15 Years of Portraits: Walking Memory Lane with Acclaimed Jazz Vocalist Jeni Fleming

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 Permalink 1

One of the joys of working in photography is the opportunity to collaborate with amazing subjects who through the introduction and process become friends. Over a period of months then years, relationships grow as do the laughs, tears, hugs and stories. The great memories multiply.

It’s a gift to look back through stacks of images, a reminder of how precious and wonderful life and friends really are.

I’ve cherished a long and vibrant history with singer Jeni Fleming. We met as the 1990’s were fading to the millennium. Both young artists, we were embarking on the winding paths that would criss and cross over the years, spanning all sorts of personal and professional milestones.

Looking through my archive the other day, I decided to pop a few images over to her for the sake of tripping down Memory Lane.

Here’s what Jeni had to say:

Jenny Fleming pre 200025 _TUMBLR-2

“Our very first photo shoot together!  Wow, I look like a child, because…I was!

I think I was 26 in this picture. We did this shoot in Audrey’s dining room.

Funny to think how little we knew each other back then, could we have imagined that we’d become lifelong friends?

I’m trying to decide if I see something different in this early photo, something that says my trust in her developed over time, but I think that it was instantaneous which explains why it always boded well for us and our friendship.

When someone has witnessed your life, in all of its beautiful and ugly stages, for as long as Audrey has, its hard to imagine not knowing that person.  I think we’ll know each other forever.”

Jeni Fleming December 2006_2

“From the 2006 CD Release concert of We’ll Be Together Again which we recorded and toured with The String Orchestra of the Rockies.

That was a long and arduous and wildly satisfying project to participate in. I think most musicians would agree that “good music” gets the emotional content right, it can’t disregard but it has less to do with the technical.

I feel that way about life too in that my interest lies in the connections, in the shared emotional experiences, how something felt as opposed to how it actually was.

You have to earn the most meaningful experiences, that’s why they’re hard, right? There’s more value in them.

Jeni Fleming December 2006_3

“Things can be tough to recall after time passes and more experiences get stacked on top.

This picture of the whole ensemble (in color) puts a lump in my throat.

Way off to the right in the back row, holding his trumpet and leaning on his knee is my long time mentor and friend, Ralph Sappington.  He is a cherished part of my life, and after all he so patiently taught me about music, 20 years of advice and looking out for me, this was the first project we did together.

After this tour we decided to collaborate on my Christmas album.  Ralph passed away 2 weeks before we went into the studio and while I regret not having had the chance to record with him, I’ll always cherish the time we had together on the road for that tour.

That time was fraught with complicated feelings, some tough and some too beautiful to describe. Audrey’s candids always recall those emotional spaces for me.”

Jeni Fleming December 2006_1

This photo makes me nervous all over again. I felt like I had put all my eggs in one basket for this project.  I remember finally making it to the day of the show and wondering if it was going to work.

I remember how that dress felt, that I was worried I might step on the train, I remember putting on makeup in the green room, running lyrics in my head and realizing that I’d been holding my breath, then panting to catch my breath, only to catch myself doing it again a minute later.”

Jeni Fleming August 2005

“This image was for the Someday, Sometime album, taken on the ranch where they filmed The Horse Whisperer.

Built expressly for the movie, these rooms were movie sets essentially; non-inhabitable buildings that look great in pictures but in reality were cold, non-insulated, dirty, mouse-infested rooms, set next to beautiful silvery streams and majestic mountains, truly picturesque landscape all around.  My friend Erin was the photo assistant on this shoot and much of the day’s conversation was centered around her concern of exposure to hantavirus.

The light from the reflector board kept dropping, we’d look over and Erin was scanning the floor for any movement.  “ERIN!” and the light would snap back in place.”

Jeni Fleming February 2005

“Oh my God, you put this photo in there?!?!

This time period I lovingly refer to as my “transvestite” era.  I’d had a haircut the week before that was so short it left a bald spot so when I went to get it “fixed” they had to cut it even shorter until nearly all of the hair on my head stood straight up.

The funny thing is that I sported a similar look for for the first 4 years of my life which earned me the nickname “monkey” in my family.

The picture is from Governor Schweitzer’s Inaugural Ball at The Helena Civic Center.  I performed with The Glen Johnston Swing Band which is by far, the most fun material to sing.  Its with them that I feel like I might have been born in the wrong era, but then again, who doesn’t feel like that from time to time.”

Jeni Fleming August 2010_3Jeni Fleming August 2010_1Jeni Fleming August 2010_2

“After all of the crazy things Audrey has talked me into for the sake of a good photo, I was absolutely thrilled to lay around in her comfy house and let her snap away.

Seriously; naked photos bundled up in a fluffy duvet?

Or running through a damp, cold forest in the rain wearing an itchy satin ball gown. Or leading a super skittish horse out on the tundra while appearing glamorous in heels. Or trying to be relaxed in sub zero weather while wearing a thin and flimsy tank top.

I’ll take the naked photos any day.

Just kidding, I’m not naked!

FYI, this “look” is brought to you by photo assistant Karen, a spray bottle filled with Baby Oil and a fan.  It took me 3 rounds of shampoo to degrease.”

Jeni Fleming November 2004_2Jeni 1 _TUMBLR

“Aaahhhhh.  Here it is.

The infamous photo shoot in the rain.

In the deep, insect-and-critter infested woods.

In the itchy, satin ball gown.

Beside the “challenges” of looking natural in this situation, the videographer was babysitting a couple of precious and precocious dogs who belonged to a very famous person.

In the middle of the shoot, as daylight was waning and the storm was slowly rolling in, the dogs tore off into the distance after a deer!

All work ground to halt. We were all forced to set down the instruments and go hunting for the dogs. If we didn’t find them, it would have been the end of us!”

Jeni Fleming September 2008_1

“December was my token “Christmas” album if you will.

I actually loved this project but because I was supposed to have collaborated with my long time mentor Ralph who passed away shortly before we recorded, it has always been a bittersweet memory.

I love this picture because I remember spending a lot of time that day thinking of Ralph, and just generally being kind of quiet and melancholy.”

Jeni and Angella-9003 _TUMBLR-2

Jeni and Angella Januray 2013_2

“One of the hazards of having your picture taken by a professional photographer year after year is you can look better than you actually do, and for that reason every girl should have an amazing photographer to work with.

Then after countless photos over the years, there comes a picture and the face staring at you from the page holds something oddly familiar, only to realize that this picture is you, the you inside your head, a physical manifestation of what you really think you look like.  It’s familiar and disarming at the same time.”

Karen McNenny and Jeni Fleming 2012

“This shoot was for my friend Karen who is a public speaker and facilitator from Missoula.

We’ve known each other since age 15. There’s way too many secrets for that friendship to ever end, and it’s a sister-type relationship now.

Those things I know intimately about a sister are hard qualities to let speak in a photo if you don’t know them like I do, and yet somehow, these photos Audrey took of her LOOK like the sister I know and love.”

Nose to Nose 2000

“This is a photo from my wedding to Jake Fleming in 2000.  Man, we look like kids! Holy Cow!

And here’s what I’m talking about, what I’m always talking about.

It doesn’t have anything to do with photography anymore. This is a reflection on life, the passing of time, and the things we decide are important.

I married a really wonderful man, a great musician, business partner, collaborator and friend.  We fit together in a way that made it impossible to stay married and by the grace of God we managed to get divorced while salvaging all the things about our relationship that worked.

Jake is simply family now.  His wife Crystal and their beautiful daughter Betty are a beautiful compliment to the man I’ve known all these years.  My parents consider Jake their son and Betty their granddaughter, my sisters consider Betty a niece.  That’s just how that’s all panned out, and yes, I realize how incredibly uncommon and lucky this whole situation is.

Most people would see this picture and cringe, or at the very least feel regret or something similarly uncomfortable. I had no idea what I was in store for that day, and there was Audrey, witnessing the start of what I hoped would be a beautiful marriage, which by the way, we had.

Audrey also witnessed whatever state of joy or disrepair we happened to be experiencing on the day of the shoot by photographing our many projects throughout the years.  Beyond the photography, Audrey has become a friend; she’ll be there for the next album, the next photo shoot, the next dinner party, the next girls’ night.

What an honor to have a friend witness and validate your marriage, your vocation, your divorce, your subsequent relationships, your triumphs and failures, your life the way Audrey has.”

Thank you Jeni, for your candid and kind words of gratitude and friendship. As a photographer, it’s a humble reward to be appreciated for a creative contribution and record of life. Thank you for the intimate, candid and honest moments, the energy of your music, and the creative alchemy between sound and picture. Thank you for the years of trust and faith.

Here’s to the New Year and many more!

 Jeni and Audrey_2012

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