Jennifer Nichole Wells is a 24 year old fine art photographer out of Jacksonville, FL. She uses a variety of materials- including clay, paint, cardboard, foam and HO and dollhouse scale miniatures to create small-scale dioramas. She then transforms her miniature creations through her camera lens, using various photo and post processing techniques.
She strives for a nostalgic and ethereal or dark and meaningful feel to each of her images.
As far as mental health is concerned, Jennifer struggles with anxiety and PTSD. Her work serves as an outlet for these often dark feelings, while the process aids as a type of therapy.
How long have you been working with this miniature diorama format and what attracted you to this way of working?
I’ve made 3-D things out of paper, and played with the tiniest of tiny toys since I can remember. The first time I made small items to photograph was for an English project in High School. I illustrated As I Lay Dying. The first time I used miniatures for a fine art project was Freshman year of college. I used quarter machine monkies and placed them in various locations. I didn’t come back to this way of working until a couple years later. I had been determined to do dark room photography because I liked the hands on process, and taking digital classes forced me to further explore other ways of working. At first I made large scale 80 – 100 image panoramas, but working in Photoshop didn’t quite satisfy the urge I had to work with my hands. I made a series called WWII in 2012 in response to a narrative photo assignment. I fell in love. I liked being able to design every aspect of a scene – to make it as simple or detailed as I preferred, to give life and an emotive feel to these tiny objects, to obscure their scale by the way I shot the image, or the size I printed it, to be totally in control of the lighting. For the purpose of assignments, I still shot non-miniatures off and on for awhile, but as soon as I was able, I settled here wholeheartedly, and I’ve never looked back.
What is your working process, from conceptualising and building to shooting?
I think about an image forever before shooting it. First I have a vague idea of the scene I want, sparked from something I’ve heard, seen, read, been considering lately to any degree. Then I plan out what I need to construct the scene. Do I need to order props? Will I be building any specific items? If I’m building something, what is the best material for it – clay, paper? If I’m buying props, where should I look, what do I want them to look like? For props I scan my go- to hobby sites/stores for hours, looking for something that I can use at face value, or modify slightly to fit what I have in my head.
Once I have everything ready, I set up the scene, light it and shoot it. I have a table top studio that’s 16″ x 16″ and came with 2 small studio lights. I typically only use 1 light. I prefer the more dramatic lighting, and often times I’m using the light to emulate the sun. Occasionally I skip the studio and just set up the scene on a table and light it with a desk lamp. For tinier items, I’ve lit with candles, or LED hobby street lights.
I start with an idea of what angle I want to shoot the image, but as I’m shooting I always end up playing with a few different angles and depths of field, and adjusting and readjusting pieces within the scene and the placement of the light. I aim for symmetry, simplicity, the rule of thirds, interesting/ directional shadows, color play, etc. Once I have a shot I’m happy with, I import it into my computer and begin working on the image in Photoshop. I always adjust levels and color balance, and depending on the shot I may blur out more of the background, spot edit out a few things, crop, etc.
What is it about the process of working in this way that you find therapeutic?
I always have an urge to create and creating helps me feel like I’m doing something productive. On top of that, working with my hands, and creating something from almost nothing is a fulfilling process. Sometimes I even surprise myself that I was able to achieve the final product. I can have confidence in my skills as an artist, even on days that I feel unsure about everything else. On my lazy days, I bring all my supplies over to the couch, and build on top of a laptop lap desk, cutting, gluing and molding while I binge, uh listen, to Netflix.
Where do you draw inspiration for each piece?
I like to draw inspiration from everywhere. When I see something that intrigues me, I make note of it. I try to figure out why I think something is beautiful or interesting. Being able to analyze what I like and don’t like better informs my art.
As far as artists that inspire me, I really enjoy the work of Edward Hopper and Gregory Crewdson, and greatly appreciate the work Laurie Simmons and David Levinthal have done in the world of miniature photography.
For your most personal piece, Awaken, has the process of making work surrounding such sensitive emotions transformed the way you look upon that period in your life?
Yes actually. It’s helped greatly. It forces me to work through those emotions and thoughts, but in something outside of myself. It’s like a release into that clay as I mold the ocean, as I add paint, as I press the figure into the waves. A letting go of sorts. I think I’m able to look at that period in my life a bit more objectively than I was able to before.