Jerry Uelsmann is inarguably one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, in terms of technical ability and longevity. As a former professor at the University of Florida (1960-’98), his impact on and accessibility to photographers on the First Coast has had a tangible imprint on the work made here (and on anyone using the Adobe suite of photo-editing tools).
He also has contacts here, and thus, it’s not unusual to see his name pop up in tandem with Jacksonville artists, in Jacksonville galleries.
Right now, as a part of Southlight Gallery’s Summer Wall display, there is an Uelsmann print, Myth of the Trees, on view.
It is an exemplar of his work.
Seamless and dreamlike, it obliquely references The Hallucinogenic Toreador: a female form within a male form, both seemingly joined to land and sky, with a starburst in the heart-space of the female form. As images go—especially Uelsmann’s—it is accessible in a linear kind of way.
However, it also raises the specter of Diane Arbus. Arbus, whose works (and lifestyle) couldn’t be further from Uelsmann’s own, once visited his class in Gainesville as a guest lecturer.
According to Arthur Lubow, who wrote the 2016 biography, the visit was not an overwhelming success.
Asked by Uelsmann if she’d like to view his own work, Arbus sped through about 15 prints in two minutes, and then announced she was ready to go to the airport.
One faculty member characterized her talk as marked by “an almost aggressive vulnerability,” while Lubow himself writes about her in such a way as to suggest that she enjoyed shocking—with talk of menstruation and nudist colonies—the university folks.
This is just a tiny footnote in art history, but it's the kind of absurd tidbit that is ever so tasty to know. To reflect on this a little more, visit Southlight Gallery, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue.-Fri., at 50 N. Laura St., Ste. 150, Downtown, 434-9864, southlightgallery.com.
*Further tidbit: Uelsmann’s works were on display at MoMA the same time (1967) as Arbus’ participation in the lauded New Documents show (at MoMA).