accepting my voice in the world of storytelling | by Jen Sebring
Hi, Hello Storyteller fam! I'm Jen and I am so honored to be a part of this insanely talented group! I’m a 36 year old mom and wife living in McKinney, TX, and I just recently stopped taking photography clients to focus on writing photography courses. Some quick facts about me before we dive in:
1. My favorite childhood memory is driving from Pennsylvania to Disneyworld in a Volkswagen Vanagon. Someone puked behind the passenger seat half way through the first leg and it seeped into the battery. For the rest of the trip there was a humid puke smell, but riding in the far back in a makeshift bed we called the “bumpy ride bed” still remains my fondest memory. Oh, and the van smelled for the rest of the time we owned it.
2. I’m obsessed with Pink and have watched her Carpool Karaoke no less than 8 dozen times.
3. I have PSVT and my heart will sometimes jump to 200bpm.
4. I can quote Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead from start to finish. In fact, I HAVE to quote it the entire time I watch, just ask my husband.
5. I had a major emotional spiral upon sitting down to write this because I have no clue who I am and what I'm doing, so you’re in great hands! While I may be struggling to really understand this journey I’m on, here is what I know for sure: I am a self-taught photographer, an observer, a storyteller, and I don’t have it all together. Not even close.
As far back as I can remember I have been an observer with a penchant for details. I think this is why my favorite focal lengths are 200 mm (for the isolation of details) and 24 mm (for the wide capture of them). I am ALWAYS looking to capture details that tell a story. In my formative years, and let’s be honest, my current years as well, I would correct everyone about specifics when retelling stories and could recall movie quotes with perfect inflection and intonations. Those details were important to me and, I still feel, make or break a story (and photograph). While most 3rd graders would go to Six Flags and boast about the crazy roller coasters, I remember telling my friends at lunch about the people on the bridge of the log-ride getting unexpectedly wet! I was in 3rd grade, it was 1990, and my favorite part about the Six Flags trip was the people watching (Oh, and the Crystal Pepsi. Like, it was Pepsi, but was CLEAR!!? Can we talk about this??)
This love for people watching and details manifested into a love of storytelling in speaking, writing and eventually photography. I remember in middle school I discovered I could captivate an audience. I remembered details with precision and a unique viewpoint and retold them with colorful words and comedic timing. While I never considered myself an artist because I couldn't draw to save my life, storytelling was definitely a creative outlet. I guess it's no surprise that I went into teaching, where good storytelling is imperative for keeping kids engaged. I taught 6th and 8th grade for 5 years and quit to stay home and pursue my photography.
Like many women photographers, my real passion for photography came after I had my first daughter and was born out of wanting to capture every moment. I had a few cameras before that, but the drive to truly express myself started in January 2011 when I got my first DSLR.
That February my uncle came to town and taught me how to shoot in manual mode. I spent HOURS practicing and memorizing my camera settings. I spent years after honing my editing and shooting skills and emulating photographers I loved. I worked and worked to get my photos to resemble theirs or speak like theirs and then, when I felt like I had it, I would find a new hero. Amy Headdington, of Images of Grace photography, was my first role model and following her work in my early years really pushed my posing skills to another level. Taking "The Sincere Storyteller" course by Meg Loeks, however, was my truest turning point as a photographer. I genuinely found my voice. Her work speaks to you. It tells a story. I studied her photos and her courses relentlessly and finally started to see how storytelling and details make all the difference in photography. They were the missing pieces I was yearning for, but had all along.
The last component to finding my voice was a result of embracing who and where I was in my journey. In those beginning days, emulating people was such a motivator because it was helping me develop my editing skills, but it reached a point where my knowledge was strong enough I needed to shift gears to focus on my identity and how I wanted to use those skills to express myself. A big part of this was embracing my environment. “Jen, you do not live in a big white house so your pictures are not going to be big and white!!” The day I accepted this and started to just capture where I was and what was going on around me was the day I truly felt like I had a voice. I started #mydarkdigs on instagram to mark my true acceptance and my work started to become my own.
Today I feel like I am finally telling my story. I have recently been obsessed with documentary photos for that storytelling aspect and have started to shoot more in that genre, really striving to tell the full narrative. Every photo I share has two goals; to make you stop and to make you stay. I want my photos to grab your attention and take you on a journey. I may not always accomplish that, but it is certainly my goal. I use Instagram for my inspiration. Never looking to emulate, but always looking to just be inspired. That community has truly changed me as an artist.
So, why did I get so emotional writing this? I guess because my art is a part of me and sometimes sharing yourself is hard. My goal for this next year is to write a course and my goal for the next 2 years is to get published. My most important goal, though, is the one that never changes: to tell my story.