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Interview with Jackie Sabol Andress

We spoke with Jackie Sabol Andress about her lifelong love of photography, as well as the challenges of trying to capture angsty teenagers on film, and her passion for shooting the abandoned and the decayed. Read on to learn more about Jackie!

1 jackie1.JPG
jackiea2714 Instagram.JPG Jackie Sabol Andress @jackiea2714
Find Jackie Sabol Andress online

Here we are meeting in New Holland. Do you live in New Holland?

I work in New Holland.

Where do you live?

I live in Fivepointville. Nobody knows where that is.

Yeah, where is that?

(laughs) It’s by Terre Hill, Adamstown, Bowmansville, Ephrata…

Why is it called Fivepointville?

1 sorry Why is it called Fivepointville?

There are five roads that intersect. The town is really tiny. There are five roads that come together at a stop sign, and that's about all there is to the town!

So doing a photowalk there might not take forever?

It would take about three seconds!

Is that where you grew up?

No, I'm not from here. I'm not from Lancaster. I’m from Berwick. It's north of the Poconos in a coal mining region…not far from Bloomsburg. It’s beautiful, but it’s a depressed area. You need to be strong and tough to make it there.

How long ago did you move to Lancaster?

I went to college at Millersville. I graduated from there in 1987, and I’ve been here ever since! I got a job in New Holland through the career placement center at Millersville. I figured I’d take it for a year or so to get some job experience, and then move on. And here I am today!

Were you taking pictures before Lancaster?

Sometimes, like normal people do. If we would go on a trip to the beach, or something like that. Vacations, holidays, birthdays...

So what lit the spark?

I had kids. I started taking pictures of my kids every thirty seconds like, “Look, look at that expression! He’s two minutes older!”

What were you using to snap at that point?

At that point, I was using film, so it was not maybe so excessive. But, I did take pictures pretty often, because you know babies, they change so fast. Then my husband got me a digital camera right before my second son was born, and I started using that instead of film.

Was this a matter of developing?

1 soccer Was this a matter of developing?

Well, he was always into technology, and digital cameras were the new thing at that time (my son is 13 now). He got one that was small; it was only 3 megapixels I think, and it was terrible! My first baby pictures of my second son are awful! And, I didn’t take very many because I was used to film, and I was stingy. I would only take one at a time until I started figuring out that this doesn't cost me anything! Then I started taking millions.

One Christmas after that, my husband got me a Sony DSC-F828. It was digital, but it wasn't a true DSLR. You couldn’t change the lenses, but you could put additions on top of the lens. The camera was pretty good at the time, but the add-on lenses didn't work that well at all.

Were you noticing a better quality?

Yeah, I think that was 8 megapixels, or something like that? So the quality looked a lot better versus the 3 megapixels I was used to. Then my oldest son started playing midget football, and I discovered I could go on the field during the games and take pictures. There was a dad of another player who did it, and he told me to come on down. He was my idol, because he was taking all these amazing action shots of the kids playing. I wanted to be like him. I coveted his camera. (laughs)

As luck would have it, he was looking to upgrade his camera, and my quasi-digital camera was on its last legs right at the same time. His was just a Canon rebel, but to me it was like, “AHHHH!” (sings). He asked if I wanted to buy it, and my answer was something like, ”Oh my gosh, yeah!” So, I bought his camera, and all his lenses. Basically, his whole kit. Then I would spend my entire Sundays taking midget football pictures. All the teams, little D-team kids through A-team, all day, every weekend!

What did you do with all those photos?

I would give them to the parents of the little football players. After spending the whole day taking them, I’d go home and go through them…get rid of the nasty ones. There were a lot of awful ones! It took me hours. It basically took up my whole weekend. I did do some cropping to bring the kids in closer, and to get rid of distractions. I hate distractions in my photos. I didn’t have the capability to do much editing beyond that, though. A lot of them, I would put on Facebook, or I would email them to the kids’ parents.

Were you getting a lot of feedback that way?

Oh my gosh! The parents loved it, and I loved it because they loved it. It was great, and it made me feel good.

And getting some shots of your son too right?

Yeah, getting shots of my son, but I was trying so hard to get pictures of all the other kids that sometimes I’d come home and realize that I didn’t have any pictures of my own son, John! But yeah, I did get some good ones of him. It was so great, because I really got to know the kids that way.

The dad I bought the camera from was much better at taking the action shots than I was. I don’t really know the game of football. He knew where to anticipate the shot and I didn’t. Anyway, I was more focused on shooting all the kids on the sidelines, up close and personal, really catching their expressions. I loved that!

A little more of an artistic style.

Yeah, yeah! I loved it. Some of the kids would really ham it up for the camera, some were really concentrated on the game and focused, and some were totally oblivious to everything…picking clover. I just loved capturing their different personalities in the photos.

That evolved your photography a bit?

Yeah! I was thinking, “This is awesome!” So much fun.

Where did you branch off from there then?

1 girl Where did you branch off from there then?

Well, I was taking football pictures of my older son, and soccer pictures of my younger son. I took basketball pictures, too, but they were not as good, because they were inside. It was mostly all pictures of my kids at sports, and with their friends. I also took a lot at school functions, and at just about anyplace the kids were. Then the kids started with, “You can’t post these pictures of me on Facebook!”

Why’s that?

Because they became teenagers! I was disallowed by my own children to post pictures of them, because now they were embarrassed. I was too embarrassing! As they grew up, they didn’t want me taking their pictures, and they didn’t need me around as much. Then, I needed something else to do, something else to take pictures of, so I just started taking pictures of things that couldn’t tell me no…couldn’t tell me to go away. I moved on to more inanimate objects.

What were the first things you shot?

Mostly, I was just taking a lot of landscapes. Typical Lancaster county scenes. Fields, barns...

What lead you to that?

I’m a country girl at heart, and I’ve just always loved the scenery here. I’ve always thought it’s beautiful here. I guess it was just natural for me. I’ve always liked stuff like that…country scenes. When I still lived at home, my dad used to tease me when I took pictures like that. Not really artistic, and no skill involved, just a kid taking pictures of a corn field.

Did you take a lot of pictures growing up?

Not really, not like I do now. I mean, I would take photos occasionally, but they would mostly be things like birthday parties, and Christmas. I would sometimes take a picture of a field, or a tree, or a flower. I think that was weird to my parents. I think in their minds they were thinking, “There are no people in that picture. Why are you taking a picture of that?”

When you started taking your landscape shots. Were you sharing those on Facebook?

1 weeds When you started taking your landscape shots. Were you sharing those on Facebook?

I did sometimes, but not so much. I mostly just shared photos of my kids, and friends, on Facebook. Not too many “artsy” ones. I really only started sharing those during the first Lancastergram contest. That’s when I really started sharing them more as artistry.

I always feel like I can’t call myself an artist, or a photographer. That’s for the people who know what they’re doing. I feel like I’m not a real photographer. I really don’t have any technical knowledge at all; I’m all self-taught. I’m sort of like a guy who can play the guitar, but can’t read music. I take photos more by feel, and emotion, than by any type of knowledge. So, I don’t feel justified in calling myself a photographer. I feel like I'm a fraud if I do that. I’m trying to learn to use the word when describing myself, to give myself permission, but it’s hard for me.

How was the transition from sharing pictures just with other parents to sharing your photos more broadly?

It was kind of weird for me to publicly share my photos just for the joy of sharing them. It feels a little narcissistic to me. Who do I think I am? And, who would want to look at my photos anyway? But, a lot of my friends were telling me that my pictures were good. So, I figured I might as well go ahead and give it a try.

And it worked out pretty well for you!

Yeah! That first time I entered Lancastergram, one of my picture was a finalist. I decided, “Oh this is pretty cool, and fun!”

Were you sharing on both Facebook and Instagram?

For the artsy stuff, I started mostly just on Instagram. Then, as I got more comfortable with just sharing photos as pure photography, sort of an art form, I started sharing them on Facebook, too. I hadn’t put them on Facebook before, because I mostly used that as a way to communicate, to my family and friends, things like what we did this weekend, and here are my cute kids...things that were going on in our lives.

Instagram was more like, “Look what I saw!” It felt a bit boastful to me to be posting photos as “art”, but still, I pushed that feeling aside, and I did it, because it was fun. Then, Tyler (Deiter) started the Lancaster County Instagramers, and “bingo”!

You had an outlet!

Yeah! Everybody else was doing it, and it was so fun, because everybody is so nice and supportive in that group. No drama…just pure support, and enjoyment.

This led to quite a few photowalks you’ve done.

Yes, I love them!

What do you love about them?

1 j2.JPG What do you love about them?

I love spending those hours just shooting with no other agenda, and not feeling guilty…like I should be doing something else…accomplishing something. And, I love that I’ve met so many like-minded people.

The first photowalk I went to, I was so nervous. I’m shy, and not good at interacting with people I don’t know well. And, now I was going to be with all these people that were real photographers, and I was just me. I didn’t know anybody. I was expecting to be so embarrassed, because I didn’t know anything about photography. But, it turned out that everyone was super friendly, and not judgmental at all. I got to talk to people who understand what’s going on in my weird brain. I’m just a little obsessed with taking photos. Normal people would be like, “You took a picture of a rock???” Well, yeah! It was a cool looking rock! But now, here were people who do the same thing. They get it, and they understand. They’re all such nice people.

So your preconceptions were proven wrong?

Completely.

Would you consider yourself an introvert, or an extrovert?

Introvert, totally!!! If I’m honest with myself, one of the things I like about taking photos is that I can be someplace, appear sort of social…fairly normal. Yet, I only have to interact with others as much as I want. If it becomes too intimidating, or too overwhelming, I can sort of hide behind the camera.

It’s funny, because a couple of times I’ve been told by fellow members of the Lancaster County Instagramers Group that I don’t seem like I’m uncomfortable getting to know new people. But, the reality of it is that photography, and these photowalks, have forced me to step out way of my comfort zone, and interact with people more than I would normally be comfortable with. It’s been really good for me. I’ve learned more than just photography skills from this group!

You’re also part of the Millersville camera club?

I am. I’ve been to their meetings.

How many meetings have you gone to?

1 feathers How many meetings have you gone to?

I don't know…maybe six or so, and a few photowalks with them. Their meetings are really interesting, and I love them. They’re very informative, but whenever they start talking, they’re talking way over my head. There seems to be a lot of professional, and very technically-oriented, photographers with them, and I’m like “I took this photo, because I thought it looked nice.” But, I did get one of my photos published in their Annual Photo Book, so that was cool!

Are you still shooting with your Canon?

It's still a Canon, but now I have 7D MarkII. It’s so great! I’m in heaven!

What differences do you notice with this camera over your other ones?

It feels good. It's heavy, and it feels solid. This one is 20 megapixels, so the picture quality is amazing. I love everything about it. I’m constantly learning new things I can do with it. It can shoot, in the right conditions, 10 frames per second. It's like a machine gun! I get so many pictures at my son’s soccer games. Too many sometimes!

What do you do with your photos?

Nothing! (laughs) They’re all just on my computer. The people pictures I take, those I always share with the parents. I either email them, or put them on Facebook, or Shutterfly, for the parents. The artsy ones, I just put them on Instagram, and now Facebook too, because I got braver. Now, a lot of my friends and relatives say, “We look forward to your picture every morning!” That makes me feel really good!

Oh, I have had some of them printed on canvas, and they hang in my house. It’s fun to have my own art on my walls. I figure, I may as well have what I like to look at. I have given some as gifts, and donated a few to a school charity silent auction, and they seemed to be a hit! I feel kind of weird giving them though, like why would someone want to have this? It seems sort of self-promoting to give them to others. Friends tell me I should sell them, but I doubt anyone would want to buy them. There are too many better real photographers out there for that.

Are you shooting in RAW?

Mostly I don’t, because I don’t have that kind of space on my computer. And I’m not selling, or doing anything with them really, so it’s not really necessary. I mostly just give them to kids’ parents, who will maybe put a 4x6 print on their desk at work.

I’ve shot a few things for my marketing department at work, and I did one shoot for a friend’s employer. Those went on a trade show booth, and I was overly-ecstatic to have some of my photos displayed in Philadelphia. Some of the ones I shot at my work are going to be on a booth in a limited number of Walmarts across the country. I’m like a kid at Christmas about those…all dreamy, and can’t stop thinking about it! Those I did shoot in RAW.

Do you have an editing process with your photography?

1 pumpkin Do you have an editing process with your photography?

I do a lot of cropping, because I can’t stand half-people, and other distractions in my pictures…I hate that! My sister says I’m a photo snob, but I don’t like the back of someone’s leg, or a dog’s behind, in my pictures.

I did recently get Photoshop Elements 14, but I don’t really know how to use it very well yet. I’m not very good at it. I’m currently learning it as I go. That’s one of my goals. Sometimes, I’ll play with the contrast, brightness, simple stuff like that. Nothing too crazy. I do like to tone down the saturation sometimes. I like that effect.

When you go through Instagram, do you use their tools and filters?

I like their filters, and I do use them. I think they’re fun, and there are a couple of them that really enhance the picture without being too crazy.

There’s a lot of variety in your portfolio now, what are you finding you like? If you could shoot anywhere this weekend, where would you be?

My photos aren’t usually planned. I just snap what I see along my route. I love taking pictures of stuff that people wouldn't normally notice is beautiful. That’s really my passion. I have a lot of pictures of weeds, and flowers that are missing petals, or are wilting, and dying. But, they’re still beautiful. Bugs, leaves, dried up stuff. I tend to keep my photos pretty simple, even minimalistic. I don’t usually have a lot going on in my shots. One dead weed, and that’s about it. (laughs)

You can see beauty where others can’t. Does this speak to your personality?

Maybe, I guess. I really like capturing the details that are not noticed. People will drive by a place every day and not notice the clover, the chicory, the Queen Anne’s Lace, and it’s so beautiful! Weeds can be very pretty. I believe that if we had to pay for dandelions, people would love them.

I’ve had friends tell me they noticed something pretty on their drive and think, “Jackie would stop and take a picture of that!” It makes me feel good that maybe some of my friends are now noticing things they wouldn’t have previously seen. There’s so much quiet beauty out there.

I’m also really drawn to abandoned farms, and old buildings…broken down cars, and junk. I’m always wondering what the story is behind them. How did they get to that point? Sometimes, my friends say my pictures are sad because a lot of them are dying, or dead, or abandoned. But, for me, it’s the total opposite of sad. Even though they’re just weeds, or wilted, or abandoned, or rusty, there’s still a lot of beauty there. I do sometimes worry that I’m somehow related to Wednesday Addams, though!

You’re finding a different angle, like the smoking Santa!

1 santa You’re finding a different angle like the smoking Santa!

(laughs) Oh, that Santa! I debated about that picture a lot because I thought it was really cool, but I’m an obedient child, and that was pushing the envelope for me. Then, I decided it’s a cool picture. It’s gritty, and raw, and maybe questionable, but there he was, and it’s real! It’s real life.

And you were just capturing him.

He was happy, and he was there, and completely willing to have me take his photo! He was actually quite jolly! I didn’t really want any little kids to see it, but then I thought, if there are young little kids looking on Instagram, hopefully their parents would be aware, and would tell them it’s not the real Santa. Plus, really, they could drive by and see him in person on the street.

What are some of your objectives? What are you looking to shoot in the near future?

I haven’t been shooting a lot lately!

Why is that?

It’s just been so rainy, and the timing’s been off for me. There was a photowalk this weekend, but I couldn’t make it, because we had family stuff. It's just been timing mostly, that's all. I’ve been shooting my son playing basketball, but I’m not very good at that.

How come?

It's dark, because it’s inside a gym. I’m not good at fast movement in poor lighting.

Have you tried flash photography?

1 7up Have you tried flash photography?

I don't have a standalone flash, I only have the flash that’s on my camera, so not so much. I kind of want to get into that, though. I have so much that I want to learn! The more I photograph, the more I figure out that I don’t know anything at all. There’s so much to learn.

A lot of self-teaching?

Yeah, I learn from a lot of mistakes, and a lot of bad photos! Zach Heaton and Dave Berk have taught me a lot…little tidbits here and there. I’ve learned so much from the Instagram Group. And, I learn a lot just from looking at other’s art and trying to imitate it. There are so many great photographers out there.

How does your family react to your hobby?

I think they think I’m nuts!

Why would that be?

I drive them crazy. My kids are so sick of me taking photos. My teenage son told me, with the disdain that only a teenager can muster, “Mom, your little hobby is not fun for anyone else!” But, my husband is supportive. My parents and sisters are like, “Can you put that camera down?!”

Are you the family documentarian?

Oh yeah, I shoot everybody and they get sick of me and say, “Don't post that anywhere!” I think it’s good to capture the family though! I guess I’m somehow trying to preserve time with my family pictures. My dad’s a really good sport, and drives me to all kinds of remote places, and waits in his truck while I take too many pictures of bizarre stuff. And my mom “likes” all of my photos on Facebook without fail.

What other tools or social media do you use to share photos?

Instagram and Facebook, that's pretty much it. Sometimes, I’ll put the soccer team photos up on Shutterfly so there’s some privacy. I don’t publically post pictures of kids whose parents I don’t know, and have permission from.

(interview continued below)

1 bleeding

It can be a challenge sharing photos.

Yeah, I get kind of nervous with sharing people photos. I don’t take a lot of people pictures, so I don’t know what you can share, and what you can’t, and what you should, and what you shouldn’t.

Is that what’s holding you back from sharing people pictures?

Sort of…I’m shy about approaching people directly, and I am not very good at being stealthy. I’m too obvious. I feel kind of weird coming up to people and asking if I can take their picture. Plus, then they’re not natural and real anyway.

If you could be invisible, then would it not be a problem?

1 drummer If you could be invisible then would it not be a problem?

If I was invisible, I would love it! I love capturing realness, real people, and their real expressions. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I like capturing facial expressions. Not someone posing, like for a wedding photographer. That never interested me at all, but real people on the street, like the Naughty Santa, or a street guy playing drums on a bucket…that I could really get into if I was invisible!

What about animals?

I love animals, and you’ll see some of those on my Instagram, too. We have a lot of pets, and I like wildlife…maybe excessively. As a kid, I wanted to be vet.

Are you looking forward to this year’s Lancastergram?

Yeah, I love it!

Seems to be more competitive this year; lots of new photographers on the scene.

There seem to be more and more joining. I just love it. I love seeing everyone’s photos. We can all take the same picture, at the same place, even of the same object, and there are a lot of differences in the photos. I love seeing all the different perspectives. I’m still always amazed by that.

Is this your main hobby?

Oh, yes!

Has photography opened your eyes more or have you always been like this?

I think I always had a real appreciation of the little details of nature. Nature is where I go when I need to be alone. When I was a kid suffering from “teenagerness”, I would go to a creek, or sit in the woods, and just be quiet with nature. I wasn't photographing it at that time, but the love of it has always been in me. I guess it shows in the pictures that I take now; it's what I love. There’s an Instagram tag I like: #seekthesimplicity. I guess that about sums me up.

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