Reflecting on 5 years in business and some thoughts on life

It’s been 5 years since I started Jenny Tenney Photography and took the leap into full time wedding and portrait photography.  How did that go by so fast!?  I have learned so much in that time and have gone through some major life changes.  When I started out, I had just graduated from the photojournalism program at UNC Chapel Hill and was dating a handsome, smart law student named Aaron.  ; )  He encouraged me to go for it and start my business and pushed me to go full time right away so that I could get things off the ground, even though I was hesitant.  I am so glad I did!

5 years of hard work later, here I am, married to that same fella, with a precious 7 month old daughter and a thriving business that I love.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would still feel the same about my business after having a child.  I knew it would be a huge change and that my priorities would evolve, and that there was a possibility that operating a business full time would be too much to handle.  Well, it IS a lot to handle, but I love my job and appreciate the power of photos even more than I did before.  Having a baby really forces you to prioritize because you just don’t have time for everything.

I am very excited for some big steps I am about to take to expand my business and am looking forward to working with some amazing couples and families in the coming year!

Jenny Tenney

My friend, Courtney Potter Cook, took this photo of me at a wedding we shot together.

Can I be real with you all?  This year has been incredibly full of change for me.  Some of it was beyond wonderful, like the birth of my daughter, and some of it was well… unimaginably hard and horrible.  It was both the absolute best year of my life and the absolute worst.

I lost someone dear to me.  I watched this person struggle with severe mental illness and did all I could to help him and show my support and love, but he’s no longer living, and… it’s so beyond heart breaking that I can’t even express it in words.  It was traumatic and horrible and tragic, and I am still struggling to process it all.  I lost my only sibling, my precious brother.  It takes my breath away to say it.

Me and Sam at my wedding in May of 2013. Photo by Marianne Wilson Photography.

Sam was an amazing person.  He graduated at the top of his high school class and was a captain of the track and cross-country teams.  He was brilliant, passionate, and funny.  He was loyal and honest.  There is so much that I could say, about who Sam was and how much I loved him, about mental illness and how it is a disease, about how broken the mental health system is, about the horror of watching someone you love lose their mind.

However, I know people come to this blog to see beautiful photos of happy things, and this is the opposite of that, so I won’t get into the sad details.  It is helpful to talk about it, though, and it’s ok to ask me about it if you want to.  It’s part of my story and now a part of who I am.  I never want to forget my brother and what he went through.  I hope no one else has to suffer through mental illness like he did, and that no family has to hurt like mine has.  All I can do now is to be thankful for the good times I had with Sam, be thankful for the people and relationships I have now, and take the time to enjoy the simple joys of living.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned from this loss as it relates to photography.

Every once in a while, I see on facebook that one of my clients has lost someone dear to them, and oftentimes, they will post a photo of this person that I captured at a wedding.  It’s so sad to hear of a loss like this, but it makes me feel good that a photo I took reminds them of a happy time with this person they loved.  It makes me realize that these photos that I take, they are very important.  They are so much more than just a beautiful photo.  Sometimes they are what people hang onto to remember a lost loved one.  They are powerful.  The longer I am a photographer and the older I get, the more I appreciate how meaningful and powerful photos can be.

Sometimes you can feel a person’s soul shine through a photo.

The day my brother passed away, I was at my family’s mountain house for Memorial Day weekend with friends.  They had all gone to the lake and something told me I needed to have a moment at the house alone with my husband and baby.  That’s when my dad called and I learned of Sam’s death.  It’s impossible to describe the pain.  It was unimaginable.  After experiencing the absolute horror of this news in the most painful moments of my life, I found the nearest photograph of my brother, which was sitting on the mantle in the room I was in, and I clung to it.

Photos are a way to look into the past, to spend time with a person who is no longer here.

It was a photo of the two of us when we were little kids, maybe 5 and 6.  We were holding hands and he was leaning up against a tree.  I was wearing a dress with little red stars and blue stripes on it because it was almost the 4th of July, and he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans decorated with 80s style rocketships.  I didn’t have any front teeth and he had a cute little boy smile.  I don’t know who took this photo.  It was from a mini session that a photographer did for a bunch of families at the park.  It was somehow comforting to sit on the porch in a rocking chair and look at this photograph of me and my brother.  I listened to the wind chimes while I studied this photograph and felt the most indescribable pain I have ever felt.  I also felt some sense of peace, somehow.  It was good to know that Sam was not suffering anymore.

As I navigate the endless ocean of grief that I am experiencing, I have found so much comfort in photographs.  One of the first things I did after rushing straight to my mom and dad’s house was to dig through boxes and boxes of family photos with my mom, crying and smiling over photos of Sam.  I scanned all of my favorite photos and made an album of Sam.  The process was healing and allowed me to move through the grief when I felt paralyzed by it.  I asked friends for photos and spent time looking at and saving every single one they sent.  I spent hours choosing the perfect one and got it blown up and framed for the memorial service.  I put together two albums for family and friends to look at during the wake.  It was so good to see photos of Sam happy and healthy, before schizophrenia started taking him from us.

These pictures used to be fun to look at, but now they are PRECIOUS to me.  There are not many things that I feel I can’t live without, but I will forever TREASURE the photos I have of my dear brother, who I loved so very much.  I am so thankful I have them.

Now I understand how important photos can be.

So, if you see me taking a few extra moments to document a mother smiling as she watches her daughter say her vows, or a brother proudly looking at his sister during a toast, a father shedding a tear as he walks his daughter down the aisle, a grandmother’s tight hug… you know I’m doing this for you and for your family, because this moment is fleeting.  Time passes and things change, and it’s always a treasure to have photographs that capture the spirit of someone you love.

Melanie - Love to you, dear Jenny. Thank you for sharing this powerful post and beautiful photos!

Melissa Tuck - So beautiful and honest. I can’t imagine the grief you feel but I’m so happy photos can bring you so much joy and some peace. Love you! And congrats on five years!

Jo-Anne Rosario - This entry is beautiful and so heartfelt. I am truly sorry for your loss. My heart is with you and your family. I am sorry that I didn’t express this in person while I was with you this past weekend. You are an amazing person!! I am so happy that Emma has such a beautiful friend inside and out in her life. Your daughter and husband are great too!! I hope to see you all again next time I visit NC.
May Sam rest in eternal peace.
All my love,

Aurelia May - You’ve managed to put into words the deep feelings coming from heart and soul, thank you. When I was hospitalized so many times in the past four years the pictures stored on my phone and iPad lifted my spirits because I could look at the beautiful faces of my grandchildren, children and family. When doctors announced dire warnings that maybe I would not have much longer my pictures proved there was so much life left to live for. Yes, you are so right, pictures are priceless moments caught for eternity.
You have experienced profound grief but you’ve earned strength and compassion which are evident in your capabilities as a photographer, thank you Jenny and keep up the fantastic work.

Danielle - Beautiful, Jenny. I cried reading this genuine, heartfelt post, thank you so much for sharing. You’re a strong woman, keep sharing amazing photographic memories with the world!

Deanna - This is beautiful. Isn’t it strange how two things can happen in almost one moment but cause different emotions? Something precious like birth, with something heartbreaking like death. The yin and yang. A reminder that life is a cycle of good things mixed with hard things. I sincerely hope you and your family find peace in Sam’s tragedy.

Much love.

Sara - Beautiful Jenny! Thank you for sharing.

Deni McIntyre - What a beautiful post, Jenny! It puts photography in the context of life. I’m sure Sam was a lovely guy, and I’m very sorry for your loss.

Emma Thomas Breslin - Oh Jenny,
What wonderful creations you produce: photographs that last a lifetime, written words that convey complex and meaningful emotions, a daughter who is the most amazing child in the world, and a friendship that I will never take for granted. You are fantastic and raw and someone who sees the world in all its splendor–through all sorts of experiences. Sam was lucky to have you and you were lucky to have him. We love you, eternally.
Emma & Jason

Anna Varnedoe - Jenny, this post is so beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss, and can’t imagine what you are going through. It was an honor to meet your brother at your engagement party, we loved speaking with him! Thinking of you!!

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