The Travel Photographer blog will occasionally post interviews with both travel and editorial working photographers. This interview is with Jenny Jozwiak, a freelance award-winning travel and culture photographer, whose work in photojournalism and spontaneous portraiture has taken her to 37 countries, where she has shown a unique gift for capturing the intimate lives of people and their environment. She is also the organizer and curator for the photo documentary contest and exhibition "Diversity of Devotion: Celebrating New York's Spiritual Harmony".
1) TTP: When did you decide to become a photographer? Who or what influenced your decision?
When I was 18 years old I came to New York to pursue acting -- but wisely gave that up a few years later. I had learned dark room techniques from a New York fashion photographer in San Diego after I graduated from high school and decided to buy a Minolta X700 and take some classes at City College. My teacher and mentor, Professor Bruce Habegger decided I had talent after seeing my first assignment and encouraged me from then on. He exposed me to the greats: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Diane Arbus, Eugene Smith, to name a few. I also love the work of Sally Mann, Phil Borges and Mary Ellen Mark. Their wonderful black and white images, perfect composition and intense personal point of view, changed they way I looked at photography and the world.
2) TTP: Do you have any formal training regarding photography?
Other than that one class at City College and a weekend workshop at ICP with Eugene Richards -- I sort of learned as I went.
3) TTP : if you had the choice, where is your favorite place to live and work as a photographer in the world and why?
Well, one of my favorite places in general is Ireland. I have a strange attraction to the history, the people, the landscape and the "vibe" there. I could also imagine myself living in Southeast Asia -- possibly Indonesia or Thailand or Vietnam. I am very attracted to Buddhist countries.
4) TTP: Describe your own favorite image, and describe how you went about creating it.
One of my top favorite images is entitled "Boys with Bicycle". For me it represents the perfect "decisive moment' shot. I was meandering through the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal when I saw this lovely doorway and blue bike leaning against the wall. As I framed the simple shot, the little door inside the big door opened up - and there stood these 4 beautiful young boys --who were smiling at me! It was perfect. I spent the next year of my travels hoping that image had come out because I would not trust any local labs to develop the film.
5) TTP: Describe a day in your professional life.
When I am traveling, I pretty much go where I want and shoot what I want as I am not an assignment photographer (though I would consider doing that!). I go for many months and photograph my experiences and encounters. More recently, I have become interested in curating. In 2006, I developed and curated a photo-documentary project and competition in New York entitled "Diversity of Devotion" which is currently being exhibited in the Brooklyn Public Library gallery. I was recently offered a commission to shoot a similar theme for the Queens Museum of Art. These projects have been taking up most of my time for the past year. I hope to get on a plane again very soon!
6) TTP: Tell your funniest, scariest, most bizarre, most touching story from a photo shoot!
I have definitely had some adventures as I travel the world, however, one of the most special encounters I had was in Calcutta. I was staying with Indian royalty, (the grandson of the princess of Jaipur and his family). They had their driver take me to the Sisters Of Mercy Mission. I brought a lotus flower and some rupees to donate. At 5:00pm, barefoot and complaining of an eye infection, Mother Teresa came out to greet us. It was the day after her 84th birthday. I had brought my FM2 Nikon, loaded with Tri-X and only one shot left. (What was I thinking???) She came up to me and I gave her the flower and offered her some rupees while apologizing for not bringing more. She then grabbed me by the wrist, (she had some grip) and looked into my eyes and with her Albanian accent said , "The amount you give does not matter -- what matters, is how much love you give it with -- and I can see you give with a lot of love". Right then, I thought I would cry. I was actually quite surprised by my own reaction being that I was raised Jewish and for many reasons, felt very distant from the Catholic faith. But this amazing power emitted from her. She then put her hand on my head and blessed me! I was nervous and shaking, but I weakly asked if I could take her picture with my final frame. I found out much later that she almost never allows photos during the mission visits.
7) TTP: What types of assignments are you most attracted to?
My "assignments" are self-determined so far. I love the unknown and unexpected which travel presents in large doses. I am attracted to the unique, bizarre, mysterious and untouched. If I had my way, I would be given an assignment where I could visit a country and simple shoot it as I see it and have that work published as is!
8) TTP: How would you describe your photographic style?
For many years I only used a 50mm lens, a totally manual camera (Nikon FM2) and B&W film. I believed that helped me a great deal with full frame composition, lighting, and texture -- not relying on the seduction of color to carry me through. When I made the transition to color slide film, my B&W experience and techniques came into play automatically. I almost shoot color like I was shooting black and white film.
Some people have compared my work to Steve McCurry's! I aim for the perfect full frame composition and I do love vibrant colors. When shooting people I want to get close and personal with them and draw out the love, humor, and connectedness between us. That is what I enjoy most -- the connection with another person from a totally different country, background, race or religion. When I take that picture, I feel as though I am meeting them in a place where in that moment, disparity disappears, and is only recognized through the camera lens.
I must admit I held out as long as I could in buying the digital camera. It does have it's learning curve and advantages. I do love film and will continue to shoot with it for some situations such as double exposures.
9) TTP: Who or what would you love to shoot that you haven't already?
I would have to say I have not photographed the hardcore stuff yet -- war, famine, death. When I began photography, I had really wanted to be a war photographer, and bring to light the terrible things that occur in the world using my camera. But time passed and that did not happen. I deeply admire the work of James Nachtwey -- he is a hero of mine. But the way it worked out, I ended up shooting the opposite. There are so many places I have not yet been and I hope to travel to them all someday: Mongolia, China, Japan, South America. Another one of my dreams is to work with and photograph the great apes in Africa and Indonesia.
10) TTP: Describe the photo gear, as well as (if digital) your computer hardware and software you use.
My equipment is pretty basic. When I shoot film I use Fuji Velvia slide film 50 or 100 ASA, known to be saturated, and fine grained. I still have my 2 old Nikon FM2's cameras, and the lenses: 105, 28, 50 and 200. I also use Photoshop CS3 and the Nikon Coolscan 5 slide scanner. I just sold my Canon XTI Rebel which was an awesome camera and recently purchased a Nikon D80 with a 18mm - 135mm lens.