The Unseen Faces of 'Forward'

Eau Claire native hopes to draw national attention to the Wisconsin music scene

by Rayna DeJongh

SCENES FROM THE WISCONSIN MUSIC SCENE. J.E. Sunde is one of the six artists featured in a new photography book showcasing notable musicians from Wisconsin.
SCENES FROM THE WISCONSIN MUSIC SCENE. J.E. Sunde is one of the six artists featured in a new photography book showcasing notable musicians from Wisconsin.

If Spencer Wells is passionate about anything, it’s printed media and Wisconsin-based musicians. Growing up in Eau Claire, Wells found himself admiring the diverse sound of local musicians. After pursuing his career in photography, Wells relocated to New York City. Wells continues to grow as a photographer in New York, but has refused to disregard his undeniable obsession with the Wisconsin music scene.

“I wanted to have individuals who involved themselves in the music. People who gave the artists a personal and insightful touch that you can’t get from a national experience. These are people who have experienced the Wisconsin music scene and helped to create it.” – Spencer Wells, Forward

“The music I grew up around melded a lot of genres,” Wells said. Wells discovered his love for photography and local music during his teen years. After graduating from Memorial High School, Wells pursued a degree at UW-Madison and found every opportunity to expose himself to more local music, establishing himself within a network of Wisconsin-based musicians.

While in New York, Wells noticed an increasing amount of Wisconsin music photos piling up. When revisiting and reorganizing the unseen portraits, a decade of familiar faces, diverse sounds, and fond memories of life in his home state flooded back.

In 2015, Wells reached out to designer Matt Riley, whom he met while living in Madison. Riley had been making show posters while working on a design collective called “Animal Canon,” and was active in the music and arts festival Rock County Folk Symposium – with Wells – during their time in Madison. Recognizing his talent, Wells flew to Janesville to meet up with Riley. It was during this trip that Wells solidified his plan to produce a book of visuals that tells the story of Wisconsin’s music scene.

Spencer Wells’ self-published book, Forward, will consist of the visuals that accumulated throughout his time in Wisconsin. Wells hopes that the book will portray what he identifies as the vibrant, independent music scene of a thriving community that has been undervalued by the national media. Along with encouraging artists to stay active in the community, Wells has crystalized his style as a portrait photographer in the 10 years of work that appear in the pages of Forward.

Wells has narrowed down a list of individuals, from a variety of styles and locations, that have been heavily acquainted with the Wisconsin music scene. “I wanted to have individuals who involved themselves in the music,” Wells said. “People who gave the artists a personal and insightful touch that you can’t get from a national experience. These are people who have experienced the Wisconsin music scene and helped to create it.”

Forward will feature portraits of musicians Thomas Wincek (Field Report, All Tiny Creatures), Rory Ferreria (a rapper better known as Milo), Adelyn Strei (Adelyn Rose, Bathtub Cig, and P•PL), Whilden Hughes (Double Ewes), J.E. Sunde (The Daredevil Christopher Wright), and Jon Mueller (Collections of Colonies of Bees, Volcano Choir), paired with dreamy biographies written by Wisconsin authors.

“I want people to know this book is a labor of love,” said Wells.

For updates on Forward’s progress and release, join the mailing list, and visit www.spencer-wells.com/forward.

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