Poignant Pics no. 5 // E. E. McCollum

Poignant Pics no. 5 // E. E. McCollum

  Jerry Uelsmann //  Untitled ,  1963 // gelatin silver print

Jerry Uelsmann // Untitled, 1963 // gelatin silver print

Welcome to #5 in our new series Poignant Pics where I’ve asked photo curators, collectors and makers to write about a photograph or two that, in one way or another, has significantly impacted their cerebral cortex. Fine art photographer, E.E. McCollum reflects back on Jerry Uelsmann's work and the impact of a photograph.

The Journey Started

When I first saw this image of Jerry Uelsmann's - a lone tree with its leaf-veined root system reaching down into the darkness of the earth - something about it just felt right. I knew a little about Uelsmann's work and found many of his surrealistic images hard to apprehend. Floating eyes and fantastical landscapes didn't move me much. I was, of course, amazed - and intimidated - by Uelsmann's craftsmanship, his wizardry in the darkroom.  It's hard to recall now, when Photoshop puts the technical creation of such an image closer to possible for many of us, how strikingly different Uelsmann's work was. But I didn't connect much with his images, past the technical aspects, until I saw this one.

I thought of myself as primarily a writer at the time, a poet in fact.  But the moment I saw "Untitled, 1963,"  something jarred me. A photograph, it became immediately clear, could be more than an aesthetic object. It could also contain an idea, even an idea that was not easily expressed in words. And it could contain it elegantly. To explain, even in a poem, that the root system of a tree might mimic the crown of leaves and that root system might also mirror the veins of a leaf cannot approach the elegance with which Uelsmann invites us to think about that connection.

Elegance, invitation, and a peek into the mysterious earth all arose when I saw this image. And I immediately wanted to know how to do that. The journey started. I wanted to make photographs.

- E. E. McCollum


E. E. McCollum is a fine art photographer living and working in the Washington,DC of the US. Working primarily in black and white in both film and digital technologies, he is particularly interested in the figure.  His work has been published internationally and he is a member of Multiple Exposures Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

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