1:1 — Jennifer Stevens

Interviewed by Dot Dannenberg

Jennifer Stevens rocks.
This week, 1:1000 chats with the photographer behind “The Jam Times”, “Living the Dream”, and “Silent Treatment” about art, skulking around abandoned buildings, and her work as a community organizer with the nonprofit Girls Rock Charleston.

1:1000: When did you first get into photography?

JENNIFER STEVENS: I’ve been taking photographs since I was a kid. My parents were always proponents for traveling, and we made sure to document EVERY trip we took. I remember cranking up my disposable camera, snapping shots every chance I had — at least, until I ran out of exposures. I still enjoy shooting with disposable cameras from time to time. I’d say that I started taking photography more seriously once I was finished with college. My undergraduate degree is in Visual Communication, and the program combined photojournalism with graphic design. I wouldn’t say that I felt prepared to make a living off of photography once I graduated. It’s a passion of mine, so I’ve always found ways to incorporate it in my life. Even now, I work full-time in an unrelated field but continue taking photographs, because it’s a form of creative expression that I strongly relate to.

1:1000: I could not be trusted with those disposable cameras as a kid — I’d end up with a roll of 24 photos of my thumb. Disposable cameras seem like a lot of work now, though. What are your thoughts on the Instagram age we live in, where every 16-year-old with an iPhone is calling themselves a photographer?

JS: There’s a quote that says the best camera is the one you have with you. I have mixed feelings about this particular question. Generally, I think it’s really great that more and more people are able to document their lives and experiences. I mean, I love being able to see what my friends are seeing/experiencing all over the world. What makes one person’s image on Instagram any less valuable than a photograph hanging up in a museum?

1:1000: That quote resonates with me so much. I know tons of people who have fancy DSLRs that never leave the camera bag. What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken so far?

JS: My current favorite photograph is one I took inside an abandoned Navy building in 2013 — it’s titled Abandoned I. The former Navy shipyard has now become a mixed-use area for the city of North Charleston called The Navy Yard at Noisette. There are still remnants of the old shipyard, including a handful of abandoned military facilities. I have a favorite building there, and I have gone back a couple of times to document the interior and exterior of the facility.

Abandoned I

1:1000: What do you think draws you to these subjects that have such an unconventional beauty — abandoned buildings, chipped paint, rust?

JS: I’ve always been drawn to things that display unconventional beauty. I mean, beauty is so subjective anyway. Abandoned, dilapidated, and sometimes forgotten spaces appeal to me in a way that more modern, well-kept, and well-known spaces don’t. It’s fascinating to think about the story behind these spaces, these things — how did they get to be in the condition they’re in? Who occupied the space? These are questions I often ask myself when documenting buildings.

1:1000: And that, I think, is where the fun really starts for the writers who work from your photos.

JS: I definitely see my work relating to issues like gentrification and also sustainability. Some of my work was recently featured in Synergies — a regional sustainability publication put out by the College of Charleston Office of Sustainability.

1:1000: Who are your favorite photographers right now?

JS: Two of my favorite photographers are Kate Wichlinski and Chloe Gilstrap. Kate is a dear friend of mine whom I met in Charleston a few years ago. She has since moved to New York…When you view her work, you really feel a connection to Kate and her subjects (she also makes these wonderful self-portraits). Chloe is another photographer that I really admire. I also met her in Charleston a few years ago. Similar to Kate, Chloe has since moved away from Charleston (she’s living in Seattle now)…She’s extremely talented and uses various printing techniques.

1:1000: What’s the process been like watching writers interpret your photos for 1:1000? It’s jarring for me, even now, learning that the photo that served as a setting for Morgan Ira James’s “The Jam Times” was actually a military facility.

JS: I think it’s quite fascinating, really. It’s interesting to see how my work is being interpreted. I try to put myself in the shoes of the writer and realize that I would probably interpret the photographs in a completely different way. But that’s what makes it truly interesting — how we each have our own interpretation of things. It’s also flattering to have someone create a story based on a certain emotion or emotions that were provoked when viewing one of my photographs. I appreciate being featured!

1:1000: What else should we know about Jen Stevens?

JS: Besides travel and photography, I’m really passionate about volunteering and non-profit work. I’m an organizer with a grassroots, social justice organization called Girls Rock Charleston. Our mission is to empower girls and transgender youth through music education, DIY media, and creative collaboration. We offer a one-week day camp for girls and transgender youth ages 9 to 17. At camp, participants take instrument instruction in drums, guitar, keys, or bass, form bands, and write and rehearse original songs that are played live at an end-of-camp showcase event. In addition to music education, the campers attend workshops that range from topics such as art and resistance and DIY media, to DJing and self-defense. While our programs involve music, we focus less on instruction and more on music as a means for personal and social change.

1:1000: That sounds awesome. What kind of change do you see in the kids?

JS: We have campers who show up on day one of camp week with little or no experience playing music. We help provide the tools and space to enable them — it’s really remarkable to see how much confidence they gain throughout the week. They end up doing things they didn’t know were possible — especially when they rock out with their bands on showcase day. Our campers are so great, and I feel so inspired by them to continue doing this work. I think it’s much needed in the Charleston community.

1:1000: What mantras are you living by lately?

JS: Excellent question! I have a few mantras that I am living by lately:

Travel as much as possible. Some of the most enjoyable experiences in my life have been because of travel — the people I’ve met, the things I have seen, the activities I have been able to experience.

Only do what only you can do. This is especially true for me since I tend to say “yes” to most things.

Be open to change. We are all unique and view/approach situations in a different way. I feel like it’s best to be open to different viewpoints, open to new experiences, and open to changing our own perspective on things.

Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on May 28, 2015.