Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeni Aguirre.
Jeni, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My passion for photography began in high school but didn’t truly develop until my late 20‘s. As a young adult, I found the light of art to be so very fascinating and interesting. Being an artist already, through other mediums, it just made it that much sweeter to discover another amazing outlet to express my creativity through. In the beginning, I would shoot anything and everything….was a bit trigger happy…I must admit..lol. I was also always the one taking pictures at family gatherings, events and outings too. Looking back not once did it cross my mind that I could possibly make photography my profession or that one-day destiny would step in and show me the way.
In 2003, a twist of fate put me smack in the middle of a drunk driver collision. I was working at a trucking company at the time, in the billing department. I remember it all as if it were yesterday. I got off early that night.I had just gotten off the freeway and was waiting for the light….shortly after I stopped….I was rear ended at the speed of 75mph by a drunk driver. Till this day, I suffer from a back injury. I was not able to walk for 6 months, fell into a deep dark depression and was in a lot of pain. Struggling with keeping up with the mortgage and bills. My husband, at the time, had to get a second job to try and hold us down. I was also really stressed out about what I would do for work now that my back was hurt. I wasn’t able to sit for very long or stand for very long…so this was a big concern for me. The answer came to me a few months down the road that year….when I got a call from a cousin who wanted me to shoot some photos of her, in a boudoir style, for a gift to her husband. By this time, I had already been through some extensive therapy and was finally walking again with the help of a cane. So I agreed to the shoot. I was excited but also a bit nervous…I had never shot a woman by herself before like this. She and I played dress up for 9 hours that day. I styled her, did her makeup and hair and just used natural light from her large balcony window. I didn’t use anything special, no lights, no filters, just a regular little pocket camera. When I loaded the photos, we both sat there in awe at what I had captured….and then it was as if lightening struck my heart…instantly, I just knew! I couldn’t explain it…i just got up and proclaimed it!! “I’m going to be a photographer!” My husband thought I was nuts!! lol. and I didn’t care. My cousin was so amazed of what I had captured, that she handed me cash for the shoot. It set a fire off inside me…I was driven to jump head first into photographing the everyday woman. Knowing nothing about running a business, or how to get clients…but yet, I knew deep down I would figure it all out…and I did! I started learning the basics in photoshop, lighting…etc and was then also introduced to social media…MYSPACE…which back then was simply amazing networking…and it changed everything for me. Everything I wasn’t sure about in the beginning, just fell into place and Jeni’s Eye was born. Those first few years were the hardest but the very best time of my creative life. Photography saved me. Relating and getting to know most of these women through my photography brought my smile back and awakened my spirit again. Somehow helping them bring out whatever they felt was lost from them loving themselves brought out whatever I felt was lost within myself. It opened up a new world and the opportunity to empower, uplift and inspire these women to love themselves in a whole new way.
I’ve laughed with these women…I’ve cried with them…shared stories and sipped wine with them….what I do, is so much more than just take pictures…it’s very personal to me. I believe that every woman deserves a day of beauty and glam. A day to call her own…an experience that makes her feel powerful and like the goddess she truly is. A day like that helps us remember that just because some of us have lost ourselves in family, work, school, marriage, motherhood and just simply the everyday routine of life…it doesn’t mean we don’t have that sexy kitten purring quietly inside of us. My goal is to …make that sexy kitten meow again lol and document it through imagery so that these women can remind themselves of how beautiful, feminine, powerful and sexy they are day in and day out for the rest of their lives.
Has it been a smooth road?
Although there were many many amazing moments…It wasn’t always a smooth road. There were many challenges throughout the years but the biggest challenge was when my 17-year marriage ended. A lot of things changed. I ended up losing my house and my studio space. I had a separate room in the house that we had converted into my studio, so it was very comfortable to shoot there. And my clients loved it. It was private and felt like home to them. It was perfect. Oh, how I miss it. 10 years of magic happen there.
After I lost my house…I had to put all my personal belongings and all of my props, furniture pieces, fabrics, backdrops…etc in a storage unit….which I eventually ended up losing as well. Everything I ever worked for was gone….just like that. My heart was broken and even though it was that much more challenging to shoot creativity…. I wasn’t going to let it stop me. There I was no studio and homeless…so I started doing shoots outdoors, at clients homes or renting out spaces to produce my art. I had also lost my wrangler Jeep that had given me 15 good years of Jeepin…it finally died on me…that made things even harder! But there I was still trying to make a way…taking the buses, trains, uber, lyft to get to my shoots. The hardest part about that was carrying all my equipment, makeup, hair products and lights with me. Again, nothing was going to stop me. In the 13 years of doing this, I’m proud to say…not once have I missed one of my shoots. They are that important to me.
Losing all my belongings and the life I once thrived in has been the hardest thing to go through. There have been many very dark days for me…but I have an undying faith and passion for my art and in what I represent to these women and the many families I’ve touched through my photography. And that’s what keeps me going.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I’m looking forward to someday having an establishment where I have multiple spaces to create different setups and themes. Kind of like a photography Disneyland where I can create without limits. A place that feels comfortable, private and like home to my clients. Although I have been shooting for a very long time…
I have so many concepts and ideas that I still haven’t been able to give life to. As an artist…this is very frustrating at times. I get so inspired and excited with my concepts that all I want to do is make the magic happen and it hurts when I’m so limited.
Let’s dig a little deeper into your story. What was the hardest time you’ve had?
I would have to say the hardest time in my career is right now. After my marriage ended and I lost my home, studio and all my personal and professional belongings everything changed for me. The only thing I managed to salvage and keep with me were my computer, camera and lights. I had to start all over and get new makeup, brushes etc…which I’m still working on building up again. Being homeless and struggling to survive on a daily basis while doing all I can to still produce amazing work with very limited equipment and support has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my adult life. I honestly, don’t know how I’ve managed to pull through the past year. There were countless days of not knowing where I was going to sleep, shower or how I was going to eat. At times, it was so difficult to show up to my shoots because I didn’t always have somewhere to get myself together. But I managed to always in the end find a restroom to wash up and make myself look as presentable as possible. There were even a couple of times when I couldn’t produce something for the shoot and I had no other choice but to be honest and tell my client what was really going on. That was so heartbreaking for me…to actually tell them that I was homeless and this is why certain things didn’t pan out as planned for the shoot. The love and support from my clients is undeniable and I’m so so grateful for that but it still hurts me so much when I can’t create as freely as I want to and give them 100% of my abilities because of my circumstances.
Most of my recent work has been outdoors and although I enjoy shooting outdoors…it’s not what I’m about. I love to create a visual story with my photos. I want to wow my clients with my concepts and give them an experience they will never forget. It’s been very challenging to produce what I really want for them without a space to work out of. It breaks my heart every time. The boudoir, pin-up, and creative theme shoots are the most challenging to produce at the moment which are my top three styles that I have the most passion for. So when I do land a shoot for these styles…I usually find a way to rent a fairly inexpensive hotel room and have them meet me there. At times I’ve even shot out of my client’s home when able to. I have always found a way and although my clients love my work regardless of location….I still feel there was so much more I could have done for them if I had what I really needed.
Another big challenge is editing. Finding a place and time to edit my work in my position is no picnic. I do have my computer but it’s a huge screen Mac desktop….not something easily transported. Most of the time I have to leave it at a friend’s garage. And whenever I do need it…I’ll find my way over there on the bus or train…get an uber ride to pick me up from there and take me to the nearest Starbucks or somewhere I can set up and edit for hours at a time. Now walking into a Starbucks with a 27in screen desktop was a bit embarrassing at first for me…people looked at me like I was crazy…but honestly, this whole experience has made me immune to ç. I have to do whatever it takes to produce my work for my clients by any means necessary…and that’s all that really has value to me. What people say or think doesn’t matter one bit for they have no idea what I’m going through.
I found myself having to be in many positions of embarrassment through this…to sleeping in public restrooms and staying up all night in 24-hour donut shops and laundry mats…cause they seemed like the safest places to be. Not having a place to stay has affected my sleep, my back pain has increased due to lack of rest and exercise….my nutrition has also been affected…so many things and emotional distress going on all at once in this position…it’s unsettling. So embarrassment isn’t something I even entertain in my life anymore. I would much rather entertain my drive and will to make things happen.
Although I know this has strengthened me in many ways…I can’t deny that this whole experience has also dampened my spirit and there are many times when I just want to ball up and cry but then I look at my work and I think about how many believe in me and how I’ve even returned to many of my clients homes and witness my art still decorating their walls. It helps me remember who I really am and what I have to offer to this world is still shining so brightly and so strongly inside me. My faith is what pushes me through it all.
Are there days when you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted to, careerwise – the “I’ve made it” kind of moments?
When I first started…my first year was rough….I almost gave up. There were a lot of cancellations and no shows…and after preparing for a shoot and putting in time, money and effort into the set ups and everything needed…it was very discouraging to find myself with no actual shoot. But then, I got smarter and started collecting a deposit…which changed and fixed that issue almost instantly. Like I stated previously I really didn’t know anything about running a business or how to market myself. But when I was introduced to MySpace, back then, that’s when things started really flowing. I would have to say the moment I realized I had somewhat made it….was when I noticed I was booked solid for a whole year in advance. I ended up booking up every single weekend!! I couldn’t believe that people actually were willing to wait to shoot with me for that long. It was an amazing and magical time for me. So that’s how it went…I would do all the leg work during the weekdays…hunting for props and furniture…hitting up flea markets, thrift stores and fabric stores and I would make things if I couldn’t find what I needed….curtains, pillows, flooring, painted murals…whatever it was… I would just make it myself. One thing about me…I never compromised my vision. I remember this one marionette theme shoot I had once….I sketched it out with checkered black and white flooring…that’s what I wanted visually for the shoot….when I went out to find the tiles to lay out for it….I wasn’t able to find them. So, I took two days in my garage measuring out each square on thin wood panels and painted them into a black and white checkered floor. I wasn’t going to settle for anything else. It looked amazing on camera…and the shoot was a huge success. During the week…there were countless long nights I would also do my editing, sketch out my designs for my next background set up…etc. There was hardly any personal time at all cause I was so busy…I missed out on many family events, weddings, birthdays and holidays but I was on fire! It was the best time in my career and I loved every minute of it!
I also remember another time I felt that I made it…when one of my client’s called me out of the blue one day and shared with me how she was at a little bar out in Pasadena one night and how she happen to be sitting near these two other women talking about some photographer who does it all….hair, makeup, and styling. My client quickly jump off her seat and approached them and said “Are you ladies talking about Jeni’s Eye?” They looked up at her and said “Yes! do you know her?” She told she had just shot with me and showed them the photos of her shoot. She called me and said so excitedly “Jeni!! You are famous!! people are talking about you and your work!!” I couldn’t stop smiling 🙂
- Website: jeniseye.com
- Phone: (562)318-8209
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: jeniseyephotography
- Facebook: Jeni’s Eye
Photography, Styling, Hair & Make-Up by~ Jeni’s Eye