Fine Art Photographer Jennifer McClure on a Photographer’s Nightmare

“I had some big issues in my life that I needed to process, and photography was a way for me to do that,” explains fine art photographer Jennifer McClure. “I didn’t set out to work in fine art, but I am happy that I landed here.” Jennifer is based in NYC and has profound advice on getting out of a photographer’s worst nightmare: the creative rut. We’ve all spoken to photographers who hit this obstacle and don’t know where to go. Typically, we treat ourselves harshly and beat ourselves up. But Jennifer used a completely different approach. Her words and teachings are bound to get someone experiencing a rut very interested in her process.

All images by photographer Jennifer McClure. Used with permission. Be sure to check out her website, book, and Instagram. This is a sponsored blog post by Leica. Jennifer’s  Upcoming online  Workshop with the Leica Akademie starts September 12th, 2021

The Essential Photo Gear of Jennifer McClure

My go-to camera these days is the Leica CL with the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Lens. It’s the one I throw in my bag and the one I keep in the living room for easy access. I have it set so that all I need to do is turn it on and start shooting. I bring the Leica Q for a lot of our outdoor trips. And for portraits, I use the Leica SL2 with the Leica Summilux-SL 50mm f/1.4. It’s incredibly crisp and the colors are perfect. And it’s fast enough that I almost always get my active toddler in focus. While I try to stick to natural light, I use the Leica Sf-40 when we’re on the go and I need a little pop. I use the Profoto B10 for indoor shoots when I do staged work. 

Jennifer McClure

The Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography.

Jennifer McClure: I started taking pictures with my father’s camera when I was young. We moved frequently, and photographs helped me hold on to the people and places I once knew. I worked a bit for the local paper in college but didn’t really begin studying until 2001. I took continuing education classes at SVA and ICP as I needed them and as I could afford them. The visual vocabulary of photography made sense to me in a way that not much else did.

What made you want to get into fine art? To be candid, that’s a great genre to classify your work, which seems to be a mix.

I thought when I started that I would do documentary work. But I felt myself wanting to be more than a fly on the wall. I wanted to talk to people and create something together. And at a certain point, due to circumstances and availability, I turned to self-portraits. I had some big issues in my life that I needed to process, and photography was a way for me to do that. I didn’t set out to work in fine art, but I am happy that I landed here. I was only able to pursue this path because I had another job that paid the bills.

Your upcoming class at the Leica Akademie focuses on finding inspiration from various things in your life. Would you say this is more of an emotional process or a mental process?

I think it’s both. I always look to emotional issues and personal stories for the subject matter. I usually start with a question, something that keeps me up at night. And then, I try to come up with a way to make the photograph, the tangible object. That’s the mentally creative process, how to represent an emotion in two dimensions. I look for symbols, light, color, and mood. There’s a lot of trial and error mixed with happy accidents. Eventually, the process and the photos show me things about my own experiences and feelings that I might never have seen. 

“I usually start with a question, something that keeps me up at night. And then I try to come up with a way to make the photograph, the tangible object.”

Jennifer McClure

Your photo series, Single, follows single folks. And it was born from folks asking you why you were single. When you went about doing this project, what were some key elements you had in mind?

I wanted to show both the positive and negative aspects of being single. And, of course, these are different for every individual. I felt like I was focused on the negative, and I wanted to turn it around. My goal was to be open and receptive, to learn. And to collaborate. I asked everyone where they felt the most single, and we went from there. I also wanted all of the photos to look like film stills, like there was much more to the story than what was shown in the frame. I needed to light and the setting to match each individual story.

“I don’t expect people to make complete projects within the course of a workshop, but I hope they leave with an action plan for doing so. I love helping people generate ideas, especially about subject matter that’s close to their hearts.”

Jennifer McClure

Do you consider yourself more of a documenter or a creator? Your images look and feel like they’ve got a documentary aesthetic about them.

These days, I do both. Most earlier projects were all conceived or staged. Now, as I photograph my daughter and my husband, I frequently do candid, found moments. I tend to shoot those in the same style as I do my constructed pictures.  This is the first time I’ve mixed the two styles, and I’m still figuring that part out. 

In the past year with the pandemic, we’ve gone through a ton of emotions. How have they affected you as a creative? Some folks became super introverted/introspective and worked on personal projects like macro stuff. But your work involves colaborating with lots of folks. 

My subject matter has certainly narrowed. I started photographing my daughter daily at the beginning of the pandemic as a way to stay sane and keep busy. I needed to find joy. There were many days that I didn’t want to get out of bed, and photography helped me feel productive. The big change for me was the switch to remote learning. I was able to teach more classes and work with many other photographers. I didn’t have to figure out an entire week of childcare or travel. I’ve loved that part.

You’ve been a photographer for a while. How do you get out of creative ruts?

I keep making pictures. I give myself permission to make a lot of photos that might never be seen by anyone else. And sometimes I wait. I give myself permission to take a break. I’ll watch a lot of movies when I do that. They help me think about color and narrative and composition, 

I looked really deeply through your images. And I think one of your defining elements is color (besides people and emotions, of course). Do you actively think about color when you’re creating?

I do. I like the color to be rich and luscious without being oversaturated. I think about light first, but color is crucial. It greatly affects my editing choices. I learned the color wheel pretty thoroughly when printing in the darkroom years ago, and I still love to check the wheel in Photoshop to evaluate images. I’m also reading “The Secret Life of Colors” by Kassia St. Clair, and I can’t wait to use some of those ideas.

“I keep making pictures. I give myself permission to make a lot of photos that might never be seen by anyone else. And sometimes I wait. I give myself permission to take a break.”

Jennifer McClure

Where do you typically turn for inspiration besides your every day life?

Usually, Instagram is the first place I go. I follow a lot of fellow photographers. Lenscratch is a great resource for discovering new work. And I always look at the winners of photography-related grants and competitions, especially the ones I applied for but didn’t get. That’s where I’ve found some amazing and innovative projects.

What should someone taking your class expect to learn?

I don’t expect people to make complete projects within the course of a workshop, but I hope they leave with an action plan for doing so. I love helping people generate ideas, especially about subject matter that’s close to their hearts.  I love showing people how to start a process of discovery. I try to make sure everyone has an idea for a project and the confidence to try new things along the way.

All images by photographer Jennifer McClure. Used with permission. Be sure to check out her website, book, and Instagram. This is a sponsored blog post by Leica. Jennifer’s  Upcoming online  Workshop with the Leica Akademie starts September 12th, 2021

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