KODIAK, Alaska - After 21 years in the photography business, Kodiakan Jan Pennington is closing her studio and switching to part-time work as she focuses on her family.
Pennington, who has taken portraits for hundreds of Kodiakans and snapped shots across the island, said the choice to close shop wasn't simple. "This is not an easy thing," she said.
Pennington's prominent 13-year-old studio on Mill Bay Road now boasts a for sale sign, and brown cardboard boxes filled with equipment sit where customers once did. "I hate seeing it like this, but I've got to get started," she said of the packing.
Pennington came to professional photography relatively late in life, following a successful 17-year career with the Kodiak Island Borough.
Photography was a hobby for her until she took a class at Kodiak College taught by Marion Owen, a well-known Kodiak photographer and the Daily Mirror's garden columnist.
"I didn't go with any intent of sta rting a business," she said.
At the time, however, Kodiak was without a portrait photographer, and Pennington said her husband, Hank, conspired with Owen to send business her way.
"It was fun to watch her grow in that way," Owen said. "At first she was a little timid to spread her wings . but soon she was off and running and exploring her own art."
Pennington later returned the favor for Owen, who used Pennington's expertise in portraiture. "We would go to Jan's studio, and she would teach my students," Owen recalled. "It was a kind of turnabout is fair play kind of thing."
In her time in Kodiak, Pennington has seen the switch from film to digital and the spread of small, cheap cameraphones. Still, people kept coming to her to preserve weddings, graduations and family reunions. "People come to me when they have something to celebrate," she said, and that hasn't changed with digital photography.
Through the hundreds of portrait sessions she's done, Penni ngton said her goal above all is to "capture a bit of a person or group's personality."
Anyone can do a run-of-the-mill, everyone smiling forward portrait, she said, but the goal is to tell a story with photographs, either with props, costumes or locations. "Photos are stories," she said. "I like to surprise (customers) and give them a view of themselves they didn't see."
One of Pennington's favorite strategies comes into play with antsy kids. After a few shots, she asks them what they would like to do.
In one particularly memorable instance, "the little boy says, 'I want to lay down on the ground with my folks,'" Pennington recalled.
From a back room, she pulled out a black-and-white photo of a boy grinning, framed by a man and a woman, all laying on a black backdrop. "When it came back, this was their favorite," she said.
Pennington then pulled out another photo showing the three a little older with a younger girl, all in exactly the same pose. "Six y ears later, they came back again with their new daughter," she said.
Above all else, photography involves giving people good memories to share, Pennington said. "Photographs are an experience," she said. "If you didn't have a good time, you're not going to view (the photograph) that well."
After 21 years, Pennington has plenty of good memories to go along with her photographs.
"I want to thank (Kodiak) for letting me be part of their celebrations and their families," she said. "It was always a story."