Digital expression

Jean Willey’s photography project captures neighbors’ personalities

Created date

August 14th, 2019
Self-taught photographer Jean Willey captures the unique shelf displays around Wind Crest, the Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., using a Canon G1X Powershot with a 12.5–62.5 mm zoom lens.

Self-taught photographer Jean Willey captures the unique shelf displays around Wind Crest, the Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., using a Canon G1X Powershot with a 12.5–62.5 mm zoom lens.

Walk the halls of Wind Crest, and chances are you’ll run into a woman toting a Canon G1X Powershot with a zoom lens around her neck. That’s Jean Willey. She connects neighbors through digital photography.

Creative connection

When Jean and her husband Doug moved to the Highlands Ranch, Colo., community in June 2018 from north of Denver, she noticed and admired how her new neighbors expressed themselves through displays on the shelves outside their apartment front doors. 

The shelves, originally designed to hold packages as a convenience for community members, have morphed into a communitywide display of history, interests, and seasonal décor. 

“I think the shelves express people’s personalities, and I wanted to share that and bring people together across the community on other floors and in other buildings,” Jean says. “As a resident, I could share my talent as a photographer by taking pictures of the shelves because most people don’t see what other people on other floors or buildings are doing.” 

With her vision in mind, Jean turned the macro photography hobby, which she picked up after retiring from the medical device industry, into a service project. 

She walks the halls throughout Wind Crest searching for themes like holidays, seasons, and standout displays. 

Then, using the manual setting for each shot, she photographs the displays, downloads the photographs to her computer, edits them using Windows’ photo editing software, and creates an album of the photographs for Wind Crest’s My Erickson app, which is accessible by all community members on their smartphone or tablet. 

“I don’t do a lot of adjusting except some lighting and cropping,” she says. “I’m pretty careful about taking the shot I want.”

A new era of learning

Jean learned photography by taking online classes through Blueprint (formerly Craftsy)—upwards of 30 classes since first adopting the hobby. 

The online subscription service offers thousands of classes taught by experts and available to stream. Topics include knitting, quilting, sewing, crocheting, cake decorating, cooking and baking, drawing, painting, paper crafting, writing, jewelry making, photography, gardening, woodworking, and fitness, among others. 

“The quality of their classes is amazing. That’s where you learn. That and taking pictures,” Jean says. 

Like Blueprint, Wind Crest offers a wide variety of activities and opportunities to learn and stay engaged. “You can do anything here,” says Jean, who also writes and edits for the community newsletter, the Gazette; creates sets for the TV studio; and whose husband belongs to the men’s book club, a movie club, and golfs next door. 

“In our previous community, a 55-plus in Brighton, Colo., with a golf course and not much else, we weren’t getting all that interaction,” she says. “We wanted to give up the responsibilities of a big home as so many people do, and I wanted to be around other people. I’m an introvert, but I personally needed more intellectual stimulation. That’s why photography is a good fit.”

Among her activities, Jean says her photography project brings her the most joy. “The shelves make me smile. That’s a big piece for me,” Jean says. “I’m smiling by the time I finish because they’re so fun.” 

When asked if one shelf has stood out as her favorite, she replies, “I’ve seen so many unique and memorable shelves, it’s hard to think of just one.” 

Comments