Hello, my friends! This week, I’m featuring a crazy talented local artist, who also happens to be one of my best friends. Her name is Jennifer Graham, and her specialty is Business Branding and lifestyle portrait photography. We chatted on her sunny porch, and I brought some cheesy goodies to get the creative juices flowing. You can see the cheese board in this “garden party” cheese plate post.
Jennifer and I met several years ago when I was hired to coordinate a commercial photo shoot for a start-up. We hammered out the details (look, mood, style, talent, makeup/hair, etc.), and she created such wonderful imagery for it! It was such a special experience; we have stayed friends to this day! She has been a constant source of inspiration and support for me as I continue down my creative path, and wanted to share her words in the hope she can inspire more people! If you are in need of a portrait of yourself for whatever reason, I recommend her wholeheartedly! She is truly a master of her craft. And so, without further ado, here is portrait photographer Jennifer Graham in her own words (all images are taken by Jennifer today!).
Is there a moment that really opened your eyes to the power of your craft?
In 2005, I went with my mother to Palestine and Israel to document and gain a deeper understanding of the numerous decades of struggle between these two places and people; I did it through photography, my mother through interviews. What unfolded for me was life changing. It was the following interaction in particular which showed me the power of photography. While photographing a woman climbing with food for her family through a crumbling part of the 30 ft. wall encapsulating the people of Palestine she spoke to me in Arabic. Through our translator she said, “Please, take my photo, take it back to your country and show people how we are living.” Tears welled up in my eyes as my awareness expanded to what the Palestinian people were going through. It was also this moment I understood how I could use my photography to share the experience of another human being. It is important to note we met loving people on both sides of that divisive wall who only want peace.
Tell me about your transition to full-time portrait photography.
When I moved to California, I was working with a company photographing weddings. I quickly realized it was not the right fit for me. I loved my clients, but weddings were not the perfect fit for me. I began to take notice of my favorite part of the day, which was creating gorgeous fashion and lifestyle portraits of the bride and groom. At about this same time I decided, “Let me start doing some headshots to bring in extra income.” THIS was a perfect fit for me and I loved it. New work began flowing in immediately through word of mouth. I quickly saw I was able to connect one-on-one with people in very significant ways; it fed me, and my creativity, on a whole new level.
I come from a background where I didn’t feel very seen, this experience made me empathetic to people afraid to step in front the camera. I create a space for my clients to feel safe, seen and honored for who they are, the most authentic and best possible versions of themselves. My photography sessions become a special experience between my clients and me. It’s very light-hearted and fun, and sometimes it brings people to unexpected places. I have many clients remark after seeing their photos, “This is the first time I ever saw myself as beautiful.”
I specialize in creating Business Portraits and Lifestyle Images for people in all types of businesses, which will support them in careers they love, that they’re giving so much of their time and life to. I love being a part of my client’s career journey in a way that makes a significant impact to their businesses. I strive to show the essence of someone, to show the truth of whom they are, and to me, that’s always beautiful, and THAT is what creates a beautiful portrait. I use the tool of photography to create a space for people where they can show up completely and authentically.
I was unclear in the beginning of the value of what I was actually giving to clients beyond a beautiful photograph, but when I see the transition of how someone sees themselves in a whole new way after our shoot I am clear I am on the right path.
What does it mean to you as you are creating work with someone, what goes on in your mind and your heart?
My constant thought and intention is, “I really want to give something to my client’s that they will absolutely love!” I want them to look at themselves, and like one of my clients told me, “That is me. That’s who I see myself as.” I want them to know the beautiful photo of them is how WE ALWAYS see them. That brings me right into my heart.
When I’m photographing someone, my intention is to be open, to see how someone moves naturally in their body, to witness when they feel comfortable, because if you are comfortable in your body this will show in your face and your photos. I strive to really hear them when we’re engaging, and take them on a journey. I actually start my sessions by asking, “Why do you love what you do? How do you want to be seen?” I also ask them to give me three adjectives of how they’d like to be seen, and “professional” can’t be one of them. They have to be fairly deep expressions of how my client sees him or herself because those are the elements that your best client is going to see in the photo. Those adjectives are really about setting an intention for a session.
My clients are everyone from sole-prenuers, entrepreneurs, chefs, tech companies, to corporations. My work is to understand them, their brand, help them feel safe with me to really show up, have fun, enjoy the session, and then walk away with powerful, validating and honoring images.
A lot of your practice is based on listening and being aware of the other person. From where do you draw your energy?
I get very energized in the process of the work with the person. Like many photographers, the physical act of the photo-shoot is why we began in this business. My energy comes from that human connection. It comes from seeing this unbelievable beauty when someone lets their guard down and allows herself or himself to be seen. I can see it the moment it happens in a session and many times I will lovingly remark to my client, “Ahhhh, I see you, thanks for showing up.” I see the person in a new way, completely free, and they feel it too. They know it’s happened, and they can feel this freedom. Even talking about it now, that fills me. In that moment I feel like I reach this point where I am seeing this other human being completely for who they are. It’s pretty incredible. And it’s not even that hard to get there in a sense because we all live in that place within ourselves. It’s just about allowing that to be seen by someone else.
I had a gentleman come into my studio, a high-level executive, who said, “I just want to come in for a quick headshot.” My process is that I’m always trying to find a way in, everybody’s different in this aspect so you have to be listening, and you have to be watching. During my session with him, seeing his discomfort moved me to say, “You’re perfect exactly how you are.” He became visibly emotional from my statement and said, “I’m going to need a minute.” Something about what I said spoke to him. It’s something I think many of us need to hear, “It’s OK who you are.” Sometimes we need to hear from someone tell you, “You don’t have to work that hard anymore. You’re all good.” I give a lot of myself during a shoot, creatively, energetically and physically so I typically only have one shoot per day.
I recharge by being alone, by going back into myself and being quiet in nature.
Given that you encourage so many people to reveal their true selves to you, who do you feel YOU are?
Every once in a while, I will check in and ask myself that very question. I think it’s important for me to answer this if I’m asking my clients. For me, the real true me when I’m not stuck in fear or small thoughts, which is a potential place for us all is, I’m completely expansive, a move in the world with a lot of integrity and I’m really loving. I’m also very playful, and very empathetic . . . and far from perfect . . . thank goodness.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing a creative path?
There are times I get bored with my own work and I know that’s when I need to push myself to explore. Recently I have been questioning, “How can I challenge myself? How can I expand and grow? How can I put myself on the edge of something new, on the edge of experiencing something I don’t even know is out there?” I think constantly stepping into that feeling, that experience is the real beauty of life. There is certainly going to be fear that comes up with it, but I think that’s just being human. So my advice would be follow what ignites your fire the most, not what you THINK you should be creating and above all . . . FIND YOUR OWN VOICE. This is number one and informs all the work you will create. My voice and my path are all about supporting others through seeing who they are at the deepest level so they can fully offer their gifts to the world.
Who is your ideal portrait client?
My ideal client is really someone who values and understands the powerful impact great photography has in today’s media driven world. They value who they are and the work they do. They may be a little camera shy but they trust I am going to take good care of them every step of the way. They are open to the experience even if it feels a little scary. It’s women and men building their own business, everything for chefs to authors, scientists, realtors and artists. I also work with numerous entrepreneurs—as well as large corporations and magazines. The common thread with all of these people is how they resonate in a deep way with my work and me, which is VERY important when you’re asking someone to show up in front of the camera. There needs to a connection. I have a great time with all my clients and many of them turn into friends. I don’t think there is a bigger compliment than that.
THANK YOU so much, Jennifer, for sharing with us some of your craft and your incredible photographic journey! Please follow her on Instagram and visit her website Jennifer Graham Photography if you would like to experience more of Jennifer’s work! Better yet, just book her for a session. ;)
What gets YOUR creative juices flowing? Let me know in the comments below!