Interview with photographer Jena Love
While reviewing the work online for one of our featured photographers in Issue #111, Jena Love, I immediately recalled one of her images. Love’s self-portrait is included in F-Stop Magazine Issue #106. It made me smile. As a parent, I could easily relate to the scene she presents. Her self-portrait dovetails nicely into the theme of this issue, Parenting. Her project, “The Love Kids,” documents her family; capturing authentic emotions and interactions among or between herself and her three children, and husband.
Cary Benbow (CB): How would you describe your work involving your children?
Jena Love (JL): The work involving my children really came from accessibility. Obviously, they are always there. But also I have unlimited access, I know what to expect from a situation, and I can predict their moves — which comes from being a parent. I’m grateful they are willing subjects, too. I really aim to capture their unique personalities. My oldest daughter is very creative and sassy, and she sort of leads the action in our house. My son is silly but also quiet. And the baby, well, she doesn’t do much yet. I’ve really tried to make pictures of her that are more than just a cute baby — I want to show the dynamics of everyone’s relationship with her. I really look forward to seeing how my work changes as she gets older and adds her personality to the mix.
CB: Does the work come from a perspective of your direct role as a parent, are you documenting your experience/environments, or commenting on them? What is your intent for the viewer?
JL: For “The Love Kids” project, I am documenting the moments I personally find interesting. Scenes that tell the story of them at that particular moment in their life. It will be ongoing and ever changing. My goal is to show the viewer something they can relate to from their own family but maybe never thought about before. I do have a body of work, still in progress, that is a staged satirical commentary on parenthood.
CB: Is it difficult to be an artist where you live? Do you feel isolated or involved in the larger artistic/photographic community?
JL: I live in a fairly rural area. There are a few arts organizations but I honestly don’t even know how to get involved with them. The pandemic obviously hasn’t helped my chances of becoming a part of anything either. It is definitely isolating to not have an in-person art community I can connect with, but I have luckily made amazing photography friends and mentors online that I’m glad to be able to call upon for feedback, support, and inspiration.
CB: Does the COVID-19 pandemic change the way you view these images, or were they made since early 2020?
JL: All the images I submitted have been made in the last year. The pandemic has kept us home and together more than ever, which has challenges, but creatively it’s given me the opportunity to really focus on making images the way I want to make them.
CB: What compels you to make the images you create?
JL: When I first started making pictures, I would shoot anything and everything. Made thousands of garbage pictures. Pictures that, when I culled through, I couldn’t tell what prompted me to pick up my camera. Now, if I’m picking up my camera it’s because I’ve spent time in the scene, watched my subjects, and figured out what is interesting to me. Though I’m photographing my family, I’m selective about the what and why. Being in the same place with the same people 24/7 has a way of slowing you down and helping to narrow focus.
CB: Why did you become a photographer? What was your start into photography?
JL: My start into photography wasn’t even a conscious choice on my part. I did take one darkroom photo class as a teenager but I had no idea what was going on and did not pursue it after the class ended. I now work as a high school art teacher and was given digital photography in my teaching schedule a few years ago. Before that, I had never used a digital camera so I had to learn pretty quickly so I could teach it. It wasn’t until I found the documentary genre that I began to take photography seriously as my creative practice.
CB: What inspires your art? What kind of stories do you wish to tell?
JL: I’m always looking for color, strange juxtapositions, interesting light and shadows. Subtle humor and sarcasm are big creative draws for me. But I am most inspired by drawing attention to the strange or unnoticed themes of everyday life. Whether that be documenting what I see or, more recently, composing conceptual narratives based on those themes.
CB: You mentioned being drawn to the documentary genre; what do you feel are the “obligations” of a documentary photographer? Or what obligation do you have to the people in your photos?
JL: The primary obligation of a documentary photographer is to tell the story as it is without intervention. And for the most part I stick with that. However, since I don’t have a client or editor to report back to, I will remove junk and alter the lighting if I feel it’s not adding to the story I want to tell . . . but I always work to tell the true story of my subjects. Since for the most part I photograph my family or myself, I just make sure I do so in a respectful manner. If my kids say no more pictures, then that’s it — no more pictures.
CB: Do you keep a journal? do you keep notes or write about the places and people you see?
JL: I want to be one of those journal people, but I never follow through on making it a part of my routine. I do always journal at the start of a new project or when I’m working through ideas, but it’s typically lists of random words or mind maps.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations — and why?
JL: I love seeing how other artist mothers interpret their own families and domestic life. Even if the recipe of kids and mom is relatively the same, there are countless ways of showing that visually. I am also very drawn to staged cinematic inspired images and hope to move in that direction this year. Jennifer Kesteleyn, Holly Andres, Julie Blackmon, Ashleigh Coleman, and Jennifer McClure are a few of my favorites to look at for inspiration.
CB: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self at the start of your career, what would it be?
JL: That having kids was not an excuse to stop making art for as long as I did.
Jena Love is an artist living in Sullivan County, New York. Documenting her family and anything intriguing, she is never without her camera. Jena looks to find interest and emotion in everyday life while calling attention to the strange and humorous moments we tend to look past.