Before There Was Photoshop, These Photographers Knew How to Manipulate an Image- page 1 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
(© Jerry N. Uelsmann)

Before There Was Photoshop, These Photographers Knew How to Manipulate an Image

Jerry Uelsmann and other artists manually blended negatives to produce dreamlike sequences

Darkroom Dreamscapes

Bird's nest
(© Jerry N. Uelsmann)

In the 1960s, Jerry Uelsmann revolutionized the art of photography by manually blending negatives to produce dreamlike landscapes. “The primary creative gesture for most photographers used to be when they clicked the shutter,” Uelsmann says. “But I realized that the darkroom was a visual research lab where the creative process could continue.” Though we’re now in the era of Photoshop, he continues to forsake digital manipulation, as with the 2006 untitled image made from three photos, one including his wife’s hands. “It is an incredible leap of faith to think maybe this tree could blend into these hands,” Uelsmann says. “But the camera is a license to explore.” Uelsmann’s creations are showcased in a traveling exhibit, “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” at the National Gallery of Art through May 5.

Uelsmann pieced together the image, above, in 2006 by using four enlargers to blend three photos: a raven, a tree trunk in Manhattan and his wife’s hands holding a bird’s nest he found outside his window. “It is an incredible leap of faith to think maybe this tree could blend into these hands,” Uelsmann says. “But the camera is a license to explore.”

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