Jenny Desrosiers is a music, creative portraiture and lifestyle photographer originally from the metro Boston area living in Los Angeles who started taking photos as a way to deal with her speech impediment as a young teenager since it was easier for her to just show people images instead of having to fight through her stutter to communicate. She ended up making a career off of it. Her identity as the child of Haitian immigrants is also a big driving force behind her photography.
How do you navigate the music photography industry professionally on a day to day basis, as a female with a speech impediment?
It’s taken a lot of work but I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I realize if someone responds immaturely to the fact that I stutter that’s a reflection of their own inner world. It’s not often I run into someone who laughs in my face or makes fun of me because most adults are very respectful and patient but occasionally there will be that one person who will have a nasty reaction or dismiss me completely due to my stuttering. I’ve been stuttering since I was about four years old so I know which words and syllables I have issues with so I’m able to navigate conversations with that in mind. The music industry is a lot of networking and social events so it’s something I can’t avoid so I’ve just had to adapt. Luckily for me, my parents, siblings, and grandma would always tell me that they’ll wait for me to speak, no matter who long it takes me because it’s basic human decency. That’s the expectation I go into every conversation with; if someone genuinely wants to get to know me and hear me, they’ll show me basic human decency and give me space and time to speak and if not, it wasn’t aligned to be. Of course, I have my days where it does get to me because that’s human nature but I have a pretty strong support system that helps me remember that I am who I am and there’s nothing wrong with me or how I communicate.
In terms of your Haitian-American identity, what are your personal challenges in living in America as a child of Haitian immigrants, and if you had to envision a better reality, what would it look like?
People have a lot of misconceptions about Haitians and Haiti so I’ve had to deal with a lot of ignorance from non-Haitian people. That all Haitians do voodu, we eat cats, we eat mud cakes, have AIDS etc. Just generally extremely ignorant narratives. And with the current government administration pushing these stereotypes, it’s dangerous. As many children of immigrants know, there are a lot of things you deal with as a first-generation American. Raising your siblings while your parents worked, being raised by other relatives when your parents would go back to handle business, not understanding every aspect of American culture, never feeling American enough or Haitian enough (or wherever else you may be from). The biggest pressure for me is feeling like I have to make sure that my parent’s sacrifices they made to come to this country will be worth it in the end. That’s why I work as hard as I do. I don’t take no for an answer because of it. I moved from Boston to Los Angeles because of it. My parents came to the US not knowing a word of English with no money, it would be an insult if I didn’t chase my dreams to my fullest extent.
I was raised to be very proud of my culture and my identity because the first piece of history Haitian children are taught is that their ancestors were part of the only successful slave rebellion which leads to Haiti becoming the first free black nation in the West. There’s a sense of pride you can’t take from us. But along with this strong pride in my roots that I have, the current reality is complex. If anything I wish that people wouldn’t be so ignorant. It’s okay to have roots from somewhere else, it doesn’t make you less “American” than the next person. People talk about things they don’t understand due to ignorance.
You've had to overcome a lot of fears, challenges and anxieties to pursue your passion of photography. What would you advise anyone who has a dream but is fearful that they are not worthy or good enough?
There’s always going to be obstacles no matter what path you may choose to go down because in order to level up, you have to drop a couple of levels first; it’s all about balance. I took 2 years off of shooting concerts because the stress of moving to Los Angeles on top of various acts of mass violence that had been happening in public spaces put me in such a state of anxiety I could barely leave the house except to go to work. But I still would tell myself that I was worth it every single day and my dreams were worth it until my words manifested into reality and I got back into doing what I wanted. Everyone deals with imposter syndrome to some extent or another doesn’t matter how confident they may seem on the outside. You’re always going to walk into a space and feel (even if it’s a small voice) that you don’t deserve it. Especially as a black creative. Even more so as a black female creative. It’s all about knowing what you want is worth it and YOU are deserving to be in those spaces. Everything in this physical realm is connected whether you believe it or not and if you weren’t supposed to be there, you wouldn’t be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
What do you hope people feel when engaging with your photography?
I take photos to tell stories. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a speech impediment which can make communication difficult at times and that's why I originally started taking photos, it’s easier to show someone how I feel or what I see rather than to physically speak. I let my photos speak for themselves. I try to capture not only emotion but the souls of my subject. Their energy and raw essence of who they are, I try to bring that to life in my photos through my lens.
What is your deepest intention with your photography?
The only thing I really want to accomplish is to show other little black girls that photography is not an inaccessible career. The disparity between black photographers and non-black photographers is very drastic due to the fact that photography is such an expensive career to pursue. Between the actual camera, lenses, memory cards, batteries, editing software, cost of transportation, it can add up quickly. A lot of us get completely left out of the career due to economic imbalances in the system which makes it hard for a lot of us to generate income that lasts rather than surviving paycheck to paycheck. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Eventually, I’d love to mentor, teach to shoot, teach others how I accomplished what I did. Even out the playing field as much as I can. Especially in hip-hop and R&B, the genre I do most of my work in, most of the photographers who are shooting the artists don’t always look like the people writing the music and audience the artist has in mind when writing these songs and that’s something I want to change.
What has been the most defining moment of your photography career so far and what are the lessons that came with it?
The thing about concert photography is that a lot of people have really expensive gear that they either own or rent. I don’t come from money, my parents can’t help me pay for things, and I wasn’t making a whole lot of money when I started shooting music because I was paying for my college supplies, books, etc. Having to be in the photo pit with a starter DSLR and a basic kit lens while other photographers had top tier professional gear, two camera bodies, multiple lenses put everything in perspective for me quick. It taught me to get really good at timing and composition, especially because I wasn’t shooting with a fast lens and artists move around a lot on stage. As long as the photographer is talented, the gear couldn’t matter less.
As a female photographer in a male-dominated industry, how do you occupy the space in such a way that your presence is acknowledged and felt?
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, especially as a BLACK woman in an industry like this, people are going to test your worthiness regardless of how much experience you have. It’s this vibe people give off that you don’t belong there no matter how qualified you may be because you are a black woman. Or you’re not as serious of a photographer or are doing it to get to the artists as a groupie. When I first started shooting six years ago, I was super fly-on-the-wall-esque, used to stand in the same spot for the first three songs. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Once you gain that confidence in yourself and your work, that’s usually when people begin to try to get you to make yourself smaller and question your abilities. I can’t even count how many times another male photographer will try to tell me how to shoot or I’m using the “wrong” lens, comments that aren’t needed. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and picking apart someone because of a perceived threat. I’ve been told that I’m “not open to criticism” or I “can’t take advice” which I can. But every female photographer knows exactly what I’m referring to so the issue isn’t isolated to just me. People tend to respect you more when you don’t let them push you around. Don’t ever shrink yourself up to not occupy space. If you weren’t meant to be there, you wouldn’t be. As simple as that. Don’t shrink yourself to fuel someone else’s ego. I was always taught to be assertive, keep your head up, strong eye contact and truly believe you’re meant to be there because you are.
Photo of Jenny by Exquisite Eye