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There’s something about Jenavieve Belair’s photography that taps into the heart of Southern California youth and surf culture. Her photos are drenched in a sun bleached surf aesthetic that seems to pause time, allowing us to connect with suspended moments. Jenavieve’s photos feel effortlessly cool, but most importantly they tell a story of what it’s like to be young and free in California.
We caught up with the beautiful and immensely talented Orange County based photographer to talk about what inspires her, shooting for surf brands, and the importance of keeping family close. Belair is a shining example of finding a unique voice within a cluttered culture and her future is looking to be effortlessly bright.
Do you remember your first camera? Did you feel inspired immediately?
On my 13th birthday my dad gave me his old Canon AE1 and a hand full of film. I had no idea at the time how much my camera was about to shape my life. I became immediately obsessed with photography and completely enamored with the idea of capturing everything that surrounded me. The fact that I possessed the ability to freeze moments with what I held in my hand was so empowering and beautiful to little 13 year old me. I still shoot on that camera to this day.
How has living in California helped to shape your creative process?
I’ve always loved lifestyle photography, and something about the laid back mentality that takes place in southern california is incredibly attractive to me. I honestly think that the sunshine and surf and skate culture here helped shaped my style in a way that I would have never experienced had I stayed in Minnesota. I couldn’t exactly be shooting for surf brands while living in a small town in the middle of country. Although, I think you should always shoot what your life looks like. Before I moved here my work looked like I spent a lot of time on country roads and in Dairy Queens, it was representative of what I was actually doing. My work looks the way it does now because that’s what my life looks like.
You have a way of capturing youth culture, but your work feels more documentary than fashion inspired. Do you see your work as styled or are you simply capturing moments?
I always say no when people ask me if I’m a fashion photographer. I'm not interested in details or hair and makeup. I don't like the idea of setting up an image, I'm much more attracted to capturing and freezing the moment. I don't care who is wearing what. I let my friends wear what they want and we go out and adventure. I am without a doubt truly capturing what is in front of me.
I love that you used the word documentary to describe my work, that’s what I’ve always been striving towards. I don’t want to shoot fashion, I want to shoot real life. I want to capture what the day really looks like. My friends ride skateboards and drink tall boys, and that’s what I wanna shoot. Somedays they surf and eat $2 tacos and other days they build shovelheads and don't shave. Sometimes we run topless in the forest because it feels good or swim naked in the ocean because why not. I’m not trying to be fancy or be anything I’m not.
You’ve shot for some pretty high profile brands like Raen and Volcom, how did you get into the surf lifestyle scene?
I moved to Orange County when I was 18 and met a lot of amazing people. And if you know me you know I don't go anywhere without my camera, so in no time I was known as “Jenavieve the girl with the camera.” or “Jenavieve the photographer.”
I photographed all the surfers down at Blackies and all the girls on the beach drinking sangria out of water bottles. I spent a lot of time at skate parks and coffee shops shooting people I didn't know. I only started to put my work out there once I had enough to sense to make a website. And social media made it all that much easier. It gave me a constant art show, a platform to showcase my most current work and a way for brands to see what I'm doing and what I am capable of. People talk negatively on Instagram, but that little app helped make my career.
Has working within that culture or community had any affect on your personal style?
Oh I'm sure it has, whether anyone admits it or not we are incredibly affected by our surroundings. Though it’s also the life you lead, I wear sandals way more than high heels or anything like that because I’m always on the go, at the beach, on a hike, or skating. I wear a lot of vintage levis and white tank tops, not cause it’s cool but because it’s comfy, well it looks kinda cool too.
It seems like you’re always working, what do you do with your freetime?
I spend most of my free time with my family. They’re everything and more to me. Other than that I try and spend time alone, I think it's really important to be able to be happy alone. Plus I'm kinda an introvert so after being on big shoots all day nothing sounds better than a bath and a record. I also spend a good chunk of time every night drawing, I went to school for drawing and painting so I try and keep that close to me no matter how busy I get.
Hansen’s takes pride in being family owned and operated, and I know you’re very close to your family. How has your relationship to your family contributed to your success?
What a great segway from my answer above! My family is everything to me. My mom is the coolest woman I know, a gypsy woman to say the least. She taught me how to believe in myself and how important it is to stand out amongst a crowd. My parents put emphasis on being an individual and made sure I knew I was capable of doing anything I put my mind to. They insured that self doubt didn’t exist and that failure was more than ok as long as you get back up.
My dad is my hero and my rock. He’s so badass, he used to ride trials and restores vintage motorcycles. He taught me how to use a camera and showed me everything I know about music and cars.
My sisters are my back bone and my standing strength. They’re my best friends and mean the world to me. I owe everything I am and everything I’ve done to my family. They’re my driving force and my biggest fans.
What projects are you currently working on?
I try and keep side projects alive so that my creativity has many doors to flow through. My sister Erin and I are currently making a book called Love is Not a Town. We’ve been perfecting it for a few years now and it’s close to being finished. It’s a series of short stories she wrote and photographs I shot to match each story.
Im also working on shooting couples. I'm fascinated by love and the intimacy of other people's love lives and what it looks like to live together. I’ve been working on this one for a while, who knows that I'll do with the photos or if I'll ever do anything, but that’s what a personal project is all about, it’s for yourself and you don't have to do anything with it if you don't want to. That’s the beauty of it all.
What advice would you give to young creatives who want to turn their passion into a viable career?
I’d tell them to bring their cameras with them everywhere and to photograph their surrounding life everyday. I learned that I couldn’t make my work look like Southern California while living in Minnesota, but I did learn how to capture moments, how to work a camera and how to edit all while living there.
I think it’s incredibly important to be proud of who you are, where you live and to understand that your work doesn’t need to look like anyone else's. It’s great to be inspired by others, but just know you are your own person with your own eye.