Jennie Blythe is a photographer passionate about travel and about observing life, wherever that may be and in whichever photographic genre it happens to be. She doesn't like to categorise herself to just one style or genre as she describes this would limit her photography that she wants to make. Such a beautiful depth of emotion and strength is evoked through through her photography. To Jennie, curiosity is the key and making sure that the eye through the lens never judges.
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your background. When and how did you start getting interested in photography?
I went on a fantastic trip to Cambodia in 2002 and, when I returned, I was rather disappointed with the photos from my point and shoot film camera - so I got my first SLR and went on a developing course. My interest lapsed over the years, partly due to the cost of analogue photography but then a couple of years ago I started travelling more frequently again and really wanted to record these travels photographically. This segued into other styles of photography, too, such as documentary, street and portrait.
Photography is as strong an interest as travel now: it really resonates with me. You get to visually explore your surroundings wherever you are, it's creative and it's technical. It's also anthropology - being curious about people really helps, and the lens never judges.
What is your favourite quote/lyric/saying that resonates with you the most?
There are too many to choose between! I do like Don McCullin's quotation though - "Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."
It's not a quotation but I also like Dawoud Bey's phrasing about "Making photographs" rather than "Taking photographs". I like to think that photography is adding something to the world rather than removing it, stealing it almost. The way we compose, adjust, post-process: they are all part of the making process.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Almost anywhere. Before lockdown, I didn't think I was inspired by street photography. I did it because it's accessible, because I have a wide group of peers and because it sharpens your reflexes. Lockdown showed me how much I take from the genre and how much I enjoy it.
Dylan Thomas once wrote that, "My mind jumps from thought to thought like a wombat", and mine's like that (though without his genius or way with words). In the past I have been inspired by novels, by cookbooks, by Instagram. In terms of documentary work, I'm influenced by social affairs as I see them. I'm keen to do projects on the elderly, on race and immigration, on the social aftermath of war. I've started researching Ebola and am becoming more deeply engaged with environmental issues. My mind flies off on tangents and dives deeply into them. I like that about myself, and photography supports it.
Is there anything you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
A photograph has to be interesting in some way, even if just to me. My interests are very varied and my photography reflects that; I don't like to stick to one genre slavishly.
But overall I find people and humanity fascinating. While there are always 'bad apples' in every society, I truly believe that most people are good-hearted and want the same things in life: health, wealth, the best for their children. I'm lucky to have travelled widely and to have experienced the warmth and hospitality of all sorts of races, religions and nations.
Who are your favourite artists or photographers? Who has mostly influenced your style?
Mostly my photography is self-taught and I have developed by getting out with my camera and clicking away. There are a number of photographers, though, that I admire: Boogie, Tony Ray-Jones, Tim Walker, Don McCullin, Vivian Maier...
I am a big fan of shooting on location with local photographic guides, too. They speak the language, know the terrain and the light, the people... I learnt a lot from visiting Romanian villages with Vlad Dumitrescu, and understanding how he engages with the local community. In Jerusalem I had a great day shooting with @simon_beni_ - he has a completely different style and my confidence in approaching people for shots really improved.
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
Yes! I am a much better photographer now. In part this is due to different equipment - the right lenses can make such a huge difference to the pictures you make. And you learn by experience.
I also like to explore different media. Sometimes I shoot with film, or mess around with 'film soup' (soaking exposed film in a variety of substances before developing). The results then influence the way I take other shots.
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
In London, I love shooting in Camden or Brixton. Around the world, Jerusalem and Bethlehem were amazing to make photographs in, as was Uzbekistan. I love exploring the Balkan states, too, and South-East Asia is a joy, especially Myanmar. But if you can't find something to occupy and entertain in every location you go to, you're probably not doing it right!
How does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length? What would you say to someone wanting to start out in your genre of photography?
It does make a big difference. Buying my first specialist lens was a revelation (a 'nifty 50'), in terms of the results that I got.
For digital photography, I usually use a Fuji XT-3. It's a great camera for street photography, and quite light / weathersealed for travelling around. My go-to lens is a Fuji 18-135mm. Though the images are slightly less sharp than when using a prime, it offers me a huge amount of flexibility when travelling. I don't want to carry around and change a huge number of lenses.
For portrait photography I prefer my old Canon 600D. I have a gorgeous 85mm lens that creates beautiful shots.
But in my opinion, no amount of equipment can make you a cracking photographer. A well composed image is a well composed image, whether or not you have the latest gear. I know lots of photographers who are technically excellent, real gear heads - but their shots are a bit dull. So my advice would be just get out there and worry less about being technically perfect. Make the shots that make you smile.
Do you prefer to shoot alone or with company?
It depends what mood I am in that day! On the whole though, I like to shoot with other people. Partly because I'm usually fairly sociable and partly because the rapport can create great results with your subjects. There is sometimes more trust from them - you are less of a lone weirdo taking photos on the street and more part of a project!
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
Not really. There are elements of my career that involve creativity (I work in ecommerce), but I see the kinds of photography I do as straddling art and the everyday. There's a huge pragmatic element to it, too.
Are there any books that you have read that have inspired your creativity and that you would like to recommend to us?
Igor Coko - Living Behind Bars
Boogie - Belgrade Belongs to Me
Dawoud Bey - On Photographing People & Communities
Don McCullin in general
What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?
I'd like to follow up on more of my documentary projects and see how my photography evolves. Eventually I can see myself working in situ more, in different regions and countries.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on?
I'm thinking about a number of projects at the moment, more from a documentary point of view.
- The elderly in society, and how this changes with race
- "Gypsies" - the last acceptable frontier of racism
- The Yugoslavs - portraits of a former nation
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)...
...Did I say that I like to travel?! I also like hanging out with my family, walking, cooking & eating, seeing friends, reading, googling random facts on the Internet... "