We sat down with Jamie Thrower of Studio XIII Photography, a queer-owned, LGBTQ wedding and family photography studio based in Oakland, California, to talk about how grief informs art and how to be a social justice advocate in the wedding space.
Liz: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Jamie: I grew up in a really small town called Sonoma—my mom was a brilliant artist and instilled that love of art in my sisters and me. There are three of us total, and we are all about a year or two apart, which is fun because there's never really been the older/younger dynamic between us. My mom was a graphic designer, and my dad owned a wholesale herb and spice company. He traveled the world on purchasing trips, and right around the time I got into photography he offered to take me on one of his trips. So as a junior in high school I got to go to India, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. I fell in love with photography, and he was a really big supporter of that. (He was a photographer in his twenties.) He even helped me build a darkroom in my closet in my room!
Liz: Oh wow. It sounds like such a nurturing environment for creativity.
Jamie: It really was. Photography became this really important tool because both of my parents were diagnosed with terminal diseases by the time I was in high school. It was both a creative tool and also a reminder to photograph everyone and everything to make sure I never missed out on those memories.
Liz: I'm sorry to hear that. I read that you lost your mom and now spend time writing about and processing grief. Can you talk a bit about that?
Jamie: Sure; my dad passed away a few weeks after my 21st birthday and my mom a little over a year ago when I was 28. When I lost my dad I kind of pushed through it and stayed busy, and then when my mom was dying, I realized how much grief work I had not done. I started to become very open about what was happening because I felt there was no other way to be, and other people started to resonate with the words that I wrote. Strangers would reach out and tell me how they lost their parent when they were young, and they never talked about it and that it was refreshing to see someone write so honestly about it. As a society, we place the burden of grief on the bereaved. You get three days off of work and that's it. And everyone expects you to move forward and be okay, and it just doesn't really work like that. Grief is something that stays with you your whole life, and I think bringing to light something that is very real for so many people is important to me. I'm currently working on a photo project about the stages of grief no one tells you about—like the hair cutting stage. I literally shaved half of my head after my mom died. Ha.
Liz: This is really powerful. How have you channeled the pain and grief into your photography and creative work?
Jamie: I feel like I try to capture details that are unexpected that people wouldn't think to photograph. I love hands and shadows and the mess of cooking scraps on a countertop. I see the world through this lens of grief, which seems morbid and sad, but actually makes my eyes heightened to the beauty in everything. I feel like I'm constantly striving to make sure I photograph those moments and the energy between people so that someday they'll look back and remember what it felt like to hug their grandmother on their wedding day or the look of their dad right before he walks them down the aisle or their kid's face smashed against their sliding glass door of their house on a random Sunday afternoon. I also try to remind my clients, especially my families that I photograph, that NOW is always the best time to take photos. There's a lot of pressure to take these picture-perfect images, but my favorite ones are always the ones that are just a little bit off in the best of ways and make you feel something. Those are the ones I personally cherish of my parents, and I'm so grateful that I have them.
Liz: I love that. You've also incorporated activism and advocacy into your work. Can you talk a little about that?
Jamie: I've always felt strongly about documenting monumental times in history—when the ruling of marriage equality passed, I called one of my dearest friends and sped over to the Castro—I'm not sure what made me bring my camera that day, but I did, and I photographed that palpable energy of celebration as I watched everyone around me in tears hugging each other. I realized then that I wanted to start documenting more. Since the election, the world kind of turned upside down, and as scary as it seems, being at the rallies and protests was oddly comforting, knowing that there were a ton of people out there who felt the same anguish and upset and desires for our country as I do. Incorporating that into my work, especially my business, felt like like it was so important. I want to inspire others to stay active and informed and want to make a difference. I also want my clients to feel 100% supported by me and to know that I'm out there in the community, fighting and loving extra hard.
Liz: Do you identify as woke, feminist, and/or a social justice advocate? Could you tell us a bit more about what that identity means to you?
Jamie: I do. To me, being a feminist and a social justice advocate mean a lot of different things—it's the way I live my life, as an unapologetically strong queer female, as someone who believes in diversity and inclusion and supporting our most vulnerable populations. It's checking my privilege at the door and wholeheartedly supporting communities of color, women, and my own LGBTQ community. It's as big as showing up at the rallies and protests and having difficult conversations with those who don't have the same views as me, and also as small as making sure my self care is on point and that I'm able to run my business efficiently. As far as woke? I think that's a word I feel strange to give myself, but I hope that folks would look at my actions and words and feel that way about me. I'm constantly learning and growing and staying as involved and active as possible and that feels really good to me.
Liz: I love that. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Jamie: I'm just so grateful that a publication like yours is out there—I literally get so excited to see every post. It gives me hope. So thank you for that!