Q. How did you find out about getting a gold medal? What was your first reaction?
A. I found out because one of my friends from class sent me a message on Facebook that said "Jen, did you just win gold for portrait in CPOY?" At first I thought it had to be a joke, I never thought I would win anything. But I looked online and my photo was there! I started jumping around my apartment I was so excited.
Q. Can you tell us something about making the winning photo?
A. I've been working with Leisha for a couple months, mainly focusing on her relationship with her twins. After working with her for awhile I worked up the courage to ask if I could take a portrait of her showing her scars. She was actually really wonderful about it. I guess she knew that eventually I would ask so she prepared herself for it. I read an article about how talking to your subject while you’re taking a portrait can help get genuine emotion in the image. So I talked to her about the boys and how things were going while I shot. I think it helped her feel more comfortable with the situation and it made me feel more comfortable too. I showed her the pictures right after and we talked about how the picture added something really powerful to the story. I really couldn't have asked for a better subject.
Q. How did you first get into photography?
A. My senior year of high school I wanted to take an easy class so I took a black and white photography class. Originally, I wanted to go to school for business but I fell in love with photography in that class. It sounds really corny but ever since I was little I wanted to help people somehow. And photojournalism gave me the opportunity to help people doing what I love to do.
Q. Who are some photographers who especially inspire you, and why do you admire them?
A. There are actually a lot of photographers who inspire me. Eugene Smith, Dave Weatherwax, Chris Capozziello, and my professor William Snyder are all great photographers that I admire. I'm inspired by most photographers, my classmates and colleagues included. I love looking at work because it gives me something to strive for. Especially if I'm working on a story I'll look at stories similar to what I'm doing. It helps give me ideas of how to frame the story and what images will make it stronger.
Q. Any tips for other college photographers?
A. Just don't be afraid of failure. This time last year I was a really terrible photographer, but I just kept working. I still have a long way to go but this is what I love to do so I'm going to work my butt off to do it. Even if you really do poorly one semester or on a big project, it's all learning experience. Also, work on stories that you feel connected to. Don't do a story just because you've seen someone else do it, or you think people will like it. Do your stories for yourself. It'll help you connect on a deeper level with you subject and create something really beautiful. Plus your subject will appreciate your genuine interest and trust you more.
To see more of Jen’s work, click here.
Interview by Leah Beane and Hany Hawasly