“Photography is a tool for healing, and really it is how I’ve been able to heal from cancer. I mean, look, I’m a boudoir photographer with no boobs! Right?” -Jen Rosenbaum
Jen Rosenbaum was a stay-at-home mom trying to have another baby. She suffered miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and went through surgeries. By 2008, her daughter was in nursery school and they were no longer going to music classes, gym classes and baby yoga classes.
“You might know me well enough to know I’m not really one to sit around and do nothing,” she said during a recent interview over Zoom. “Nor am I really the type, and this has nothing against anybody that is, I’m not cooking and cleaning and like doing the laundry all day. But the truth is when my daughter started going to school I was home a lot more and I just found myself in a place where I was really suffering emotionally. You know, everybody was having babies and I couldn’t at the time and it was just very frustrating very depressing.”
About a year before, Jen had purchased a camera. She admits she had no idea how to use it. “It just kind of sat there and gathered dust, and I really didn’t have time to figure out how to use it so I decided one day while my daughter was in school that I was going to teach myself how to use the camera.”
She remembers, “How many times can you go to the gym in the mall, you know, so I sat down one day I put a glass on the table, I took a picture I changed the knob I took another picture I turned the knob, it took another picture and I just taught myself how the knobs worked and what changing them did. I didn’t know an f/stop from a shutter speed or anything like that.”
Jen kept working with the camera controls and over time, learned what they did and how each one changed the image. “I just kind of taught myself by doing that over and over,” Jen recalls, “So that was in 2008. That was definitely during the time period of moms with a camera started rising… okay and I’m going to use that term, even though I hate that term, ‘momtographer.'”
Jen is adamant that calling women photographers, ‘momtographer,’ is demeaning and hurtful. “I don’t know why ‘mom’ has to be in anything. Does it matter that I gave birth to a child? I’ve never heard a guy called a ‘dadtographer’ or a man boss like women are called lady boss.”
She says, “I don’t know why we need that as a qualifier. But that ways what I was. I was a momtographer. I was definitely taking pictures of the kids. I also think that as the momtographer title implies, that we as women, didn’t know the technicalities of photography, we just were taking pictures that we thought looked good and you know what? There is a part of that is very true. I’m still not the most technical photographer and I’m okay with it because I know what looks good what feels good and what I’m trying to show.”
Jen started by shooting a couple small weddings and found that she hated it and believed she was really bad at it. Then, in early 2009 A friend, another momtographer called her saying that two sisters asked her to do boudoir photography and asked Jen to assist her. “I went with her and I just fell in love with the work,” Jen said, “and when I came home I said I want to be a boudoir photographer when I grow up!”
That encounter changed everything for Jen Rosenbaum. She went home, turned her bedroom into a studio and her basement into an office. Four years later she put up a website and became a boudoir photographer.
Jen talked about beginning her business saying, “Honestly, I had no business doing that, I mean I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to light. I didn’t know how to pose. I didn’t know any business, I knew none of it.” Jen continues, “It was a good thing that I was stupid and naive, because I just said this is what I’m going to do.”
People told her she couldn’t build a business on just boudoir because, at the time, everybody was shooting everything. Jen told them, “Watch me. This is what I want to do. To this day, I have not taken another job shooting another thing ever in my career. I only shoot boudoir”
Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 41. It became her mission to educate, advocate and normalize breast cancer. Breast cancer is the number one cancer diagnosis in the world.
“I was faced with a double mastectomy.” She says, “I looked at pictures online to see what I am going to look like after [the surgery] and it was… horrifying. Horrifying.”
The following photos might be NSFW
Jen is like most photographers who don’t like being in front of the camera. In spite of that, she has chronicled her own journey from mastectomy through reconstruction. Now her work is mostly with breast cancer survivors.
“It’s really become a mission of healing for me, it allows me to see their power,” she says. “
“There are times I’ll photograph a woman I’m like, ‘oh my god, she’s so amazing, she’s so powerful. I want to be like that.’ And then somebody will say to me you are like that.”
Jen Rosenbaum and I have worked together on the American Photo Model Shoot series of events. It was great to catch up with her and share her story with On Photography readers. She created and runs the Boudoir School® where aspiring photographers — both women and men — can learn how to do this amazing work.
Sources: Jen’s website
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