A question came up from a new-ish photographer who read one of my posts where I wrote about making multiple exposures and other “tricks” of the trade in my earlier days. Her question was, if I did those things back then (film days), then why did I stop before the digital age? I believe her point was either that I never really did them, or to ask why can’t they be done with a digital camera. She will have to take my word that I have done them, and yes you surely can do them with a digital camera. We are all different and our journey is our own. In my case my hunger to know anything photographic led me to try everything in the beginning. It was truly fun. While some people grow in this direction, I grew out of it. I graduated to nature, history and a few other things. My subjects of recent years are (to me) emotionally special and my job was to pay homage to them. I did so with my own voice, but I presented them pretty much the way God gave them to me. He is the consummate artist and his work is better than mine ever could be. If you would have asked me in 1999, 2005 (some did), or in 2103, my answer would have been the same. In 1980….not so much. Some people look down on the simple way I choose to share my visions, just as some people (reverse snobbery) look down at those who would find a different more complex vision. I understand why some might choose to be bored with my imagery and the photos made by those like me. That is acceptable to me but please do understand why some who are like me become bored with a vision that is oriented towards the photographers themselves, instead of the love of subject. I remember Jeff Nicolas, a landscape photographer and one time curator of the museum at Yosemite N.P. He refused to ever photograph a wild animal, as he considered them sacred. My view was to photograph thousands of them but to treat them with respect, and make them the stars of my wildlife pictures, not me. We are indeed all different. Today wild animals seem to do everything in the pictures I see including the supernatural or maintaining unlikely relationships with the photographer. That is in many respects, very much in keeping with the world we live in.
Sometimes my non-wildlife photography does travel into the world of the abstract. Most of my abstracts are in fact literal. They are true scenes that you and I can see with our own eyes. Patterns, light, colors, textures, contrasts. They are about recognizing more than the obvious and knowing how to capture that in photos. I do not add to them or subtract from them.
One reason that I believe I grew into the more literal photography of the past 20 years is that I had already done the other stuff. I found it much more challenging to combine a bit of myself with something real in the true sense, than to use techniques to create an altered reality. Art Wolfe’s photographic body of work, is much more impressive (to me) than Jerry Uelsmann’s. Uelsmann uses real objects to create an unreal image. Art Wolfe simply adds his own personal vision to something literal and real. A much more challenging task. Please understand that I have viewed the work of Uelsmann (and other surrealists) for many years and I am connected to Jerry on Facebook. My problem is that I always eventually tire of this created reality and return to the artistry of those who “see” the art in the real world, and share it with a greater reverence for the subject, than for themselves. It is much more difficult to subtly make your own statement with a given subject, than to hit your viewers over the head with a recreation or alteration of reality. That is to say, it is artistically more difficult.
As far as I know, all of Jerry’s images were created pre-digital. As someone who has spent hundreds of hours working in a conventional darkroom, I cannot tell you how difficult it would be to print multiple negatives on a single print, and mask and size everything properly keeping each individual exposure perfect for the entire print. It is to be admired, although as I have previously written, my biggest admiration goes to photographers with the art and skill to recognize and capture what is right in front of them. One shot, one vision.
Despite my eventual boredom with altered realism, the work of Jerry and others who practice altered realism should definitely be viewed. My opinions are not conceived with a closed mind, and yours shouldn’t be either. I do believe that you will enjoy your visit. Jerry Uelsmann. I certainly do agree with the quote from Jerry that you see below.
“The camera is essentially a license to explore” Jerry Uelsmann
To me it is all about which direction your growth takes you. We each have our own vision and our own purpose for making the pictures we make. I wish those who use altered reality the best, and I will live comfortably with my own version of reality.
These opinions come from my own personal perspective which has evolved over many years. There is nothing wrong with creating a photographically altered reality and sharing it. This article is meant only to explain how and why I view things the way I do.
Have a great day, Wayne