Can you believe school is about to start? Our "school" starts mid-August, which is earlier than most public schools here in Texas. In the midst of hustle and bustle back-to-homeschool madness, I got to sit down and talk with my dear friend, Jen Golay. I have been admiring Jen's work since I "met" her online over a year ago. It's a perk to have Jen as part of my regular monthly film blog circle so I get to full fill my eye-candy obesession each month! I have been blown away by the beauty she captures in every photograph. I am so excited that Jen agreed to an interview today, and let's get started:
Joyce First, tell us about Jen: How did you first get started in photography
Jen: My day (and night) job is mom to Will and Henry and wife to Mitch. I've always been interested in photography, but was intimidated by all the fractions and strange numbers. My first SLR was one of the early digital Rebels ten years ago. I got it with the intention to learn photography well enough to shoot film. I find that so ironic! I loved the idea of using digital to learn with so that I didn't waste film (or have evidence of all of my errors!). But I really started to work on learning photography about five years ago to be able to get good photos of my children. My youngest is on the autism spectrum, and when he was little, a trip to the portrait studio was a challenge! I never felt like I ever "got good enough" to shoot film, but after two years of having a photography business, photography was no longer fun and exciting. It was work. I found myself a Nikon FM and a nifty fifty on eBay, bought a roll of Tri-X, and fell in love all over again! I love to learn, so I am primarily self-taught, but I've had some great educational experiences--like After Dark, being an assistant producer for the second season of the Film Show on the Framed Network, and the Film Is Not Dead Workshop.
Joyce: I am a fan of your work since the very first time I set my eyes on it. Looking through your website, I see there numerous images in square formats. Do you prefer it over 645 or 35mm, and why?
Jen: I started my film journey with 35mm. Then I branched out to 645 and 67 and even large format 4x5. But last summer, a friend loaned me a Rolleiflex, and I felt like I had come home. I'm not sure what draws me to squares. Perhaps it's the symmetry. Perhaps it's the challenge--composition requires a bit more effort. Or perhaps it's habit. I had been shooting square on Instagram everyday for a 365 project, so when I got the Rolleiflex, it was an easy fit.
Joyce: I know you shoot both film and digital. What are your favorite film gear, and what are your favorite digital gear? Why film? and Why digital?
Jen: These days, I only pick up my digital SLR if someone is paying me--with one exception: my Fuji x100s. But I think the reason I love that digital camera is because it shoots like a film camera! I have a growing film camera family that includes a Nikon FM, a Nikon f100, a Contax 645, a Mamiya RZ67 Proii, a Crown Graphic, a Polaroid SX-70, a Polaroid 180, a Pentax 6x7, and a Rolleiflex 2.8f. And I love them all! I think one of the things that draws me to film is the enormous variety in cameras as well as the limitations of each camera. I like different cameras and different films for different subjects, projects, and situations. For example, when I travel or just want to wander and find photos, I want my Rollei. I can find and make images without covering my face or drawing attention to myself. When I photograph portraits, I want my Contax or Pentax because 645 and 67 have great portrait aspect ratios. I also like to use my Polaroids for portraits because people love having a print to take home. And when I am shooting my family at home or one of the boys' field trips, I like my 35mm cameras because they travel easy and have plenty of frames on one roll. Believe it or not, I still have a couple of cameras on my camera bucket list that I'd like to try!
Joyce: Your personal work is exceptional! I particularly enjoy your recent travel photography. This is because I think you are amazing, and I can never seem to grasp shooting things without my kids in every frame. With each blog post, you brought me along on trip with the images. What inspires you when you are on a photo walk? Can you share a tip or two with those who might want to shoot non-people images but just can't quite "get it" right?
Jen: Thank you! That really means a lot to me because I have really been focusing on doing personal work this past year. I am still looking for my visual voice, and doing personal work has helped a lot. I have three ongoing projects that I'm working on right now. Travel photography isn't one of the projects, but it fits into one of them pretty well. I don't get to travel very often--especially without the boys. This spring was kind of a fluke. My husband had a couple of business trips and I was able to accompany him. Going on photo walks is a like a treasure hunt. I have a friend who calls photo walks "photo therapy" because it is time alone or with a friend and a camera. When I go on photo walks, I just look for things that interest me. Often I'll shoot a scene or a vignette. Photo walks in a new place are easy. Everything is interesting. Photo walks in my home town are a challenge because I have to look at things with new eyes. I think the best tip for shooting non-people images is to get to know, utilize, and sometimes break composition and design "rules." Always be thinking of and looking for things like the rule of thirds, the golden mean, leading lines, patterns, texture, color, negative space, an s-curve, a c-curve, a frame within a frame, horizons, noticing background and foreground, filling the frame, details, and of course, light.
Joyce: Your use of back lighting on film is out of this world! I think back lighting on film is one of the toughest thing to do with film because you do not have a LCD to check your images. Can you share with us a tip or two on how to expose for back lit images?
Jen: Thanks! Back lighting is one of my favorite ways to shoot people. I am always looking for ways to back light. When I am shooting in back light, I expose for the face. I often spot meter the shadow side of the face or incident meter right under the chin. If it's really contrasty, I may overexpose it another stop. What makes back light so great on film is that the background will still have some color and detail--unlike digital which will be blown out.
Joyce: If you have one advice you can give to those who are just starting out on film photography, what would it be and why?
Jen: Just do it! I was afraid of film for a long time--even when it was the only option. Once I started shooting film, I realized that it is so much easier, more fun, and more forgiving than digital--especially when working with a good lab. And while it is frustrating to mess up, especially when you don't find out that you messed up for a couple of weeks, you will become a better photographer. You'll shoot with intention so you'll shoot fewer frames, but you'll have more keepers. You'll look for light and notice light everywhere. And you'll want to do it more and more!
Joyce: If you can spend one day with one person (present or past), who will it be and what would you talk about?
Jen: Vivian Maier. Hopefully I wouldn't be too intimidated to talk and she wouldn't be too private to share. I'd love to ask her about her motivation and drive to create. Why do we create? For whom do we create? Did she want to share her work or did she think it wasn't good enough or was no one at the time interested in it or did she create it just for herself? Would she share her work on social media if she were here today? And then, I'd just like to watch her work.
Joyce: What is your favorite film stock and camera, and why? What is one photography accessory/gear (other than camera and lens) you can't do without?
Jen: I haven't shot that many film stocks other than the Portras, Tri-X, and Fuji 400h. But I like different films for different things. If I had to pick just one, it would be Tri-X because I love how versatile it can be. Changing the way it's exposed, developed, printed or scanned can create many different looks. And it can be pushed up to 3200 ISO. My favorite camera is my Rolleiflex or my Nikon FM. I love Tri-X in either one of those! Both cameras are 100% manual and need no batteries. When I shoot with those cameras, I make a picture; I don't take a picture. Since only two of my cameras have light meters, the accessory I can't live without is a light meter!
Joyce: Any new and exciting happenings in your world you would like to share with us?
Jen: I mentioned earlier that I'm working on three personal projects this year, and now that summer is here, they are in full swing because it is so much easier to shoot when the weather is good! The first one is my Natural Beauty Project. You can find out more about it on my blog: http://www.mydailylifephotography.com/teens/the-natural-beauty-project/. This one is very close to my heart because I struggle to love and accept myself like so many other women, and I would love to help girls in some small way to avoid that feeling. The second one is Art Behind the Scenes. I commissioned a painting last year for my home and asked the artist to let me to photograph the progress. It was fascinating! I have always loved and appreciated the arts in all forms, but watching and documenting what goes into a work of art has given me an even greater appreciation. In our ready-made world, I would love for more people to appreciate true craftsmanship. Next I'm photographing a classical guitarist and a pottery artist. I'd love to find a dancer and a sculptor to photograph as well. My last project is much less clearly defined. I have enjoyed photo walks around my home town as well as when I traveled this year. I'd like to continue to do them in other towns around Iowa, but I want to get braver about including more people in my images. My favorite (an most challenging) day of the Film Is Not Dead workshop was the "touching strangers" assignment. I'm a shy introvert, so approaching people takes a lot of energy, yet those were my favorite images from the entire workshop. One thing I've started doing to ease my way into it is when people comment or ask me about my Rollei, I chat with them for a bit, but then ask make their portrait with it. So far, so good!
Joyce: If you can go back in time and do it all over again, what would you do differently and why?
Jen: I would not let my fear of failure prevent me from doing anything.
Joyce: What are your favorite artists on your play list right now?
Jen: Coldplay, American Authors, Van Morrison
Joyce: Complete this quote: "I wish my kids would hurry up and go to sleep so I can watch..."
Jen: Old movies
Joyce: A quote you live by:
Jen: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
Joyce: Where is the most exotic place you have ever been?
Joyce: The first item on your bucket list:
Jen: Write a book
Joyce: Your favorite hobbies beside photography:
Jen: Reading and knitting
Joyce: Beer or Wine?
Joyce: Flip flops, sneakers or sexy stilettos
Jen: Flip flops
Joyce: Car, Train or Airplane?
Joyce: Two truths and a lie, go!
Jen: I used to be a high school English teacher. I took classes in calligraphy and ping pong in college. I can dance.
Joyce Kang is a children & family photographer in Austin Texas. She is also a mentor and an instructor for Embrace The Grain, an intro to film photography workshop. She is married to her best friend and enjoys outdoors with her family. She loves to curl up with a good book and has a terrible addiction to any thing that tops with a heaping scoop of ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge!