Art isn't just about still life and rainbows. It's also about darkness, death and sometimes feet. Just ask Alice Wells, 17, who stole the show March 28 at the Green Fields Country Day School Spring Art Show with her innovative and untraditional photography.
Wells, a senior at Green Fields, doesn't dig ordinary landscapes and portraits. Instead, she seeks out the disturbing and unusual. One photo, entitled "Little Dead Boy," shows a contorted scarecrow she ran across during a trip to Mexico.
"I think it's innovative," says Wells' art teacher, Jane Buckman. "I think it's sophisticated and evokes emotion."
Wells shoots on a 35mm Minolta. She built her own darkroom in a shed behind her house, where she develops her own film and makes her own prints. She even cuts her own matts - which, keeping with her theme, are all black - and does her own framing. The results are well composed, perfectly exposed works of art, ranging from the sublime to the bizarre.
"One of my main subjects is taking things that are grotesque and make people want to throw up," Wells says. "The shock value, that's my gimmick."
Gimmicks aside, Wells' photography focuses on ordinary objects but shows them in a new, sometimes harsh light. Rather than being abstract, her photos force the viewer to look closer to recognize and understand their substance.
When Wells has an extra shot at the end of a roll of film, she takes a shot of her feet. She's gone back and collected those shots over the years and has created a book with the images, adding in her own poetry and quotes.
She bought an enlarger and some darkroom equipment about 10 years ago. Last summer, she finally built the darkroom to house it. She had to install her own drainage system and make all the tables.
"It's about as low as a darkroom can get," Wells says. "It's filthy. It's dark."
"What I love about photography is making it all myself," Wells says. "I'm combining science and art."
Like her colleagues at Green Fields, Wells is passionate about the arts and is thinking now about her future. She's been accepted to the art school at the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as other schools. She's open to tackling photojournalism because, she says, she knows fine art photography probably won't pay the bills. She's even thinking about commercial or fashion photography.
"She has a future at whatever she sets out to do," Buckman says.
Wells, who lives with parents Jay and Stovie Wells, finds inspiration around every corner. She's a regular visitor to the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography. She's enlisted many of her friends - and even herself - as models. And she always carries her camera in case she finds a worthy shot. But she isn't like most high school students. She doesn't have a drivers' license, and she'd much rather toil away in her darkroom than hang out at the mall. This, she says, is what she's meant to do.
During this year's Green Fields Spring Art Show, several dozen of the school's art students displayed work in the Art Dome, located in the center of campus. Students entered their paintings, drawings, mixed-media works and photography in the annual show, which also featured refreshments and live music provided by the Full House Blues Band. The free show was open to the public.
Wells and her fellow artists stood beside their work to field questions and accept compliments. All of the work was available for purchase by silent auction.