by A. D. Coleman
In her digital photomontages Maggie Taylor opens for us a multitude of doors into a seductive, richly nuanced world of the fantastic. However, unlike many who explore the cross-breeding of imagery that digital systems enable, Taylor creates a microcosm with deep ties to the distant past of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
She achieves this by incorporating into many of her images fragments of old photographs, mostly portraits of individuals, of family clusters, or of small groups.
Beginning in the 1960s, photographers and others involved with the medium found themselves drawn not only to conserving some of these images and objects but also to considering how they might
recontextualize such artifacts and return them to active life in the postmodern image environment. Digital imaging has facilitated such explorations in unprecedented ways, expanding the ranks of those involved in such investigations.
Grounded in the traditional craft of photography, Taylor spent her first decade in the medium making suburban landscapes in black & white and still lifes in color with an old 4×5 view camera, working in natural light. Then, in 1996, she began to explore the operation of the flatbed scanner as a different form of camera, gradually moving toward a production system that’s entirely digital.
She started with an Apple computer and scanner that Adobe had sent to her husband, Jerry Uelsmann, in the hope that he would exploit its possibilities. But Uelsmann didn’t find these new tools suitable for his purposes, and soon set them aside. Taylor took them up, made them her own, and began to build what has evolved into a durable and substantial body of work.
A common misconception holds that digital photomontage is considerably easier than the same activity in the darkroom. In fact, intricate, detailed works like those of Uelsmann and Taylor are equally labor-intensive. Using multiple negatives set up in different enlargers, along with a repertoire of standard printing strategies (burning, dodging, masks), Uelsmann generates his photomontages by employing techniques common to photography since the late 1800s. Using multiple scans, Taylor superimposes her selections on each other in Photoshop; her images may have 60 or more layers, each carefully adjusted to the others, not unlike lacquerware.
Taylor makes all that effort invisible, so that the viewer experiences only the result. In addition to old photographs she also scans other images, as well as objects, man-made and natural, and incorporates photographs she herself has made of landscapes and other subjects. Yet no matter how disparate the components when she starts, or how improbable her scenarios, when she’s done the images appear seamless, each element integral to the whole.
By turns ominous and comical, somber and tender-hearted, Taylor’s digital montages invite us into a decidedly irrational alternative universe in which women float like balloons and wear fish as hats and seashells as dresses, cows hang suspended from the sky, and birds fly around carrying pictures of eggs in their claws. Taylor constructs new living environments for the people whose likenesses she appropriates, designing new spaces for their spirits to inhabit, rich with color, full of adventure and surprise. Taylor has also created visual counterparts to Lewis Carroll’s beloved fable, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, making images that can evoke his magical narrative yet also stand alone as autonomous works.
Now at mid-career, Taylor has established herself as a gifted digital photomontagist. Digital imaging may threaten to undermine our assumptions about the reliability of the photograph as evidence, but at the same time it offers us new and unanticipated ways of making active use of the photographs that swarm around us. Maggie Taylor has populated a new planet with the ones that have come her way. She invites her viewers to come and visit, while also encouraging them to bring forth new worlds of their own.
© Copyright AD Coleman, shall not be reproduced in any form without permission.
A. D. 柯曼
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