In conversation with Jenna Smith
Jenna is an Auckland based photographer, creative, surfer and the model behind the latest Figursky’s editorial
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Jenna grew up in Western Australia. Much of her childhood was spent enjoying the beautiful beaches and lifestyle of the WA coast; a prominent influence in Jenna’s photographic work. After spending the most recent years working in London, Jenna currently resides in Auckland where she continues to pursue her career in photography.
Tell us about your photography journey? Where did it begin, and how did it evolve to where you are now?
I began studying photography at university in Australia, and when I made the move to Auckland – Tamaki Makaurau the first time I was certain I would begin a career as an interior photographer. I Interned with an interior photographer here and began to shoot a few things but my love of fashion photography and travel soon crept up on me. I decided to move to London to pursue the fashion side of the industry more, which takes me to where I am with my work today.
I know you come from a family of creatives, can you tell us more about your upbringing and the influence it had on your career path/choices?
There were always art or crafts happening at our house(and still are!) – my Aunty is an artist, mum paints and my grandmother was a prolific sewer and crocheter amongst many other random crafts she became obsessed with over the years. My dad is a sailmaker too, a really unique trade that requires a level of perfectionism and patience. I think growing up around all of this, it seeped into my bones and my vision – I knew I needed to be in a creative field that allowed me to work in different environments, amongst nature and people, and be hands on.
What do you think was the most challenging part of moving to London from Auckland?
Not being close to the beach and my family was really tough. I struggled with the lack of daylight too. In winter when it gets pitch dark at 3pm I just want to curl up to hibernate and wake up in summer, like a grizzly bear.
How did your photography evolve in London?
I was assisting many different photographers in London as well as developing my portfolio. My technical skills improved dramatically, and my knowledge of working with a team and the photographic workflow grew, too. I’m still working to define my own style and ‘look’, but I guess we are all constantly evolving on that level.
How does where you live impact your creativity?
The environments we are immediately exposed to have such a heavy impact on what inspires us and the process we go through to find inspiration. When I was in the UK the industry itself was more ‘in your face’. I was going to galleries, friends’ exhibitions and travelling lots too. Even on a night out, the fashion and characters you see are all influencing you without even realising it.
Back here in Aotearoa, our beautiful landscapes, coastal culture, strong connection to country and local artists are so unique to the rest of the world. The relaxed lifestyle definitely changes the way we work too!
London aside, what would be another city that would fulfil you creatively?
I’ve always wanted to go and live in Barcelona for a few months… but I should probably learn some Spanish first.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in photography?
Imposter syndrome and self confidence on set – and I am working on it all the time. It affects and limits my creativity so much some days that it makes me question my whole career path. Reading lots, listening to inspiring podcasts, working on a really simple personal project or a spontaneous shoot with a friend can help snap me out of it. I haven’t overcome it yet, anyone got any advice?!
What is something that you’d like to see more of in the local creative industry?
More events to bring the industry together and showcase local designers and artists. I know fashion week has lost its weight, and most people collaborate and find new things on social media, but it would be so awesome to have more creative industry events so we can say hi to each other in person!
What does your preparation before a shoot look like?
Depending on the kind of shoot it is, sometimes it will begin with a clothing collection, a conversation, a single image, a moodboard or a location.
I sit down with the team to build on those initial visions (over multiple coffees) and develop a collection of references and moodboards. Usually the primary aim of the shoot will dictate the way we make creative decisions about the other shoot elements.
After this I put together my lighting references and a kit list and we are ready to shoot!
More often than not the shoot will happen in its own organic way, and while we refer to the references throughout the day it will take on a life of its own. You have to allow for spontaneity throughout the whole process.
What’s something you wish more people knew about the photography industry/photographers?
We don’t just turn up on the day and shoot – I’d say 80% of our working week is planning and production. Shooting only takes up 20% of our time! I feel like this might come as a shock to the average person.
It’s also an extremely physical job. You’re always working at weird angles in strange positions – in all kinds of weather and environments, and you don’t really switch off the whole day. The pressures of shoot days are more intense than an average day at the office. Saying that, we aren’t surgeons.
How do you work through creative blocks?
I listened to a podcast recently with Erykah Badu and Mark Ronson. Erykah spoke about creative blocks and feeling guilty for having all this down time during the pandemic, and how she’s been trying to think of all these moments as time for ‘downloading’. Allowing yourself the space and time to find inspiration as it comes to you, rather than feeling guilty for not creating or achieving things 24/7. This has helped me reframe my thoughts majorly.
You’ve recently acquired a medium format camera. Can you tell us why film is an important medium for you?
Haha yes, I did acquire the most beautiful Mamiya 645. I dipped my toes into analogue photography at university and have wanted to jump back in ever since. I love the physicality of film, the colours and qualities of the shots.
Probably the most important part of it for me is the meditative quality it has. I really have to think about and craft the shot, and it slows down the shooting process. I remember us discussing this while we shot this series for Figursky jewellery. We were saying how nice it is to take a small amount of shots, and continue to move through a shoot without hammering out thousands of frames. It simplifies the editing process.
One thing you wish you could change about the industry?
I wish we could reduce the pace of shoots to how they used to be. With digital and social media the expectation to produce ever-increasing amounts of content in a day has skyrocketed. It would be cool to see more of a slow content movement alongside the slow fashion movement!
What kind of role have other women had in your career?
A huge role! The best advice and the most support I have had in my career have come from strong female mentors and creatives. Without these women I would not be anywhere near where I am today.
What is one piece of jewellery you never take off?
My solid silver bangle given to me by my Oma.
What is your favourite piece from Figursky’s collection?
From this collection I cannot get over the Shadow of the Sun (https://figursky.com/products/shadow-of-the-sun-drop-earrings) drop earrings! The way they catch the light and sway with movement is so incredible.
If you had a bespoke piece made for you what would it be and why?
I would get myself a ring, made to celebrate a special milestone. I don’t have a setting in mind but it would definitely include some pale green stones, square cut. I should probably set myself a particular goal so I have a reason to celebrate and buy myself a ring, haha!
Do you have any pieces that hold sentimental value or a special story?
I have a cameo that belonged to my great, great Oma. It’s a traditional pink and white shell set delicately in gold. It was buried in the ground in Indonesia during the war when my family were sent to live as prisoners in the camps. When the war ended a family member returned to dig up the box and their valuables were still there. My Oma passed it on to me.
Location or studio shoot?
Natural light or studio lighting?
Dream shoot location?
Morning light or evening light?
Film or digital?