Tipping Point Kicks Off “XO Factor” Photography Series
On Thursday, May 4th, Tipping Point will celebrate the power of community at its annual Benefit. The night’s theme, “XO Factor,” is meant to inspire reflection on the many variables — measurable and immeasurable, material and abstract, finite and infinite — that have had the most profound impact in the lives of those across the Bay Area.
To bring this concept to life, Tipping Point partnered with photographer, Travis Jensen, to tell real stories of people working to overcome great odds. From behind the camera, Jensen asks: Who changed the way you see the world? What opportunity set you on your path? Which experience made an outsized impact in your life?
Starting Thursday, Jensen will take over Tipping Point’s Instagram channel to share these stories of individuals — all of whom have been supported by Tipping Point grantees. Tipping Point’s Director of Communications, Marisa Giller, rode along with Jensen from shoot to shoot and asked a few questions about his style, inspiration and the true meaning of Wabi-Sabi.
Tipping Point: Thanks for partnering with us on this project, Travis! Would you tell us a little bit about how you got into photography?
Travis Jensen: I was definitely born to do this. I did a lot of different things in my life. Early on in my career, I was a writer, and my writing eventually led me to photography. I had a column in the San Francisco Chronicle at 24 or 25. It was awesome — I was writing about the arts scene, skateboarding, music, and other things happening in the Bay Area that I was passionate about.
However, despite having some successes, I still felt this void in my life, like something was missing. For every story I wrote, I submitted images as well. The paper didn’t really use the images I’d submit too often, but I did notice the staff photographers would sometimes use them as a guideline. In fact, I remember a few times where the photographer literally went out and reshot the same photo I submitted. After that, I was like, I’m just going to teach myself how to do this.
It wasn’t until maybe a year into photography that I realized this was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. That void, that emptiness, it disappeared.
TP: What does it feel like today, so many years later, doing work for big companies like Adidas, Apple, Acura and UPS, but also for non-profit organizations?
TJ: It’s truly surreal. Every day I wake up and I think to myself, “I get paid to take pictures for a living — thank you, universe!” I literally thought I was going to be pushing paper my whole life, or making bagel sandwiches… I never imagined any of this. But believe me, it didn’t just land in my lap either. I’ve been pushing uphill for many years now, trying to figure out a way to make a living doing something creative.
My life, my story, the whole journey leading up to now, it’s a movie in itself, and it’s far from over. I’ve literally lived San Francisco from the bottom-up: being 18 years old and living in crazy SROs in the Tenderloin, selling newspaper subscriptions on the street and later working as a writer for the newspaper, being shot at from point-blank range, holding a managerial role at one of the top law firms in the world, and my proudest moment, witnessing the birth of my two beautiful children. The City raised me into a man, straight up, and I have a hell of a story I plan to write in the future.
TP: Tell me more about how you build a relationship with the people you photograph, how you get this intimacy that comes through in your images.
TJ: Everyone who steps in front of my camera gets treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their situation. I have a problem with some street photography — I don’t even consider myself a street photographer, though if I had to identify with a genre that would be it. But there’s this theme in street photography of portraying the “struggle,” the “grime,” the hardship… It’s a very fine line that you walk as a photographer, not being exploitative and staying genuine.
Street photography is about how well you connect with people. I have to be able to put people at ease and establish trust. Having your picture taken can be very personal. That’s why you have to be honest and sincere with your approach.
Earlier in my career, a close friend introduced me to Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese aesthetic for finding beauty in imperfection. Meaning nobody’s perfect, we all have flaws. But we’re all beautiful and it’s just a matter of tapping into that beauty. Beauty to me has a whole different meaning. I like people who you can tell they’ve lived life. Those are the people my camera gravitates toward most.
TP: How does that come through in the projects you choose to do?
TJ: Though I earn a living as a commercial, lifestyle and branding photographer, my personal work is very community driven. And, at the end of the day, my true satisfaction in photography comes from the handshakes, hugs and respect I get in the streets amongst my peers, not the financial pay off. I’m passionate about what I do, and I’ve experienced the power of this craft firsthand.
About five years ago, a close friend I was teaching photography to told me how a few years prior to meeting me he was roaming the streets with a pistol, but now carries a camera instead. Another time, maybe eight or nine years ago, a portrait I took of someone later led to that individual reconnecting with his family after 30+ years. Making a difference, that’s the reward.
Follow the #xofactor series @tippingpoint and @travisjensensf.