Photographer Interview: Jenny Baptiste

Photographer Jenny Baptiste
After coming upon Jenny’s recent shots of Erykah Badu while reading a Black Nerds Network blog post, I contacted Jenny in hopes for an interview. All the while thinking that her last name sounded familiar…

Fortunately, Jenny responded right away and sent me her bio which is when I found out she was the wife of celebrity/fashion photographer Marc Baptiste. But don’t judge her work based on her relationship – Jenny’s got an eye all her own and is on her own personal trajectory toward becoming a photographer. I look forward to seeing more of her work as she continues to grow.

Since her bio was such an interesting read, I’ve included excerpts in italics below in between Jenny’s answers to my questions.

D&B: Where are you from?
JB: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Los Angeles, CA.

Copyright Jenny Baptiste
Copyright Jenny Baptiste

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started – any “formal” training?
JB: I have been immersed in images and photography for a long time, but have no formal training. I started off in the art department at Virgin Records and was fortunate enough to see a ton of contact sheets for CD artwork.

At that time it was still a small, independent, creative, young, and vibrant company. She worked her way up the ranks and eventually ended in the art department, which was her dream job. She worked on production and coordinated CD package design with artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Neneh Cherry, Smashing Pumpkins, Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers, and Iggy Pop. While working on a project, she met Marc, who lived in New York and was fast becoming the iconic photographer we know today.

From there I moved to New York and worked at an ad agency.

She was then recruited by a Photo Rep agency, where she worked on the production of photo shoots for some of the top photographers in the Fashion Industry. (Mario Testino, Kelly Klein, Marc Hom, Enrique Badulescu and Tiziano Magni) In the meantime she and Marc had twin girls. As his business was growing, as well as their young family, they decided to collaborate and put their skills and knowledge together. She has since been overseeing Marc Baptiste Photography, Inc. for the past 7 years wearing many hats: production, casting, editing, budgets, billing, and archiving.

Seeing photography from so many angles helped me refine my photography which is street documentary with a little something extra. I started shooting 3 years ago at a block party using my daughter’s camera. Those images ended up getting published in Clam Magazine in a photo essay titled “They Don’t Know How We Live.”

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
JB: I use a Leica and I sometimes play around with a Pentax 67.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
JB: I am around photography all day so I’ve become a sponge for things I like. My influences range anywhere from movies to a range of photography books.

Copyright Jenny Baptiste

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
JB: I’m still on the journey and feel blessed that people have been receptive to my work. I am a work in progress.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
JB: For me, the most enjoyable part of photography is telling stories about real people.

She collaborated in 2008 with two photographers; Akintola Hanif, and Jean Marcelin for a group photo exhibition “This is Where I Live.” Clam Magazine has since published 3 photo essays including a series titled “Division.” This series was all shot from her car, capturing a candid, honest look at the style and tradition of the Hasidic Jewish community.

I feel like I have achieved something when people trust me enough to document them in their environment. Of course I would like to get paid.

D&B: What’s your dream photography project?
JB: To shoot photo essays around the world for The New York Times.

PHOTOS: Copyright Jenny Baptiste – see more photos on Jenny’s blog.

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Add yours
  1. 1

    Big ups JB!

    I love your photographs and I can't wait to see more about the Hasidic Jewish Series. I actually think that shooting from the car is a wonderful experience. When I lived down in New Orleans, I used to have a wide angle detachable view finder and I would ride around just looking through it, not even shooting a thing!
    When it comes to the Hasidic community observing and documenting them discretely is showing respect, especially for the men who are not allowed to come in contact with women (aside from their close family). I think that you are doing the right thing keeping some distance. Keep sharing.
    Vero (

  2. 9

    Great interview!

    Jenny Baptiste is an inspiration. We all should continue to live and express our creativity. Capture beauty, create beauty, appreciate beauty. Appreciate different methods and mediums. Her energy is unique and her spirit transcends her age.

    Baptiste, please keep taking pictures, writing, sharing, whatever, but just KEEP DOING IT!

    Kudos to you!

  3. 15
    Primp Club

    Who’s mad wife / jealous counterpart / disgruntled soul are you?
    Great entertainment!

    I read about this show coming out called “BLOGGERpunK’D”!
    Cool, I’mma join in the fun!

    If ANONYMOUS photography disgusts you:

    1) Should not be a hypocrite and make ANONYMOUS comments. That’s a contradiction. You’re mad that someone is taking anonymous pictures, but you’re taking anonymous pot shots? (Sounds like a woman, or a man with feminine tendencies! LOL!)

    2) Don’t look at it, much less spend time to comment and re-comment. (There’s that catty female hate, or a man with feminine tendencies again.)

    3) Do not fantasize about it to the point that you’ve created a whole scenario on how you ‘think’ the artist captures the images. If you are going to be a hater, do your research. This particular artist is known for her warm nature and her ability to become one with her surroundings. People are receptive to her and allow her to capture them. She can go anywhere and not meet a stranger. She is not a drive-by photographer jacking homies for their images.

    The Hasidic Jewish culture, as all cultures, is very interesting and beautiful. Photography is an art form where we all can learn and share from one another. We live in America, a country with laws that protect artists like this.

    If you are REALLY against it, write to Congress! Better yet, write “brownish backside” President OBAMA!

    Yeah, the Anonymous “brownish backside” comment was completely inappropriate. Then the ‘threat’ at the end was really not kosher! Not kosher at all!

    I’m going to leave it alone. I’m through with it!

    but for real, “Taking poorly exposed snaps ..”, are you a photographer just hating on her? Sure sounds like it to me. You just love the taste of her name all up in your mouth.

    I’m through with it


  4. 16

    How the hell can anyone approach Ms.Baptiste when she’s sat in a car (second hand) with the gear set in 1st and a fat hoof on the gas ready to burn off? Bawl as much as you like about photographers rights and all that stupidness. Taking poorly exposed snaps without permission or consent whilst hidden in a parked car is just wrong.

    The photographs are total rubbish anyhow. She knows it, the gallery system knows and by Thursday of next week by Christ, a whole heap of Jewish folks will be out hunting her sorry misdirected brownish backside down for the liberty she’s taken and most likely profited from.

    Like I said, it’s only a matter of time before things turn real nasty. Then she’ll see.

  5. 17
    Primp Club

    Oh my goodness! You know you are a star when you have haters! Congratulations! But, uniformed, uneducated haters need a session….

    …. this is also for emerging photographers to know their rights and not be discouraged by negative opinions about your method to your art form…..

    The Ten Legal Commandments of Photography

    I. Anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they want. Public places include parks, sidewalks, malls, etc. Malls? Yeah. Even though it’s technically private property, being open to the public makes it public space.

    II. If you are on public property, you can take pictures of private property. If a building, for example, is visible from the sidewalk, it’s fair game.

    III. If you are on private property and are asked not to take pictures, you are obligated to honor that request. This includes posted signs.

    IV. Sensitive government buildings (military bases, nuclear facilities) can prohibit photography if it is deemed a threat to national security.

    V. People can be photographed if they are in public (without their consent) unless they have secluded themselves and can expect a reasonable degree of privacy. Kids swimming in a fountain? Okay. Somebody entering their PIN at the ATM? Not okay.

    VI. The following can almost always be photographed from public places, despite popular opinion:

    * accident & fire scenes, criminal activities
    * bridges & other infrastructure, transportation facilities (i.e. airports)
    * industrial facilities, Superfund sites
    * public utilities, residential & commercial buildings
    * children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
    * UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Chuck Norris

    VII. Although “security” is often given as the reason somebody doesn’t want you to take photos, it’s rarely valid. Taking a photo of a publicly visible subject does not constitute terrorism, nor does it infringe on a company’s trade secrets.

    VIII. If you are challenged, you do not have to explain why you are taking pictures, nor to you have to disclose your identity (except in some cases when questioned by a law enforcement officer.)

    IX. Private parties have very limited rights to detain you against your will, and can be subject to legal action if they harass you.

    X. If someone tries to confiscate your camera and/or film, you don’t have to give it to them. If they take it by force or threaten you, they can be liable for things like theft and coercion. Even law enforcement officers need a court order.
    What To Do If You’re Confronted

    * Be respectful and polite. Use good judgement and don’t escalate the situation.
    * If the person becomes combative or difficult, think about calling the police.
    * Threats, detention, and taking your camera are all grounds for legal or civil actions on your part. Be sure to get the person’s name, employer, and what legal grounds they claim for their actions.
    * If you don’t want to involve the authorities, go above the person’s head to their supervisor or their company’s public relations department.
    * Call your local TV and radio stations and see if they want to do a story about your civil liberties.
    * Put the story on the web yourself if need be.

    For more check out:

    The Photographer’s Right is a downloadable guide that is loosely based on the Bust Card and the Know Your Rights pamphlet that used to be available on the ACLU website. It may be downloaded and printed out using Adobe Acrobat Reader. You may make copies and carry them your wallet, pocket, or camera bag to give you quick access to your rights and obligations concerning confrontations over photography. You may distribute the guide to others, provided that such distribution is not done for commercial gain and credit is given to the author.

    Get it here:

  6. 20

    “This series was all shot from her car, capturing a candid, honest look at the style and tradition of the Hasidic Jewish community.”

    This has to be the worst statement I’ve heard from a “photographer” in my entire life! What a load of bloody rubbish. This approach to taking photographs displays a shocking level of ignorance and crass stupidity.

    Irresponsible behaviour with a camera such as this is doing no favours to photography, Baptistes reputation and most of all the Hasidic Jewish community of America if not the entire world.

    A word of advice for Ms.Baptiste. You are disrespecting people. Please take a moment to think and reflect about what you are doing and most of all how others might feel if they were to see themselves portrayed without their consent.

    What you are doing is nothing more than covert spying on good people. The secure confines of a car can only protect you to a limited extent. You need to get a reality check!

  7. 21

    Jenny is a brilliant mentor a visionary in her own right. I have been blessed to pick up pieces of her energy along the way. She has so much more to offer…. Stay tuned stay inspired..

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