Maggie Taylor: Making Images That Invite Reverie

Small Possible WorldsArtist Maggie Taylor creates richly surreal and evocative images, often with themes of inner states and unusual realities.

The Photoshop site describes her work:

“The dreamlike world of narrative photomontages – Alchemist. Weaver of narrative collages. Image magician. Maggie Taylor and her work defy traditional labels.

“Taylor…using her point-and-click camera, flatbed scanners, and Adobe® Photoshop® software, creates collaged digital artwork that transports viewers into dreamlike worlds inhabited by everyday objects.”

Taylor explains she is “interested in creating a cohesive, visual, believable space that the viewer can visually enter…

“Ideally, I want the images to invite the viewer to engage and recollect, almost like entering a stage set or a scene from a dream.”

From Insights and ideas from Maggie Taylor, Adobe® Photoshop® user.

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In an interview, Taylor talked about this dream-like aspect of her creations.

“To me the images work on two levels: they are about these specific objects, yet they also invite reverie or recollections.

“I like to think that the objects are obviously symbolic, but not symbolically obvious. Most of the items have some sort of resonance or uniqueness for me when I first see them, whether that happens in a flea market or out in the yard.

“As I begin to work with them, and particularly after I use an object in several different images, that object begins to develop a personality for me. Some of the objects begin to play roles as if in a small theater in front of the camera or on the computer screen.”

But she is “usually in the dark as far as the symbolism – especially when I am working. Some of the objects have a resonance for me, and others might even call up specific memories. But when I put them all together, they often add up to more than I consciously had in mind at the time I was outside photographing. I like the images to be ambiguous and even a little disturbing or uncomfortable.”

Like perhaps most artists who make emotionally impactful work, she creates from “personal experience, from my own memories and dreams – from my psyche. Many times what I make work about is very pedestrian: the everyday life, stray thoughts, feelings of anxiety, boredom, something I remembered from a science class, something I dreamed last Tuesday.

“In this sense, I think of this work as autobiographical. Sometimes the very ordinary content or emotion expressed in an image is at odds with the vibrant color and quirky presentation. I am kind of interested in setting up a conflict between the very mundane aspects of an ordinary life (What time is dinner? What am I going to do today?) and a very vibrant, lush, heroic style of art.”

[From an interview with Paul Karabinis, Director of the University of North Florida Gallery in Jacksonville, in 1998.]


You can read more about her work and perspectives below, but first, here is a short video about a course on the work of both Taylor and her husband:

From the description: “He experiments in a darkroom. She composes on a computer screen. Together, husband-and-wife artists Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor broke free of traditional notions of photography to create haunting, layered dreamscapes that challenge the medium’s possibilities.

“Step inside their Florida compound to see their complementary work and contrasting processes—and find out how they overcame the early skepticism of their art-world peers to become luminaries in their field.”

See more videos and information about the course:

Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor: This is not photography

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Maggie Taylor at computer

A bio from Modernbook Gallery described how Taylor works:

“Using 19th century tin-types, photographs, and images, she scanned them on a flatbed scanner. She then combines them with some other images that she photographed, acquired, or other objects that she scanned. These images are then composed, combined, and colorized by using the Adobe Photoshop program. In a typical image composed by Taylor, there can be as many as 40-60+ layers.

“Taylor received her BA degree in philosophy from Yale University and her MFA degree in photography from the University of Florida.  In 1996 and 2001 she received State of Florida Individual Artist’s Fellowships.  In 2004 she won the Santa Fe Center for Photography’s Project Competition.  She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband, photographer Jerry Uelsmann.”

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In another profile interview: Maggie Taylor by Steve Anchell, she says:

“Making images for me is a way of life. I can’t imagine not doing it . . . I guess in terms of what motivates me, the best answer would be, if I don’t make images I’m unhappy.”

[The topic of creative people and depression is covered in many posts on my various sites, especially on Depression and Creativity. In the Introduction to his book The Van Gogh Blues, creativity coach and author Eric Maisel, PhD says that “creating is such a crucial activity in the life of a creator. It is one of the ways, and often the most important way, that she manages to make life feel meaningful. Not creating is depressing because she is not making meaning when she is not creating.”]

Anchell notes, “It takes a long time to make these layered images; sometimes a couple of weeks, sometimes six months. Working on more than one image at a time, she might have four or five projects going at once. Because the digital files are so big, they are rarely all open at one time. She’ll open one, work on it for a day or two, then close it, make a little print to tack up on the wall and live with it for a while, then start on another one.”

The ExperienceTaylor says, “This is a very convenient way for me to work, because I’m always being interrupted, or I might only have an hour or two hours in a working session, so I can save the image and come back to it another day.

“So it’s definitely something that works well for me. I can take a break from the computer, go outside for awhile and work in the garden, or do something completely different, then come back and start again. The images feed off each other this way.”

In another interview, on the Zurjah blog [like several other interviews above, this is apparently no longer online], she responds to the common question for artists of what inspires her work:

“This is a very difficult question for me to answer…I think many different aspects of my everyday life influence what I create on the computer.

“Sometimes images begin with a dream or a childhood memory that I sketch quickly so that I don’t forget. Sometimes they are inspired by something I discover in the garden or on the street.

“But usually when I start with one idea, I end up changing the image so much during the process of working that the final result bears little resemblance to the original sketch. I try to work in a flowing and spontaneous manner as much as possible–although with the computer this can be a little challenging.”

She describes collecting materials to use in her compositions:

“Whenever I have the chance, I go to flea markets and antique stores to see what I might find that can be used in my work. Occasionally I also look on Ebay or exchange objects with other artists. When I worked with a traditional camera four or five years ago, I had to select objects that worked with each other in terms of their scale, color and texture. Now, with the computer, I can find something to create a texture, and something else to scan to add more texture…change the size of everything, and alter all the colors. So I look at objects in a different way now.”

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More resources:

Her site:

She was featured, along with other photo artists (including her husband Jerry Uelsmann) in the Digital Darkroom show at The Annenberg Space for Photography (Los Angeles, CA, December 17, 2011 through May 28, 2012).


Maggie Taylor's Landscape of DreamsMaggie Taylor’s Landscape of Dreams. “…offers a close and richly illustrated examination of Taylor’s practice, tracing her images from inspiration through execution. Taylor explains her influences, both in art and in her own life, and takes the reader inside the making of some of her intriguing, painterly work. Along the way, we hear from respected artists and critics familiar with Taylor’s work, and from the artist herself, in conversation with the author.”

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland: Illustrated By Maggie Taylor.

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Originally posted 2012-01-05 22:27:56.

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