Finding someone born and raised in California is a somewhat rare occurrence. Estimates are that the number of “native” Californians still residing in the state is approximately 53.8% as of 2010. It is even rarer that in a small town like Idyllwild you find someone who, in addition to being a California native, at the age of 30 has spent 26 years of their life living here.
Phyllis Brown, Jenny’s mother, moved with Jenny from the Palos Verdes area to Idyllwild where her family owned a restaurant. “My mother, my grandmother and my aunt worked there as well. It was called O’Sullivan’s. It is where Jo’An’s is now,” Jenny explained. “I pretty much grew up in the town; I mean the town kind of raised me. It takes a village to raise a child so to speak.” Jenny was 4 years old at the time. The restaurant was open from 1989 to 1996.
She attended grades kindergarten through eighth at Idyllwild School; she went on to Hemet High School, then the failed charter school that was established in Idyllwild in 2002; she spent her junior year at Idyllwild Arts and her senior year being home-schooled under the Helen Hunt Jackson home-school program, from which she graduated early. It was in her freshman year of high school that Jenny started taking photos with a camera her father had bought her on a vacation in Colorado.
After high school, Jenny was accepted into the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography. “I went up [to Brooks Institute] and did a tour. It’s in Santa Barbara and it was gorgeous. I was actually accepted to go and I was all excited, but then the reality set in of the price and having to figure out how to live in Santa Barbara at 18 and go to school at the same time. It was definitely an exciting thing and their campuses are pretty amazing, but the timing wasn’t right,” Jenny said. She opted instead to attend the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, which she did for a time. “School was never my strong point, the arts were; I did great in the arts, but academics, I would just get lost in most academics,” Jenny explained.
In 2007, a call from Becky Clark, Publisher of the Idyllwild Town Crier, would prove life changing for Jenny. “My first photography job was the Town Crier. I had done a couple of little things here and there, I did some freelance work before that, portraits, things like that, but my actual first job was with Becky,” Jenny explained. The work ignited a passion in her. “I love doing breaking news photos: photojournalism. I’ve tried a lot of things — real estate photos, weddings, portraits, pets, it goes on and on —but photojournalism was something I actually didn’t have any experience in, but it is what I love to do,” she said.
The Mountain Fire in July of 2013 and the Silver Fire in August of 2013 would provide Jenny with a crash course in the danger and excitement of photojournalism. “There were a handful of times with both fires that I found myself in situations where I was thinking ‘this is not a good place for me to be, I need to move now,’ because you really can’t judge when you’re there where the fire is at,” she said, recalling the experience. “It [a fire] can be very disorienting. It can shift, and you have no idea how long the wall of flames is. I mean, it can be a mile long and you wouldn’t know it.” Jenny’s photos were among the most compelling images captured of the fires and several were aired on CNN in an interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer on July 18, 2013. The video of that interview can be found on YouTube at http://youtu.be/cJ_0bTwbVqA. Jenny originally hoped to publish a book about the fires and started a Kickstarter campaign (Kickstarter is an online crowd-funding platform), but failed to reach the $10,000 needed. There is still a possibility, she confesses, that the book will be made. “In fact someone just talked to me over the 4th of July and said, ‘When are we going to do that book?’” she said.
On January 7 Jenny experienced a loss that could have sidelined her photo journalism career. While working on a freelance assignment in Palm Springs, taking photos for a real estate company, Jenny woke to find that the hatchback on her car had been jimmied and all of her photography equipment stolen. The value of the loss was over $12,000 and she was devastated. But it was the reaction of the Idyllwild community that was truly shocking to Jenny. “One of the first things she [Becky] said when I saw her … after the whole theft happened, was ‘let’s do a fundraiser, I’ll put it together, we’ll do an auction and all of these things,’” Jenny said. “Everyone was so generous in their donations that it wasn’t necessary. I was completely shocked. I wasn’t expecting that. It was actually a little difficult to accept on that level because I just couldn’t believe it, I just really couldn’t.” In less than a month, the Idyllwild community had come together and donated more than $12,000 to replace Jenny’s stolen equipment.
In her search to replace her photography equipment, Jenny came across a post by Anthony Carbajal explaining that he needed to sell all of his photography equipment due to his being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Jenny emailed him and he responded, “I have all of these weddings set up for 2014 and I have all of these deposits I have to pay back and I have to pay not only thousands of dollars in deposits, but I have to pay medical bills,” Jenny recalled. “I know how it feels to be in that kind of situation and to not have the money. So, in turn, that money ended up going to somebody who really needed it and it was given to me when I really needed it.” Jenny purchased a Canon 1DX camera body from Carbajal. To view an online video created by Carbajal visit www.anthonycarbajal.com.
For the time being, Jenny plans to stay the course. “I plan to stick around town and I would like to continue to do what I am doing really. I just started doing marketing work at Idyllwild Arts. I’ve got that and my freelancing and between all of the photo gigs I can hopefully pay the bills. I was thinking about it earlier and it is something I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she said. “You know they say if you do something you love you never work a day in your life. It’s true. It’s what I love to do. I can’t see myself doing anything else really. If I can still get that shot that I know is a good shot, it doesn’t matter what the subject is, I still get excited about it.”