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Jessica Ceason,
Creating Masterpieces from Behind the Camera

Text by: Christine Pethel
Photography by: Jessica Ceason

It was serendipitous, really, the way Jessica and I became acquainted, and quite an interesting story, if you'll allow me to retell it.

It's not usually a practice of mine to narrate my life story to just anyone, let alone those I had just met. I have cause to blame the alteration of my inhibitions on the permeating scent of the incensed perfume candles and aromatherapy oils wafting through the air. The zen-like Chinese symbols, bamboo plants, stone foot baths, and brown-toned embellishments adorning every area of wall space of the shiatsu massage spa wasn't doing much for my mind's filter either. I was in such a dazed trance when Dawn walked in that I was willing to talk to any stranger I met on the street.

Dawn, the warm individual that she is, immediately began a series of questions, which included inquiries about my state of being, a little of my background, and what it was I did for work. That's the only introduction I needed as an invite to launch into an explanation about my history… and health… finishing with the grand finale of emphatically proclaiming that I was an editor for an online abundant living magazine called Polite Society Magazine.

© Dika Photography

Our discussion ensued leading us to the subject of who was writing for the magazine and whether we had enough talented photographers illustrating each article. She suggested that she knew a few great photographers, but she had one friend in particular who possessed a natural eye for beauty behind the camera. Within minutes, it was she who forged the beginning of a relationship between myself and an individual who would surprise and enlighten me every step along the way.

By the time I left Dawn's place, I was so eager to experience Jessica's artwork that I wasn't even able to wait until I arrived home to a normal computer to see what it was that Dawn had spent so much time raving about. So, I turned to my iPhone. As I sat in the car, I anxiously waited for what felt like the longest two minutes of my life. Imagine my delight when the title, "Photoshopography" jumped out at me onto the webpage. A smile crept onto my face as I began to read word after word of her eloquently formed thoughts, trying to graciously inform her readers and clients that what comes out of her camera is what you see in print and on screen. Her wit and candor was refreshing, and the images I soon began to behold were exactly what we needed. I was smitten already.

I, of course, immediately made contact with Jessica, and since then she has completely left us in awe and amazement every step of the way. The beauty of her photographs is almost nothing I can put into words. We are constantly left speechless by her ability to capture timeless images in a way that makes you sort of scratch your head in wonder and ask, "How did she do that?" Or she can make you catch your breath by the sheer beauty of the colors, feelings, and natural human nature she was able to encapsulate into one rectangular piece of art.

There is much, much more to Jessica than just her photography. She can create the same art on the written page as she captures with her camera. Her blog is filled with musings on daily life, her recent adventures, and always a candid and personal narrative preceding each client's (more like her friends) photo shoot.

One of my favorite prose of hers stunned me to silence that very first day I read it on my iPhone. It was then I knew I needed her to someday write for the magazine as well.

Sand In My Eyes

When something stressful is upon you, it's really difficult to remember to notice the little things, isn't it?

I'm pretty sure this next week will go down in history as being one of the most stressful of my life- my mere 20-something life. I wish to think that in the next 50 or so, there will be fewer and fewer stressful events but I know that's not likely.

I've really tried to combat the stress. I've simplified, eliminated, shopped, organized, rearranged, channeled my senses, tapped into the healing powers of Henkell, etc.

This morning, I concentrated. I concentrated on one thought at a time. I decided this was a good idea after I realized my eyes were itching because I had put my contacts in without taking a shower. Very un-Jessica.

Over a foaming coffee, I noticed the bubbles on the top. I thought first about a barista and how talented they must be to put a pretty little heart in that delicate little pile of foam. I attempted a heart. I made a swirl.

I thought about my orange tree, the five oranges that are ripening slowly, each with a trickle of green left in their skin.

I thought about how the night prior, Archie had jumped up on the balcony and almost lost his balance. Stressful thought. Moving on.

Wind. I felt a breeze, a small one wafting through the sunny, brisk 54 degree morning.

Love. Humanity. Vegetarianism. Dignity. All single thoughts I pondered.

The perfect cup of coffee. How simple.

Jessica is a unique woman. She exudes confidence, which is reflected through the people within her pictures. And there's also something about her that makes you feel warm and comfortable, like you want to tell her all your secrets, or know all of hers. She serves me warm tea over our talks of business, and I bring her cookies as often as I can. Her giggle is infectious, her "a-ha" moments make you laugh, and her end result is stunningly inspired. It's no wonder she has client after client being transformed by the mere presence of her, who in turn want to become her life-long friends.

I can't wait for all of you to meet her. But because she lives in Germany, somewhere inaccessible to many, I asked her to answer a few questions, hoping upon hope that as much of her personality would show through allowing those who read this will fall in love with her just as I have. She did not disappoint.

Polite Society:
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, if you will.
Jessica Ceason:
I'm from Wisconsin. I'm the only child of two free-lovin' hippies who raised me on organic food and almost named me "Cosmo" but instead nicknamed me "Pumpkin," because I was always chunky. I went to college close to home, met a man, married, moved to the south, tried to become a "belle," and became a teacher. We moved to Europe. I finished my master's degree, then decided to put teaching aside, and re-tapped into my once hidden creativity. I revived my photography business (that took a backseat during graduate school) and started to find "happy" again. I channel photography, blogging and indie rock to keep my sanity. I unexpectedly became a runner and last year and took on my first half marathon. I still volunteer at an elementary school because I love kindergarten. I have a massive collection of pencils. I can hit a speed bag like a professional boxer. I am American. I'm 30. I'm under 5' tall. I wear cowboy boots all the time. I have a 22-pound, feline "fur child," and wasabi peas are like heaven to me.
What inspired you to be a photographer?
I was really young, like, sandbox and swing set young, when I found my mom's SLR camera. I remember thinking how awesome it was that you could make a picture out of a scene you saw. My grandmother was an artist and continually encouraged me to express myself with a brush and paint, but I couldn't. I just wasn't good at it. I was poking through her cabinets one day and found a camera stashed away, still in the box. I begged her to let me take it home. She gave it to me for my birthday that year. I have very primitive photos of my tiny friends in poses I'd put them in with various props and flowers. My parents would take me to weddings, and I was more intrigued with the photographer than the big, white, glittery dress. It's just… something I've always gravitated toward. I've never consistently been interested in anything the way I am in photography.
When did you know you had a love for taking pictures?
I would look at images others had created and wonder how exactly I could create something equally as riveting. I began shooting, and shot a lot of really bad images. I even "quit" photography once because I wasn't in love with my pictures the way I wanted to be. When I "quit" I was sad, really sad. I wanted to find happy so badly and show others what happy meant to me so I picked my camera back up and worked harder. Anymore, taking photos is comparable to an addiction. If I don't hear the click of a shutter for a couple days, I get a little itchy. I've been in love with my images for about 10 years. It's a tight relationship I have.
You used to be a school teacher, a love of yours at the time. What made you take the leap of faith to follow this other dream of yours?
Teaching is still a love in a different kind of way. I like to think of myself as multi-skilled. I'm good at teaching very small people, and I'm also really knowledgeable about fitness and health, among some other really random things that include interior decorating and psychology. I will never be unhappy being a teacher, but I'm happier being a photographer. I decided to become a full-time photographer about a week after I finished my master's degree in education. Talk about an expensive leap of faith. When the words, "I'm a photographer" made me beam brighter than, "I have a master's degree in elementary education" I knew I'd made the right decision.
What is your personal style of taking pictures?
I'm about to sound like I'm on a soapbox. I am only 5' tall though, so a soapbox is sometimes necessary. It took me a very long time, and a lot of really hard work to learn how to use a camera in full manual mode. I pride myself on sticking with learning something so incredibly complicated. When an image comes out of my camera looking exactly as I had intended it to as a result of my skill and ability, the last thing I want to do is alter the appearance with someone else's version of what a photo should look like. I post 99% of my images straight out of the camera. I'm not opposed to adjusting exposure here and there, because doing so goes all the way back to darkroom days. Photo editing software is, in my opinion, massively overused. My image mantra is that "timeless and classic always wins." I'm a photographer, not a "photoshopographer." My personal style involves a very shallow depth of field along with true representation of color.
What are your most favorite photo shoots to capture?
I happen to really like families. I like getting to know people and learning about others' lives. It makes the world seem like a cozier place. The elements of a family are sometimes predictable and sometimes they have me guessing. My favorite part about a family is the mom. During the session, it's her time to be beautiful. I'll usually take the mom aside for a few photos of just her, for her, because it means a lot to me that she sees how beautiful she really is. I was never good at scenery until recently. My primary focus has been people, because I feel like I can pull more emotion out of them than I can out of a scene, and I absolutely love creating photos that are full of emotions. I do have a collection of images that I consider art, but honestly, most of those are accidents.
You seem to have a knack for making people feel completely at ease when taking pictures. While most feel uncomfortable in front of the camera you seem to capture them as their most natural selves. What is your secret?
Talk. I just talk a lot and hope that something I say at some point comes out funny. I will tell stories about myself that reveal a flaw or a fault so that people see that I, with the giant camera, too am human. Having your photos taken can leave you feeling vulnerable and insecure if you have the wrong photographer. I work hard to make sure people feel the complete opposite of that. The more comfortable people are, the better the photos will be. I try to constantly remind people how amazing I think they are, how awesome they look that day, and how I love it when they're just being themselves. I typically do not pose people but will tell them where to go and give suggestions as to how to stand or sit. Whatever happens next is what I take the picture of. Basically, I laugh a lot, because laughing is contagious, and I want my clients to feel as happy about their session as I feel.
If you could give a few bits of advice to aspiring photographers out there, what would it be?
To trust your instincts and take the photos you want to take rather than copying someone else's style. Define yourself and your brand. Stop looking at others' work, and start looking more at your own. Put the blog reader down and pick up your camera. Become a master at manual mode and constantly be watching light. Become a good photographer before you become an artist. You have to master the basic skills before you can start turning it into art. Don't underestimate your worth and the hard work you've put into what you've learned. At the same time, be humble. Be willing to learn from others rather than emulating others. Be ok with making mistakes, because sometimes the best photos are completely unintentional.