Smile Politely

Inside a photographer’s studio

Jessie Starkey has always had an interest in photography. With a strong focus in landscape and weather photography, Starkey has received many awards, including from Illinois Associated Press, and she frequently sells prints of these images, the very first of which sold at the 2nd Annual Boneyard Arts Festival. 

During our interview, I asked Starkey how she would describe herself as a photographer. “I consider myself to be a balanced photographer of freelance, weather, portrait, photojournalism, still life, lifestyle, and many more. I shoot what excites my soul” Starkey said.

Despite her passion for photography, Starkey hasn’t always pursued photography full-time. Following high school graduation, she attended beauty school in Champaign and became a hair dresser for 16 years, creating a business from home. Photography eventually became the main focus, however, and her hairstyle business transformed into a photography business. As the photography business grew, Starkey began to photograph clients outside of her own home. Using an old farmhouse pantry as a make-shift studio, she was able to continue to explore her creativity and talents.

Running a business from a farm has its perks, but it became limiting. With a hope to expand, Starkey decided to take a leap and buy a building in downtown Gifford in order to renovate and open up her own photography studio. The building was originally an electrical shop built in 1974, and Starkey and her family have taken the challenge to completely gut out the facility and create a new and inspiring place. Since this will be the first photography studio to ever reside in Gifford, this is an exciting and big step for this small Midwestern town. Starkey plans to open the shop in the coming year and is looking forward to expanding her cliental and reaching new heights.

I had the opportunity to visit the renovation site, and I got a glimpse of how far they have come along. I asked Starkey why she wanted to open up a studio now, especially after all these years, and her response was simple and honest. “I want to venture out and establish myself in a small town, focus on the community, and continue to grow further,” she explained.  

What is she most excited about? A consistent flow of clients, of course, but also her hopes to stand out from other local businesses and be different from other photography studios. Interested in seeing the end results of this big project? A follow-up article will be published upon the studio’s grand opening.

To view Starkey’s work check out her photography website.

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