I have really enjoyed getting to know Jo Thomas of Willow Girl Photography in recent years. The way she demonstrates love for her family, her faith and her passion for beautiful images is inspiring. If you haven’t met Jo in person you will feel as though you do after reading through this interview she did for me this month. And her photographs capture the very special way she sees the world, the ‘real’ world.
What is Willow Girl Photography?
Willow Girl Photography is, quite simply, natural photography for teenage and pre-teen girls. It is all about capturing the raw essence of the individual girl and celebrating her whole beauty. This is a time of life that is both wonderful and challenging for a girl as she grows and matures physically, emotionally and spiritually. Willow Girl Photography is about helping girls to not only be comfortable with who they are but to really celebrate themselves.
I believe that today’s society throws a great many superficial values towards our young, impressionable girls (and boys). They are confronted on a daily basis with a range of things that threaten their positive self-belief and acceptance of themselves and tempt their values. Through adolescence, often the first thing that girls become self-conscious about themselves is their physical beauty; it’s no wonder with the constant stream of human perfection in much of our media that they soon feel they just don’t measure up. Willow Girl Photography aims to give girls a means to see themselves in a unique but special light; it isn’t just about giving them beautiful photographs of themselves. The time spent with them, getting to know them and understand them so that their whole, talented self can be truly reflected in the images captured of them has a purpose. It encourages the girls to recognise that others do care about them and value the importance of the gifts they have to offer. Our girls owe it to the rest of the world to care about themselves so they can give their very best back to those around them.
We tend to be a better person and accomplish more when we feel good about ourselves. Willow Girl Photography is a stepping stone to achieving this for young girls.
When did you first start using a camera?
I first stared using a camera when I was about eight or nine; photos and the stories they told mesmorised me and I loved being able to create those stories. I had two uncles who had a real respect for photography and gave me a lot of direction and inspiration.
My love for photography was cemented when I was 15 and holidaying in NZ with my grandparents. We visited the Otago Zoo and it’s open plains of safari animals. It was one of those days that somehow manages to wind its way permanently into your heart and you never forget it. One memory I have of that day is of my Grandad Vic feeding a giraffe; he got such joy from this unique experience that I used one of my precious 24 photos to capture the moment. (In those days I had a film camera and could only take 24 photos, so moments had to be chosen wisely.) Technically, it probably was not a very good photo but I loved it for the simple story it told, the way it captured the gentleness of both my Grandfather and the tall giraffe and the happy memories it evoked in my heart. It was also then that I realised how an image was captured did matter, what I chose to include and the precise moment I choose to do that did make a difference to how memorable and effective the image was. Our whole family came to love that photograph and everyone has a copy; people who were not there to share the moment still found a beauty within the memory and story it told.
I first started using a digital camera in 2003 when my husband and I bought one (for a horrifically expensive price!) for a holiday. From there I haven’t looked back and I love the luxury of being able to “experiement” with a digital camera, though I still hold a little bit of the film mentality. I’m not one to take hundreds of pictures of the same thing and hope for the best; I still like to choose my moment as though I’m working with the deep soul of film.
How do you feel when working behind the lens of the camera? Do you see the world differently?
Mostly I feel excited when working behind the lens of the camera – the world is mine to discover and create! Oh, the possibilities – they are endless! With the excitement also comes a strange feeling of responsibility. I need to understand how my camera sees the world, it’s ability to capture light and movement and I must have the skill to see something in a unique way, to squash life into a four walled frame so that the final image feels whole and complete; it must feel ALIVE.
I think more than trying to see the world differently, I try to see it truly, honestly. With this naturally comes a uniqueness, for we all view the world a little differently. I’ve always had a great love of people and of the little random moments that seem insignificant but matter so much. Mostly, I like to see the world at it’s best or at it’s rawest. This is what I seek to find in all my images – REALNESS.
Sometimes, however, I have fun trying to create different worlds through my lens, worlds that are more playful and magical, worlds that invite day-dreaming and a refreshing break from reality.
Realness is my passion though, my big love in photography, for it’s what we live with most.
What is one photograph you wish you had taken, but didn’t get?
Oh, sadly there are too many photographs I have taken but did not capture well! Blurry, bad lighting, terrible composition – these photographs are the ones that frustrate me. A beautiful moment and I just muff it, of course I wish I had “taken it” instead of muffing it.
I always wish I had taken more photographs of my children and of the people I love, yet at the same time life is to be lived. There is no point spending all your time trying to capture and hold on to it all and not immersing yourself in it, not living and enjoying it! There are many times I have said to my husband “I wish I had my camera” and yet ultimately I’m glad I didn’t for it would just get in the way of being able to truly live the moment. The most important memories belong in our hearts.
Photographic memories are important because they give us a sense of belonging, a place in this world. We can see a world that has lived before us, where we have come from while also establishing our presence here and a memory of us for the future. They are a big part of our life and history but not our whole life.
How do you balance work and family life
Balance is always a very delicate and tricky process; most days we have it, some days it’s just a disaster! Balance is a constant process of maintenance and restoration. I’ve learnt that to achieve balance with a family (young kids!) not everything can be finished to 100% perfection. Crumbs on the floor all morning aren’t the end of the world and weetbix for tea is better than nothing. I think the worst I have done is wear my apron out in public (unknowingly) and once I walked into Safeway with a grotty tea towel over my shoulder – it’s my second skin and I forgot it was there. Sometimes exhaustion just wins out! You have to pick what is important and be prepared to overlook some things. In my home good meals (I haven’t done the weetbix for tea very often!), clean, dry washing, completed homework, and a respectable looking house at least once a week is all I aspire to now! I’m very blessed to have a supportive husband and this has a huge impact on balancing work and family; it’s all about teamwork! We take care of our health by eating well, exercising and spending quality time together as a family and as a couple. Giving each other time out to do our own thing not family or work related keeps us energised and refreshed. Remembering to be thankful and grateful for all that we have been blessed with helps keep life in perspective and prevents the unimportant chaos from taking over; I attribute this outlook solely to my faith. My faith also encourages me to fill our day with love, kindness, hope and bucket loads of patience and forgiveness – life would never regain it’s easily upset balance without this!
Willow Girl Photography has been established to cater for a small market; it is something that is manageable for me. I can only manage one or two shoots a month at the most, so this works perfectly; work does not disrupt the delicate balance! Plus I love it, so it hardly feels like “work”.
I’ve also learnt the necessity of saying “no”. I’m still working on that one actually…. it’s a project in process!