Toowoomba-based Jen Maunder elevates her subjects through her lens. Bron Bates asked her about her evolution as a portrait photographer and life as a single mother to her two daughters.
I’ve been working as a photographer for eight years. I kind of just fell into it. I always enjoyed photography. My ex-husband bought me a point-and-shoot camera just after we first moved in together. I was 19. I didn’t really get excited and develop my skills until I was 21, right before my eldest daughter was born. I would take images for friends and then their friends would ask and so on. Due to my location, finding a mentor was difficult, so I would borrow books on digital photography and art from the library and study them.
Being a mum is much harder than I thought it would be. The books don’t tell you about the reality of parenthood. They don’t tell you about the guilt or the real struggles of being a single parent. I had a husband to help with the raising of children until 18 months ago. I’ve had to learn to parent all over again now and that’s a struggle.
I’m inspired by nothing more than my subjects. Each client has a story and I like to find that story and tell it with light.
My style is consistently evolving. I’m proud of that fact. At the moment, I’m working on improving my skills as a portraiture photographer and bringing the elements from that to family photography. I enjoy doing things people tend to only do in other genres of photography and incorporating it into family photographs. I wanted to develop a business that would allow me to be home for my children after school and around when they needed me. I also wanted to have a career that allowed me to take my children on amazing adventures. For me, luckily my creativity provided a platform for JMD ARTS to be born and here I am, eight years later, living my dream and taking my children along for the ride.
I haven’t studied formally, but I hate the term self-taught, because I haven’t gotten this far alone. I’ve had some wonderful mentors and friends that have helped me to develop as an artist.
On average, I work 30 hours a week. During Christmas, I pull around 50 hours. I work from home, so it’s quiet flexible. If one child has a school event, I can work late into the night to make up for the time I’m not at my desk. At the moment, I only shoot for a maximum of five hours a week. The rest of the time I’m chained to my desk doing admin and editing.
The most challenging part of my job is juggling it all. It’s just me here with my girls throughout the week, and as I prepare to take my work internationally, the girls are growing up. I’m finding it more and more challenging to organise work commitments and their social and school commitments.
My business and brand expanded over the last 12 months. It’s been a huge adjustment to incorporate the new demands into my existing life. A lot of people are under the impression that being a photographer is about taking photographs. It’s simply not true. It’s 40 percent taking images and the other 60 percent is building a brand, marketing, business. I’m a business woman first, artist second.
The best moment is when a client collects the final images from me. Often we have some tears. It’s the best part.
At the moment, I’m working with a family who has a terminally ill member. I’m helping them document these final months. It’s very powerful and humbling. I think it’s my most important and moving work yet.
I’d love to shoot the cover of a magazine. I also want to keep moving forward with my business. This year my baby goes to school, which will free up more shooting time and I’d like to add in an international element to JMD ARTS. My favourite photograph of my own is an image I took of my daughters. It was a few weeks after we moved into our own little home, right after a thunderstorm and the light was perfect. We had a rough few months prior to this image being taken and in that moment, I knew we’d all be okay.
Parenthood changed me. It taught me to be responsible for someone other than myself. I realised my life was not just about me and that in order to be the mother I wanted to be I needed to grow up and make an impression on the world. I had a gift: creativity. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I didn’t use the gift I had, but expected my children to embrace every part of their being?