Thomas Jefferson

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Art Through a Lens

Posted 03/10/2021 by Roxanne Wilkerson

One of Lea Wagner’s photographs featured in the URBANE Group Photography Exhibition. photo by Lea Wagner

Thomas Jefferson High School’s photography teacher Lea Wagner is one of the local artists being featured in the URBANE Photography Exhibition at BitFactory Gallery.

In celebration of Denver’s Month of Photography, BitFactory Gallery is honored to host the URBANE Group Photography Exhibition. The gallery is located in Downtown Denver on Santa Fe Drive, and the event will last from February 19 to March 11, 2021. This art exhibition features local and other artists who have taken photographs that allude to the theme of personalized interpretations of urban landscapes. Works include sophisticated impressions of city life as well as scenes viewed through a lens by Denver artists David Eichler, Jeremy Patlen, and Lea Wagner, as well as Wyoming artist Bailey Russel. These artists were reached out to by the gallery owner to participate in the event and were given complete creative freedom to arrange and create their art based on the provided theme. Wagner is the photography teacher at TJ and spoke more about her participation in this exhibit, as well as her overall experience as a photographer and visionary artist.

Wagner has been showing her work at the gallery for about three years, as she was introduced to its owner by a friend who was showing her own art there at the time. After giving him her website information, Wagner was reached out to by the owner a couple months later about a photography show in 2019. Since then, the owner has been inviting her back each year to participate in different group photography shows. The BitFactory is the only gallery she has shown her work in, excluding the gallery part of her student thesis in college. She mainly does projects on her own solely because of her love for the art of photography. In regards to the 2021 URBANE Exhibition, Wagner stated, “I feel super grateful to be a part of this group of photographers… [The owner] carefully selects who he chooses to invite to these shows… I’m one of four other people. Also, I’m the only female photographer as well, so I’m representing women photographers. I think there’s a lot more men photographers than there are women photographers, so I feel proud that I am the only female photographer in the exhibit.” It’s important to recognize the role Wagner is playing in the honorable representation of women in the arts through her participation in this event. 

Wagner’s interest in photography sparked when she was in high school. Her mother was also a photographer and had an old camera that caught her eye. Since her school did not offer any photography classes, Wagner sought out classes at an art center; this is where she fell in love with photography. Working in the dark room was an exhilarating process for her, and she enjoyed the surprise of finally watching a picture expose itself under the light. Her AP Art portfolio consisted primarily of photography, and she continued to pursue her passion by going on to study photography in college. Claiming to be a visual artist, Wagner explained how she also is an acrylic painter, using her photography as inspiration for her paintings. She likes to go out on her bike to take pictures locally, later turning them into paintings and incorporating them into her portfolio. Before moving to Denver, Wagner started a mural company with a painter friend of hers in Charleston, South Carolina. They painted unique murals on buildings for gyms, private homes, and other customers. 

Wagner has been a photography and visual arts teacher for the past 10 years, teaching mostly elementary level students. Talking more about her pursuit of the visionary arts, she stated, “I’ve always practiced art on the side for my own mental health, my own benefits…It’s nice to get little opportunities here and there that pop up with these galleries. Sometimes I’ll create custom paintings for people if they want something specific…If somebody needs photography for something specific I usually am super pumped to help with that…I’m always kind of using my creative skills in helping others.” Her artistic style tends to change at times based on whatever is going on in her life and her personal experiences. Traveling has a huge influence on her work since she enjoys capturing valuable moments. She allows her art to be a way of processing her life experiences in the world, whether they be the past or present. Speaking on her passion for photography, Wagner said, “I’ve always made things with my hands. I just love how quickly you can create something with photography…Within a second you can create some sort of image of what you’re trying to communicate.” She also likes how photography helps her document and remember different parts of her life. Recently, her source of inspiration has been a visiting artist for her Photography 2 class who has introduced her to a variety of websites, specifically ones covering contemporary artists. She is also inspired by the wide range of cameras that can be used for photography, whether they are considered advanced or old-school equipment. She has even created her own unique camera obscura that forms projections of objects outside of a room onto a wall using blacked out areas and enhanced lighting. Wagner holds a deep appreciation for the history of photography and embraces as many aspects of it that she can within her class projects and individual work. 

She was contacted about the URBANE Photography Exhibition last minute, and the acceptance prompted the creation of new work. To begin, she tried to photograph in Denver, yet the winter weather was a challenge comfort-wise. At this moment, Wagner did not have a particular direction she wanted to go with the project, so everything was experimental. She traveled to Florida in December to visit family and realized she had limited time to create her work. Not having brought her camera with her, Wagner decided to keep shooting during her vacation with her iPhone. She explained how her family played a big role in this process by helping her find places to photograph. Her father drove her around to different cities and locations, specifically to the cities of Fort Pierce and Melbourne. Wagner was in search of abandoned and rundown industrial sites, explaining, “I get out of the car and just start walking around and I shoot whatever inspires me in the moment…I started to really get my vision clear once I started shooting pictures in Florida…The recurring theme with my work is focusing on the relationship between nature and man…Like if a building is left unoccupied for a certain amount of time nature eventually takes over.” She continued to focus on this concept of interest, trying to establish the connection of how nature interacts with man-made aspects of life. As Wagner photographed she zoomed in on her surroundings, specifically at points where plants interacted with the buildings around them. When she encountered an abandoned construction site on her adventure, she found a variety of fascinating elements, such as overgrown plants, an old trailer, a bulldozer, graffiti, and other traits. Adding some excitement to her journey, she was frightened by a giant lizard rustling in the bushes near her. “I go to places where I get out of my comfort zone a little bit, but that usually creates the best kinds of pictures,” she described. The colors, shapes, and lines of the photographs were a few of her main points of focus when going back to edit the photos.

All of Wagner’s artwork is meaningful to her because it is highly personally influenced and is a way for her to not only process the world through her eyes, but also to communicate ideas that are difficult through speaking or writing. It has given her opportunities to connect with others in a way she may have never had before. Overall, her art allows her to deepen her experience of life itself. Lea Wagner is a valuable artist in our TJ community and should be admired for inspiring her students and sharing her passion for visionary art. She is extremely grateful for the experiences she has had at the school and the ability to express her passion with TJ students and staff, who are proud to say that one of their teachers is featuring her unique and impressive photographs in the local URBANE Group Photography Exhibition.