timothy wells photography

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    RIP Gene Wilder. Pure Imagination is more than a song in a kid's movie

    I’ve been writing this entry in my head for quite awhile and the announcement of Gene Wilder’s death prompted me to write it down. While this entry is focused on one song in one movie, his acting across many movies and plays etched its way into our cultural granite. 

    I remember being a child sitting in a movie theater and watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the first time. The somber tone of the first part of the movie highlighted by Wilder as Wonka walks out of his factory limping with a cane to welcome the lucky golden ticket winners at the factory gates. He falls! The fall turns into a sumersault and a triumphant ta-dah and a smile. We then enter the factory, filmed as if we were one of the guests. Strange things begin to happen and we're crowded into a tiny optical illusion filled room. And then the door opens and we see the chocoloate room as the song "Pure Imagination" kicks in. 

    Wonka teases the guests as they proceed down the stairs, as they have to pay attention to his pauses, stops, whipping cane, and goose steps all the while wanting to focus all their attention on exploring the fantastic chocolate room opened up in front and around them. The eagerness, anxiety, and pure happyiness all playing across their faces. And there's Wonka who not only still enjoys his chocolate room, but also enjoys showing it off to them.

    Forty or so years later and the movie and this clip continue to impact me and the teacher I am becoming.

    I teach photography – digital, darkroom, and alternative processes (weird, odd, arty, processes created in the 1800s, blending digital and darkroom techniques, toy cameras, instant film, etc) classes. In all of the classes I teach, I try to bring a sense of fun and creativity to the class – sparking the childlike sense of wonder and excitement and exploraiton to the class that is captured in this one song.

    I’ve been known to show the “Pure Imagination” clip from the 1970s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” in class, telling them I am Willy Wonka introducing them to the wonders and fun of the photography chocolate room. I’m there to open the door to their sense of wonder and fun.

    Wilder's performance introducing the visitors to the chocolate room is much like the first day of class teaching. There's the sense of excitement, tension, apprehension, anxiousness of exploring something new and unknown. The way he leads them down the stairs, starting and stopping, making them pay attention to their progress while at the same time they want to scan the room to take in the wonders there.

    In the classroom, the students have an energy and excitement. I am eager and excited to introduce them to the wonders that are in front of them as they explore photography. I don't tire of looking across the photography lab and I gain energy from their energy. It is the first day of class. 

    The movie also contains other lessons such as sometimes you run into situations where there are unwritten rules that can cause you problems in life. I try to remind the students, and myself, of the risks of just jumping into the chocolate river because you’re so excited to drink from it, drinking too much fizzy lifting drink, wanting to try new technologies, etc, without thinking about the risks or consequences. The antcipation and energy of exploring the new with a slight pause, like Wonka leading them into the chocolate room, is lost and forgotten later in the movie.  In life, we find ourselves rushing ahead without remembering the lesson to sometimes slow our entrance into the chocolate room. 

    The childlike amazement isn’t confined to the chocolate room in Wonka’s factory as the sense of playful experimentation and exploration permeates the entire Wonka factory. They can permeate your entire world and day. The world and your day are filled with places where it’s ok to smile, have fun, and let your inner child shine. It's ok in life to find and bring that same sense of exploration, the removal of the serious masks we wear in our everyday worlds, to smile and have fun, the permission to skip and laugh and hold a bunch of balloons, the asking of “What if…?” while at work or making dinner, to watch the clouds and find shapes, to log roll down a hill and not worry about getting grass stains on your clothes and knees and elbows. 

    It is in finding this zone of exploration where the self-censoring editors are put aside, our tendencies and habits are suspended, and the creating from the inner self comes through and out. Where we put aside the "am I doing it right?" anxieties and let our true uncensored selves come out, explore and create, and be seen by ourselves and others.

    Pure imagination to change the world if you want to. There's nothing to it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2pt2-F2j2g

     

     


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    Sign on the gallery door #tellmeaboutpaducah

    #tellmeaboutpaducah

     

    I am working in the A.I.R. Studio for the month of July.

    I am making work inspired by the history and culture of Paducah.

    I need your help.

    Please come inside and talk to me about Paducah.

    The open hours are Monday – Saturday 2 – 7 PM and whenever the “Open” sign is out.

    Come in, head down the hallway to the studio, and let’s talk. I want to learn about Paducah and bring that information to life in my work.

    I’ll be posting information on facebook and instagram using #tellmeaboutpaducah.

    I also have a daily projection story every night. The ongoing story is taped onto the studio windows and each night’s projection will be on from dusk until around midnight.

    You can follow along with my adventures in Paducah on my website / blog

    www.timothywells.com/blog

    Step inside and let’s talk!


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    Asking for help

    As I prepare and plan for each day's Daily Projection, I know I need to start moving the focus to the installation part of my residency now that I've introduced myself to the community via the projections and meeting people. It has been interesting in talking to folks and mentioning I'm the artist in residence at the A.I.R. Studio and I'm doing nightly projections, how many of them have seen the projections and stopped to read them.

    One of the many books I am reading is Amanda Palmer's "The Art of Asking". I've never been fond of asking for help as I have that mid-west work ethic of "if you want it done, do it yourself" and "don't bother people" (over-simplifying things a bit for the sake of blogging), but Palmer's book has inspired me to ask people for help when I need it. I used what I've learned from that book in getting the exhibit for my students' work in Michigan and when I needed help for the frames and matting, and help getting the work finished and delivered to the gallery since I was going to be out of town. And you know what? I asked for help, and people helped. And now 13 students have 38 images hanging in a gallery in Michigan ready for an opening reception on Friday.

    I decided and discovered I can't do this Paducah installation come together in less than a month without some help and input from the community, so I'm asking for help.

    Last night's (Tuesday, July 5th) Daily Projection set the stage for me asking for help.

    Tonight's projection, I'm letting them know how they can help.

    I'm going to start to have daily open hours where the community can come into the studio and #tellmeaboutpaducah. I'm hoping to gather stories, history, rumors (not about people, but about ghosts, speculation on historical events, etc), where to eat, where to visit, what to see while I'm here, etc that I can somehow use to pull together ideas for a mural I'll be constructing on the studio wall.

    I'm planning on having an open door/open studio time of 2 - 7 PM Monday-Saturday, and by appointment (ie, if the lights are on and the closed sign is up, knock on the door and let me know you're here. Let's talk. I may work while we talk, integrating the conversation into the mural or I may sit down with you and have a conversation.

    I'll be using the hashtag of #tellmeaboutpaducah on facebook and instagram throughout the month to post about progress of what's growing in the studio.

    Plus the #dailyprojectionspaducah will be used to continue posting the daily projections as that story evolves.

    So, Paducah come by A.I.R. Studion at 621 Madison St and #tellmeaboutpaducah

     


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    Branching out

    As I've settled into the space and getting things set up, I decided it was time to start branching out and exploring Lower Town. First stop was the David Carson exhibit at the Paducah School of Art and Design.

    http://paducahschoolofartanddesign.org/paducah-school-of-art-design-presents-space-cowboy-the-grafik-design-of-david-carson/

    I've been a fan of Carson's work since I first started my creative journey 13 years ago. His work had fallen off my radar over the last few years and I was excited to get a chance to see his work in person (vs online and in books) and the gallery is in easy walking distance of the A.I.R. Studio.

    It was a great inspiration for me to see his work. Even though is work is partially based on collage and photographs, and those aren't the focii of my time and work while here, I still walked away inspired and seeds and nuggets of ideas for other projects.

    I then stopped by a few of the galleries in Lower Town and meeting some of the local artists to discuss art, Paducah, business, etc. Paducah's Artist Relocation Program is such a great idea and a wonderful way to inject and support an artist community.

    http://www.paducahmainstreet.org/artist-relocation-program.htm

    I really enjoyed meeting Michael and Victoria Terra and chatting with Michael about art, the world, Paducah, and so much more. You should check them out if you're in town or at any of the art fairs they are part of.

    http://terracottageceramics.com/

     

     


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    Start of the first Paducah installation

    My first day in Paducah, I wanted to get started on things. 

    Based on a conversation I had with some of my new neighbors as I was unloading after a long 8.5 hour drive (that the GPS promised me would only take 6.5 hours), I realized that the neighborhood knew this space was used by visiting artists but there wasn't a good or easy way to introduce myself to the community. So I decided that the first installation would be a series of night-time projections on the inside wall of the front part of the space to introduce myself and my work to the community. Thus started my "Daily Projections" project.

    Each night, I create a new transparency in a series of transparencies and project it on the wall. I'm taping the series of previous days' transparencies on the front windows so people who have missed a day can catch up on the story.

    I'll post snapshops of each day's "page" on my facebook and instagram pages.

    https://www.facebook.com/TimothyWellsArtsStudio

    https://www.instagram.com/timothywellsphoto/

    So, feel free to follow along as the story evolves.

     

     


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    Paducah Residency

    I arrived in Paducah on July 1 for a month-long residency at A.I.R. Studio at 621 Madison St, part of the Lower Town arts district of Paducah.

    I proposed and came prepared to focus on installation art part of my art practice during this residency. I came in with some seeds of ideas but no preconceived ideas of what I was going to create here. I find exploring an area and feeding off the vibe, spirit, history, and culture to fuel my installations leads to more exciting and inspired work.

    Researching Paducah from afar had so many seeds to explore.

    Its history and connections with the expansion west of the US, its neutral role in the Civil War.

    Personally, the fact my family has a long history of living along the Ohio River offered potential to explore. And in doing research, there is a connection between Paducah, KY and Ypsilanti, MI (the city where I live) as part of the history of the "Hillbilly Highway" - the I-75/US-23 roads connecting Appalachia with Detroit as the workers migrated from Appalachia to Detroit and surrounding areas in the early 1900s to work in the automotive industry. One person I talked to mentioned there was a bus that ran from Ypsilanti to Paducah on Friday afternoons to bring the men home from the car plants and the aircraft bomber plant for the weekend and drive them back on Sundays.

    Paducah offers such a rich and fertile history, cuturally and personally, to dig into and explore for installations. 

    I'm looking forward to digging in fast and deep to create.

    In packing up the truck with supplies for the residency, I had a tough time limiting myself. One, the drive was too long to think, "I can always drive back and get more stuff if I need."  This was a once here and once back kind of trip so I had to be selective about what I thought I'd need and what I thought I'd work on while here. If you've seen my studio space and know how I work on multiple projects at once, this was a challenge for me to try to stay focused.

    I embrace that challenge. One month isn't very long to dig in, create, and then pack up. 

    On Sunday, I went to the Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah to see "Miles Ahead", Don Cheadle's movie about Miles Davis. The reviews fo the movie were mixed and the interview he did with Rolling Stone all gave me pause. But it seemed like a movie I wanted to see in a theater. And I'm glad I did. The movie was interesting in a good way. I'm not all that familar with Davis' music as I've never taken the time to study it. And I know the movie is a fictionalized story of the years that Davis stopped making music. As a creative, the "what happens when you run out of things to say" is a giant ledge you don't look forward to standing on. Cheadle's idea of making a movie about a movie that Davis would have wanted to be a lead in is actually pretty entertaining. And if I'm correct, it would seem that the "modern day" scenes were filmed digitally but the flashback scenes were filmed on film. Which if is true, was a subtle technic that was genius.

    Anyway, Miles Ahead. If you have a chance to see it. Go, but go with the idea of being entertained. It's not a documentary. It's a different kind of story than you've seen before. 

    And when you're in Paducah, make sure to check out the Maiden Alley Cinema for movies or concerts. It's a great, intimate venue.

     


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    Missing....

    So, there have been blog entries since March's review of Zootopia but apparently I somehow didn't upload them correctly. Missing content is simply missing.  But a quick run down of things since March.

    I taught Alternative Processes class at a local community college. The semester was condensed into 7 1/2 weeks. The students got the same amount of class time and lab time as they would in a normal 10 or 15 week semester, but we just got all that lab time in a shorter period of time. I think that was beneficial to everyone. It gave us two days a week, 4 hours a day, working in the labs which gave them the ability to stay aggressive with their work. I'll consider this format again if I get to teach the class again. And I was able to get an exhibition of the work they created at a local gallery. The whole thing came to be in a short period of time and I'm grateful to 22 North Gallery for trusting us to get work together on short notice and to the faculty at staff at Washtenaw Community College for supporting this opportunity for the students to have their work seen in a gallery setting and learn a little about what is involved in making work for galleries.

    I have work up in the Ann Arbor Art Center's Real American exhibit. 

    I'm currently doing an artist in residence at A.I.R Studio in Paducah, KY. My focus is on site-specific installation art creating work based on the history and culture of Paducah. But if you're reading this, you've probably already been through the blog posts covering my time in Paducah.

     


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    Movie Review: Zootopia

    Movie review.

     

    I went to go see Zootopia tonight. I didn't know what to expect and the trailer didn't make me feel like it was a movie I wanted to see.

     

    However after all the good reviews and word of mouth, I decided to celebrate getting a fair chunk of long term and nagging to dos off my list.

     

    I'm glad I did. The movie was funny, intelligent, quirky, surprising, and amazing eye candy animation. There is a lot to like and love in this movie.

     

    It was refreshing. After seeing at least two trailers for upcoming movies that featured fart and poop jokes for humor, the humor in Zootopia to not stoop to that level. They skirted it and pushed up against a few other boundaries, but for the most part the humor was intelligent, witty, appropriate for all ages, and clever.

     

    And did I mention the story was interesting, the message was nice, and there were a lot of surprises (even the ones I saw coming didn't go where I thought they were going to go?)

     

    Disney animation is on quite a roll with their movies over the last few years.

     

    I did feel a little "oh gheeze" during the closing scene thinking "this is just setting up a moment at Wonderful World of Color water spectacular at Disney California Adventure." But that's a really tiny tiny thought and one only noticed by the Disney die-hards.

     

    Other than having a theater full of people who don't have an attention span long enough to not have to check their phones every 5 minutes or who taught their kids it's ok to crawl over the furniture and treat the theater like a playground, it was an enjoyable adventure. And those elements of social skills evaporating are not the fault of the movie, but the movie theater and people who shouldn't be spending their money going to movies.

     

    Hint: There is NOT an easter egg/moment after the credits.

     

    Did you see this movie? What were your thoughts?


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    Ingress - The game and why I'm playing it

    A friend of mine, Greg Peters, aka The Reluctant Networker (www.thereluctantnetworker.com), recently introduced me to the smart phone game Ingress (www.ingress.com).

    Ingress is a location-based augmented-reality game created by Google (you know their url). 

    First off, the game makes you have location mode turned on on your phone. This is something I am not a fan of - big data, making it easier for all the web entities (and others) to keep track of your movements.  And yes, I know, they know these things any but it makes me feel like a rebel and retaining just a smidgeon of control of their access to my movement and interaction in the world if I have location turned off. 

    But based on Greg's description of the game I thought I'd give it a shot. For research.

    Truly. 

    Yes, I enjoy playing the game a bit but in all honesty, I don't find it any different than most pointless online games. I learned early on in Windows-based slot machine games, "why not bet everything you have on each pull?" because there's no penalty for losing (or reward for winning.) It’s not like money came spilling out of your computer if you hit a jackpot. 

    This mentality carried through with Mafia Wars, an early game on facebook. It was more interactive, but boiled down it was doing repetitive tasks to earn more money which was needed to buy more things so you can advance to more levels so you can do the repetitive tasks some more. It did add an interactive element by attacking at first game-placed villains - the same missions and tasks all the other players had to complete and if you started the game over, would be identical to the last time you played it. It evolved to where you could attack other players (and they could attack you) and allowed you to form alliances and teams to help each other out and attack the other groups.

    It was at this point in the game where it became unfun for me. I'm not a team sports kinda person. In high school I ran track and played tennis. I liked playing one-on-one Trivial Pursuit but greatly disliked Pictionary. It's just who I am and the types of games I enjoy. It's about personal achievement for me.

    However, based on my installation art and interest in making interactive and immersive experiences, augmented reality games and gizmos are of interest to me. The creation of a compelling backstory and a fictional overlay to the real world that makes you question “is it real or part of the made up world?” are of great interest to me. It’s something I study and research and contemplate to add to my installation experiences. And Greg’s description of Ingress hit on several of my areas of interest.

    A few years ago, Disney released an augmented reality game / blog called The Optimist which I followed externally. I didn’t participate in the missions (one reason was the vast majority of the external activities to complete the missions took place in L.A. and I’m not), but followed the blog, the forums, discussions, etc and was greatly impressed with the level of thought and effort that went into the design and backstory of the game. I attended a conference and had the chance to chat with one of the Disney Imagineers who was part of the The Optimist team. He told me that once the game got up and running, they did shift and change the course of parts of the game based on the game play of and comments by the die-hard players. One thing I noted or felt from reading the forums was that the veterans (people who had been around for awhile or from the beginning) were very unforgiving to “newbies” coming into the game, asking questions, and disrupting the style of game play that was in place from the veterans. As an outsider who may have wished to engage with the activity, it was very off putting to see newbies bullied by the veterans and it wasn’t policed out by the game controllers.

    The Optimist project was part of a bigger plan that was based on the movie Tomorrowland that came out in 2015. Based on the AR (augmented reality) game and being a big fan of what Disney is able to create with their experiences and theme parks, I went into the movie very excited. I left the movie less so. There was so much potential and it felt to me like they wasted a great opportunity to truly make a unique movie. 

    But this isn’t a movie review. It’s a commentary on Ingress and what I’m garnering from it for my art installations.

    After only playing the game off and on for a few weeks and nearing achieving Level 5, I have the following thoughts.

    I enjoy the simplicity of the game. You pick of one of two teams (factions) to join. It’s not a game of good vs evil, right vs wrong, so the faction you pick just kind allows you to form an allegiance with strangers without really picking a personality trait (aggressive vs passive, thinker vs fighter, etc) or a location (home team vs visiting team).

    Using your smartphone (with the Ingress application running and location mode turned on), you explore your area finding portals. The portals can already be claimed by one of the two factions or be unclaimed. If it’s unclaimed, you claim it and install resonators (and protections) and the portal now belongs to your faction. Someone from your faction can come along and bolster the levels and protections of your portal, and members from the other faction can attack your portal and try to claim it for their side.

    Portals shift factions frequently. You can also link portals of the same factions to make their stronger and start to claim zones of territory for your faction.

    Like Mafia Wars, it starts out being an individual player game, allowing you to explore and figure things out on your own (or spend countless hours scouring the web for official and unofficial guides, tips, communities, manuals, stories, etc etc etc). As you get more experience in the game and higher level, you need to become more engaged with other plays to attain higher levels and protect your portals by attacking the other faction’s portals more, developing larger strategies, forming alliances, and well, depending on others for your advancement in the game and therefore your enjoyment of the game.

    I’m at that level and am reaching burned out on the game. It starts requiring more and more time and energy to maintain what you’ve built and perpetually seeking the carrot on the stick of the next level, badges, items, etc.

    All that being said, it’s a very well thought out game. It’s simple but has serious levels and depths of complexities.

    But I’m playing this for research and experience for future art projects. Really. I’ll admit there is a level of enjoying the game, but that fuels my analysis and thoughts on what I want to do in the future with projects.

    Recently, hypothetically, I was out driving around with my Ingress map up which I don’t recommend because you start seeing the world through the augmented reality (portals and links and zones show up on your map as you move through the world) and kind of forgetting that the car you almost hit is real or you don’t think anything of stopping in the middle of the road to hack a portal. 

    Hacking lets you hack a portal and receive items for your inventory. It doesn’t damage a portal (from what I can tell.) You can hack portals owned by either faction, usually from what I can tell getting more and better stuff from friendly portals than unfriendly.  You can hack a portal protected by someone of the rival faction much higher level than yourself and not have them alerted of your presence. If I at level 3 attack someone who has created a super high level portal for the other faction, they are alerted I attacked them and that puts me on their radar. If they aren’t fond of me being attacked by a gnat, they may start seeking out my portals and demolish my marks on the world. 

    When I picked my faction (Enlightened, for full disclosure), it was just the description that interested me. I apparently live a very heavy Resistance (the other faction) area, populated by some very high level players.

    As I’ve explore rural settings and city settings, I’ve noticed how the game play shifts and changes in each setting. In rural, people seem to set up kingdoms they hold onto. In the city, portals are constantly changing hands particularly in areas of lots of players. If I’m stuck out in a cow field in eastern Colorado, it’s very unlikely there will be many or any portals and unlikely there will be many players to team up with or attack. However, where I live is a very active area with lots of portals.

    One local high level Resistance player seems to be fine with the nice empire they’ve set up. They understand there are us gnats and vultures out there who will pick up morsels that aren’t  claimed or the local high level player doesn’t want. But as soon as I started making some inroads to making a small empire for myself near the player, they came out of their cave, slapped my hand (ie took back the morsels I snatched from under their unwatching eye, and destroying the links I’d created as I started to form a small empire.) They allowed me to keep most of what I had claimed and they didn’t want. They just didn’t want me setting up a kingdom in their backyard. 

    There are some players I’ve run into that have taken my portals for no apparent reason other than to destroy my hold on them. They didn’t claim them as their own or begin to build an empire. Just took out my portals, “just because” from what I can tell. 

    There are as many strategies as there are personality traits. And the game allows for each type to flourish and play.

    All this to get to these few points of where I am thinking/analyzing right now.

    In creating a game/experience, 

    1. Keep the concept and backstory very simple to enter. 

    2. Add enough complexity to train and tease players as they progress

    3. Account for a wide variety of personalities, perceptions, and traits people bring with them

    4. Determine what the penalties and rewards will be and if they will be virtual (and meaningless) or find a way to make them real

    This list is still growing, but I’ve been doing structured analysis of my Ingress, The Optimist, Mafia Wars, and other game experiences and how they relate to creating art installations/experiences. 

    I can look back on some of past installations and see where I missed the mark a bit and what I’d do as I continue to grow my art practice - which when I step back a bit could benefit from following these simple steps too. It’s an infinite loop, but one that will spit out jackpot coins.

     

     


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    Wrapping up 2015

    Well as is tradition in our society, I'm using the down time around the end of December to look back on the year that's been and the year that's to be.

    I'm part of a critique group and we met last week to critique the latest work of the group's members. Due to my residency, this was the first meeting I've been a part of since last June. Preparing and selecting photos and paintings to take to the group made me once again realize just how much new work I've made. I've even completed a few series of work, which is something I usually have a tough time doing. I'm always wanting to keep adding new work to never-ending projects.

    But somehow along the way, ending the residency also seems to have given me an end point for much of the work I made there.

    Also, going through the books I've read this year. Usually my summer reading list includes lighter fare and escapism topics. However, this year my reading list has pretty much been in the arts category. The more recent books have been my favorite of the year (but that could be because they are the most recent readings.)  Both books have more highlighted than not in them.  Patti Smith's M Train and Eric Fischl's Bad Boy. Some keen insight into the thoughts and people behind the art - an area I really enjoy exploring.

    Things are underway for another exciting year for next year. Preparing work for shows, preparing applications for shows, and still trying to sort out the studio space thing. 

    Enjoy the end of the year thinking and planning!