'The Mind's Eye: 50 years of Photography'
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem
11.2.2012 - 15.7.2012
Surreal, funny and provocative, Jerry Uelsmann’s photographs are icons of American photo history. His most famous technique — seamlessly fabricating photographs from unrelated negatives to create imaginary scenes — cemented his standing as a leading light of non-literal photography. The exhibition combines Uelsmann’s most celebrated works with many never-before-seen pieces for his first retrospective in 40 years.Support provided by the East India Marine Associates (EIMA) of the Peabody Essex Museum.The Mind’s Eye: 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann is part of PEM’s Year of Photography, which is sponsored in part by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, Hunt’s Photo & Video, and Canon.
Of this exhibition wrote William Meyers:
It really isn’t fair: Jerry Uelsmann, who was born in 1934, had to devise ingenious darkroom techniques to create surrealistic images that nowadays anyone competent with Photoshop can produce with ease. But being able to reverse positive and negative versions of a photograph and to merge two or more photographs into a single composition are only the mechanical aspects of Mr. Uelsmann’s art. The indispensable element of his work is his ability to envision images that are totally impossible, but absolutely right. It takes more than the most complex computer program to do that.
"The Mind’s Eye," a retrospective of Mr. Uelsmann’s career at the Peabody Essex Museum, is the first in a series of exhibitions that Phillip Prodger, the curator of photography, has planned for PEM’s 2012 Year of Photography. Given the idiosyncratic nature of Mr. Uelsmann’s pictures, he may seem an unlikely choice with which to begin the series. But, in fact, his work is deeply imbued with the history of the medium. "Full Dome" (1973) is a wry comment on his friend Ansel Adams’s famous picture of the Half Dome peak in Yosemite National Park: He printed his picture of the mountain on one side of the paper, flipped the negative and printed it again of the other side to make a perfectly symmetrical—but plausible—Full Dome. "Untitled" (1969) was shot at Point Lobos, the beach that figures in many photographs by Edward Weston and other California photographers. Rather than show the majestic sweep of the ocean, it concentrates on the shriveled innards of a clam.
Visual wit figures in many of Mr. Uelsmann’s pictures. In “Self-Portrait as Robinson and Rejlander” (1964), he appears naked twice, once with and once without eyeglasses, sitting in a bathtub. This is his homage to two mid-19th-century British photographers famous for their composite pictures. Other works pay respects to Surrealist photographers Man Ray and Lee Miller, as well as artists Joseph Cornell and René Magritte. “Philistine’s Eye” (1961), a human eye peering out of a urinal, must owe its inspiration to Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain.”
PEM has up many of Mr. Uelsmann’s best-known works, nearly all black and white. The elements that recur most frequently are trees, rocks, bodies of water, naked women, decaying houses, children, sky, and scenes imagined underground, all psychologically potent, even totemic. In a noted image, “Untitled” (1969), a tree with a full canopy of branches and leaves hovers over a small island that hovers, in turn, over a body of placid water. The reflection of the underside of the island looks something like a gigantic open peapod. A smaller version of the tree drifts away in the sky to the right toward a distant line of snow-covered mountains. Like so many of Mr. Uelsmann’s pictures, this is a very satisfying image to look at. In spite of its contradiction of nature, we feel we are in the hands of a beneficent conjuror. (read full article here).
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