Just say YES.
My motto in life: The biggest regret I would have in life would be to actually have regrets.
I have always been a risk-taker in my career and listened to my inner voice, starting in advertising which was my first career path for a decade. When I was in advertising, I loved what I did, but often times I’d ‘cap out.’ Whenever I felt I accomplished what I wanted to, and the so-called ‘challenge’ was gone, I switched magazines. Not the most highly regarded way to be in that industry, but I have always done ‘me.’
In 2009 when I launched my photography business, I also did me. At the time, in-home was NOT a popular genre, nor did anyone really know what the heck to call it. I always described it to clients as ‘photojournalism in your home’ to a degree. I didn’t relate to props or staged photography, so though it was hard to explain and not the most popular genre, I carried on with it. Cue present day, and so many more people (clients + photographers) are loving on the genre. What once was a new and exciting genre to me became more mainstream.
In 2011, my photography brain did a full on pivot. Hard. I discovered a street photographer who was just ‘unearthed’ at the time, by the name of Vivian Maier in the Sunday NY post. Holy heck. One look at her raw images of the old NYC pulled me in faster than a Dyson can suck up dirt. Street photography. WOW.
Being I already had a business, and was sharing tons of my personal children work as well as my client children work, I kept this genre I was exploring just for me. I didn’t post my street work. Talk about it. Or join any ‘groups’ on it. I just explored. Without any pressure on myself to make it into something, make money off it, or turn it into a business at all.
The more I shot though, the more I fell deeper in love. Always a realist, and always shooting real (those that have followed me for a while may remember ‘because real is awesome’ being my tagline for years) I look back and say it was only natural this genre found me.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to go public with my love of street. I kicked it off modestly with an IG page. And leaked a few images onto my FB page. The reaction? Mixed. But I didn’t expect open arms to be honest. People that were used to seeing my in-home work ‘expected’ something. And the more I was told they ‘expected’ something, well, the more I put out my street work. I started from scratch. No followers, no ‘friends’ in the genre, no recognition. The street world could care less about my in-home work, the genre I built up my following, educated people on and became ‘known’ for if you will.
So I mentally had to go back to the beginning. Scary but refreshing all at once. I was once again at square one in my photography journey.
I had a few folks offline tell me ‘Jenn I love your street work, but what about your audience you worked for years to build?’ I said ‘well, they can come with me or get off at this stop. I’m cool either way, but there is no way in heck I’m letting what people expect of me dictate what I do. No. way.’ I was in corporate America for well over a decade as I mentioned. When I made the decision to try and make photography my next career path, the difference was it was a creative career with limits I could only put on myself. A career where I steered the ship. And I had only one person to answer to- me. How could someone who is also a creative expect a creative to create when they feel they have done all they could (want to) do in one arena and wanted to set out to explore another? When we start to feel tapped on that creativity, it’s time to expand.
It all goes back to one basic thing: if you are not feeling challenged anymore, and you can shoot basically blind and know you will nail it, then for goodness sake, take a leap into another genre/project that DOES challenge you. So what you start from zero? So what you have a learning curve? So what you will get more frustrated and may wonder ‘why do I always take the path of most resistance?’ Bottom line is it’s worth it for your creative soul.
My Nonno always said ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ Translation to me : LIVE life. Life is just a shell when we stay in the same lane, doing the same speed, in the same car, with the same station tuned in year after year.
My tip for you? Don’t listen to anyone but that interior artist voice, and just say ‘yes.’
JENNIFER TONETTI SPELLMAN
Hey all I'm Jennifer, a family photo journalist/street photographer living in New York. Since 2009 I've run a business specializing in going into homes and documenting children exactly as they are as little people existing in the big people world. My goal is to capture their true spirit and uncensored personalities. When I'm not running my business, I can be found shooting street photography, holding a mirror up to society and recording the neighborhoods around me.