I have known Jacqueline since the eager days of fourth-grade. We’ve built a friendship over the past (almost two) decades through letters, road trips, gift packages, and the Internet. As fellow creatives, we’ve shared many thoughts about the ups and downs, joys and tensions of the creative life. I’ve always known Jacqueline as a writer and painter, but over the past few years, she’s embraced photography as a new means of expression. In the conversation below, we talk about looking for a creative challenge, the importance of cultivating creative freedom and learning to see life as an adventure.
Where were you when you decided to make photography a serious pursuit? What was going on in your life at the time?
My mom and I were standing in the kitchen. At the time, I was feeling a bit lost in life and restless; I really needed a challenge. It had been about a year since I had left grad school and come back home for various personal reasons. I discovered that the direction I had planned to go (pursuing academia) was not the direction I was meant to go, at least not then. [So] I took a job where I had connections and knew it would pay the bills. But I’m a high energy person and I thrive on challenges, especially creative or intellectual. Suddenly, I found myself looking around [without much of a challenge] and wondering, Where am I headed? My mom was patiently listening to one of my musings on things that I’d love to pursue, photography being one of them. She turned to me and said simply, “Just buy a camera, Jacqueline. Go do it.” The next week I bought a camera recommended to me by a photographer I met at a friend’s wedding. Once I had a camera, there was no putting it down.
What does photography mean to you?
My first goal when I got into photography was to make enough from my photos to pay off my camera, which I did, but I quickly discovered that the payoff wasn’t worth the work I was putting into it. I decided to just focus on the craft and enjoy discovering. Without realizing it, I was also being given a lesson about life. God was showing me that it’s not really about where you’re headed but about living life well — the mundane days, the hellish days, the sweet days — it’s about the people that come into your life, blessing them and letting them bless you. Photography is helping me to read the story into which God has placed me…a story that’s ultimately not about me, but something much bigger.
Art shows us this intrinsically, I think — the story is a grand story; look up, look out, look around you.
How do you cultivate creative freedom in your life?
I quit my 8-5 desk job recently for another job with less security but more flexible hours. It’s a risk, but it’s also an adventure, and an opportunity to have more time to invest in people and creative projects. My life at this point is definitely not what I imagined…but I’m realizing that I need to start looking at this time of life as an adventure — just get ready for the surprises.
As part of building your craft, you took a trip to New York City last year to participate in a photography workshop. What was it like walking the streets of New York, taking photos of strangers? Any moment stand out to you more than others?
One of my favorite moments was on the dock at Coney Island when I saw a little boy staring up at a flock of seagulls flying over him. Behind him stands a woman who faces the ocean but is staring at her phone. It’s interesting how we can be apparently so connected to others through social media at the expense of connecting with the people beside us and the world around us. This contrast between people looking at their iPhones and those taking delight in the everyday happenings around them (particularly children) became a focus of my shooting during the trip.
Do you ever struggle with self-doubt relating to your creative vision? How do you push through those moments?
The greatest challenge is when I let myself get in the way of the creative process by comparing myself to others, getting bogged down by what I don’t know technically, or thinking too much about what I should achieve. There is always the lurking temptation to desire success, but I don’t think aiming for… success should be my aim. The pressure of “success” … can smother creative freedom, I think, or simply be a distraction. There’s more creative freedom when I’m simply enjoying myself without an end result in mind. I also don’t know what I would do without the encouragement of others. When I don’t have someone encouraging me, I can lose that spark of creative energy. I think artists should be generous, and I’m thankful to have met many photographers who have spurred me on creatively by their generosity.
See more of her work online @jacque.elise