An Interview with Jennifer Strouse
We took some time to chat with Jennifer Strouse about the evolution of her photography skills which came about shooting street scenes on long Lancaster walks. We also learned that her creativity is expressed through her love for knitting and baking. Read on to discover more about her!
So, I think when we initiated this interview, it was during a Philly photowalk. How did you end up going on that photowalk?
Well, like you said, I've been following the Instagram page for a couple of years now, and photography is really mostly just a hobby for me, which is why I'm not a consistent sharer. But, I do want to better myself in a way through my hobby outlet.
So, I keep tabs on you guys, and photowalks, and people or pictures that I admire. I figured if I got myself out there with the people who are doing the things that I like, maybe it will rub off a little bit! Also, I get to meet new people. I'm a big, huge introvert, so this isn't typical for me, but…
That's a common theme with photographers that I've noticed.
Anyway, that's kind of how I decided I'd put myself out there, and get to know some people, and maybe talk to them.
So, this was your first kind of experience like this?
Pretty much, yeah. I brought my crutch with me - my mom!
And she was a fascinating woman to meet as well. Did you have a great day?
Oh yeah, it was a blast.
So you get there, first experience, you're an introvert, but you knew some other people there?
Mostly just through the Instagram page, or online. Zach was there. I've met him at least a couple times before. You (Chad Harnish) were there. My whole m.o. was to wait back in the wings, and there was a moment or two when we were doing that event at Tellus 360…
Yes, that's it. So, I'd kind of seen some familiar faces in real life then, and was putting things together.
So you're finally putting faces to a lot of these online names.
Interesting. So, prior to going there, did you have anything in mind about what kind of photography you were looking to get?
Yeah, I don't really have a focus. I just kind of have my camera with me, and then whatever strikes me, that's what I take a picture of. I pretty much keep my camera in manual mode all the time…just trying to teach myself how to play with the different shutter speeds, and trying to get the lighting right. I feel like if I understand something a little bit more, that's how I get better, rather than just letting the camera do all the work, so to speak.
How long have you been pushing yourself this way?
I've been shooting manual for probably about a year. I get frustrated a lot.
So prior to this, you're shooting in some sort of helper, auto mode?
Auto mode, yeah.
And then you get to a point where you want a different style of pictures?
Pretty much. Again, just kind of following the group, and seeing the shots of people who inspire me, and stuff that I like, made me wonder how they got those shots.
I went online, and I did research, and kind of taught myself. I guess the first time I did that was for Fourth of July. I wanted to shoot night shots – fireworks - and I had no idea how to do that. You have to be in manual mode in order to do that, so I guess that was really when I first realized, "Oh, okay. I can take control of this camera to get the results that I want to get."
And, pretty much ever since then, you've been pushing yourself this way?
I recently caught up with your feed…the dog picture just really popped out at me. Do you remember taking that?
Oh yeah, that was just this last weekend. I just live here in the city, so I walk all over town, and usually have my husband, and my camera, with me.
And your daughters as well?
And, my daughters. I'm trying to get the one to loosen up in front of the camera, like, "Abbey, you're beautiful. Let me take your picture!"
She is! It was funny, I saw one of the pictures, and wondered if it was you, or Abbey! It's hard to tell.
She seems like a good subject for you. You're pushing your boundaries, and maybe doing a little portraiture with her.
Well, she's a senior this year, so I thought maybe I could try to take her senior portraits, so that's what we've been doing.
Neat. And she enjoys that?
Yes. Well, like I said, it's a little awkward. Sometimes, I have her sister as my helper, because, right now, my focus is Abbey’s senior pictures, and so they kind of giggle and laugh. Her sister says, "Okay Abbey, that's nice, but maybe if you could do this…" to try to get her to focus for me, and feel a little bit more comfortable.
Do you enjoy that style of photography? I mean, it sounds like you're already directing the pose, which can be a challenge.
It is a challenge, yes. I don't know that I would ever go the route of portrait photography. Because I walk around the city a lot, I like more candid street photography.
That's how I would describe your photography – “street”. You even said that it's whatever strikes you at the moment…a lot of unplanned stuff.
Yes. Which is why I wanted to teach myself how to shoot manual, even though it's a lot of candid shots, which makes it difficult, which is why I get frustrated a lot! Because, when something's happening in that moment, you kind of need to be ready for it. For instance, that dog last weekend…he was just sitting out there. It was snowing, and it just looked kind of picturesque.
It's a stunning piece! It's super underrated right now I think. I love the snow, the color of the dog, the texture of the dog...
You've been sharing a lot on Instagram – @jadedjennii – is there a story behind “Jaded”?
Not really! - JadedJennii
You do share a lot more on Instagram than on Facebook, it appears, so is Instagram your artistic outlet?
Yeah. Facebook is more personal. I try not to burn my friends out on all my stuff so I tell them to check my Instagram if they want to see it. I don't want to be annoying.
Burden them with nice pictures?
I don't know. I know, I'm silly.
You know, I think you'd be surprised at how many of your friends would be like, "Oh my gosh! Thank you for sharing this. It brightened my day in a way." Do you share any on Facebook?
I do, I share. I just don't share as much. They're usually in groups of like, "Oh, I was out, and this is what I saw today." So, little collections of what I shot.
So they get to live your life a little bit to see what you saw that day…
A little, yeah. And, I try to space it out a bit. I don't go out and shoot every day. I would love to, but I don't.
How often do you shoot, and why not every day?
Well, since the Christmas season, it's been really tough, because I'm a baker, so I've been doing a lot of baking. I also knit, so that was consuming a lot of my time making gifts.
Now the knitting, are you following patterns, or are you doing your own art in that?
I feel like a poser…with my photography…with my knitting. Because, what I do, is I go online, and I'm like, "Oh, that looks really cool. I wonder if I can do that!" So, then I will try to do it.
You know, a lot of art is imitation, especially in today's day and age. To me, it's a remix age. There’s nothing original anymore, is there?
I guess not. I was just having this conversation with my husband, too.
Well, you'll find a common theme with photographers is that none of them think that they're a photographer! They don't feel that they can necessarily say that they are, because to them, they're just taking pictures, and they don't feel like they're worthy, and that they're posers. This is a common theme - you're not alone in this! It's maybe something that we'll try to work on to correct, but if not for seeing somebody else's art, and being inspired by it, what is the point?
So tell me about that. Tell me about what you were shooting prior to social media.
Actually, my youngest daughter is the one that got me really interested, because she was getting some really cool, interesting shots on her iPhone. And then, when she started playing around with filters, I said, "Maddie, that's really good!"
And how old is she now?
Now, she's 16-years-old.
So, I thought, “Let's do it together!" It was a mother/daughter kind of thing, walking around the city with our iPhones…
What was she shooting prior to you getting involved? Street?
Pretty much. She would shoot the most random, mundane things, and make them look so cool.
Do you know what brought her to do that? Where did she get that from? I mean, your mother's an artist, right?
So, is there this thread of artists in the family?
Yes, definitely. My husband is a big-time artist.
Is that right? What does he do?
Gosh, what doesn't he do?! He works in so many mediums. I would say, right now, his biggest one is food, and he says, "Food is not an art form!"
Then, I say, "Are you kidding me? Your stuff looks, and tastes, beautiful! It's artistic." It's definitely an art form.
Sure, absolutely. Yes.
He also was into making stained glass for several years…drawing his own patterns, and making his own windows…doing restoration work. He also draws. He's definitely 100% artist!
When you met him, he was already an artist?
I guess so. Then, it was more of a hobby, an outlet.
Did you have that outlet as well at that time?
Not so much. Not yet.
It's interesting, that you were drawn to him. So, your daughter has this eye for photography, she shows you her work, you get inspired, and you start shooting with her.
You were bonding with your daughter. Tell me about that. What would you guys do, where would you walk? What kind of shots were you getting?
We basically stay right around downtown here and go for a walk. Sometimes, we would drive to somewhere out in the country, and we'd pull over and take some shots, but mostly stayed here in the city.
So then, around that time, you're starting to play around with Instagram?
Then, I started looking at the comments and thought, "Oh, I just made fun of hashtags before, but this is actually a real thing! Maybe I should look more seriously into it." So, I started using the hashtags, and I guess just kind of glommed onto it from there.
At that point, you entered into the #lancastergram contest.
Yes, yes. Unintentionally. I didn't realize I was entering a contest using that hashtag.
Is that right? You weren’t even thinking about what photos you’re entering?
Pretty much. I was just kind of doing it as a way to share, because I’m taking these pictures, they’re making me happy. I'm thinking, "Well, I don't really know what to do with them. I'm not going to publish a book, but I'll put them on Instagram. That's a great way to share!”
So, talk to me about the shots that you love that you do. Describe for me your ultimate style of photography.
It's definitely street stuff, not necessarily people. Although, I would like to start getting into photographing people, but I'm just a little bit shy. I like things that most people would just walk past and never notice. But, I just kind of get a different perspective or angle on it, and make it beautiful.
You're opening your eyes, and therefore, opening the viewer's eyes to the world.
Right. I tend to like juxtaposition too. Maybe take a piece of trash, and just making it look beautiful somehow.
What was the worst thing you took and made beautiful? Have you done a lot of that?
I like the abandoned look where you have the softness of plants coming in over a really broken down, decayed, crumbling building.
I wonder why that speaks to you?
The duality? I don't know. I do like that. I tend to like dualities.
So, under your Facebook name, it states “Sojourner Soul”. Where does that come from? What does that mean? Because, I looked it up, and it meant “Wandering Traveler”, or something similar.
Wanderer, traveler. I definitely want to travel. I would love to just go to different places, and take pictures all day.
Were you born here in Lancaster? Where were you born?
I was born in California. I was born in Alameda on a naval base. Both my parents were in the Navy. We lived as far north as Alameda, and as far south as El Cajon, and everywhere in between!
Did you have a camera through this?
No, this camera/photography thing is a very recent phenomenon for me.
Do you ever look back and think, "Oh my gosh, if only I had had a camera!"
No, I don't really look back and say "If only" a whole lot in my life. I tend to look forward. So maybe, I would love to go back with my camera, but I don't think, "Oh man, I missed these opportunities."
That's a fantastic attitude. Well, it matches up with what sounds like your everyday philosophy of life. You're looking, you're being present. So, when you were growing up, and traveling throughout your life, you were being present. No need to relive it.
Yeah, pretty much. I never thought of it that way, but yes.
Tell me about your editing process. What do you do when you get back with a card full of pictures?
Well at first, because I just started off by taking pictures on my phone, my editing was just whatever I could do on Instagram.
That's pretty powerful stuff.
I can't say that there's really much of a process.
So, then you get a new camera. What did you get?
My husband bought me a Canon Rebel.
Did it change your editing process?
I think my editing process really changed when I started shooting manual, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to switch. The more I read, the more I educated myself. I learned that if I shoot auto, it's only shooting JPEG, which is a minimal amount of memory. And, if I shoot manual, of course everything that I read said that I could have a little bit more control in how I edit.
I have a Mac, so just whatever the iPhotos came with, whatever I could do on Instagram, just the minimal stuff. And then, I went through a phase where I knew I wanted to get good enough to where I wouldn’t have to edit my shots. Maybe I just wanted to take them as is and not add a whole lot of color, or a whole lot of contrast.
Then, I decided to get Lightroom. I thought, "Wow, this is really fun." So, I mostly just have fun with it. I can't say there's a process.
Now are you shooting in RAW?
Okay, so you're pulling them into Lightroom, and having fun with them...making art.
Yes, so it's mostly just fun.
So, when you were going through the "I want to get it right in the camera" stage, did you learn a lot then?
Yeah. I still get frustrated, because I would still like to try to get the shot when I click the button. But, that takes a lot of time sometimes…to like set up the shot, to figure things out, and I'm just not that good yet.
Do you find you take too few, or too many, pictures?
I don't ever feel that I get too many. Sometimes I look and think, "Wow, I really took 700 pictures? That's… Wow!" But then, I look back and think, "Man, if I'd just gotten two or three more, maybe I would have gotten that perfect moment."
Right. I mean there's really no downside other than the management of those files, and the time it takes to review them.
Yeah, I guess I kind of feel that way. You can't have too many. Definitely never enough.
Especially with street photography. I mean, do you find that you took a shot, not intending for it to be interesting, but looking back in the editing process, you find a great photo?
Yes, that happened to me when I met a friend of mine, who I grew up with in California. He now lives in Houston, but was doing some stuff up in New York, and it was just kind of an impromptu meet-up. He's a photographer, so I was very intimidated. So, I thought, "Okay, I'll just get out my little dinky camera, and just start shooting pictures."
When I plugged my camera in, I wasn’t really feeling any of the shots. I didn't like anything. But, I went back, and I looked at them again, and then I decided that if I just cropped this one a little bit here, tweaked that one a little bit there, then all of the sudden I liked a bunch of my shots. It all just kind of all came together.
Maybe it was a little bit the attitude of you not shooting at his level?
It could have been, yeah. He's a professional. He does it for a living.
What kind of photography?
He's mostly in advertising. I honestly don't really know what he does, because I follow his personal page. I follow his personal photography. He does a lot of nature and landscape photography. He's got a really good eye.
So how long ago was this trip to New York?
It was just back in July.
So, you got a lot of city shooting.
Yes. I liked New York because I didn't feel as inhibited shooting people as I do here. When I'm walking around here, I feel like I'm invading somebody's privacy, but in New York, I feel like nobody cares. There are so many people, so I just felt a little bit freer with the camera.
Did you get a lot of shots that you're happy with of street people?
Yeah, I think so.
If you were to drop into New York today, and you can come home with one good street people photo, what are you looking for?
Oh my goodness! I don't know what I'm looking for. I guess life. I mean, I don't know how to describe it. It's just not somebody standing there posing and smiling. Just someone in their everyday doing what they do.
You try to catch, let's say, modern-day life. This is the everyday person. You can read in their face, their life.
I guess that, yeah.
This is what I felt from the dog picture, by the way.
It's not any one thing: I don't have a theme, I don't have a vision of where I want to go with my photography.
And, that's okay. I don't know that a lot of people do. Some people have their niche. I'm similar to you in that way. Just try it all. Have fun with it.
Yeah. That's pretty much where I'm at.
Now, are there genres that you don't see yourself going to, or are there genres that you do want to try, but just haven't gotten into it yet?
Not really. I don't like leaving things off the table though, I guess. There's nothing that I would say "no" to. I would try anything. Now, there might be a direction that I'm more apt to pull towards, but there's not anything that I’d refuse to try. I'll just try it.
Right. So you said knitting and baking. Do you find art in baking? Because baking is very scientific.
Yeah. Well, people comment on my baking a lot, and I just tell them that I'm very good at following directions. My husband's a cook. I open the refrigerator, and look in it, and I say, "There's nothing to make for dinner.” He’ll come out with a five course meal using the same stuff. But, with baking, yes, I definitely follow the directions.
The art in it for me comes out in the decorating, because I mostly make cupcakes and cakes. I like to play with the colors, and making things look yummy.
That's awesome. It sounds similar, in a way, to photography. You read up on all the rules, you follow what you should be doing, and then you add your flare – you make it yummy.
Yeah, you make it yummy.
When you were researching camera techniques, what were some good resources for you online?
I love YouTube for anything. I follow Matt Granger on YouTube. I love his stuff. He's fun to watch, and he's very informative. And, I watched a little bit of Jared Polin, but Matt Granger is kind of like my go-to guy on YouTube.
So, Philly was a good photowalk. Do you think you're going to do more of those in the coming year?
I would love to. I have a hard time, because I work a lot, and I have to be on-call for my job. I'm a nurse, and sometimes when I'm on-call, I only have a 30-minute window, so it makes it difficult sometimes. I would love to join up for more photowalks. I did one with Uncovering PA, or whomever hosted the Gettysburg one. That was fun too. I would love to do more. It's just a timing thing.
So what can we expect out of your art? Do you have any particular direction you're going to try out this year?
I would like to just step out of my comfort zone, and my shell a little bit, and then just start shooting more people…more street photography. I think that would be my goal. And, maybe try a few artsy things. I just recently read up on how to do double exposures on my camera, so I would like to try a little bit of that.