You may know Jess from her YouTube channel where she talks all things film photography and shows her viewers a little bit of life in Canada. I thought I would talk with her as part of this interview series. Enjoy!
Hey Jess! Thanks for joining me for this little chat. I am excited to get to know you better and for my readers to as well.
JH Thanks for having me Aly! I’m really excited for this chance to chat with you!
First off, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? Just give us a bit of background.
JH I’m originally from Granby, Quebec, which is about an hour east of Montreal. I moved around the province a bit after high school, but I kind of always considered myself to be based out of Montreal. Currently I’m living with my fiance on his family farm, so farming is technically considered my “9-5”!
You have mentioned that on your videos, about moving out to live on a farm. What new set of challenges do you face shooting in the country? Is it much different from when you lived in the city?
JH Very different, especially at night! I do find the overall landscape to be a bit more inspiring in the country, I’m a big fan of fresh air and open skies, but sometimes I miss the hustle and bustle of city life. In the city you can photograph any time of day or night, there is no shortage of subjects or artificial lighting, but in the country you’re pretty much limited to daylight hours. At least here’s a lot to explore out in the country-side, and I get much nicer sunsets here!
Oh I’ll bet it’s beautiful up there.
JH It really is, I’m quite lucky to be able to call this home.
How have you been handling the whole covid lockdown? Has it really hindered your passion for getting out and shooting film?
JH At first I’ll admit the introvert in me was a little thrilled at the idea of not having to have obligations and places to be, but lately that has been wearing thin. I’m so grateful to have 200 acres to run around on, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I was stuck in the city, but I am starting to miss being able to visit with my friends and family. My photography was almost at a standstill a few months ago, I just couldn’t find the motivation to shoot. But I’ve slowly been picking myself back up, and lately I’ve been really excited to get out there with my cameras. Maybe it’s also because the oppressively humid heat of summer has passed, but I’m definitely finding a new appreciation for photography in my life!
I’m the same way. Staying home is nothing new for me LOL I too am getting excited for the weather change. That’s when shooting outside is enjoyable.
JH Definitely! And up in Canada we really have the four different seasons, so there’s nothing like colorful leaves, crystal clear skies, and fresh cool air to kick start your day!
Yes that must be amazing.
Let’s talk about your YouTube. Your videos are great, and I think one reason for that is because it is so apparent that you really know film and film photography. If I remember correctly, you shot film in school and used a darkroom there. Tell us a little bit about your background in film photography. When and how did you first get started shooting?
JH My parents gave me a little plastic Vivitar point-and-shoot for my 9th birthday, and I took that thing everywhere I went. But I really only started to take it a bit more seriously when I was in university and learned about the darkroom. I fell in love with the magic of the whole process, from developing my rolls, to seeing prints come to life under a red light. After I finished school, I had a brief period where I dabbled in digital photography. Film was getting more expensive and harder to find, and darkrooms and labs were closing left and right, so I thought it was the right path to take. Then when I moved to Montreal I suddenly had so many more options in film photography that I put away my Pentax K-20 and haven’t looked back since.
I remember when I first saw your videos, I thought “hey there are women out there that are a part of this community. Then I can do this too.” What made you start sharing your process on YouTube?
JH There were actually two things that influenced me. The first was a video by Casey Neistat where he interviewed the head of YouTube Business (I can’t remember his name), and he said that YouTube was looking and reaching out for more female creators. That stuck in my mind because at the time I didn’t know of any women film photographers who had channels, and I thought “hey, maybe I could do something”. The second was when Jody (my other half) started up his farming vlog. It just seemed like so much fun to create something from nothing and share it with the world, and it was really exciting to be along with him in his journey and watch him get more subs and more audience interaction. Casey had another video where he talked about always doing more, and I just thought that was so inspiring. I thought that maybe if I worked hard and put myself out there, I could find an audience and find my place in the wider film community.
One reason I have started this interview series is to hopefully highlight some of the women in the community and help raise them up since the film photography community is without a doubt male dominated. Have you found it difficult finding your place in it or encountered any push back?
JH Sometimes I feel like I have two strikes against me, I am female and I have a baby-face, so I have had my share of uncomfortable moments. I was once told at a lab that I couldn’t push colour film, and when I told him that I had been doing that for over a year with really great results at the same lab, he got really condescending with me. I’ve had some crappy interactions with men on Instagram where they’ll private message me and get really freaky (I won’t go into details!), so I have to delete and block them… which is also why I won’t follow private accounts anymore, unless I know the person. But on the other hand, I’ve also gotten an incredible amount of support from male photographers. Emulsive.org is a really great place to get your voice out there, Em is always super encouraging. The guys from the Classic Camera Revival podcast have been so great at helping me get my work out there, and same with the wonderful Negative Positives podcast gang. And with more sites like yours giving a place for women to speak, it’s actually a pretty great time to be a female photographer! For sure there will still be uncomfortable moments, unfortunately there are still a lot of vocal misogynists out there, but I think we’ll be coming into a time where it will get easier to have our work seen and our voices heard. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but that is the hope that I am holding on to!
I have experienced pretty much the same thing. I think the good has far out weighed the bad experiences. I know there are quite a few of us out there, I am not sure why we aren’t more prominent, but I have been seeing more channels by women and more work from them as well slowly showing up more and more in the community. That is encouraging.
JH Definitely! I would encourage all women to get out there, especially on YouTube! My viewers are still 99% male, so I do think that numbers speak for themselves, but we’ve got to get ourselves out there and be seen! I know I have been very lucky in my experiences, I have heard some really shady crap from other women, but I really believe that if we just take the leap of faith, there is room for all of us!
Yes, I agree.
What advice would you give to anyone out there who is just beginning their journey into shooting film?
JH Load that camera up and get out there! Don’t get too bogged down in the details at first, it takes time and experimentation to get the results you want. Ask lots of questions, there are always people out there who are willing to help you out. And try not to do it just for the likes and thumbs-ups, create work that you’re proud of and happy with, rather than what’s trending. But most importantly, have fun!
Is there any photographer whose work really inspires you or influences your work?
JH There are so many, and I’m always finding new ones every day! A few of my absolute favourites are Ansel Adams, Mary Ellen Mark, and Vivian Maier… I could get lost in their photos for days!
Same here. My photo book shelf is becoming ridiculous.
JH Mine too! I like collecting photo books almost as much as I like collecting cameras!
Yes, me too haha.
Well this has really been great chatting with you Jess. Before we wrap up, do you have any projects or anything you are working on that you’d like to tell us about?
JH It’s been really great chatting with you too! I’m really excited right now that winter is on it’s way because I have so much backlog to attack! I’m also in the planning stages of my first zine, and I have two projects that I shot a few years ago that I would really like to turn into full books. And of course I have lots of ideas for my channel… the good thing about having been so idle over the summer is that I have lots of plans now, and I can’t wait to get them out there!
Thats great. I really look forward to it all. Thanks again Jess. As I always say, stay motivated and keep shooting.
JH Thanks, Aly, for giving female photographers a safe space to express themselves! I wish you all the best with all of your endeavours, and Happy Shooting!
You can check out Jess’ videos on her YouTube channel and see her beautiful work on Instagram. I hope you have enjoyed this series so far. If you know of anyone who I should interview, let me know down in the comments.
Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.