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When Tragedy Struck, Jared Phelps Tried Photography to Heal Better


“Photography helps me a little because I get to capture those moments and take myself back to them whenever I want,” says photographer Jared Phelps about how turning to photography has helped him cope with a tragedy. Being unexpectedly gifted a camera a few days after his father passed away helped overcome this loss immensely. We spoke to him about how he finds his way back to normality by looking through the lens of his Fujifilm X-T4.

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The loss of a parent can be devastating, more so when it comes without a prior warning. Being behind a camera isn’t alien to Jared, who works as a videographer. But shooting stills with a new camera system gave Jared a way to escape from the sadness of his father’s recent death. It’s helping him rebuild his emotional confidence. While the pain may linger for a lot longer, he’s able to feel and heal by using this camera. Even though it’s only been a few weeks since it happened, Jared was keen on sharing his poignant story.

The Essential Photo Gear Used by Jared Phelps

Jared told us:

Some people ask me why, as a Sony fanboy, did I go with the Fujifilm? Well, my love for vintage and film looks has been something Ive had for many years now. My XT-4 allows me to acheive those looks of nostalgia no matter where I go.

The Phoblographer: Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Jared Phelps: Hello, my name is Jared, and I go by LensofJared online. My adventure into photography started when I was about 15 (2011) when my friend Tyler introduced me to videography, YouTube, and editing. I fell in love with what you could do with a camera, and it sent me down a passionate route of filmmaking and photography. We began making YouTube videos that I hope never see the light of day because they’re awful.

Photography never really was that big of a priority to me during this time until about 2017, when I started doing freelancing for video. Being freshly married to my lovely wife and only having one stable income from her made me look elsewhere to bring in extra money. I started looking on craigslist for job opportunities, and this is where I learned about product photography. Seeing what you could do with photos led me down a path of constant photo taking! I was never really successful with photography like I have been with video but, it’s honestly a blessing it didn’t work out.

Photography for me now is a way to relax and sharpen my eye for the creative looks in video, as well as keep my skill in composition sharp. It’s only recently, in the past couple of months, that I’ve become obsessed with it, and now you can find me scouring Reddit or Instagram, looking at people’s photos, and drooling over the talent I see daily.

The Phoblographer: What camera do you use the most now for creating your images?

Jared Phelps: For photography, my go-to camera system is Fujifilm and, more notably, my Fujifilm XT-4. Before I was given this camera, I shot on my Sony a7s iii, which is not made for photos. I did a lot of research on camera systems and came across Fuji’s unique camera system and, more importantly, its film simulations.

The very first photograph that Jared Phelps took on his new X-T4

As far as the rest of my gear, I keep a Peak Design camera clip on my belt at all times, and wherever I go, my Fuji follows. My go-to lens is the Fuji 16-80 f4 that my wife got for me with the camera body. My most important piece of gear has been my Camera Clip. This allows me to never leave the house without a camera on me, and I cant tell you how many times I’ve taken photos at random while my wife and I are out doing errands. 

The Phoblographer: The Fujifilm X-T4 was a gift you received at an emotionally devastating moment in your life. What was your initial feeling when you received it?

Jared Phelps: So, the XT-4 was a gift from my wife for Christmas. Even though we had agreed on a budget of $500 each. I hope she likes the hairdryer I got her I had been wanting this camera for a while, and unknowingly to me, she got a good Christmas bonus which she selflessly spent on me. I don’t think she knows what this camera has been to me; it’s been my therapy, my escape, and my new way to see the beauty in the world around me.

The reason I say it’s my ‘therapy’ is just a few days before receiving this gift, my father took his own life. It was very bittersweet as I had just received the news not long before she gifted this to me. A few months ago, we moved from Texas to Utah to be closer to my workplace and help me build my portfolio as well as take on new responsibilities. This was already a hard transition in life but even harder with us expecting our first child. My dad taking his life was something I never thought I’d hear, especially after surviving an attempted murder on him just a few months prior. While my dad was laid up in the hospital recovering, we surprised him with his ‘Papa’ shirt, and I genuinely believe he never took it off after that. Daily requests for updates on his first grandchild were not uncommon either. But, it seemed something below the surface was dwelling that none of us could see. The timing on the camera from my wife was nothing short of a God thing.

I didn’t even know it but, this camera has helped me deal with my emotions, whether it was intentional or not. I’m not one to cry or deal with emotions, and unfortunately, I’m no stranger to death. At the age of 13, I watched my 17 year old brother Cody lose his life in a motorcycle accident. I think that moment in my life is what has caused me to be so in love with capturing moments of time. When I got into wedding videography, it helped me understand the importance of that day and those moments. I am obsessed with capturing memories for people to reminisce on in the future because you never know when you will never see them again. This has started to bleed into my photos as well.

When I sit down to edit my photos, I often find myself staring at the people or places in them and seeing them as a moment in time. Every person I photo on the streets has a story, their own pains, and aches, dreams and passions, fears and doubts. We live in a ‘Highlights Online’ world, and as someone who loves social media, I can’t wait until I never need it again. Social media makes us believe we are ordinary people who won’t amount to anything if we aren’t on the billboard 100 or have a blue tick next to our names. That’s what photography has helped me understand.

The Phoblographer: Back then did you think you’d be using the camera much, or was it something you expected you’d put aside soon after?

Jared Phelps: I never really saw myself getting this into it, if I’m being honest. Video is still my passion, but I’ve started to really find a love for photography. Sometimes a good tool makes a job fun; in this case, it’s my XT-4. I genuinely love going out and using this camera.

The Phoblographer: Tell us about your initial days with it. How did using it help you cope with the emotional issues you were going through?

Jared Phelps: The first few days were definitely like the honeymoon days, I never didn’t have it in my hand, or I was constantly showing people my new camera. I was watching YouTube videos about learning how to use this camera. After we got the news of my dad, we got on a same-day flight back home to Dallas to be with family. I was raised by my grandparents for most of my life on that 10-acre farm. A few years ago, my grandpa got a four-wheeler that I loved to ride and listen to music on, very therapeutic. Going back home, I used that four-wheeler a lot to have my moments to cry and scream and do whatever I did to deal with my emotions. This time I brought my new camera, and this was the first time I saw the world through a viewfinder as artistic.

I took this photo in this dugout and felt like I could see my emotions in a photo. The feelings of it being empty, quiet, and dark, something that usually has life and energy, chatter or young baseball players, and the distant sound of supportive moms and dads cheering on their son or yelling at the ump. I felt like I could hear and see it all but, it was a memory in time and patient place as it waited to make new memories with boys and girls who would come here for years until it was their turn to cheer their children on. I became emotional at this, which is very abnormal for me but, that’s when it all clicked for me.

The Phoblographer: What are the kinds of subjects and locations you find yourself photographing?

Jared Phelps: My favorite locations to shoot are abandoned locations. I love the relics of time that you can spot and always wonder what stories those places could tell. I have a fascination with street photography as well right now. This has really given me energy as it’s scary to take photos of people but, I love seeing photos of people and just wondering, “How is their day going? Where are they headed? Have they just gotten news of a new raise, or maybe just got let go?”. I find myself trying to mind read a lot; it doesn’t work though.

The Phoblographer: Has the camera helped you document your grief in images? Or is your approach with it to see the happier side of life?

Jared Phelps: I’d say that I think, subconsciously, it has helped me with my grief. I think I see the world in a whole new way now, respecting every day that I get. Since I’ve gotten this camera, I notice I’m obsessed with seeing where light falls during the day or the colors on a building and thinking, “That would make a good photo.”

The Phoblographer: What are some of the features of this camera which help make the technical side of photography easier and allow you to focus more on the moment?

Jared Phelps: The ability to play with different types of film looks has been extremely important in my creative process! It allows me to see the same scene very differently depending on the film simulation I chose. Also, for anyone curious, my go-to film simulation at the moment is ‘Bright Summer’ which can be found on the FujiXWeekly recipe app. It also has really good image stabilization and fairly competent autofocus.

The Phoblographer: Would you say getting more involved in photography has helped you slowly overcome the sadness?

Jared Phelps: I don’t know if you can really overcome sadness but, I do think it’s helped me understand it. I’ve suffered from bouts of depression ever since my brother’s accident. I suffer from missing the past too much, missing the carefree world of high school, missing friends I don’t talk to anymore, late-night gaming sessions at a friend’s house, etc. Photography helps me a little because I get to capture those moments and take myself back to them whenever I want. My son is going to have his life documented for all his high school friends to see when he graduates.

The Phoblographer: It’s a camera that will always remind you of the story behind it. Does this subconsciously seep into every image you take with it?

Jared Phelps: I don’t think it seeps into every photo I take but, it’s a constant reminder of him. He had his demons, and he made a lot of mistakes that he had to live with. I think he just wanted to find peace, and unfortunately, he did. I plan to use my camera and the power of creation with cameras to help people understand mental health more, especially in men.

It hurts to think he thought he couldn’t get help or that no one would help him. I just plan to try and make him proud and carry on his name. My son Colt has the middle name of Randall, the same middle name as my brother Cody, my father David, and my nephew Brody, who was taken far too soon from us. All we can do is carry on, so carry on, we will.

All images supplied by Jared Phelps. Used with permission. Please visit his website and his Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages to see more of his work.

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