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Meet Jennifer Connelly of Big Picture Art House in Dorchester and Jamaica Plain

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Connelly.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jennifer. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was 24 and working at Brown University in 1994. I loved Brown but hated being in an office all day. I was using their student darkroom and had been doing a photo as a hobby since high school. I decided to try to get a job in photography and move to my new favorite town, Jamaica Plain. My first job was with Coffee Pond Photography, taking pictures of kids at overnight summer camps (I still freelance for them). I also did odd jobs for the Director of the Boston Photo Coop on Brookside Street in JP. This included assisting with his youth photo class based out of English High. I made all the prints in the darkroom for their photo exhibits. I was also able to thrive in my new home, JP, which was full of affordable housing, artists, and good community vibes. I lived in a place called “The Hole” where art students, musicians and youth (including my future husband) lived, made music, and had parties.

After traveling to Mexico and Spain, where I took some photo classes, bongo lessons, and Spanish (made sense at the time) I began my own family. Having my 5 kids pretty much guided what I did from that point onward for work. I did portraits, events, school photography and I started my own school photo company, Photo Charm in 2005. I am lucky to be so entwined in the community of JP and Boston as the unofficial photographer, raising my kids here. And now I teach other people’s kids to take great photos.

When I got separated in 2011, I took a business class at Brookline Center for Adult Ed to figure out how to make more money. My homework assignment was to start a business. I had, and still have these bigger, more complicated business plans. But, my teacher said, “Do what you know, what you are good at, and what the clients want.” I hung flyers for an after-school photography class and spread the word in my JP community. My first 10 students were all from the Curley School and Boston Latin School, where my own kids went. I’ve been the school photographer at The Curley for the last 9 years too, I basically just started small using my community connections.

Has it been a smooth road?
One big obstacle is the lack of affordable storefront space in JP and Boston in general. JP was where I did my own art, raised my kids and made a lot of community connections. I am trying to stay connected, but it is hard and the tight-knit community support is not there anymore. Many friends have had to move away and I have been looking for a home for my student photo exhibit for months with no luck.

In 2009, I was fortunate enough to find an affordable home just one mile away from JP in Dorchester, but currently, I shuttle my students to and from the Soldier’s Monument in JP to my home teaching space, which is not ideal. My next step is expansion and moving away from a home teaching space model. I’m not sure I’ll be able to find a place to house my business in Boston.

My Original mission was to bring different kids together from various classes and neighborhoods, but unfortunately, I have yet to accomplish this. I working on a branch of Big Picture called “Third Eye” specifically for inner-city kids that is free to students and funded by the city or grants. My goal is to have the classes lead to apprenticeships and youth photographers-in-training doing actual photo jobs for the city and private businesses.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Big Picture Art House – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Big Picture offers photo and movie making classes available to kids 11 to 15 years old in Boston and recently added an overnight workshop for girls. Classes take place in the summer and over school vacations. In still-photo workshops we pay homage to our city of Boston, it’s people, and all it’s hidden gems. I supply professional DSLR older version Nikon cameras and provide tools for making great photos.

We have made about 13 movies with our fiction and documentary workshops. The social experiment movies are my favorite since I studied social psychology and have a degree from USC. We have tested the “Kindness of Strangers”, “By-Stander Effect”, and the concept of “Safety” as it is related to gun ownership. All of our fiction movies seem to involve food, murder and some sort of police work. Did I mention the students write their own scripts? Haha.

I am starting to train and add other professional photographers and filmmakers to teach and assist so I can run more classes. Classes are small and limited to the seats in my 8-passenger van as we travel everywhere. I find 7 to be the magic number for this class. Kids can easily socialize and make themselves at home while also getting direct attention from me,

I am the main teacher for the overnight program which is only in its second year. I hope to expand that and have someone running the classes here in Boston while I run overnight workshops. This year we’ll stay in Galilee RI, where I have gone every summer since I was born, for two, 6-night classes. We will visit the oyster farm, fishing boats, family-run Sunset Farm, as well as learn about Wampanoag history and culture. Of course, I will desperately try to get the girls to go “qhohogging” with me. It is occurring to me now that as my kids enter high school and college, I am recruiting another wave of youth to drag around with me on my photo adventures.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
There are so many things to love about Boston. And everything is easy and close. I drive with my classes so I need to know the secret parking spots and tricks which I will not share. BUT I will share the favorite spots we hit up during the summer, which are: Chinatown, North End, Boston Public Market, Charles River, Copley Square, Boston Public Library, Christian Science Center, Newbury Street, Harvard Square, Castle Island in South Boston, East BostonMarina and Piers Park, and we also make trips to Fort Revere in Hull and Forty Steps in Nahant. I love that I can find interesting food and cultural experiences so close together and make quick trips right outside the city for more secluded photo trips.

OK, The traffic has been getting crazy. I am known to say I don’t leave the house between 2 pm and 7 pm. In the summer it mellows out, so classes that start in July are much easier for us to get around to our photo field trips. This is also a reason I don’t really do after school programs anymore. My classes are structured to be on-the-go and you really cannot drive around after school lets out.

Boston can be quite segregated and public schools vary in quality by neighborhood, but there are a lot of great schools and great teachers in Boston. I think youth in the inner city neighborhoods get a bad rap, but in reality is untrue. I don’t have answers to everything, but I do keep this in mind when developing my own programming and future business model.

Pricing:

  • $825 for two week class which run Monday-Friday, from 9am-3pm
  • $425 for single week classes which run Monday-Friday, 9am-3pm
  • $1295 for 6 night overnight workshops with food and all activities included

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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