Was born in Detroit, Michigan, and developed an interest in photography as a high-school student. He graduated in the first four-year B.F.A. degree program in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1957 and published his first image in Photography Annual that same year. Uelsmann went on to continue his studies in audio-visual communications, art history and design at Indiana University, where he studied under Henry Holmes Smith, a professor whom Uelsmann says was his most important teacher and influence in life. "He changed the way I thought." Uelsmann received his M.F.A. and M.S. degrees from Indiana University in 1960. That same year he began teaching photography at the University of Florida in Gainesville in 1960 ("my first job offer") and was a graduate research professor of art at the University of Florida since 1974. He is currently retired from teaching.
Uelsmann received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1972. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, a founding member of The Society of Photographic Education and a trustee of the Friends of Photography. His work has been exhibited in more than 100 individual shows in the United States and abroad over the past thirty years. His photographs are in the permanent collections of many museums worldwide: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliotheque National in Paris, the National Museum of American Art in Washington, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the National Gallery of Canada, the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Galleries of Scotland, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto. In a 1981 report by American Photographer, Uelsmann's work was named one of the ten most collected in the country.
Uelsmann has five books currently in print: Uelsmann: Process and Perception (University Press of Florida, 1985), Jerry Uelsmann: Photo Synthesis (University Press of Florida, 1992), Uelsmann/Yosemite (University Press of Florida, 1996), Museum Studies (Nazraeli Press, 1999) and Approaching the Shadow (Nazraeli Press, 2000). Uelsmann is currently at work on Referencing Art, a book in which he pays homage to photographers and artists who have inspired him over the years, including Ansel Adams, Aaron Siskind, Man Ray, Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst.