Jennifer ESPERANZA – SANTA FE, New Mexico – Photographer.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was given a magical camera. She took it everywhere and every time she looked through the viewfinder,  the world inside the little box would become full of love and beauty. Colors seemed to burst out of the frame and her friends and family would laugh and jump with happiness. Sometimes, people who were very shy would suddenly dance and move for her camera as though they were the only people in the world. One day, after a long day of taking so many magical photos, Jennifer dropped her camera into the ocean. It filled with water and salt and sand. Jennifer held her beloved camera into her hands. Had it lost all of its powers? She asked, her eyes full of tears. As the last drops of the ocean escaped the little black box, Jennifer dried her tears and looked around. The world was still singing, the beauty was still there. She suddenly realized that the power to see it was hers all along. (Text by Laure de Vaugelas)

ALOUD: Jennifer, when and how did you passion for photography begin?

JENNIFER ESPERANZA: My Mother put a camera in my hands when I was 8 years old and said ‘I love family photographs but I don’t like cameras, you take the pictures’. I just took it as my job to document my family. I studied photography in college with a very wonderful teacher. The main thing he taught me was to just go into your inner world and find your inner vision through your work. Maybe 6 years after I got my first SLR, the light meter stopped working. It was really dramatic and I decided I would just use my eyes to see as a camera. When I came to New Mexico, I found a Nikon SLR at a garage sale for $25. It was magical. It wasn’t a gift from my mother this time, it was from the Universe. I never stopped thinking about photography after that. 

ALOUD: I know that spirituality is a big part of your life. Can you tell us how this influences your work?

JENNIFER: I have felt connected to the Divine since I was a child, always. The birth of my children and caring for them as they grow, being their mother is part of my spiritual life. I deeply love the ocean and all water. I met my spiritual teacher, Amma about 16 years ago. I went to Kerala, India in 2004 to be with her and when I was there, the Asian tsunami happened. I was at her Ashram when 54 villagers died just outside the Ashram walls. The 17,000 of us at the Ashram were evacuated and lived in a relief camp that Amma set up for us. A few days later there was a mass cremation for the villagers who had died and I was one of the few westerners who witnessed and photographed it. I made one of my most well known images that evening of a woman grieving for her 2 children who were taken from her arms by the ocean. We didn’t have a lot of power where we were set up at camp and my camera batteries were low, I had been photographing all day. My intuition was telling me to stop photographing and wait for the cremation but I was so traumatized, I just kept taking photographs and the moment the bodies were caught on fire, my battery was dead, completely dead. I felt like I had failed, that I didn’t get the shots at first. then I understood that I was working with others & someone else would get those shots. It was a huge ego death and changed me forever. I surrendered to the moment and I sat in the sand with everyone else and watched the bodies burn and I cried and prayed. Along with the birth of my children this was one of the most powerful moments of my life. It was a very profound lesson for me. Sometimes it is important just to bear witness. My camera brings me close to life but it can separate me too. The other lesson was to always listen to the voice within because our intuition is what guides us. At that moment, my life as a photographer and my spiritual life merged together. 

ALOUD: Your book “Tears of Venus” focuses on women and the idea of the goddess. What inspires you so much about women?

JENNIFER: When I was 13 years old, I was raped. My whole life, I have tried to regain the grace, power and softness of my feminine self. I had to rebuild myself from what was taken. It took years to undo the violence and anger and to come into the freedom of self-expression and beauty but once I had faced it for myself, I found that I had a gift to help other women see themselves in a way they had never seen before. I was able to make pictures that were powerful yet sensual, trying to recapture the essence and complexity of the feminine. 

ALOUD: One thing that I find very interesting about your work is that it is quite difficult to differentiate what is personal and what is professional. Whether you know the people very well like your children or you are getting paid to photograph a portrait, all your photos share the same feeling of intimacy with your subject.

JENNIFER: For 12 years, I was the staff photographer for an arts and culture magazine called THE magazine. I was doing between 2 and 6 portraits a month which gave me a lot of practice in communicating with people and taking visual clues from their surroundings. There is a process I go through. It can be very fast like my portrait of Jane Goodall, she gave me 2 clicks of the camera but she was there for me, she was really present. Sometimes, it might take 45 minutes or 2 hours. Whatever it takes to shake someone out of themselves. I can push someone a little bit, or surprise them, make them laugh, listen to their stories, have tea with them. I have to be present and caring. With those intentions, the person is able to trust me and we can do this together.

ALOUD: It can be very intimidating to be in front of a camera. It’s hard to feel like you are in control. 

JENNIFER: There is a song, ‘I’ll be your mirror’ by the Velvet Underground that Nico sings. That’s how I feel. I want to reflect. I want them to feel that they are safe, that I will not hurt them with my camera. All of us are sensual beings and when we drop the veils and let go of that criticism, everybody looks beautiful in some way. There is something about everybody that is beautiful. 

ALOUD: The way you describe it is really generous. I think we are overly hard on ourselves and very critical. What you are doing is precious and I am sure that the women remember it as much more than just photos.

JENNIFER: That’s what they say to me, it’s an experience to work with me.Women often see their beauty in a different  way after we work together. An interesting thing is happening in my life, professionally and personally. I am starting to photograph more men again. There is a lovely coming back to photographing some beautiful and powerful men. Kind men, accomplished men, sexy handsome men too. All of a sudden, these male angels are showing up in my life. Ultimately, there should be a balance of the male and female.

ALOUD: What would make you say ‘no’ to an offer?

JENNIFER: Most people who want to hire me really know my style and my ethics so it’s generally fine. I would never take a job to do any kind of paparazzi work, even if it paid a lot of money. I like to make photos not take them. I have spent a long time looking at tabloids, fashion and life style magazines because I am always interested in the different forms that culture takes. I seriously see myself as a propagandist for love and compassion and I know that to get my message across, the images have to be appealing and have to compete with mainstream photography.I want my images to communicate and to reach all traits of people who see the world differently than I do. I want there to be a space for dialogue with people.

ALOUD: You have used your camera and photography as a vehicle for your own journey, your healing and understanding of the world. Do you think you can conceive of a time when you won’t need your camera anymore?

JENNIFER: No, I hope I die with it in my hands (laughs). I have a tattoo on my right arm of the two eyes with the teardrops by Man Ray. I’m a voyeur. I feel like I almost eat the world up or drink it in with my eyes. When I was a little girl, I always felt that I had a mission in life. I didn’t know it would take the form of photography but I would play office and my work was to write ‘love’ and ‘peace’ over and over again. I feel it is my mission to create and transmit love. To manifest something positive helps shift the balance. There is no other way, I wouldn’t be myself.

To see more of Jennifer’s work, you can follow her facebook fan page where she posts new photos every day. You can follow her on twitter. Her book Tears of Venus is available through Blurb. To see thousands of her photos at once, visit Flickr, her website, or this blog

Become a fan of the Aloud. Facebook page to see more links to previous profiles and additional links to websites, films, Art and more. You can also subscribe to this blog and receive regular updates directly to your email.

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18 comments

  1. Matt Durham

    Jennifer is a great photographer–the best! If you admire her, you ought to hire her.

  2. Constance Durham

    Jennifer, This is so beautiful, its hard to write and I almost didn’t because of that……. but I can see you as that little girl, then and always with the most profound love. Your photos were wonderful even then. Do you remember in Germany, when I took you for a ride to photograph…… You kept asking to stop and would jump out of the car to shoot, just as you did when we were together in New Orleans after Katrina and when I have been with you in Santa Fe.
    You express as beautifully with your words. …… with love, your admiring Mom

  3. denise

    such beauty and creativity in Jennifer’s work her photographs tell a million words

  4. Hi, thank you all for dropping by and leaving a few words. It has been such a pleasure getting to know Jennifer and hope to meet her in the real world soon. She is a very special photographer and am so glad Aloud. has brought me closer to her work.
    Kindest Regards, Laure.

  5. ~ Thank you so much Matthew {my little brother} who is always trying to help me get more clients .. work & money & who is a very good photographer himself. I love you Matt. xox, Jenny

    ~ Hey Mom… thanks for your sweet stories & kind words here… I learned so much from you & with you … thanks for all you give to me.
    I love you & you have always inspired me to care for others. It was powerful to witness what we did after Katrina with Penny & so cool that the piece you wrote got published in that VA newspaper with my photos. I love you so much… & I will always remember that it was you who put that first camera into my hands.
    Kisses & Love…xox .. Jenny

    Hey Aunt Denise..
    thanks for sharing my work so often on facebook.
    Please give Uncle Rick a huge hug for me.
    I love you kisses…. xox, Jenny.

    Dear Laure… thanks for all of your kindness. It was very moving to speak with you … you asked so many great questions. You have a beautiful heart.. best of luck with Aloud.
    All Blessings & Love to You.
    xox,
    Jennifer

  6. Jeanie

    This is beyond words … all I can find to express my appreciation of this being who calls herself Jennifer Esperanza is brilliant … with searing integrity and wisdom … very powerful … the vitality of this piece is palpable … vibrating off the page … thx for sharing …

  7. Incredible photographer and an amazing human being! I am honored to know you!

  8. neelima

    Jennifer is a lovely person and her work is fabulous….I want to hire her soon….training for my shoot.

  9. Jenny as i said over on facebook: ” Soul stirring & heart touching—you’re a strong & beautiful woman Jenny ♥ ”
    I first met you through your photos years ago on Flickr. They touched my soul & help inspire me as I was at a 25 year marriage ending & to know that now 6 years later that I can be a strong & empowered woman. By sharing about yourself through your photos & in what you have shared & wrote, it gave me hope each day to know that I would be okay and that looking at the beauty around me would nurture my heart & soul. Thank you for being you and giving me the courage by being you to make these changes in my life. Blessings of light & love be upon you dear Jenny. ♥
    xoxo
    ~Ann~

  10. Dearest Ann … you are such a kind woman & a very kind friend. It is powerful to see how you express yourself, your love of beauty, nature & family with your photography. I like lots of the music that you post on facebook too. We are in the oldskool group of flickers… it’s very nice.
    We are in the same soul family. Love to you my sister.
    A deep & loving bow to you ~ Jenny

    Hey Kate.. I look forward to seeing you here in Santa Fe in the fall… I want to get a good look at your new ink.
    This time let’s have breakfast at the tune-up!
    xox Kisses & a Poke ~ Jen

    Jeanie… thanks so much for your kindness.
    I am so happy that you like my work. ~ Jennifer

    Om Shanti Om Neelima ~ Mahita

  11. So much love floating around this post.
    Thank you all for dropping by, leaving comments and replies. This is how it should always be.
    Cheers, Laure.

  12. David Durham

    Great interview of my awesome, super talented big sis. Jennifer never fails to capture the essence of her subjects — and that applies as much to her landscapes as it does to her portraits. Don’t fail to check those out as well!

  13. I agree with you David and it was such a pleasure meeting her even if it was through our computer screens. She is an inspiration.
    Thanks for dropping by!

  14. ~ xox ~
    Thanks David!
    I Love You

  15. Pingback: Apple & Tree, Chicken & Egg : ALOUD. celebrates MOTHER’S DAY. « Aloud.

  16. Annette Nanes

    Jennifer…. I miss you…..
    Much and deep love,
    Annette

  17. Pingback: The Friday catch up: Because sharing is caring. « Aloud.

  18. Oh Annette …
    I just saw this ~ i miss you too
    All love to you ~
    xox,
    Jen

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