Jerry Norman Uelsmann (June 11, 1934 – April 4, 2022) was an American photographer.

As an emerging artist in the 1960s, Jerry Uelsmann received international recognition for surreal, enigmatic photographs (photomontages) using his unique method of composite printing and his dedication to revealing the deepest emotions of the human condition.[1][2] Over the next seven decades, his artwork and reputation were documented in numerous publications and interviews with the last one being done by Russell Brown via Zoom in July 2020.[3][4] Uelsmann described his creative process as a journey of discovery in the darkroom (visual research laboratory).[5][6] Going against established practices, he used multiple enlargers, multiple negatives, and post-visualization.[6][3] Trial and error were essential steps.[1][3] He produced well-crafted photographs without specific narratives but with open-endedness and amazement.[7][2] Uelsmann’s work influenced generations of both analog and digital photographers.[8][4] Although he admired digital photography, he remained completely dedicated to the alchemy of film photography in the black and white darkroom.[3]) He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1972, and the Lucie Award in Fine Art in 2015. He was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, a founding member of The Society of Photographic Education.


Untitled (Boat and Moon) by Jerry Uelsmann, 1982, Honolulu Museum of Art

Uelsmann was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1934. While attending public schools, at the age of fourteen he became interested in photography. He believed that through photography he could exist outside of himself, to live in a world captured through the lens. Despite poor grades, he managed to land a few jobs, primarily photographs of models. Eventually, Uelsmann went on to earn a BFA in 1957 from the Rochester Institute of Technology and M.S. and M.F.A. degrees from Indiana University; he was inspired and influenced by teachers Minor White, Ralph Hattersley, and Henry Holmes Smith. Invited by Van Deren Coke, he taught photography at the University of Florida from 1960. He was a founding member of and elected to Board of Directors of, the National Society for Photographic Education. In 1967, Uelsmann had his first solo exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art which opened doors for his photography career.[9]

Uelsmann produced composite photographs with multiple negatives and extensive darkroom work. He used up to a dozen enlargers at a time to produce his final images and had a large archive of negatives that he shot over the years. Uelsmann did not carry multiple attachments, but only one camera, "Most photographers carry many cameras with multiple attachments. Most photographers have one enlarger. I have half a dozen." When beginning to create one of his photomontages, he had a strong intuitive sense of what he was looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an understanding that mistakes are inevitable and are part of the creative process. His process began after a day of shooting. He then returned to his workstation in his home and covered a large drafting table with hundreds of proof sheets. He folded and overlapped various contact prints, explored the visual possibilities, then brought the options into his darkroom. He then set his selected pieces into the large number of enlargers that he owned in his darkroom, and moved the photo paper progressively down the line, building up an image.[10] The negatives that Uelsmann used reappeared within his work, acting as a focal point in one work, and background in another. Similar in technique to Rejlander, Uelsmann was a champion of the idea that the final image need not be tied to a single negative, and may be composed of many. During the mid-twentieth century, when photography was still being defined, Uelsmann did not care about the boundaries given by the Photo Secessionists or other realists at the time, he simply wished to share with the viewer the images from his imagination and saw photomontage as the means by which to do so. Unlike Rejlander, though, he did not seek to create narratives, but rather "allegorical surrealist imagery of the unfathomable". Uelsmann subsisted on grants and his teaching salary, rather than commercial work.

Uelsmann's interpretations of landscape elements, reworked, tweaked, and recontextualized, force the viewer to actively interact with his subjects.[11] Continually in his photographs the viewer is confronted with entrances, whether they be gates, windows, trapdoors or ordinary doors. Usually, the entrances are shut, but even when they are not, the viewer must imagine what is inside. This is an example of the viewer having to actively interact with the photo they are forced to think more deeply and critically about their own interpretation. In Uelsmann's art there are many right answers - and discovering them is a process that involves both the artist and the viewer. Untitled (Boat and Moon) demonstrates his ability to seamlessly blend multiple photographs into one image that appears to reinvent reality.[12]

Despite his works' affinity with digital techniques, Uelsmann continued to use traditional equipment. "I am sympathetic to the current digital revolution and excited by the visual options created by the computer. However, I feel my creative process remains intrinsically linked to the alchemy of the darkroom."[13] Uelsmann was retired from teaching and lived in Gainesville, Florida. In 2016, he divorced his third wife, Maggie Taylor.[14] He had one son, Andrew. Uelsmann still produced photos, sometimes creating more than a hundred in a single year. Out of these images, he liked to select the ten he liked the most, which is not an easy process.[13]

His photographs can be seen in the opening credits of the television series The Outer Limits (1995), and the illustrated edition of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot. In addition, his artwork appears on the cover of Dream Theater's 2003 album Train of Thought, and Bon Jovi's 2016 album This House Is Not for Sale. Uelsmann died on April 4, 2022, at the age of 87 in Gainesville, Florida.[15]

Chronology through 1985

  • 1967–1970 – Received Guggenheim Fellowship. Conducted workshops and delivers lectures throughout the United States at major universities and art institutions. Promoted to Professor of Art, University of Florida. Cited for outstanding contributions to photography by the American Society of Magazine Photographers. Portfolio of work presented in major U.S. and European publications. The first retrospective exhibition, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Complete issue of Aperture (15:4) devoted to his work, with an essay by Peter C. Bunnell.
  • 1971–1973 – Invited to deliver fourth Bertram Cox Memorial Lecture, entitled "Some Humanistic Considerations of Photography," at the Royal Public Society, London. Continued to lecture and give workshops throughout the United States and Europe. Received National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Limited-edition portfolio of photographs issued by the Witkin Gallery, New York. Made Fellow of Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.
  • 1974–1977 – Appointed Graduate Research Professor, University of Florida. Received Certificate of Merit from the Society of Publication Designers and Certificate of Excellence from American Institute of Graphic Arts, both for contributions to The New York Times. Publication of the first monograph on his work, Silver Meditations, Introduction by Peter C. Bunnell.
  • 1978–1981 – Received a Bronze Medal at 19th Zagreb Salon, International Exhibition of Photography held in Yugoslavia. Honored as Visiting Professor, Nihon University, College of Art, Tokyo. Named one of top ten most collected photographers, preceded only by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Lewis Hine, in a report by American Photographer.
  • 1982Jerry N. Uelsmann: Twenty-Five Years: a Retrospective is published.
  • 1985 – Uelsmann published Process and Perception, where he uncoverd his creative process from negative, to print.


  • 1967–1970.[vague] One-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  • 1971–1973.[vague] Participated as one of several featured artists at fourth Rencontres Internationales de la photographie d'Arles, France.
  • 1974–1977.[vague] Work included in international exhibitions at more than a half-dozen commercial galleries and at an equal number of major museums and art centers, including a 225-print retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
  • 1978–1981.[vague] Included in major national and international exhibitions, including Mirrors and Windows (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and group shows in the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and Japan.


Uelsmann received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1972. He was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, a founding member of The Society of Photographic Education, and a former trustee of the Friends of Photography. He was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame in 1994.


Uelsmann's work has been exhibited in over 100 individual shows across the United States and abroad over the past forty years. It is included in the permanent collections of, among others:[16][17]


  • Moth and Bonelight. 21st Editions, South Dennis MA, 2004.
  • Uelsmann: Yosemite. University of Florida Press, Florida, 1996.
  • An Aperture Monograph. Aperture, Inc., 1971.
  • Other Realities. Bulfinch Press, New York, 2005


  1. ^ a b Bunnell, Peter C. (1970). Jerry N. Uelsmann. New York, NY: Aperture. pp. 3–7. ISBN 0912334142.
  2. ^ a b Coleman, A. D. (January 3, 1971). "He Captures Dreams, Visions, Hallucinations". New York Times. pp. D-14.
  3. ^ a b c d Ksander, Yael (April 2014). "An Interview with Jerry Uelsmann". Retrieved April 30, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Brown, Russell P. (July 16, 2020). "An Interview with the Artist, Jerry Uelsmann". Retrieved April 30, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Roland, Craig (May 1993). "An Interview with Jerry Uelsmann: Master Photographer and Teacher". Art Education Magazine. 46 (3): 'pp 56–61'.
  6. ^ a b Uelsmann, Jerry (1985). Uelsmann: Process and Perception. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. pp. 'pp 3–19'. ISBN 0813008301.
  7. ^ Chao, Shung-liang (2017). "The Alchemy of Photography: "Grotesque Realism" and Hybrid Nature In Jerry Uelsmann's Photomontages". Criticism. 59: 'pp.301–328'.
  8. ^ Sandomir, Richard (April 13, 2022). "Jerry Uelsmann, Surreal Image-Maker, Dies at 87". New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2022.
  9. ^ Shutterbug: Master Interview; Jerry Uelsmann
  10. ^ Orland, Ted (1996). Uelsmann/Yosemite. Gainesville: U of Florida: University Press of Florida. p. ix. ISBN 0-8130-1444-1.
  11. ^ Forgang, David (1996). Uelsmann/Yosemite. Gainesville: U of Florida: University Press of Florida. p. v. ISBN 0-8130-1444-1.
  12. ^ Honolulu Museum of Art, wall label, Untitled (Boat and Moon) by Jerry Uelsmann, 1982 gelatin silver print, accession 2015-45-01
  13. ^ a b Shutterbug: Master Interview; Jerry Uelsmann
  14. ^ "Dissolution of Marriage Records". Florida Department of Health. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  15. ^ Photomontage pioneer Jerry Uelsmann dies in Florida at 87
  16. ^
  17. ^ Honolulu Museum of Art, Untitled, 1976, accession 19321 and Untitled (Boat and Moon), 1982, accession 2015-45-01

Further reading

  • Bennett, Lennie (February 19, 2006). "Focusing on a spiritual medium". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  • Hirsch, Robert. "Maker of Photographs: Jerry Uelsmann". PHOTOVISION Magazine. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  • Ames, John (1991). Uelsmann: Process and Perception. University of Florida Press.
  • Coleman, A.D. (1992). Jerry Uelsmann: Photo Synthesis. University of Florida Press.
  • Enyeart, James (1982). Jerry N. Uelsmann; Twenty-Five Years: A Retrospective. Little, Brown and Company.
  • Garner, Gretchen (2003). Disappearing Act. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Uelsmann, Jerry (1971). An Aperture Monograph. Aperture, Inc.
  • Uelsmann, Jerry (1996). Uelsmann: Yosemite. University of Florida Press.

External links

  1. ^ Uelsmann, Jerry (1998). "Untitled 1996". Kalliope: A Journal of Women's Literature and Art. 20 (1): 62.
  2. ^ Uelsmann, Jerry (1998). "Untitled 1994". Kalliope: A Journal of Women's Literature and Art. 20 (1): 63.
  3. ^ Uelsmann, Jerry (1998). "Untitled 1997". Kalliope: A Journal of Women's Literature and Art. 20 (1): 64.
  4. ^ Uelsmann, Jerry (1998). "Untitled 1997". Kalliope: A Journal of Women's Literature and Art. 20 (1): 65.
  5. ^ Uelsmann, Jerry (1998). "Untitled 1996". Kalliope: A Journal of Women's Literature and Art. 20 (1): 66.