I enjoyed listening to the interview you had with the editors at Two Cities Review about your photograph Fading Light in Brooklyn. And I admire all the photographs you put out in your site Shoot Like A Girl Photography. They’re very dainty, and it seems like each picture is taken with utmost care and love. How did you get into photography in the first place? How is the creative process like for you from finding your subject, snapping a picture, and processing it? Do you have to be in a certain state of mind in order to take photographs, or does the state of mind change with the activity?
Thank you! I appreciate your kind words. I always enjoyed photography and would snap photos on family vacations as kid, but I didn’t consider it part of my career path until I was much older. Discovering that my avocation could be part of my vocation has been one great joyous surprise of my adulthood. Who knew that you don’t have to have it all figured out by the time you’re 18?
I am primarily self-taught and learned to shoot simply by paying attention to the world around me. I gravitated towards scenes that moved me emotionally or seemed to tell a story--or were captivating for some reason. Much of it has been instinctual, though I have great appreciation for how light falls upon a scene. I learned by shooting on film and since I was paying for film and developing (which could get expensive!), there was a big incentive to get good images without taking too many shots. It taught me to be mindful and to take a look--and a second look--before pressing the shutter button. I applied that mindset when I transitioned to shooting digitally.
I don’t think there is a pre-requisite state of mind, per se--just an openness to being present in the moment and open to discovering a scene with no preconceived notions of what it should be.
Shoot Like A Girl Photography is both a shop and a portfolio of your photography. You sell your pictures as greeting cards and prints. I find the option of buying them as greeting cards very endearing. Is there a lot of demand for that? Is it difficult to market your photography as a business? What interesting freelancing gigs have you undertaken so far?
ShootLikeAGirlPhotography.com came to life in 2009 after a health crisis changed the course of my life. No longer could I run around New York City until all hours shooting bands. I was drawn to slower pursuits--photographing landscapes, cityscapes, flowers and nature. I was marketing from scratch with little experience and it was an uphill climb, but I was grateful to find some loyal customers with whom my work resonated. Unfortunately, a leg injury in 2014 sidelined much of my photography work. My focus shifted back to writing.
Prior to getting sick, I really enjoyed doing shoots with bands and individuals who needed publicity shots. It provided a chance to be creative in different ways! There was one image of a singer named Dorit that sprung forth from a random moment. We had been shooting outdoors and went into a small café to take a break. As she sat by the window, the light fell upon her face beautifully. It was one of the best images of the shoot. Sometimes, happy accidents like that happen!
Another fun shoot was with a yoga instructor/holistic healer named Jamie Leigh. We shot in Williamsburg in Brooklyn. All of the sudden, she jumped up on top of a public mail box and stood in tree pose. It was amazing to witness and made for an incredible shot that captured a certain juxtaposition between zen and urban life.
You’re also a very remarkable writer. Did you always want to be a writer? When did you begin writing? What stirs you to write? How is your writing process like?
Thank you! I always knew that writing was a deep, inner calling. I first was aware that it made me happy to write and create at a very young age--7 or 8. I wrote throughout my childhood and never found writing for school to be a chore. I started writing fiction on my mom’s old typewriter when I was about 10. I remember thinking if only there could be a way to go back and edit what I had written without having to retype the whole page!
When I was 14 and got sick, writing letters became a way for me to stay connected to the outside world. I didn’t know it then, but it was how I honed my craft. At my peak of productivity, I wrote 4 letters by hand per day to pen pals all over the world. As much as I love the immediacy of email, I still have a great appreciation for real, tangible letters. There is something magical about holding something written by someone else’s hand just for you.
My writing process has changed over the years. I used to hate everything I wrote and criticized myself before the work was even completed. Now, I am gentler with myself. Like a cake needs time to bake, sometimes, words need time on the page to coalesce. I’ve learned how to better honor my process--a process that still evolves. Most of the time though, I need to allow an idea, thought, emotion or concept to roll around in my mind and meander into my spirit before it is time to set it free upon the page.
I’m unafraid now to edit my work. This was one great lesson of my formal training in writing at The New School in NYC. The world won’t end if I cut out words and phrases. Often, it makes for crisper, clearer copy. I have Sue Shapiro’s class to thank for this important lesson. I love Mark Twain’s quote on this: "Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words."
I read your essay Ten Years Later: Out of the Elevator. I am very sorry you went through such a horrific act of violence and the scar it left behind must have been traumatic. The most upsetting and terrifying fact is like you said, "…there are so many stories [like mine]. Why are there so many stories? Violence against women should be the anomaly, not a quiet cultural norm that we have accepted." And even if we haven’t lived through such horrors, we’re collectively terrified because we know someone else who has been violated, and we may be too. Now healing is a multilayered process that takes time. What helped you heal your wounds and restore faith in humanity?
In 2004, I was violently attacked by a stranger in an elevator in Brooklyn. I narrowly escaped with my life and the experience changed me profoundly. Initially, I felt invincible, but several months later, I saw my attacker in the street--and I was certain he recognized me. It was like reliving the attack all over again and I was re-traumatized. The nightmares flared up again. I never felt safe. I felt like I was on the other side of a glass wall--unable to touch the world I once had known. With the help of a therapist, I began to find my way back.
But, creating was another integral element of my healing process. I had been working as a music journalist and was just getting into concert photography when the attack happened. Afterward, I dove headfirst into it. I needed to see the beauty in the world--in people--again. Somehow, viewing humanity through the lens of my camera allowed me to see what I was unable to access any other way. And, it gave me the opportunity to blend my great passions--music, photography and writing. Shooting concerts brought me a sense of aliveness and a feeling of being fully present in the moment. It returned parts of myself to me. The beauty all around--both on stage and off--was undeniable.
Whilst reading your piece Advice: How To Heal Chronic Illness, I couldn’t help but chuckle because I have the tendency to advise others what to do when it comes to health, it’s what I think about on a daily basis. I also get frustrated when others advise me when they don’t necessarily know what it’s like in my shoes. And sometimes, I don’t know what to do and who to listen to anymore--I lose my sense of direction and may even end up doing something completely wrong for my wellbeing as a result. Do you ever feel that way? How do you come to recognize what’s right and wrong for you? Do you believe in the gut feeling?
That issue came about when thinking about all of the advice I’ve been given over the years and all of the things that I have tried to get well. I got sick in 1990 and a lot of doctors didn’t believe that Lyme disease even existed (despite my positive blood test). Others believed that it could be cured with one or two rounds of oral antibiotics. Now, we know that isn’t true for many people. Lyme Disease is an extraordinarily complex illness and the effects can be very long-lasting. I was sick and homebound for 12 years and then, had a period of remission for about 7 years. I didn’t feel 100% well, but I was able to function and have somewhat of a "typical" life. Unfortunately, the respite wasn’t permanent and in 2009, I got sick again with POTS/Dysautonomia (a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system). My doctors believe Lyme set me up for POTS.
There have been times when I felt blamed for my illness--or for not getting well--by some in the medical community and by people who weren’t educated on the reality of Lyme. As a teen, I felt a lot of pressure for treatments to work and it was devastating in many ways when they didn’t. Eventually, I had to find my own healing path which included a variety of modalities. Healing can be so intimate and individual. A sick person already feels vulnerable and to receive unsolicited "advice" from well-meaning, but perhaps uneducated, people can be stressful. That is what my essay speaks to--that I had to find my own path. It is different when there is a dialogue about treatments or when a person asks--then, the knowledge can be better received and assimilated. I facilitated phone support groups for women with chronic illnesses from the time I was 19 until I was around 25. I used the forum to talk to experts and gain as much knowledge as I could. Dialogue then can be a tool for healing.
I do believe we possess intuition about own bodies. But, the path to getting well is rarely a straight line. There were many things I did by trial and error. Overall, things that support and work in harmony with the body--nutrition, movement, sleep, stress management, etc. tend to be the most broadly useful. But, it can be hard to implement them at times! My process has been to do what I can as best as I can. It is still very much a work in progress for me.
Sometimes, when intuition is silent, we simply must endure and trust that it will return. It is then that having some solid structure or practice (like maintaining a bedtime, eating a certain way, etc.) can be particularly useful. One element of my practice is to try to find joy in every day, no matter how small or how bad I am feeling. It gives me strength. I also try to distract myself a lot from the physical pain--writing has been great for that!
You and I have another cool thing in common. We both love Hall & Oates! Why do you love them so much? What are your favorite songs? How did you find out about them?
Kiss On My List is one of the first songs I fell in love with. I vividly remember being in my front yard in suburban Philadelphia on a steamy summer afternoon as a child in 1981. The song was playing on the radio inside the house. The melody echoed through an open window. I decided it was one of my favorite songs. Though I wasn’t old enough to articulate it as such, I instantly recognized that it was a perfectly-crafted pop song--everything about it just worked. It really set the stage for the massive commercial success they had for the duration of the 80s. Time and time again, they’ve proven themselves to be consummate songwriters, musicians and performers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I also love Daryl’s 1986 solo album Three Hearts In the Happy Ending Machine. It is a gorgeous collection of songs. Dreamtime still moves me and I Wasn’t Born Yesterday and Foolish Pride reveal some of Daryl’s most honest and self-reflective songwriting. Someone Like You is a gorgeous break-up ballad both sonically and lyrically: Now you're gone away / And I'm left to carry on / Ain't nobody else gonna bear up to comparison / And if I can't have the real thing / Then I've got to find someone / Just like you.
Words have been integral to how I see myself, the world and my place in the world for as long as I can remember. As a listener, I’ve always appreciated the care Hall & Oates put into both their music and lyrics--the words mean something. Because of this authenticity, it has been easy to apply their music to my own life, to connect with it, to make it my own. The greatest artists leave just enough space for the listener, viewer or reader to fill in the blanks with the palette of their own experience. This is why Daryl and John’s music has proven to be timeless and is appreciated by multiple generations. There is an element of timelessness.
I felt a special kinship to the music of Daryl Hall and John Oates because Daryl and I grew up in the same small semi-rural town--in the same neighborhood. I’d wave to his father when I was walking home from the bus if he drove by. I trick-or-treated at his parents’ house every year. And, when I was 10, I spotted Daryl from my yard. I was outside raking an endless pile of leaves as part of my weekend chores. (Fall was the only time of year I despised all of the trees in the yard!) Seeing Daryl was like witnessing a mirage and not only because it was about to get me out of having to finish raking--though that was a plus. I ran inside and called my best friend Carolyn who lived down the street. She ran up to my house with her autograph book. I grabbed mine and our mission began.
The only problem was that Daryl had disappeared and gone back into his parents’ house. Carolyn was 11 and only slightly less shy than I was. We knew that if we wanted an autograph, we would have to knock on their door. The thought was quite intimidating! It took a lot of hemming and hawing, but eventually, we gathered our courage and went to their door. Daryl’s father answered and let us inside. His mom was friendly and beautiful. Sensing our nervousness, she tried to set us at ease. Their family was in the middle of dinner, but Daryl, his parents and their guests could not have been more gracious. I realized that Daryl was just a normal person--he was quite down to earth. Their collective kindness left an impression on both Carolyn and me. I understood from then on that it was possible to be at the top of your field and still be kind--and take the time to talk to two kids who just interrupted your evening!
Lauren Jonik is a writer and photographer in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in 12th Street, The Manifest-Station, Two Cities Review, Artemis, The Oleander Review, The Establishment, Role Reboot, Bustle and Ravishly. She currently is at work on a memoir about coming of age with a chronic illness. Follow her on Twitter: @laurenjonik