When I was little I wanted to be an actress so I could act out the stories my mother read to me, as well as the ones she wrote. Later, but not too much later, I also wanted to be an artist so I could illustrate them. Actress and artist seemed compatible.
Then I was accepted at Princeton and, with a bit of prodding, figured I should go. There were artists and actresses with Princeton degrees, too, I reasoned, even if there weren’t as many of those as there were lawyers and doctors and bankers, none of which I aspired to be. In the spring of my freshman year I met Emmet Gowin, who would become my mentor for the next three years, and I abandoned both acting and painting (mostly) for photography.
After college, for a couple of years, I taught kids how to tell stories with photographs and how to make cyanotypes and use pinhole cameras, which was all good fun but did not pay enough to cover my Boston residence, even with a side business catering dinner parties.
A friend convinced me that if I wanted to tell visual stories and not be homeless then I should go into marketing, because marketing was where the action was, not to mention the money. Working in marketing led to writing, and for more than 20 years I’ve ghost-written speeches for mayors, earnings call scripts for CEOs, pleas for money and pleas for blood donors, along with memos about mergers, downsizing, and company policies like turning off lights in the bathrooms.
The people for whom I wrote often commented that my writing allowed them to see clear images in their heads, and when they said this I was quick to tell them I was really a photographer who was just writing in order to pay the rent.
One day in 2012, on a pure lark, days before my 25th Princeton reunion gathering, I started this blog as a place to put some things I wanted to try. With encouragement from a handful of friends and then a handful more, I kept going.
By day I’m lucky to serve as executive director at Kindred Place, formerly the Exchange Club Family Center (kindred-place.org). By day, and by night, I’m even luckier to have a husband, two children, three dogs, and a cat, all willing to ignore me and to be ignored long enough to let me keep writing and making art, so I won’t get lost.
At least that’s the story for now. Another day I might write a different one.
All words and images © Jennifer Balink, 2017