Cara Lee Wade
Enter the office of Cara Lee Wade and you enter the lair of a multifaceted artist with a vibrant personality crowned by an ever-changing head of hair, this time a bright warm hue hovering between red and flaming orange. Surrounded by a collection of random objects (including a miniaturized, obscure Muppet named Janice who has more than a slight resemblance to Wade) that provides hints for the topics rolling through this artist’s mind, one can’t help but assume Wade’s head is stacked with boxes spewing ideas, thoughts and opinions in an abundance that would challenge any singular person to express in one lifetime. She is a powerhouse communicator who is both gracious and daring. Her profession is teacher. Her artistic medium is photography.
While she may claim two common titles, ordinary, Wade is not. Her undergrad work earned her an English degree which led to her first teaching job that did nothing to feed her creative spirit.
“I felt like I was in prison,” states Wade. Being an artist at heart, she took a photography class during which she fell under the spell of processing film.
“The first time I put a piece of paper in the chemicals and an image emerged, I fell in love with photography.” She’s been a darkroom mistress ever since, never folding to the pressure to abandon the mechanical, slow process of developing images by hand. The process is what keeps Wade fired up. Manipulating images by hand is what sets her work apart. Her passion for the process is what inspires her students.
During grad school Wade learned a photo process called mordon, a manipulative technique that involves the use of chemicals to liquefy and separate the black lines and shapes of a photograph from the paper, allowing the artist to manually alter and distort the image.
The process lends itself perfectly to the underlying theme that permeates all of Wades work; the study of beauty and even more specifically, comparing beauty to the grotesque. The topic was the core of her thesis work through which she contemplated the debauchery of beauty during the Victorian age by digging up examples of devastating consequences endured as a result of pursuing beauty. Wade quickly rattles off stories of binding and crushing corsets causing victims to suffer from organ failure and death from exposure to lead-based cosmetics.
Those who pursue beauty, specifically drag queens, serve as the collective muse for one body of Wade’s ongoing work. The series of photos started as class requirement while Wade moved through the master’s degree program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“I always photographed them because they were my friends,” says Wade. “The work is not always light because of the stigma attached to the lifestyle.”
As her work develops, so do Wade’s interpretations of her subjects and themes. While she may have started simply photographing friends, she now thinks of the drag queen series on a deeper level, adding more layers of content the longer she works with the theme.
“These men want to become women because they find women to be amazing and fascinating. We don’t criticize men for wanting to be beautiful as much as we do women who want to be beautiful,” says Wade. “Women inject our bodies with sh** to become beautiful. That beauty doesn’t come from a pure place.”
Wade looks for beauty in unusual places. She enjoys “taking photos of crap” and challenging viewers to accept what is normally interpreted as ugliness as beauty.
During a recent visit to the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, she shot 15 rolls of film in one hour – not images, but rolls of film, each one loaded, wound and shot, then removed from the camera and tucked quickly away before reloading again. She was overtaken by the scene of the nostalgic graveyard and admits she broke a few rules and most likely annoyed a few others on the tour with her exuberant reactions to rust and rot.
“I had two cameras and broke the rule of only using one by hanging the second around the neck of my boyfriend.” Wade goes on to say, “I love finding beauty in the broken. The natural process of decay is beautiful.”
Wade is always armed with a camera. In her office, she is surrounded by a perimeter made up of a collection of antiques and retros, each waiting to be the next to go with Wade into the field. She shoots things that come across her path in daily life, most often armed with a Holga camera, also known as a plastic toy camera.
“Sometimes things stay in the camera for a while and I forget what is on the film. When I develop it, it’s like a gift,” she says.
The unexpected and serendipitous moments that sprinkle Wade’s life also ignite energy and zeal in her soul. The Holga is Wade’s go-to camera because it adds its own mark to her images.
“Some people say ‘happy accident.’ I call it a gift from the photo universe,” says Wade.
The lens is easily scratched which adds interesting flaws to images. The entire camera can be thrown into saltwater to incite interesting effects. The cameras can be broken apart to use as pinhole cameras.
“These are things you just can’t do with digital. Nothing compares to the creative process of film,” says Wade. “[The Holga] makes getting the negatives like opening a gift.”
Wade is currently planning and working to develop a show titled Travels in Plastic which will feature her Holga images. The show will run at Artlink from March 13 to April 15, 2015.
The Holga show is just one project on Wade’s mind. She recently spent five hours cutting, until her thumb went numb, to free painstakingly intricate paper dolls from the pages that trapped them. Wade plans to use classic Tim Tierney paper dolls as her subjects for an upcoming series.
“I just ordered eight books covering subjects from celebrities to drag queens.” The idea is to put the dolls into real situations and have them interact with different eras. For instance, 70s dolls will hang with drag queens and Victorian ladies in waiting. “I’ll most likely shoot them in Polaroid,” says Wade. “I’d love to set a few up at the Rialto reclamation.”
Creativity and thought are the foundation of Wade’s work. She is careful to add substance to her photos, as these days the argument goes, “Anyone with an expensive camera can be a photographer.”
Teacher Wade pushes her students to think deeply about their work.
“I always ask them why. Because it’s cool or pretty isn’t enough,” says Wade. “Make work about something you are passionate about. Does it make you angry? Does it make you want to research? Does it make you want to learn something else? Substance is important. A good photo must have content.”
Those who have seen Wade’s work know she follows her own advice. Her images are eerie, quirky, mysterious pieces that whisper beauty in layers. Many show both a focal point along with the hint of an outsider. In one image a nude woman peeks through a window while the foreground reveals a motorcycle’s windshield and rearview mirror. The image initiates a story and sparks questions. It shows us where we are, what is in front of us and what is behind.
Wade is an artist who forces viewers to look at their world in a new way and perhaps question what we accept as truth. Wade’s work stimulates thought and isn’t that what art is all about?
Cara Lee Wade
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102