Maggie Taylor is a scavenger. She rummages through the dustbin of photographic history — not that of museums and scholarly tomes but the eclipsed and discarded history of faded postcards, anonymous Victorian portraits, and flea-market albums. And then she digitally transplants their DNA into finely atmospheric photo-collages that look like Surrealist fantasias made for precocious, bookish children. Often whimsical, and a touch romantic (possibly too much for eyes that favor a more sober aesthetic), Taylor’s work is too deft and original to ignore.

For the first 10 years out of school (where she studied first philosophy, then photography), Taylor did still lifes, assembling “bits and pieces” in front of an old 4×5 camera. These random elements would become a signature source bank with the fortuitous advent of digital media. Married to Jerry Uelsmann, a photographer well known for masterfully compositing incongruous components into dreamlike images, Taylor was given one of the earliest versions of Photoshop to experiment with. It was love at first use, and having not wholly embraced darkroom techniques (as her husband has), she never went back. She works entirely in the domain of Photoshop’s fast-evolving array of tools, and even the accidents that artists exploit to push their own development are of the kind that occur in that graphic environment. “It’s like a sandbox where I play, and you just never know exactly what you’re going to come up with.” Which prompts questions about intentionality and chance. Taylor discovers the road as she travels it, no map in hand.

One might say that her photography lies, initially, in the “camera” aspect of the scanner (taking pictures of pictures, as well as objects that can be accommodated on the platen), and then in the digital manipulation of those reproductions. Taylor often appropriates the vintage images found in tintypes and daguerreotypes. She thinks of it as recycling photography, giving solemn dated portraits new life in her hallucinatory creations, works that have the fantastical quality of myth and fable.

Taylor’s biggest challenge in using Photoshop is selecting from a vast multitude of options at every turn. She routinely shows her work at various stages to Uelsmann, whose own virtuosity with hybrid imagery lends a critical eye that helps Taylor find the most felicitous paths. Aside from his input, though, her main compass is her own trusted instinct for matching the raw material of the past with the suggestive dramas of her subconscious. That is, finally, what makes her imagined world so consistent.

Maggie Taylor: No Ordinary Days (University of Florida Press).


More from the Photographer Spotlight Series: