Tim Israel, Visual Arts Teacher

After spending his third year in the photo studio with Ellis girls, Visual Arts Teacher Tim Israel headed across the country this summer to be an Artist-in-Residence at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in eastern Washington state. A road warrior in endless pursuit of exploring and finessing his craft, Tim’s Pacific Northwest adventure marks the second time he’s made art at the invitation of the National Park Service. His interest in film, old cameras, and alternative techniques brings a dose of nostalgia to his digital age student photographers and filmmakers, and challenges them to remix and reimagine their own unique perspectives behind the lens.
Years at Ellis:Three
Title:Visual Arts Teacher
Education:B.F.A. Theatre, Carnegie Mellon University

Tell me about your artist residency this summer. How did this photography opportunity come about?
I will be an Artist-in-Residence at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in July. Last summer, my girlfriend and I had a joint residency at Weir Farm, a National Historic Site in Connecticut. We loved it so much that this year we applied for over a dozen. Being an Artist in-Residence is a new way to test my craft. I decided I wanted to explore the Pacific Northwest and Lake Roosevelt was a great fit.

What gave you the idea to test your photography skills this way?
It started with my first spring break at Ellis, I couldn’t believe I had two weeks off! I decided to hit the road and head to Graceland. From there I went to Alabama, New Orleans, and everywhere in between. I loved being on the road as a traveling photographer. That summer, I packed up again, drove West, took a lot of pictures, and visited friends along the way. During that trip, I went to some National Parks for the first time and was blown away. After that, my girlfriend proposed we apply for these residencies.

What do you hope to bring back to Ellis from your experience?
I’m always striving to get better at my craft and would like to move closer to doing a visual art show featuring my photos. At Lake Roosevelt, I’ll be exploring infrared photography more. I don’t know if we’ll have a course unit for it in Advanced Photography since it’s really prominent in the summer, but being able to share new techniques and skills with the girls is the goal.

What inspired you to become a photographer?
I didn’t know when I graduated that I wanted to pursue photography, but I did decide that I didn’t want to do professional theater. I took all of that creative energy and put it into photography. I really started at the beginning. I was shooting with a 35mm camera that I still have and send out with students. I took some terrible pictures, but I kept at it. And then I took a picture that really excited me and I thought I’m good at this. Every now and again when I need confirmation, my photographs will deliver for me. I haven’t really had a moment of total breakthrough in photography, but more of a quiet, steady stream. I love to experiment with unique techniques and learn from my mistakes.

Do you have a mentor? How has that relationship benefited you professionally? Can you tell me about him or her?
Everywhere I’ve been employed, I’ve had “work moms.” Sarah Karas, a teacher I worked with at Pittsburgh Public Schools, showed me how to be a teacher and taught me that there are legal obligations and moral obligations in teaching. She’s a dynamo, a ball of energy. She’s the type of teacher who would walk into a room of thirty fourth graders and control the room immediately. And now at Ellis, there’s Sara Sturdevant and Belle Moldovan. There’s never dead air with Sara at the helm. She gives the sense that every second of her class time has been planned and orchestrated. I’m also influenced by Belle in how I teach my studio class. We are very much alike with our quiet studios and the way we work with students.

Moving from public schools to a private all-girls school must have been a big change. What comes to mind when you think of Ellis?
The girls, they are just amazingly independent. They always do their job and make me look good. I couldn’t imagine a place more custom-built for my abilities and personality. Everything at Ellis is smooth, there’s a very natural flow of learning here. In the grand scheme of things, the girls are such winners and I’m so proud of them all. Oh, and the kilt plaid!

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
It gets better. It can be a hard journey figuring out who you are. Just know there’s a spot for everyone.

How do you spend your free time?
Traveling and taking pictures, I rarely don’t have a camera on me. I go to New York just about every other weekend to see my girlfriend. I love to bike ride—I just rode in the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City, it’s a 40-mile ride through all five boroughs. I also play a lot of chess.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Unable to dunk.

What woman inspires you and why?
Judit Polgár, she is an amazing chess champion. Rosa Parks was a helluva woman. And my girlfriendI admire her for many reasons, the places she’s been and things she’s done.

What’s your favorite ’90s jam?
I’d say any of the theme songs from the original TGIF show lineup. My alarm clock on Friday’s is the theme song to Family Matters. Also, “Closing Time” by Semisonic. I play that when I’m trying to get students out of my darkroom!