on. This month, Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor, a contemporary photography power couple—they have their own documentary to prove it—take the stage at Pictura Gallery, presenting a perfect union of their discrete photographic practices and highlighting a shared affinity for surrealistic photomontages.
While Taylor’s work is grounded in an inspired and original use of Photoshop, Uelsmann’s developing techniques—using an enlarger to create photomontages that meld together disparate negatives—foreshadowed the software’s creation. His innovation, clever juxtapositions, and awe-inspiring tableaux have established his footing as a pioneer of modern and contemporary photography, but it wasn’t always this way. In his early career Uelsmann faced criticism, often being told that what he was creating couldn’t be classified as photography. He was redeemed in a big way in 1967, with a solo show at MoMA and a Guggenheim fellowship. In his steady production ever since, Uelsmann has continued to create incredible visuals that are so perfectly executed that they challenge the documentary quality of photography, leaving no traces of where his interventions begin and reality ends. Though his career now spans 50-plus years, his body of work is cohesive, relevant, and timeless—a testament to his ingenuity and incredible prescience. One look at a work by Uelsmann and the viewer is transported to a gorgeous fantasy world where houses sprout roots, boats levitate, and clouds hover at ground level.
As opposed to her husband’s traditional techniques, Taylor is a Photoshop trailblazer and a master of the flatbed scanner—she’s even scanned live goldfish! That said, before the onslaught of digital technology she established herself for still life photography, featuring found objects and small animals, and elaborate setups that she would stage. Frustrated by the limits of film, Taylor was quick to swap out her camera for the scanner. She explains, “Adobe [sent] a ‘digital evangelist’ to our house to set up a computer for my husband because they wanted him to try creating some images using Photoshop. But instead of Jerry falling in love with the software, I did.” She was immediately inspired to scan anything and everything and began creating digital composites that draw upon found images, her own photographs, and actual objects that she places directly onto the glass. Enthralled with the possibilities of digital manipulation, Taylor’s works, on average 100-layers deep, portray children from a past era, set in surrealistic scenarios, within eerily tranquil Magritte-esque skies and landscapes.
Looking at Uelsmann’s Elusive Journal and Taylor’s Fading Away, for instance, a dialogue between the artists become immediately apparent. Experiencing both, in juxtaposition—a rare treat—is testament to the infectious inspiration and admiration that results from two artists in love.
“Jerry Uelsmann + Maggie Taylor” is on view at Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, Indiana, Apr. 3rd–May 31st, 2014.