relishing the everyday | by katie jennings

Mother, wife, photographer, and film maker. Those are some of the things that I call myself. Although I’ve been down many, many paths before I identified myself with any of those labels. Life is funny in that way. I’m not sure how I ended up where I am today, but I have some guesses as to what brought me here. Growing up I was always a shy kid, gravitating towards smaller groups and having a close-knit group of friends. Once I felt accepted and comfortable the funny, sarcastic and crazy side of me emerged.

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As a kid I was a bit of a risk taker, but also a very sensitive person which I still am today. I think those attributes still aid me as I continue to grow into my photography and film making career. The risk - is sharing your life with the world through photography and films, especially since I didn't dive into the world of social media until 2014. As a lover of small tribes of close friends, the thought of sharing my every day moments on social media was terrifying. There’s always that fear of rejection.

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Besides the characteristics that I was born with, it’s my experiences later in life that truly brought me to where I am now. After meeting my husband (a native upstate New Yorker like myself living in NC) I was eager to have kids right away. My parents started their family in their early 20’s and I wanted to follow that same path. It was my goal to not be an “old mom”. In 2008 we welcomed our son, Jack, and soon after I was ready to have another baby. Why the rush? I knew I wanted 3 kids and I wanted them close in age, just like my siblings, so my children would grow up great friends {hopefully} - plus I HATED my job.

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I worked at a call center for Verizon answering the phone to angry customers wanting to know why their networks were down. I was yelled at by customers and had to get permission to get up and use the bathroom by my supervisor. This was not the job I was willing to leave my precious newborn son for. As soon as I became a mom and felt that bond between myself and my son, it was my mission to find a way to leave my job and become a stay at home mom - the only job I wanted. I figured why not get pregnant as soon as possible? I would have two kids and that would equal my salary, so I could justify staying at home at that point. To make-ends-meet I planned to babysit my friend’s twins, but as we all know life does not go according to plan.

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At the age of 30 I was pregnant with our second son. Everything was going great, until it wasn’t. Right after Memorial Day weekend I started to feel very tired and shaky.  A trip to the OBGYN later they had found that my iron levels had dipped dramatically since the last time I was there - just a week ago. We followed up with a hematologist and underwent an endoscopy - where they stuck a camera into my belly. I assumed it must have been a bleeding ulcer. But it wasn’t. I woke up with my mom and husband by my side and a very shocked looking doctor telling me that I had a tumor the size of a plum in my stomach that had ruptured, hence the low iron. To spare all the nitty gritty details of the situation I’ll sum it up. I was freaking terrified. I thought I was going to die and I was in my 3rd trimester with a small baby at home (Jack). WTF? I was completely shocked.

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After a risky biopsy it was determined that I had a rare type of sarcoma, a GIST tumor. The biopsy also revealed that it was not life threatening (and it had also stopped bleeding) and I would be able to continue my pregnancy after a blood transfusion and have the top corner of my stomach removed after the baby was born, which would hopefully make me cancer free. And it did. I have a 5-10% chance of reoccurrence and I’m 7 years cancer free. Lucky me <3  

I believe it was this experience that really led me to where I am on my journey. Appreciating life. The everyday. Capturing the seemingly small things that really aren’t all that small. Every day that I can wake up and walk this earth is a good one. And I truly believe that.  Although I was really appreciating the everyday, I was not documenting it at that point. I was just relishing being healthy and waiting to finish a year of my medication so that I could have that 3rd baby I had always dreamed of. I wasn’t going to let a little bit of cancer keep me from completing our family. 

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In February of 2013 we welcomed the final addition to our family, our daughter, Annie, was born. It wasn’t long after that I invested in my first DSLR and learned to shoot in manual mode. After a couple years practice I decided to take a risk and open a small business. My style was posed newborn. I spent way too much money on props, bows and baskets - you name it, I had it. I was drawn to this style because that’s all I had been exposed to at that point. Then one day I stumbled upon documentary photography and it hit me, the posed style was not for me. It never was!! I’m a plain-Jane, no frills girl and so is my life. Baskets and bows just didn’t suit my personality! I didn’t even realize that documentary photography existed, but once I started exploring all the documentary work out there I was hooked. I began documenting everything I could, which lead to my desire to create short films. After many hours of practice, I began to feel like I was onto something. To this day I continue to practice my craft in order to grow. 

When I take a photograph, I am reacting to a feeling that I have deep in my gut. Something that moves me and stirs my soul. My photography and videography are emotive, I want to elicit that emotion from my view. Most enjoy capturing connection, raw emotion, and experiences from my children. I aim to tell my children’s childhood honestly, which includes both beautiful and real moments. Life isn’t all roses and I don’t want my photography to reflect that. What inspires me to take a photo is beautiful light mixed with a wonderful storytelling image. That is what makes my heart sing - when all the pieces of the puzzle come together.

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When I first started I had the hardest time getting a shot that spoke to me, however after lots of practice, and most importantly observation, I began to capture images that matched my heart. When shooting video, my goal is the same - tell a story, retain the details of this time in our lives. The added benefit of video is hearing and seeing your children move, smile, and dance. There is something so valuable in video that cannot be done with a single photo. I’m so grateful to have both creative outlets my arsenal to capture these memories. My children love watching the films I make, so I can only imagine how valuable they will become in the years to come as they grow up.

On a professional level, I take great pride in being able to capture photographs and films for families that will be cherished for years. It’s not something that I take lightly! I feel so blessed to have found this calling and humbled to be able to tell my own family story, as well as for others. My one single regret is that I did not find my voice earlier when my kids were babies. I found my voice when my youngest was 2 years old and it does make my mommy heart sad to think of all the countless moments I could’ve captured when my children were sweet little babies, but life isn’t perfect and I’m so grateful to have found this passion at all!! I’m truly blessed to be healthy and to have my husband and children by my side.

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Moving forward this year I intend to focus on more in-depth on connection and documentary work and anything else that sparks my creativity. My goal is to make more short films and making many more fun memories with my family. I will continue to build my photography and film business and spread my love for documentary work to the families I serve because I truly believe that the work I do is important.

xoxo, Katie @ktjenningsphoto