I’m not a mom and if things go as planned, I won’t be for a long time. (I love kids, just not my own. Not now!). However, I am of the age where many of my friends are wonderful mothers whose children I love just as much as my own nieces and nephews. With all of the rewards that I’ve seen parenting/motherhood bring, one thing I’ve also witnessed is how – inevitably and accidentally – parents seem to lose who THEY are amidst diapers, sippy cups, sleep training and Sesame Street. I am a firm believer that one of the most important things about being a parent is remembering to care for yourself and your marriage. I know, I know I don’t have kids so what the heck do I know? But if you personally are in a bad place and especially if your marriage is unhappy then that doesn’t sound like the type of home you want to raise your child in, no? Yet I still see it happen time and again, parents caring SO MUCH about their children that they completely forget to care for themselves.
My friend Jenna was no exception.
I remember the first day I met Jenna. It was my first Photo Betties Snappy Hour at El Camino Real in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia. She was the Betties co-founder I hadn’t yet met, in fact I think her first words to me were “Alix, I don’t know you!”. On her first night out after giving birth to her son, this infectiously charismatic woman was not ashamed to exclaim that, after one glass of wine, she was feeling more than a little tipsy and couldn’t be happier about it. I like to think that that night with that glass of wine was the beginning of Jenna getting her groove back and I’m so glad I was there to witness it.
Across more snappy hours and Photo Betties events, Jenna and I bonded over photography, our love of good beer and food, travel and a mutual desire to find a kindred photographic spirit; someone we could experiment with, practice with and go a little nutty with without the fear of judgement or failure. After our first play-session together it was clear – though not stated – that we had found a kinship in one another. More sessions ensued but it always seemed to be ME in front of the camera and Jenna behind the lens. I had photographed she and her family but I had yet to have a session with just her; and boy was I itching for one! Still self-conscious of her post-baby look (name me ONE mom who HASN’T felt that way!) Jenna was understandably apprehensive about posing and was quick to air her laundry list of reasons as to why she couldn’t.
And I wasn’t about to push her. She’ll be ready when she’s ready, I thought.
Though I hinted over craft-beers that a make-over would be so fun and could be just the change she was looking for. I joked over martinis that I would photograph her at the spa getting her new sexy hair done, and I NEVER let up on telling her beautiful I think she is – this girl rolls out of BED a natural beauty! But she still p’shawed and poo-pooed and wasn’t quite ready to be in front of the camera.
Until one fateful day a few weeks ago.
On a “girl-time” visit to her current home, we were enjoying a lunchtime margarita overlooking the beach where we had delved into deep and girly topics like work, marriage, self-esteem, beauty and authenticity. And then, she said those magic words – with enthusiasm! – that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“I think I want you to shoot me today. I think I’m ready.”
Giddy, ecstatic, honored and FINALLY are the first words that come to mind.
I was ready to ditch the drinks and run home IMMEDIATELY to put together a look, but I wanted to play it cool and especially didn’t want to push her, so we finished our drinks, had some lunch and did some shopping before the fun could begin.
After a dozen outfit changes, and just as many re-negs from Jenna (I think the laundry list I spoke of before doubled in length. It must be noted that all things on said list are totally and completely unconfirmed), at last she could be convinced that her swishy red dress and new glam sunglasses were just the right look for our shoot. A little hair and make-up and we were out the door before she could change her mind again. Then, at last, with our girl Adele echoing through the watchtower of the Cape Henlopen State Park in the last 30 minutes of light that day, I captured Jenna – ALONE – in FRONT of the camera.
On the ride home as Jenna scrolled through the images on the camera’s preview screen came one of my most rewarding moments not only as a photographer but as a friend; Jenna looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “Thank you”.
I still get emotional just thinking about it.
These photos are close to my heart and tell the story of an up-hill battle from distorted body-image and loss of self to confident woman ready to take on whatever life throws at her. At last she sees what the rest of us have known all along.
Jenna, you are my beautiful and loyal friend, a sensational wife and mother and I’m proud to call you my Shutter-Soul-Sister. I look forward to many more shoots, beach days and pickle-bottoms with you!
I love you always,
Love, your Basemeby.