Jerry Uelsmann and John Paul Caponigro

These are excepts from a converstation between John Paul Caponigro and Jerry Uelsmann, first seen in the Nov/Dec 1997 issue of View Camera magazine.

You can see the full converstation here, on John Paul Caponigro’s web site.

The bolding is mine – the comments that caught my minds eye…

Jerry Uelsmann

I certainly don’t feel threatened by the computer. It’s a tool. It’s another way of making marks. Good creative artists will come along. We’re in this phase now where a lot of people are overwhelmed by it, feel it’s it, feel it’s the one thing. It’s going to be with us for a long time, but it’s going to find it’s place. I figured out pretty early, even in the darkroom, having too many options is counter productive to the creative process. The computer is the king of too many options.

John Paul Caponigro

Exactly. There is always the danger of doing too much. Knowing when to stop is important.


One of the things I’ve felt, a bizarre thing, was that photography had become so camera oriented. I had always liked the darkroom, it was this visual research lab, a place for alchemy to occur. When you look at photo magazines, for every enlarger ad, there’s a hundred camera ads. So that’s the focus, for the populace too, because many people like to take pictures and they don’t have darkrooms. That always was the emphasis for the whole industry. My analogy was a lot of photographers have many cameras and one enlarger and I have one camera and many enlargers. (I actually have more than one camera but I don’t have a lot.)


Painting felt threatened the minute photography was born. Yet later it was photography that liberated painters from the confines of realism. All of these restrictions and definitions are undergoing a process of disintegration. Technique and materials have been driving this relatively recent revolution too much, placing the emphasis on the wrong areas. Evolution is far too optimistic a word, but there has been a progression of vision. One would hope we could shift our concern to a history of vision and process, not a history of materials and technique.


The limits are up here. It’s not in the materials. It’s endless, the possibilities that exist out there for making marks with whatever you have. You name the system, it is wide open. The limits are truly in how people think about it. We’ve seen major, major changes in the world of art. It is only natural to accept that thinking is constantly challenged. It goes up and down, some things survive and some things don’t. It’s part of life’s rich pageant.


I maintain, and there have been a few books, that a part of the art scene is very much that work that has a poetic sensibility to it. I felt back in the fifties, even in the sixties, there was some effort to deal with poetic imagery. As we got into more politically correct art it was cast by the wayside.

Weston had this thing years ago, “When I was young you see, in my early thirties, I defined art as outer expression of inner growth. But I can’t define art any better today. My work has changed. It is not something to be learned apart, from books and rules. It is a living thing which depends on the whole participation. As we grow in life so we grow in art. Each of us in his own way.” Amen. Obviously that meant so much to me at one time that I memorized it. This modernist, romantic, poetic definition of art still works for me. I would modify it somewhat, but I still basically believe it.

Jerry Uelsmann’s web site

Bio of Jerry Uelsmann by John Paul Caponigro

Wikipedia entry on Jerry Uelsmann


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