Personal-Everyday ChaosPivotal Moments

this little black box-changed my life! | jen mcken photography

By March 7, 2012 42 Comments

This one is going to be kinda long….but I won’t hate if you decide not to read the whole thing-I myself despise long blog posts…but if you want to get to know me a little bit better, you’ll read on! With that said, this was a tough one for me. You see, I’m asked ALL THE TIME, how I started my business-how did I purchase my professional camera…….and where did I start/come from? So I thought I’m just going to get it out there…..the real story of how I obtained my first professional camera-not my first ever camera, because those were point and shoot cameras, but my first ever, professional (or at least it was considered on the professional end at the time) camera……

Deep breath….this brings back a lot of memories! ohhh lordy, and please excuse my typos. I blame my “fat finger syndrome” when I’m typing……

I’ve mentioned several other times on my blog, that I grew up with teenage parents-yes my mom could have been on of those teens on MTV’s Teen Mom, she was THAT young! For my sister and I, that meant that we didn’t have the newest and latest trends, the hottest video games or the name brand clothes. We never went without, we never went hungry but there were many times I spent hours in the day being envious of some of my school friends. Their parents had fantastic jobs/careers, beautiful houses and the most awesome clothes that I could only dream to have one day. I don’t want a pity party, trust me and I’m not one of those kids that were picked on or tortured in high school because I lived in a trailer, or that I didn’t have the Converse or Swatch Watch, I had one thing going for me-my personality….and luckily for me, I was fun enough that people didn’t mind hanging out with me…hahaha! But on a serious note, I remember so very vividly, being in junior high and thinking to myself: “I will be something someday!”. I saw my parents struggle to come up with the extra cash to purchase my school clothes, money for field trips and I remember almost not being able to go to cheerleading camp one year because my mom wasn’t sure if she’d have the extra. Why do I mention this? Well for me, I had no choice. If I was going to “be something someday” I had to work hard….VERY HARD. There were no handouts, no one to run to for a bail out-at least financially….just me and this thing called WORK.

When college rolled around, I remember laying in bed the night before my first class and I cried….like a baby. I was the first one in my family to have graduated from high school (yes it’s true) and then to go on to college. *I* paid for everything….the comforter on my bed, the toothpaste, the rugs, my pencils…everything. My mom would have helped me if she could-but it just wasn’t possible. I had made it…I was at college. THEN reality sunk in….I still had to buy my books. I had $5 in the bank and I had to purchase my books by the end of the week because if you didn’t, then you’d start to be docked points for not having them. After my fist class, I had the biggest pit in my stomach…HOW was I going to pull this off. I had no one to call……no one, that would have an extra $300 lying around to let me borrow. I remember that feeling of not having enough money…I hated it…and then I cried some more! The feeling of not knowing where it was going to come from was the most horrible feeling and it was around then that I started to have more and more respect for my mom. All those years of raising us with the stress of “not knowing where it’s going to come from” must have been very scary, stressful and if I’m being honest-embarassing. Wanna know how I got the money? A credit card-this is how I learned to use credit cards responsibly! One afternoon on the way to the food hall, there were representatives from Discover card trying to get student to sign up. It was my only way to get my books, so I gave it a try. I still have the same card from all those years ago……and it has been my saving grace-at least in my college days. I had no choice but to learn to use it responsibly and I’m proud to say I have zero debt to this day. 🙂 I can proudly say, that I have not borrowed one penny off of my parents since the age of 16, when I was old enough to get my first job. Not even $20 for gas!

During my junior year of college, my sister, Nicole was killed in a car accident-she was 17. Up until that point, the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me was my parents divorce……but when your sister dies, you get a huge slap of reality in the face. HUGE SLAP. Things in my life that I once thought were struggles became drops in the bucket. It was a very dark year…..as you can imagine. To give you the short version, due to the circumstances, my mom obviously didn’t have life insurance on her-I mean, do you ever really think you are going to lose a child? The car insurance company however had a clause that her death was covered under something or other…I don’t know much about this stuff…but what I do remember is that they helped pay for her funeral and there was some money left over from the policy that was ultimately split between my mom and dad-who were divorced at this time. Up until this time in my life, I had never taken money off of my parents…I had done it all on my own. And it was roughly 2 months after her accident that my Mom approached me and said that her and my Dad were going to give me a percentage of my sisters money to put towards school because they were never able to help me before. Inside, I knew it was a sensitive subject-because let’s face it..it was death money and in some ways they both felt guilty for spending it on anything because she had to die in order for either of them to have gotten the money. If you’ve ever been placed in this position…it’s hard. You would think that for a family who struggled with money problems-basically their entire life, you’d be so happy to have this money-and trust me, it wasn’t a lot…..what price tag do you put on someone life?

So here I am, with money in the bank, and no sister. It’s kind of hard to swollow-right! The money sat in the bank untouched for almost a year. Keep in mind that at this point I had taken one intro photography class through my college as part of my major. I was using a film camera that I had purchased at Walmart because the only requirement was that it had to be a DSLR and that it had to have interchangeable lenses-so I purchased the film Canon Rebel with the kit lens. I bought the kit (on my Discover card) for the class a year prior to my sisters accident. I noticed that in the year between purchasing the camera from Walmart and my sister death that I had really enjoyed shooting and thus my obsession began. I would chase my other little sister (who was 2 at the time) around trying to capture her picking her nose-you know, to have something to embarrass her with someday. My sister Nicole wasn’t safe from my obsession either, it was a joke between the two of us to get embarrassing pictures of each other….hers were usually when she was doing her hair in the morning (she had some whack morning hair) and mine were usually when I was eating (you know, mouth open kind of shot)..haha!

So anyways…..it came time to make a decision. Long story short, between the time of her death and then, I had decided that this is something I wanted to do…..as a job. *gasp*…the problem, I needed  better quality equipment. So you know what “death money” I had from my sisters accident…..well, THAT’s how I purchased my first pro camera. And trust me when I say, it was a bitter sweet moment for me. I cried on the phone with B&H while I placed the order…..no, I’m not joking! I guess you could say that it was right there and then that I made myself a promise-if I was going to use this money to purchase the camera, I wasn’t going to let her down (as cheesy as that sounds).  From the day the little black box came in the mail…my life has changed…and THAT is no exaggeration. That little black box has opened up so many opportunities for me, that the little girl from the trailer park could have never imagined…so when I say I LOOOVE photography….I think you understand where I’m coming from now. It’s so much more about a piece of equipment. As a matter of fact, I’ve upgraded my camera several times since then, but with every click of the shutter, I will never forget that this was all possible because of her……..

 

 

 

 

contact  |  facebook  twitter | pinterest

42 Comments

  • Jessica says:

    So now that I went through a box of kleenex 🙁

    I truely admire you Jen! Thank you for sharing your story, and yes…I read all the way through, I always do!

  • Kristie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Todd Skaggs says:

    Thank you for sharing that.

  • Eileen says:

    Every thing you do is over the top. I found you through the “bully blog” I watched you through Christa and admire your dedication, poise, confidence and beautiful photography. You rock. I will be 60 this year and have been shooting since I was in my late teens..Your work, attitude, and humor inspires me.

  • amy says:

    Wow, Jen. I’m bawling. You are a treasure. With so much negativity, you seem(ed) to turn it all to positive. I wish you nothing but the best.

  • Rebecca says:

    Beautiful post Jen ~ you really are amazing! Thank you for sharing Hugs ~ Rebecca

  • Sarah says:

    You are truly courageous to share and be the amazing woman you are! Not to mention the fabulous photographer you prove over and over to be!!!!

  • Maria OBrien says:

    Beautiful Jen, I admire your work and your tenacity. You have an amazing gift, and now we know where it took root. In Love. Thank you for sharing – such a sad, but beautiful story.

  • melaniek says:

    beautiful post, I bet your sister is so proud of you

  • Lauren says:

    thank you for sharing this story. it really touched me. with the wedding season starting again i really needed a BOOST to get me back into my “photographer” mode. Posts like these are always inspiring. Typos and all!

  • Vanessa brown says:

    Wow i wasnt expectig such a heart touching story. Thankyou for sharing. Cant believe i’m teary at the lunch table at work lol

  • Kimberly says:

    Thank you for sharing your story…

  • Nicole Bukosky says:

    This post totally made me tear up. Your sister was great…I often think about her along with the other friends our class lost in high school. Your story is amazing and the special bond you share with her through your work is equally amazing. Thanks for posting.

  • Cindy Ruschke says:

    I read it all the way through also, always do you are such a good writer Jen! Bless your heart for this story, I have close to the same background only it was my little brother who died. I think about him every day and still miss him even though it’s been 45yrs ago.

  • kaylan says:

    She’s very proud of what you have become Jen! Love ya!

  • […] I ran across a blog post by another photographer that touched me, Jen McKen  had written an article about why she loved photography and how she got to the point she is at […]

  • Anie says:

    You have no idea how much this touched me and resonates with my own story. I also came up dirt poor, but that is not what gets me. It’s the loss of a sibling and the “death” money being used to further a goal. My younger brother died when he was just 18, in a car accident. I spent a good year going through the motions in a cloud of depression. I still sit here and cry about him on occasion. I think it will be hard to exist through my entire life. There is nothing quite like the pain of losing a sibling. There was eventually a payout because of the circumstances around his death. My mother insisted on giving me some of it. I didn’t want to spend it, or if I did I wanted to spend it on bills. My husband refused to let me spend it on bills. In the end I decided I was never going to have money like this again and I didn’t want to spend it on something frivolous. I wanted it to mean something. And I bought my Nikon d5000.

    I think of Matt all the time, and every time I take pictures of my sisters boys I see my brother grinning at me in their faces.

  • Anie says:

    You have no idea how much this touched me and resonates with my own story. I also came up dirt poor with teenage parents, but that is not what gets to me. It’s the loss of a sibling and the “death” money being used to further a goal. My younger brother died when he was just 18 in a car accident. I spent a good year going through the motions in a cloud of depression. I still sit here and cry about him a lot. There is nothing quite like the pain of losing a sibling. There was eventually a payout because of the circumstances around his death. My mother insisted on giving me some of it. I didn’t want to spend it or if I did I wanted to spend it on bills. My husband refused to let me spend it on bills. In the end I decided I was never going to have money like this again and I didn’t want to spend it on something frivolous. I wanted it to mean something. I bought my Nikon d5000.

    I think of Matt all the time and every time I take pictures of my sisters boys I see my brother grinning at me in their faces.

  • I have read dozens of “How I Got Into Photography” stories before, but I never would have guessed before that one could make me cry like a baby. I have two younger brothers and I worry about this happening often. I so admire your strength, determination and courage in overcoming your sister’s death and taking such huge step forward in your photography as a way of honoring her.

  • Stephanie (Hebenthal) Stewart says:

    This was a great post, I loved Nicole (or as we use to joke her “fake” name was Nikki Kenrick, we were sooo cool in 8th grade ya know). I am so sure she is so proud of her big sis, and just think every time you do a shoot that she is watching over you smiling. I had many good memories in your trailer!! I also have some pretty funny pictures of Nikki as well, my favorite one is of her talking on an old school phone with the longgg cord stretched across the living room. LOL, Thanks for sharing this story, It was touching!

  • marnie says:

    Jen, this post was so personal and so heartwrenching. I, too, grew up very poor, and my childhood was very troubled. Into my adult years, I had just had my fourth child when my Army husband was killed in a jetskiing accident. In this way, I came into large amounts of money. A year or so after his death, his mother said to me, “Marnie, you need to do something with yourself. You need a trade.” I used some of his “death money” to complete a BA in Arts/Photography. I admire your skills, not only in photography, but also in sharing so much of your life and sessions in your very warm and personal blogs. This is something I will have to work on, myself. God bless you. ~ marnie

  • Elizabeth says:

    Tears are falling onto my keyboard because I have two sisters too and can’t imagine losing one of them. I’ve only recently discovered your blog, and I’ve always found you to be so funny, optimistic and upbeat…never would have thought you had endured such pain too. Just goes to show you that everyone has a story to tell, and I thank you for sharing yours.

  • Debbie Pope says:

    Jen, You never know what some peoples pasts are like! I admire your strength and determination. Your talent is such a gift! <3

  • […] my first camera to begin with was because of my sister. I talk a little more in-depth about it here but roughly 2 months after her accident, my parents approached me with a percentage of her “death […]

  • Shojib Ashrafi Na Ashrafi says:

    Well said! That certainly proved Canada’s stupid foreign policy and the minister shut his wide mouth after hearing all other countries attending the CHOGM. Canada is promoting terrorism to be a close ally to US. This is very wrong and they just want to grab the Tamil votes which are mostly Liberal.

  • Ella Monea says:

    Honey, you’re the best! I love your posts, I love your photos and I love your personality!
    You’re my daily inspiration. When I need a dose of “something good” I come to you. Thank you

  • […] my first camera to begin with was because of my sister. I talk a little more in-depth about it here but roughly 2 months after her accident, my parents approached me with a percentage of her “death […]

  • Wow! I had no idea, what an emotional start to your journey. I am sure your sister would be very proud of who you have become!

  • Shoran Reid says:

    You really do always give ” a dose of something good!”

  • Shelley Dee Richardson Hohe says:

    What a beautiful story! I am in the midst of losing my 97 year old grandma as she hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink in over 24 hours. Our family is so sad knowing she will not be with us soon, but I am thankful for all the memories. She is how my business came to life even when I didn’t know it. As a little girl my favorite thing to do was when I would sit on her lap and look at her photo albums as she would share her life’s stories with me 🙂 Thank you for sharing and encouraging me…that even though her life will come to an end, I will always have her with me and she will always be a part of my business!! Lord bless you!!!

  • Jenny Webster says:

    <3

  • Shelly says:

    Such a touching story … You are one strong lady! I know how proud your sister would be because I can feel it in your post ❤️

  • Rachel Howe MacArthur says:

    I had not seen this post before; thank you for re-posting it! <3

  • Danielle Baldwin says:

    *hugs* So very sorry for your loss, Jen! 🙁

  • […] know the story of how I got started in photography, and in case you don’t you can read that here. My point is, I don’t have any images of my mom hugging me, no images of my dad giving me […]

  • Donna Cavada says:

    That’s a beautiful story.. I’m sure she is still with you with every pic you take!

  • […] know the story of how I got started in photography, and in case you don’t you can read that here. My point is, I don’t have any images of my mom hugging me, no images of my dad giving me […]

  • Rebecca Hamilton Battestilli says:

    Luv ya girl!!!

  • Helen Green Jones says:

    What a touching story!

  • […] should be doing…the truth is-that’s not how it happened AT ALL for me. Most of you know my story and that I didn’t really get into photography until around high school/ college. My why came […]

  • […] advertising, photography wasn’t really even on my radar until I lost my sister.  You all know that story! It wasn’t until I had to sit down with a shoe box full of old photographs at the kitchen […]

  • […] advertising, photography wasn’t really even on my radar until I lost my sister.  You all know that story! It wasn’t until I had to sit down with a shoe box full of old photographs at the kitchen […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.