My own story is nothing special. Like so many people I grew up in middle class America, went to college, and I spend way too much time watching TV and movies.
For me, my obsession with movies and my passion for photography come from the same place. I have been known to use photography metaphors in everyday conversation and I often categorize the chapters of my life into theatrical genres. Here’s a few examples:
My “coming of age story” begins Christmas morning 1990. That was the year I received my first camera. Because there were no interchangeable lenses, there was no need to worry about f-stops or shutter speeds. The film was 12mm wide and everything I photographed was out of focus. That camera has long since been retired, but my love of light and composition is unwavering. Today I have been shooting professionally for over a decade and it never gets old. Each time I look through my viewfinder there is always a new story to tell.
My “romantic comedy years” began when I met my husband Caleb. We were high school seniors who both worked at the local movie theater; he sold tickets and I served popcorn. I did everything I could think of to get him to notice me. I came in on my days off, spent my breaks sitting on the floor of the box office, and once I even put a garbage can on my head. Despite all of my goofy antics he agreed to go out with me and just a few years later it was his turn to go out on a limb (sort-of-speak) and he proposed.
The next decade was our “buddy comedy years”. Caleb worked his way through school while I started a portrait studio and gave birth to three kids. Life was busy, complicated, and stressful. Yet we always had each other and we had a lot of laughs.
December 2011 could only be categorized as a “drama”. I was hospitalized after a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding nearly killed me. The months that followed changed everything. I found myself confronted with the hard reality that my busy lifestyle was physically damaging my body, and putting strain on my family in ways I hadn’t realized. After a lot of soul searching and prayer I closed my portrait studio (Irene Jones Seattle Photography) and began focusing on what really mattered. Like all the best dramatic movies, my story has a moral lesson. I learned that I am not defined by what I do for work. I am defined by how my work helps others.
Which brings us to present day. I am healthy again; which is a blessing I didn’t expect. With my new found perspective, a more balanced lifestyle, and a desire to help those in need, I am embarking on what I hope to later refer to as my “bio-pic” years. With camera in hand and my family at my side I’m ready for what the future holds.
If you’d like to learn more about working with me please visit my blog now to find out all about the charities I work with and how your investment in family portraiture can bless the lives of others worldwide.
Art is essentially communication. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That’s why people make art, so other people can relate to it.– Conor Oberst
When I was a student at The Art Institute of Seattle my favorite professor, Raymond Gendreau, would paraphrase the above quote during each class. Although I can only speculate on his reasoning for the repetition and whatever his motivation, I am grateful for the wisdom and encouragement.
Inspiration as an artist can come from a variety of sources. As a visual artist, it is important to be nourished with a steady diet of imagery that is profound, enlightening, and challenges perception. In fact, I would to go as far to say that the habit of digesting quality images regularly will do more to improve your own photographic work then any piece of equipment, editing software, or seminar. We live in a society bombarded with photos. Today Facebook holds tens of billions of images (if not more) most of which lack dynamic composition, proper exposure, and serve only to documenting history. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe all images are of value in one form or another, but most are not created with the skill and depth of purpose that goes into a photographic work of art. Instead I suggest that those that wish to create a masterpiece with a camera surround themselves with as many quality images as possible. Below is my list of heroes. People who work has compelled me to try harder and dig deeper. I hope you are inspired as well.
W.Eugene Smith was the first photographer I ever fell in love with. He’s been called the father of the photographic essay. Even if he didn’t invent the concept, he surely mastered it. From Smith’s work in Life Magazine I discovered the true story telling potential that a photograph (or series of photographs) can have. Often Smith would dedicate himself to a project for years. His images became the evidence of social injustice and the catalyst for change. He work proves that one person can change the world.
Richard Avedon taught me me to blur the lines between reality and fiction. His portraits of real people speak to the complexity and value of each individual and his work with celebrities granted a level of access few have rivaled. I love his use of white backgrounds. Today his images look as modern as any work being produced.
Vivian Maier, unlike Smith and Avedon, was no public figure. Her personal history is as mysterious as it is well documented. Driven by compulsions that only the soul of an artist can comprehend, Maier documented everything. Most of all I love her ability to “see the light” and I mean that in a literal and non-religious sense of the word. The people and places she photographed immortalized the mundane and beautiful simultaneously.
Joe McNally is the most modern of my inspirations. His blog is a joy to read. I’d happily pay to be his assistant for a day! McNally’s work is more reminiscent of classic paintings then photographs. Light is bent, shaped, and contorted in fabulous ways to lead the viewer on a journey of discovery. His use of texture and place, in my opinion, have shaped most of the current trends in photography. Last year I got to shake his hand during the Seattle stop of his Flash Bus Tour with David Hobby. I have to admit, I actually swooned.
A Life Behind the Lens
I’ve lost count of how many times I have been asked, “So, what made you want to be a photographer?”
My answer is often a sarcastic quip. Most frequently I would claim that my mother was the worst photographer I’d ever met, and her lack of skill motivated me to become the opposite. It wasn’t true, but it got a laugh and seemed to set people at ease. Frequently I would find myself in front of a classroom of high school students or amateur photographers relating a different antidote. This one was about the first time I developed my own film when I was a teen. That narrative was accurate but it wasn’t the whole story. My love for photography was much deeper. The following is both an introduction to those that don’t know me, a refresher for friends and clients alike, and a tribute to the woman that made it all possible.
Most of my childhood was photographed with neurotic precision. My mother, unlike myself, was motivated not by the creative need, but by an overwhelming necessity for thrift. In addition to the 55 + rolls of 35mm film she developed each year, my mother manufactured all of the clothing worn by her five children between birth and the age of 12, painted and refinished most of the furniture in our home (all of which was second hand from local thrift stores), and decorated enough wedding cakes to feed more people then Christ at the miracle of the loves and fishes. There are many more skill sets I could mention, but like everything thing else, she did it all as a simple labor of love.
Of the many projects she has done, it’s her photographs that will be her greatest legacy. Too many of the images are blurry, out of focus, damaged by time, or aging due to corrosive chemistry. None would be worthy of hanging in an art gallery, but all are carefully cataloged, labeled, and dated. As a body of work they detail every holiday, school play, vacation, family get together, and personal triumph for nearly 50 years.
It was this very legacy that hung over me on my first day of college. I thought when I started art school that I had something to prove. I vainly imagined that my passion for Seattle photography and my skill as an artist would lead me to a glamorous career with a six figure income and most importantly the knowledge that I had avoided the all too common pitfalls that riddled my mother’s images. My work would be more then “happy snaps”. Art critics would look at my images and use words like “compelling” and “transcendent” as they lauded my talents in the pages of every major publication. Ironically it wasn’t the magazine covers that really made career. It was the portraits of my own children that defined me as an artist.
It took me over a decade before I understood why I became a photographer. Like all great truths, the answer was always simple and always in front of me. Today when I am asked why I chose a life behind a lens I say; “My mother taught me that all of us have infinite worth, each person is beautiful, and everyone deserves to be loved, and I believe her.”
Maybe that’s the secret my mother was trying to teach me all along. I didn’t learn aperture, shutter speed or ISO from my mother. Instead I learned the value of my artistic medium.
My work is dedicated to my mother and every mother who has ever wanted to give their child the whole world. Thanks for being my inspiration.
Kathy has made little comments about our wedding over the last 2 weeks, indicating that some of it [the wedding] wasn’t exactly what she wanted and that there were a few disappointments. However, she stayed up until somewhere around 3:00 AM looking through ALL of the pictures. She is now singing a happy tune not only about how awesome the pictures are, but also about how she now can see what a wonderful [night] it was for our friends and family. Most of the pictures are things we didn’t know anything about and it was like seeing everything for the first time.
Thank you so much for making these BEAUTIFUL albums! We just received them on Saturday, just in time (for Christmas) to give one to Katie’s father yesterday and her mother today. Katie’s dad teared up a little as he was looking through it last night and he told us it meant a lot to him. We expect both Katie’s mom and my parents to have similar responses!
I just wanted to say that we are SO pleased with our pictures. There are no words to describe how grateful we are for the work you did to capture our wedding day memories. When we were looking at them, there was never a time that we said “that’s not a very good one”. They are all amazing, everyone is just blown away at how beautiful they turned out. Thank you so much for everything.
I just wanted to thank you for all of the support during my wedding day. Irene, you were a blast to work with. I was looking through the pictures and the way you had me pose and the pictures you took of me made me look like I was the most beautiful bride ever in existence. I felt beautiful, but I didn’t believe it until I saw the photos. I felt like we were old friends. Zach looks sharp too, but come on, I am hot. Thank you again, Irene.
The photographs from our wedding were stunning and fully captured all the delicate moments from our special day. Irene and her assistant were a fun and natural presence at our wedding and we loved having them there. We would recommend Irene Jones to any bride wanting piece of mind in knowing that she’s made the perfect choice for her wedding photographer. Thanks for all your hard work!
We had no idea how important and timely our photos would become since my grandfather passed away last week. He surprised us all by attending the wedding.You got some really special photos that will mean alot to my family. Thank you so much!
Wrangling my massive Hungarian family for a group photo is like herding stampeding elephants – impossible. So, when it came to the day of our wedding I assumed the family photograph would be a chaotic mess. Irene assembled and organized us all fast and took some of the greatest family pictures we have to date. I’m still amazed how smoothly everything went. The photos and albums we ordered are our greatest wedding treasure. I didn’t think it was possible to capture the beauty of our wedding day so perfectly. We’ve been married almost 2 years now and our friends and family still ask to see our wedding albums. They can’t believe how beautiful all our pictures turned out.
We were so impressed with your wonderful work at our wedding. Our families rave about the photo albums; and our parents (both sets) absolutely loved the parent albums. My husband’s two sisters were married just before us and one, I quote, said, “This album puts ours to shame”. We were incredibly grateful for Irene’s willingness to travel to us. We were married in Yakima, WA. She also attended our rehearsal with wonderful pictures to boot. Irene was incredibly flexible [during the wedding] with families and friends all wanting [photos] with the bride and groom, I can say we were all pleasantly satisfied. Thank you so much for the hard work, flexibility, and artistic photography. Thanks again!
Working with Irene was way beyond any expectation I had, not only were my pictures amazing but they were extremely reasonably priced, I have referred friends to her since my wedding and all of them were very satisfied with her work. People to this day still ask me who did my photography for my wedding when they see the pictures hanging in my house.
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