Spotlight on Jenika McDavitt | CPC 2015 Speaker

Jenika’s unique background in photography and psychology lends her a unique set of skills that she has found critical in the photography field. Get some insight into why that is, and a brief look at her topic for CPC 2015!

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Where are you from, and what area do you serve?
I’m originally from Boise, Idaho, USA, and currently live in Baltimore. My work takes me all over the globe, virtually and in person.

Tell us three random facts about yourself.

  • I’ve lived in Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut, Maryland, Scotland, Germany, and Tunisia.
  • I have a mild addiction to scarves. (My husband might dispute the adjective ‘mild.’)
  • I spend more time on Wikipedia than I do on Netflix.

Chocolate or Vanilla?
The important thing is, both can be good with bacon if you know what you’re doing. ;-)

Seriously though, the chef matters more than the ingredient.

What is your favorite movie of all time?
That’s a tie between Dr. Strangelove and While You Were Sleeping. The first for the iconic brilliance of the performances, the second because it’s like a favorite old sweater you always go back to (plus perfect casting).

How did you become interested in photography?
As a kid, I was lucky enough to receive $100 for Christmas one year. My dad sat me down to help me make a list of things I could spend it on (probably to make sure I didn’t blow it all on candy), but all I wanted to buy with it was a camera. I don’t know where the attraction to cameras came from, but it was already baked in. Haven’t been without one ever since. I studied abroad four times in college and started photo blogging in 2005, and that’s about when I became engaged with it as a discipline rather than a pastime.

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What made you decide to go to school for psychology instead of photography?
It honestly never would have occurred to me to do a formal degree in photography. I entered college planning to study biology and law, which morphed into a behavioral neuroscience degree, which turned into a master’s in psychology. Photography was a passion, but not part of my academic trajectory, which had strong momentum in other directions.

How/when/what made you decide to combine both psychology and photography?
They’re combined already whether we like it or not! ☺ Even though I’d been practicing photography for a long time, I began studying photography in earnest while still in graduate school, and started a business then.

As I worked with clients, I realized that I was directly using all kinds of things I’d studied in psychology. I repurposed therapy techniques for helping people feel comfortable before and during sessions. I used the ways people make decisions about money to decide how to sell things. It was impossible for me to do photography without wading into psychology.

I considered blogging about these connections, since I’d always had a goal of writing about science and psychology for broad audiences, but put it off at first because “there are already so many blogs out there.” But ever since I began, I have been overwhelmed by the demand for this topic.

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Give us a couple instances of when your history in Psychology has helped you with a particular situation or aspect of photography.
There’s a technique called reflective listening that helps you get to the heart of what someone really cares about. It works with family, friends, and clients alike – and helps them feel comfortable speaking honestly, and gets you deep information without feeling like you’re prying.

There’s too much to the technique to really explain here, though I did write an intro to it on my blog, but essentially it involves rephrasing what the person says in your own words instead of asking questions as a way to uncover information. It’s amazing.

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Did you ever work professionally as a psychologist or in the field of psychology, or did you go straight into the photography industry?
I actually set out to become a psychology research professor, rather than a psychologist in the way most people think of the term.

My training was in using the tools of science to answer questions about people, behavior, and cognition. (Though as part of my training, I did work in depression and anxiety clinics in the USA and Germany, spent time conducting diagnostic interviews in a psychiatric inpatient unit, and had various other experiences working with people – it wasn’t all scanning brains and writing papers.)

As I pursued that goal, I realized I wanted to communicate about psychology to ‘regular’ people. There is an enormous amount of psychology research that just languishes in professional journals, written in technical language, that’s inaccessible and therefore useless to the average person.

There’s also an enormous amount of misinformation and quackery circulating out there as relates to psychology. I wanted to unlock some of the useful, scientifically accurate material to lay people and make it readable and interesting.

When I went to graduate school, I assumed that the only way to communicate effectively about psychology would be to work at a university and teach undergraduates. That turned out to be incorrect. Amazingly, the Internet lets us disseminate information in unprecedented ways.

So I would say that I ended up exactly where I wanted to be in psychology, just in a different setting than I imagined when I started out.

I currently teach classes large and small in psychology and writing, both of which I trained in. I do enjoy and practice photography but have become, out of necessity, extremely selective about the paid projects I take on. Like many creative business owners, I have multiple passions I pursue alongside each other.

For me, all of my work comes down to my belief that people are inherently valuable, and I want to help individuals know and express that more deeply. Whether I do that through teaching people about how the mind works so they have more understanding and patience, or help people express their ideas more effectively through writing, or show them who they are in photos – the medium is always secondary to that larger goal.

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What’s something you know now that you wished you would’ve known when first starting your business?
There are a lot of things that look like working on your business but that actually aren’t. For example, continuing education is the lifeblood of a business – but if you read a bunch of articles yesterday without actually implementing anything you learned, is it going to help you today to read a bunch more articles? Or should you spend that same two hours putting into practice what you already learned? Learning has to be balanced with doing. If you just shelve knowledge in your brain, it will fade – you need to practice it, too.

Take regular inventory of how you spend your time and look at what activities are truly benefitting you, and what are just safety fallbacks that feel productive but keep you from doing your work.

Have you ever been to CPC before?
This will be my first time! It will be my fourth visit to Canada, though, and I can’t wait to return. Canada has an incredible community of artists and it’s an honor to be among them.

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Tell us a little bit about your talk for the 2015 conference.
Photography is fundamentally about people – you’re going to be photographing people, marketing to people, or selling to people. (Even if you’re not in business, you still want people to look at your work.)

My talk will explore quirky pieces of the human mind and behavior that photographers tend to ignore, why that hurts their success, and what you can do about it.

The focus will be on concrete steps you can take when you leave so you can see immediate results, rather than just walking away thinking “well that was nice, what now?” (That can easily happen after an educational event! We’ll have none of that!)

What’s one piece of advice you would give someone just starting out in photography?
Learn how to both give and receive critique with graciousness and generosity. They might seem like similar skills, but they are quite different, and both are indispensible no matter what business you are in.

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What’s one piece of advice you would give someone pursuing a degree in psychology?
Ask yourself why you are studying psychology – where do you want your work to take you? Pay close attention to exactly what drives you and what you enjoy about it. Are you hoping to correct a specific set of problems, or answer certain questions? Are you interested in working with people directly?

Psychology is a huge field and its components can be astonishingly different one from another. It’s critical you get direct experience in what interests you most, and be discerning about whether or not you’re really interested in that day-to-day work, or just the idea of it. Because if you’re not interested in the day-to-day, you can get pretty far down a path and then feel stuck by the sunk costs of being there. That’s not to say you shouldn’t study it, just pay attention to your life goals and be true to those as you explore.

To read more from Jenika, check out her blog here.

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Article by Beth Teutschmann.

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