|Interviewed by Dot Dannenberg|
This week, 1:1000 chats with the photographer behind "The Jam Times", "Living the Dream", and "Silent Treatment" about art, skulking around abandoned buildings, and her work as a community organizer with the nonprofit Girls Rock Charleston.
1:1000: When did you first get into photography?
JENNIFER STEVENS: I’ve been taking photographs since I was a kid. My parents were always proponents for traveling, and we made sure to document EVERY trip we took. I remember cranking up my disposable camera, snapping shots every chance I had--at least, until I ran out of exposures. I still enjoy shooting with disposable cameras from time to time. I’d say that I started taking photography more seriously once I was finished with college. My undergraduate degree is in Visual Communication, and the program combined photojournalism with graphic design. I wouldn’t say that I felt prepared to make a living off of photography once I graduated. It’s a passion of mine, so I’ve always found ways to incorporate it in my life. Even now, I work full-time in an unrelated field but continue taking photographs, because it’s a form of creative expression that I strongly relate to.
1:1000: I could not be trusted with those disposable cameras as a kid--I’d end up with a roll of 24 photos of my thumb. Disposable cameras seem like a lot of work now, though. What are your thoughts on the Instagram age we live in, where every 16-year-old with an iPhone is calling themselves a photographer?
JS: There’s a quote that says the best camera is the one you have with you. I have mixed feelings about this particular question. Generally, I think it’s really great that more and more people are able to document their lives and experiences. I mean, I love being able to see what my friends are seeing/experiencing all over the world. What makes one person’s image on Instagram any less valuable than a photograph hanging up in a museum?
1:1000: That quote resonates with me so much. I know tons of people who have fancy DSLRs that never leave the camera bag. What's your favorite photo you've taken so far?
JS: My current favorite photograph is one I took inside an abandoned Navy building in 2013--it’s titled Abandoned I. The former Navy shipyard has now become a mixed-use area for the city of North Charleston called The Navy Yard at Noisette. There are still remnants of the old shipyard, including a handful of abandoned military facilities. I have a favorite building there, and I have gone back a couple of times to document the interior and exterior of the facility.
JS: I’ve always been drawn to things that display unconventional beauty. I mean, beauty is so subjective anyway. Abandoned, dilapidated, and sometimes forgotten spaces appeal to me in a way that more modern, well-kept, and well-known spaces don’t. It’s fascinating to think about the story behind these spaces, these things - how did they get to be in the condition they’re in? Who occupied the space? These are questions I often ask myself when documenting buildings.
1:1000: And that, I think, is where the fun really starts for the writers who work from your photos.
JS: I definitely see my work relating to issues like gentrification and also sustainability. Some of my work was recently featured in Synergies--a regional sustainability publication put out by the College of Charleston Office of Sustainability.
1:1000: Who are your favorite photographers right now?
JS: Two of my favorite photographers are Kate Wichlinski and Chloe Gilstrap. Kate is a dear friend of mine whom I met in Charleston a few years ago. She has since moved to New York...When you view her work, you really feel a connection to Kate and her subjects (she also makes these wonderful self-portraits). Chloe is another photographer that I really admire. I also met her in Charleston a few years ago. Similar to Kate, Chloe has since moved away from Charleston (she’s living in Seattle now)...She’s extremely talented and uses various printing techniques.
1:1000: What's the process been like watching writers interpret your photos for 1:1000? It’s jarring for me, even now, learning that the photo that served as a setting for Morgan Ira James’s “The Jam Times” was actually a military facility.
JS: I think it’s quite fascinating, really. It’s interesting to see how my work is being interpreted. I try to put myself in the shoes of the writer and realize that I would probably interpret the photographs in a completely different way. But that’s what makes it truly interesting--how we each have our own interpretation of things. It’s also flattering to have someone create a story based on a certain emotion or emotions that were provoked when viewing one of my photographs. I appreciate being featured!
1:1000: What else should we know about Jen Stevens?
JS: Besides travel and photography, I’m really passionate about volunteering and non-profit work. I’m an organizer with a grassroots, social justice organization called Girls Rock Charleston. Our mission is to empower girls and transgender youth through music education, DIY media, and creative collaboration. We offer a one-week day camp for girls and transgender youth ages 9 to 17. At camp, participants take instrument instruction in drums, guitar, keys, or bass, form bands, and write and rehearse original songs that are played live at an end-of-camp showcase event. In addition to music education, the campers attend workshops that range from topics such as art and resistance and DIY media, to DJing and self-defense. While our programs involve music, we focus less on instruction and more on music as a means for personal and social change.
1:1000: That sounds awesome. What kind of change do you see in the kids?
JS: We have campers who show up on day one of camp week with little or no experience playing music. We help provide the tools and space to enable them--it's really remarkable to see how much confidence they gain throughout the week. They end up doing things they didn't know were possible--especially when they rock out with their bands on showcase day. Our campers are so great, and I feel so inspired by them to continue doing this work. I think it's much needed in the Charleston community.
1:1000: What mantras are you living by lately?
JS: Excellent question! I have a few mantras that I am living by lately:
Travel as much as possible. Some of the most enjoyable experiences in my life have been because of travel - the people I’ve met, the things I have seen, the activities I have been able to experience.
Only do what only you can do. This is especially true for me since I tend to say “yes” to most things.
Be open to change. We are all unique and view/approach situations in a different way. I feel
like it’s best to be open to different viewpoints, open to new experiences, and open to changing our own perspective on things.