Jenny Woods is passionate. Her fine art portrait photography grips you like a fever. It’s no wonder why on her website she says, she doesn’t think, she feels. What’s more, she also says she’s addicted to sadness. And this intensity can be felt from her work.
Leaving school to pursue her unique vision, fine art portrait photography has become her life. Her fine art/street photos have been featured on FStoppers and Vogue Italia. She also has a large following on her Tumblr and Facebook.
In this interview, Jenny talks about how she likes finding beauty in the ugly things, how her work is like schizophrenia, and that to create art you got to create solely for yourself.
How did you first get into photography? How would you describe your work?
Living in a really small town, with nothing to do, I took pictures just to pass the time. I was never a big fan of school. I didn’t feel smart. I felt like it was easy to tell myself that this was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. At first, photography was just an excuse. But it ended up being something I couldn’t get rid of as easily as I thought.
I honestly can’t describe my work. When I look at it, all I see is schizophrenia. Half the time, I don’t know how I even got to that point when editing; it’s almost like I’m not in my right frame of mind.
In many of your fine art photographs, the environment plays as an important role as your models. How do you know when the environment is suited for the feeling you’re trying to evoke?
I’ve always been drawn to nature; I love seeing the way a person interacts with it. Most of the time, I find myself shooting in abandoned homes or wild, overgrown fields. I find beauty in things that normal people would find ugly.
Your fine art photography is intimate and seems to rely on a strong confidence between you and your models. How would you describe your approach to working with your models?
I’ve never looked at my girls as “models.” I don’t want them to think that they’re just a model to me; someone that I can dress up and use like a doll. They’re humans. I want to see their mind, their soul, their heart. I want to show that there is more to them than just a body. I get to know them; I pick their brain a little bit before we start shooting. I’m very selective with who I work with. This isn’t a job to me. This is my life. I want to make sure who I’m sharing it with is capable of understanding it.
Many of your images are constructed as self-contained narratives. Do you see yourself translating these stories into a collection within a single theme? How important is emotion to your work?
I have the hardest time putting a story together with multiple images. It’s my weakness, and it’s something I need to desperately work on. I don’t try to evoke anything purposely through my art though. Everyone will view my work differently and take what they want from it.
One of my favorites of your photography (top) is of a burning plain taken from the highway. It captures, with the tumbling fire and rushing motion blur, the intensity and speed of life. Why do you think you (and of course your fans) are drawn to these images that are weighted so heavily?
I think that people are automatically drawn to anything with passion. At least, I am. I feed off of that. We’re drawn to things that make us feel very deeply. I think it reminds us that we’re human and capable of feeling… sometimes I forget.
How do you approach your street photography? Are there certain guidelines you live by?
That’s the best thing about shooting people in their own environment. There are no rules! I think it’s the most honest form of photography. There have been instances where I’ve been afraid to put my camera in someone’s face, because it’s a highly emotional situation. A couple years ago, a friend of mine passed away in a car accident. He was young and only 18. Working for a newspaper, I was assigned to go with a journalist to talk with the family and take photographs. I refused to take pictures the moment his mother started to cry. You have to know when you aren’t wanted and back down. I mean, I know you could lose an awesome image, but you have to respect people’s private lives.
Both your fine art and street photography are highly personal. Who or what has influenced your art?
Working at a newspaper has definitely influenced my art. I view the world in a completely different light than I did three years ago. I’ve learned to treat people like they’re decent human beings; not get what I want out of them for a photograph, and toss them to the curb. I listen better; I open myself up more. I don’t know how to explain it, really. I think I’m more patient with life.
What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
I don’t know what I see myself doing in the next few days, let alone the next five years. I don’t plan my life out. Whatever I end up doing in five years, I’m sure I’ll be happy.
What would you say is the most crucial advice to any photographer hoping to expose their work?
Don’t give in to the norm. Don’t try to please anyone; you will fail. Shoot and create solely for yourself and fuck the rest. If someone tells you that you aren’t good enough, let that fuel you. Get angry and make art. Never stop creating. Never take breaks. Create til your fingers aren’t capable of creating, and then find a new way to keep creating. Strive to create something that is truly yours, and don’t let anyone take it away.