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Issue Date: July 2008


The Illusionist

Maggie Taylor plays with texture, color and pattern in Adobe Photoshop to create her layered, dreamlike images.
Katie Kuehn
To create a fantasylike image of a bicycle-riding bird with butterfly wings, all Maggie Taylor needs is a scanner, Adobe Photoshop, and an afternoon working in her garden.

“I use the scanner to sample bits and pieces of the real world, like a camera,” she says. But Taylor is not necessarily a photographer. She refuses to classify her work under one medium — instead she lets the viewer make that decision.

The Cleveland native describes her images as “computer collages.” Taylor scans found objects — everything from a seashell to 19th-century metal photographs to a dead bird from her garden — and combines them using her Photoshop computer program. She only uses her digital camera to capture objects that cannot be scanned, such as clouds and water.

The process allows multiple images to be manipulated and overlapped to create the look of a single image. She also toys with textures, patterns and colors she creates herself. The final product looks more like a painting than a photo.

“I can move things much more easily and make adjustments that are much more difficult, if not impossible, than with a traditional camera,” she says.

For example, Taylor’sThe Patient Gardenercomprises about 40 individual layers. In it a woman’s body stands completely covered by greenery with the exception of one breast, while blue butterflies flutter around her and a house is aglow in the distance. This is one of her favorite pieces from her current exhibition at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Just Suppose: The Images of Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor, a 60-piece collection of fantasy-inspired images, is one of only a handful of shows in which Taylor has collaborated with her artist husband.

Taylor met Uelsmann in 1985, when she was a graduate student in his photography class at the University of Florida. Uelsmann works with a camera, but his process involves combining negatives in a darkroom to create otherworldly composites. The black-and-white prints often feature real people, water and other natural elements. His spontaneous and inventive method served as an inspiration for Taylor’s own work.

“In some ways, it’s a parallel way of piecing together the content of an image,” she says.

But there are differences in the final product — Taylor’s pieces are colorful, whimsical and sometimes disturbing, while Uelsmann’s are inspirational and serene.

“We like the viewer to come up with their own interpretation,” Taylor says. “For every viewer, there’s a unique interpretation — kind of like reading a poem.”

Just Suppose: The Images of Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor is on display at the Cleveland Institute of Art through Aug. 8. For more information, call (216) 421-7000 or visit cia.edu.
Images on display at the Cleveland Institute of Art are not what they appear to be.

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