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Jenny Kirchner, an Idyllwild resident and photographer for the local Idyllwild Town Crier, as well as the former news network, SWRNN, and other online media, could never have imagined that being in the path of one of California’s most devastating fires of 2013 would be the fuel that ignited her career as a nationally renowned photo journalist.
Jenny spent her break to talk with us on how she reached that pivotal day…
Q. How long have you lived in Idyllwild?
A. I’ve lived in Idyllwild for 25 years, moving up with my mom when I was 4.
Q. When did you start seriously thinking of becoming a photographer?
A. I started photography when I was 13 years old, and within a year was winning awards and national scholarships with nature photography. I continued to take photos through my teens and into my early twenties, building my portfolio and entering contests along the way. However, I never wanted to make photography my living because I loved it too much.
Q. It’s interesting how making a living turns art to drudgery… but that didn’t happen for you, did it?
A. Not at all. When I got into the media world, I finally realized I found my nitch. I didn’t go out looking for a job in the media industry, it kind of fell in my lap. In fact, I never had even thought about it interestingly enough.
In 2007 I was 23, working a dead end job and had just finished my certification in Crime Scene Investigation from UCR Extensions Center. I was trying to find work in that field as a CSI or CS Photographer, with no luck. Out of the blue I got a call from Becky Clark, Publisher-Editor at the Town Crier Newspaper. She said they were looking for a Staff Photographer and wanted to know if I was interested. I worked as the sole Staff Photographer for 3 years, winning 5 awards at the regional and state level, and then left and went into freelancing.
Q. What is it about photographing wrecks, fires, and other incidents that you love?
A. I learned quickly that breaking news was my favorite events to cover. The excitement and adrenaline rush of emergency situations hooked me around my teen years, and never left. While I now have the help from a fire pager I leave on 24/7 to get me to a scene, I have always seemed to be at the right place at the right time, for whatever reason. And when I discovered I could make a living combining the two interests of photography and “ambulance chasing”, it was really exciting.
Q. What does Photo Journalism mean to you?
A. I love being able to share stories with my images… Capturing that moment in time that will move people, mentally, emotionally and maybe even physically.
Capturing something that will change your perspective about whatever the subject may be, or bring back nostalgic memories of something tucked away and forgotten.
Q. What do you hope that people will get out of viewing your work?
A. Basically, I hope that my work makes a difference in people, in whatever way that may be. This encompasses photography as a whole as well, but breaking news is amazing because it is raw, unscripted and real.Watching the media industry decline in the last few years, it made me question my passion and I’ve wondered realistically how long this will last. Then I realized that no matter what happens, I will always continue to take photos. I’m always learning something new, or a different way of taking “that” shot, etc. I’m 29 years old, it would be impossible to walk away from 16 years of photography and never look back.
Q. And then you find yourself on the line with Wolf Blitzer of CNN… What was that like?
A. I remember being nervous in the 1.5 hours or so before the interview. However, once I got on the phone and spoke to Wolf during the commercial break before I went live, I realized he was a nice, professional man, and human just like the rest of us. It made me feel more calm and at ease.
Q. I don’t imagine you watched, or saw the photos that we did — since you were in the thick of it.
A. It was a day or so before I was able to catch the video online. The fact that I my work in a matter of hours went nationwide was truly shocking, and flattering. I am very lucky to have had this opportunity.
Q. When I drove through idyllwild trying to find the shot I was looking for, I looked up and felt a little like everyone else did – panic. However, I knew where and how the fire was acting, and knew it wasn’t as threatening as it seemed.
Q. The Mountain Fire photos ended up going national. Now that the smoke is clearing, how does it feel to look around, not through the lens, but as an Idyllwild resident?
A. Going back and looking at the aftermath, it really hit home how lucky our mountain has been. I feel for those who did lose their homes, and my heart goes out to them. Now it’s my turn to let those walls down that I built to make it through this experience, and feel the fear, amazement and happiness that Idyllwild did make it through. Especially having the view that I did at the front lines, I have a very unique perspective and respect of Mother Nature and how amazing this fire really was. It was like a monster, creating its own weather and growing out of control. Really out many things in perspective.
Q. What’s next for you, Jenny? Now that your work has made it to the world’s stage?
A. I haven’t had a chance to think about what’s next, but I’m hoping to send my resume out into the world and see if any bites come from it. Who knows, maybe I’ll find my dream job. Being able to travel and take photos around the world. It would be a dream come true.Ultimately, I do it for the love of the art form, and if I can make a buck in that process, I am grateful. It’s hard to see myself doing anything different.
All photo images are available for purchase through Jenny Kirchner’s online photo gallery.
All images are copyright Jenny Kirchner Photographer. No Image may be downloaded or used without express permission.