I am very excited to share this guest post by a local Author & Photographer. Enjoy!
The Many Faces of Elgin
A Guest Blog Post from Jen Keller, Author & Photographer
I am a high school German teacher, who wishes she could spend her days traveling and making photos. Growing up someone was always making photos of something. My husband bought me my first DSLR as a wedding present and I have been making photographs ever since. Most of the time I focus on nature and landscape, but in 2015 my focus changed to people.
During the summer of 2015, we took a 28-day road trip around the USA. While we visited some of this country’s most amazing sights, the best memories came from the people we met. Our most memorable experience was in Santa Fe. Our host was throwing a dinner party and invited us to join the celebration. It was an incredible evening. Christopher managed to throw together a group of people who knew him, but not each other and turned it into a magical evening of conversation, laughter, music, and friendship.
We continued to talk about that dinner party long after we returned home. I kept asking my husband how we could recreate what Christopher created by chance. Everyone has a story, but I didn’t need to (nor could I ) travel to exotic or faraway locations to find them. I decided to look in my hometown of Elgin. One afternoon, I randomly asked on a local Facebook page if anyone would be willing to tell me their story and let me photograph them. I thought I might meet a few new people, collect a few cool stories and take a few fun photos. Over fifty people responded! I spent most of the next three years meeting these incredible people, writing their stories and making photos of them. It has been an unforgettable journey.
Portrait photography was definitely not my area of expertise. I didn’t have fancy studio lighting or professional posing techniques. In a way that was better, because I wanted to capture authentic images of people in locations that helped to tell their stories. Here is a small sample of the people, whose stories and photographs you can find in my book The Many Faces of Elgin.
Maria is an artist who wanted an entire diva photo shoot that would highlight her artist spirit as well as her wide ranging body of artwork. Maria’s art is beautiful, full of color, passion and life. I try always shoot in natural light, but that was not an option here. Thankfully our host had workshop lights that we were able to use to highlight both Maria’s art and her beautiful smile. I took over 200 photos that afternoon and had such a hard time narrowing the shoot down to just a few.
Christina is a belly dance instructor, who also performs throughout the community. I felt her story had a close to connection to nature, so I asked her if she would be willing to head down to the creek in Lords Park. The setting was the perfect compliment to her ornate traditional costume. Christina was a natural in front of the camera. She exuded beautiful confidence that was truly inspiring.
Linda is a volunteer for the Bluff City Cemetery Walk. We have a similar passion for stories. Each year Linda researches the life story of a famous Elginite buried at Bluff City. The story is then presented live at the gravesite as part of a 90-minute tour of the cemetery. Linda generously offered to wear period clothing and meet me at the cemetery for her first shoot. I loved her attention to detail down to the white gloves and the popcorn tin. The second shoot was during the actual cemetery walk. Her true joy and passion for storytelling and history was evident.
Bill followed a girl to Elgin, but has spent the years since dedicating time and energy to bridging the racial gap in our community. Whether it is in his gymnastics school, MEGA or with his work as part of the City Council, Bill has a passion for inclusion and equality. Given that the majority of kids at his gymnastics school are minors, we opted to do his shoot within the community that he loves to serve. There is a beautiful mural in downtown Elgin that depicts the city’s diversity. It was the perfect backdrop for making his images.
Steve and his wife, Peaches, live in the beautiful Wing Mansion, where they display their wide ranging collection of antiques. I had the privilege of taking a private tour of the Mansion. The highlight of Steve’s collection is an original Model T Ford. I toured the Mansion on a warm bright sunny Saturday afternoon. It was the perfect day to take it for a spin. When we back up into the long circular drive, I knew that I had the shot I most wanted to capture— Steve sitting behind the wheel with the biggest smile ever!
Hollyce and John have been big supporters of the idea of my project from day one. Their lives revolve around historical preservation, so they loved the idea of this snapshot of Elgin’s history. When I showed up to their home for their shoot, Hollyce was in beautiful gown and John was in a suit. They wanted people to know they had taken the project seriously. We spent our time exploring different locations around Hollyce’s beautiful garden.
When I started this project, Elgin was just the town where I lived. I had no connection to the community or its 100,000 residents. It did not take me long to realize that Elgin is much more than a series of zip codes. The people are what make Elgin amazing. The forty plus stories that are featured in The Many Faces of Elgin are just a snapshot of what is an incredible place to call home.
You can find out more about The Many Faces of Elgin and/or purchase your copy of the book on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/ManyFacesofElgin.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share this story with your readers!