Anna Jones' photography is adventurous and soulful. In a world of flash-in-the-pan trends, her work stands the test of time. We recently chatted about life as a photographer and storyteller.
edited for length and clarity
Right off the bat, I'm struck by how your work doesn't look like anyone else's - it's unique. Is it difficult to keep your head down, create your best work, and not pay attention to what's on trend?
First of all, thank you for the compliment! This is an industry that's constantly evolving and it’s very hard not to get sucked up into the latest trend, whether it be posing or editing or whatever. There are definitely times when I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of trends, but it always backfires on me. I’m not sure if you remember blue tinged black and whites?!
I care about people’s stories and how they are connected to one another, and I try my best to channel that and I hope that it keeps serving me well. I want people to look at their photos and have the story be aged by the clothing or hair style, not by a pose or editing technique.
Do your more creative shoots come about because of thorough planning or plain-old spontaneity?
My best work always happens by accident, Evan. Am I not supposed to be saying that? Like, I’m editing a set of images and I go “Holy shit, I don’t even remember taking that!”. That sounds really bad, but it’s true.
There are times when I feel that I’ve gotten a cool shot and I try to recreate it in case someone wasn’t looking or had their eyes closed. And guess what? It never lives up to that first accidental frame! I credit it to a combination of curiosity, non-conformity, and sheer old fashioned luck. All of those things collide to create magic moments in my opinion. Sort of like the universe saying, "I’m going to give you this - but you have to be ready for it."
Do you think of yourself as a storyteller or a photographer?
As a self-employed artist you want to take all of the work that you're offered. There's that fear of being rude or that turning something down will be "bad for business” - but I have to remind myself the opposite is true. In the last few years, I’ve gotten better at only taking on the jobs that are for me.
An example would be some corporate head-shots I was commissioned for last year. I told them it wasn’t my thing, but they said they wanted something out of the box. So I did some ring light portraits that everyone hated (because they just wanted traditional lawyer head-shots, you know?) and that’s not what they got.
They ended up using another local photographer who really excels at that stuff and I should have just recommended someone else in the beginning because what a huge waste of everyone’s time, you know? I’ve deviated from your question, but my point is that telling stories is what I want to do within this field because it’s what I excel at and it’s what makes me happiest. In a perfect world I'm a storyteller, in the real world I'm a photographer.
Tell me about some of favorite places to shoot. Do you find better luck with epic scenery or intimate spaces?
It's 50/50. I really like some of the gritty spots of Des Moines - give me a brown zone at sunset and I’d rock it! But with client work you can’t always get away with that and so you end up downtown or in a park. As every photographer knows, the spot is less important then the light.
I just did an engagement shoot in San Francisco and we went to all these gorgeous places, but some of my favorites are just the two of them in their home with their cats. The location is always less important then the connection. Epic scenery is gorgeous and visually interesting and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the most fun to shoot, but intimate spaces are always better for speaking to the individual and/or their relationship.
I saw that you recently became a mom - congrats! Share with me how becoming a mother has influenced your work.
Yes! I have a son and he's about 16 months old now. He’s super cool. I’m not sure he has influenced my work yet, but he has made me much better with time management. He’s also made me a morning person, which I did not get a say in :) So I really appreciate mornings now and I've done a ton of sunrise shoots because, heck, I’m already up :). Man oh man, there's really nothing like sunrise.