Jerry Uelsmann on Blocking Systems

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by ideas of potential new projects. When it is time to pick up the camera and work, I grab nothing and doubt myself.  Sometimes, I talk myself out of a project before I begin; the logistics are too complicated, I don’t know which camera format to use, or just maybe, this is the worst idea I’ve ever had, and it doesn’t deserve time and effort.  When digging through my files for inspiration, I find notes from a workshop I took with Jerry Uelsmann on the Northern California Coast many years ago.  Ironically, the first page of  notes I transcribed during the class on a yellow legal pad  is headlined “Blocking Systems.”

Untitled, 1982, Jerry Uelsmann

Untitled, 1982, Jerry Uelsmann

I start to reminisce about the workshop with Uelsmann and remember it being a bright spot in my young photography career.  Uelsmann, a prolific artist, is passionate, funny, a masterful maker and a giving teacher.  We learn his darkroom techniques in photomontage, pre-Photoshop and without a darkroom.  The weekend, filled with laughter, critique, and technical advice in darkroom montage, is interspersed with encouraging advice on being an artist.  Today, I’m reiterating Uelsmann’s advice to encourage all of us prone to blocks with the frustration of being stuck and not knowing the next move.  These quotes are not all by Uelsmann, but he stated them poetically, in a thoughtful and intimate manner, and I have difficulty imagining them being spoken by anyone else.  So, please forgive my lack of citing original sources.  Also, I won’t expand on the meanings.  I am without words in how to add to their eloquence within my writing.  I hope you will find encouragement in the text below; I know that I do.

Floating Tree, Colorado, 1969

Floating Tree, Colorado, 1969

•    “Photograph things for not only what they are, but for what else they are.”

•    “Artists should explore variations or they create dead ends for themselves.”

•    “Artists generate mysteries, not solve them.”

•    “Most real growth involves and the element of pain.”

•    “Do not be judgmental with yourself at the beginning of ideas.”

•    “Art cannot afford compromise.”

Untitled, 1990, Jerry Uelsmann

Untitled, 1990, Jerry Uelsmann

•    “The artist's agenda is to create something unique, provocative with a personal vision but made for an audience of more than one.”

•    “Myths of the Artist: artists have privileged sensibility, artist is a visionary, artist is supposed to be childlike.”

•    “Go to the fringes of your understanding.”

•    “Be where you are and go through it.”

•    “People that are successful make more mistakes.”

•    “Art has more than one right answer.”