Article by Jeanita Kennedy
I was born on a Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona in 1983 to a single mother of three. The closest town was 45 miles away so mom, an emergency medical technician, had to travel and live away from us. We were raised by our grandparents. Life was very simple; we had very little. I can’t describe just how much my grandparents meant to me. These were wonderful years in my life.
We had no “media,” just a small radio that my grandpa would listen to and to connect us to the news of the world. We’d go to school, come home, and play in the dirt. My grandma was old school, so I learned to cook and clean at a very young age and was lectured about the role of being a woman.
Growing up on the reservation we had few pictures and few people owned cameras. There are few pictures of me as a child. We didn’t get lots of pictures like parents do now for newborns, at Christmas, for one-year pictures, or Easter.
Later, mom met my step-dad when I was about 12 years old. Then we were a family of eight. My step-dad was a bull-rider, so that is when I started to rodeo. I spent all my teen years around horses.
My mom is a very determined woman, and my step-dad is a worker. So they taught me about work ethics. One thing I remember my step-dad saying is, “If you want something you work for it, don’t just wish.” I remember my mom saying, “You do it right the first time or you’ll do it again the second time wishing you did it right the first time!”
Leaving home for the Air Force was a most difficult time – grandma had been diagnosed with cancer and the news was not good. I was so afraid that my grandpa would be alone. Grandpa passed away two weeks later. They passed away within two weeks of each other. What an amazing love they had for one another.
I was in the Air Force from 2002-2006. I loved being in the Air Force – I’ve meet many wonderful people that have become long life friends, been around the world three times, achieved many awards, and had many experiences not everyone can have. Within those years, I met my husband Steven and had my wonderful daughter, Gracy.
In 2009, with another baby on the way, we finally decided to leave Las Vegas agreeing that it was not the best place to raise a family. Steve became part of the Air National Guard of North Dakota, and we moved to Minot in 2010.
For Christmas that year, Steven bought me my first DLSR Nikon 3100. A couple months of playing around with it, I wanted to know more and do more with it, so I researched and researched. I didn’t go to school for photography; I am pretty much self taught.
Before I opened my photo business, I struggled about what to do in life. I knew I wanted to help kids, and being a stay-at-home mom was my priority. While I was in the military, I had to leave Gracy two different times. The first time I was deployed, Gracy was just three months old, and I cried for a week straight in my tent in Baghdad. Then in 2006, I had to deploy again for six months. When I had Hailey, I knew I wanted to stay with her from day one, it felt like I was given a second chance. And I love being a stay at home mom.
Starting my own business meant setting my own hours and doing it from out of my own home – it didn’t sound like a bad idea at all. I knew one of my callings was to work with and help children. So I decide to donate a portion of my profit to a variety of organizations that helped children, like the Northern Plains Children Advocacy Center, the March of Dimes, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital this month. I also offered photo sessions to be auctioned off for the Bosom Buddies of Minot for the March of Dimes.
My number one inspiration is capturing that smile for the parents. My local inspiration is Nelly from Nelly Hernandez Photography and Stacy from Stacy VanDyck Photography. I am inspired by their amazing talent and creativity. They established a style of their own and built their businesses with hard work.
Coming from a very poor community, having pictures was rare – we couldn’t afford them. So I try to keep my prices affordable, in line with the budgets of struggling families.
Since I opened my business in August of 2011, I’ve learned so much, and I hope to continue to learn.