I did not go to college to become a photographer. Instead I went to figure out who I was, and ultimately, I learned who I was not. I majored in Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville and then majored in Social Work, Youth Psychology, and Psychology at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. While I loved all those things, it took me a few years to discover that those subjects would not define my vocation. They would lay the framework for my life.
While in Nashville, I learned the joy and sacrifice required in chasing a dream. I discovered the value of taking risks and the excitement found in success. I learned to fly on my own. I also learned how to land… or rather crash. There is a lot of pressure found in a full ride scholarship.
Returning back home to the Grand Rapids area (Gun Lake), I learned how to be flexible. The reality of a broken, shattered world needing care and love redirected me, even as I was living within the confines of the brokenness that surrounded me. I dove into the study of humanity. It was at this point that I picked up a camera for an elective photography class. Psychology and Photography walked hand in hand. The more I understood one, the more I learned about the other. Listening and observing everything.
I decided to marry my best friend and that changed the trajectory for my immediate future. We were young which meant that one of us needed to pay the bills while the other finished school. I was thrilled to take a break from research papers as it was becoming clear to me that a vocation involving one of my three majors was not something I really wanted to do. Photography, however, remained the tool I used to further discover life around me as I started to live it outside of academia. I photographed my first wedding in 1999 on black and white film. I was hooked though I wouldn’t know to what extent until many years and many weddings later.
In 2005, after a few years of shooting an average of 20-30 weddings per year as a ‘hobby’ while working full time in corporate sales, I found out I was expecting our second son. Something had to give. I walked away from the safety and security of a regular paycheck and once again decided to follow a dream, however crazy it seemed at the time. Jen Kroll Photography became a full time venture in 2006.
Those first two years brought an unprecedented amount of photography requests, a shocking national endorsement, a studio, and several magazine features. We said yes to every photography project – from kids to weddings to commercial and everything in between. I even taught a couple of photography workshops. My family was sacrificed in order to meet the surmounting demands photography had placed on my time. Once again, something had to give.
Weddings and events remained my passion and seemed to best fit my family’s busy schedule. We became deliberate about focus. While we still occasionally do the non-wedding related project, we’ve learned that a healthy balance for us is approximately 15 weddings per year along with their associated events (engagements, dress fittings, spa days, rehearsals, brunches, etc). Weddings have taken us to fabulous locations in Kauai, California, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, and our local favorites, Grand Rapids and Traverse City, Michigan. I’ve fallen in love with the journey and it’s many unexpected surprises and I treasure the friendships created within such an intimate context. Learning to say ‘no’ has given us so much more freedom than we ever could have imagined.
Following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, my heart knew we needed to go. Not to photograph, though I did do a little of that, but to restore what was broken and give hope where there was none. We found ourselves in a mountain side orphanage above Port-au-Prince less than three months following the earthquake. Little did we know at the time that our purpose was to bring restoration and hope to one special toddler . Jerrensia joined our family on a medical visa in January of 2011. We have an incredible team of doctors and therapists surrounding her with the best care imaginable as we learn what life is like with Arthrogryposis. She has blessed us with her extraordinary strength, relentless determination, and unequivocal passion. Our boys are smitten. We are, too.
Life is not as I had initially planned it, but it’s exactly what I dreamed it could be. Thank you for taking the time to read the broad brushstrokes of my story. I look forward to learning more about yours!