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Meet Sharona Jacobs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sharona Jacobs.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sharona. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Often, people talk about their career in terms of paths – some straight, some winding. But I think my career resembles a series of slightly befuddled concentric circles; I keep coming back to touchpoints or themes from earlier parts of my life as I move onward and start to figure things out.

One of my earliest memories was staring at stereoscopic black-and-white glass slides of trench warfare from WWI that my grandfather, a captain in the British army, photographed. While in this day and age, you might think that might be a bit grisly for a child (though let’s be honest, since at least the Brothers Grimm, kids are inevitably attracted to grisly), I only remember my fascination as I stared at the grainy film and desolate landscapes through the viewfinder, bringing the illusion of dimension and reality to the scenes I witnessed. My father, too, was a photographer in his early twenties, and the money he earned helped pay his costs to study engineering. As for me, I started seriously photographing at twelve after receiving my first “real” camera from my dad as a coming-of-age gift, and immediately delved into studio lighting. Starting at the beginning of high school, I joined any photo class at the Maryland Institute of Art that would let through their doors.

In undergrad, I studied graphic design and photography at Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, reveling in both the academic and artistic aspects of my education, and lapped up as much coursework as I could, studying literature, psychology, business and policy along with my studio courses. Upon graduation, I worked in the education department at the George Eastman Museum (of Eastman Kodak) in Rochester, NY. After being surrounded by the bounty of photographic genius at the museum, I took time away from my own work, thinking to myself, “Good lord, there is so much brilliance lurking just in the archives, rarely seeing the light of day, how could I possibly contribute more to the world of photography?”

So I toddled off to work as a graphic designer followed by a move into marketing, where I got good insight into how businesses work, and also a very firm understanding that I did not want to work in marketing for the long haul. Off I went to graduate school at Boston College to study counseling psychology, and work at Tufts University’s counseling center before landing at MIT after graduation where I worked as a career counselor and program manager in the School of Engineering. While working for that program, I had the opportunity to photograph portraits of the accomplished alumni who came in to mentor the students during their studies and internships (the most memorable: a student who worked on Terrafugia’s flying car), and started my own portrait business after working hours while contributing photographs to the program’s newsletter by day.

After several years, I left MIT to focus on my portrait studio exclusively, and shortly began a personal project photographing authors who lived in the Boston area which evolved into an ongoing exhibition on display at GrubStreet, Boston’s creative writing center, called “The Boston Authors Project.” The four-foot tall black and white portraits are still on display today, and I encourage anyone near Boston Common to come visit GrubStreet and see the artwork, each piece of which is accompanied by a snippet of writing of the author photographed, as well as my description of their portrait sitting.

Since then, the majority of my portrait work has involved writers, artists, and professors, and I am delighted that I can walk into bookstores and see my fascinating clients’ faces on the books that are the culmination of their drive and creative work. Profiles of my clients’ work, including their portraits, can also be seen in publications such as The New York Times, Wired, Salon, NPR.org, Entertainment Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and The Boston Globe.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Life is rarely a smooth path, and I cannot tell you how much time I spent overanalyzing and second-guessing career choices in my teens, 20s and early 30s. It’s only upon looking back that it all makes any kind of sense now. Like many, I have had my share of balancing work-life issues – family, loss, and illness – that whole “being human” thing that happens to us all who are fortunate enough to live, love, and work.

Please tell us about Sharona Jacobs: portraits of writers, thinkers, and visionaries.
I’m going to have to quote from my bio, because this sort of thing is much more tolerable in the third person.

“Known as “Boston’s literary photographer,” Sharona shoots editorial, commercial, and commissioned portraits and headshots of authors, academics, and innovators. While much of her work takes place in Boston and Massachusetts, the images of her clients can be seen nationwide. Sharona’s work treads the line between the commercial, editorial, and fine art worlds.”

What I’m most proud of: I photograph incredibly creative people who generally would prefer their work speak for them rather than the marketing of their own persona. It is my privilege to help them feel comfortable and at ease throughout the process of creating an image that beautifully represents their depth, intelligence, and character.

Also, I’m fortunate enough to photograph the most interesting storytellers in the world, which if you’d asked me as a child what I would like to do when I grow up, would have pretty much been it.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Looking back on my career so far, I have no regrets beyond wishing that I would have the patience to see that it would all make sense eventually.

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Sharona Jacobs

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