Jenn Ackerman has been having an incredibly busy spring, working on multiple projects in and around Minnesota. We asked her some questions about her work.
Jen Ackerman, DPF awardee
What was your inspiration for your current DPF project?
One of my first assignments when I moved to Minneapolis was to document the Somali community surrounding the story about sex trafficking and gangs in the Somali community. I realized that most of the stories told about the community were negative and often the women’s stories were not being told at all. I started becoming friends with some of the women and spent a lot of time asking questions about their experience in Minnesota.
How is the project going?
Being an outsider has been the greatest hurdle but I am beginning to get invitations to community events including a wedding.
What guides your eye as you go out to shoot photos?
Emotion. Of course, I am attracted to color and moments, but I focus from not only the emotion that I see but what I am feeling internally. I like to photograph the feeling I am having at that moment.
What sort of impact do you hope your documentary will have on your local community?
I hope that it empowers these women to know that their story is being told and that they are contributing members of the Minnesota landscape. I also hope it brings non-Somalis into their lives to see similarities and get to know the Somali community on a deeper level.
What makes for a compelling photograph?
One that makes you feel something. And, while the subject matter can do that, I believe it’s the responsibility of the photographer to make you feel something and the responsibility of the photographer to feel something themselves.
What photo books are on your bookshelf?
I try to buy at least one photo book a month and here are the books I have purchased in the last month or so: First Pictures by Joel Sternfeld, Sailboats and Swans by Michal Chelbin, River of No Return by Laura McPhee and Using History by Greta Pratt. Some of my favorites on my bookshelf: We English by Simon Roberts, Sawdust Mountain by Eirik Johnson, and Sailboats and Swans.
What is the last photographer’s book that really took your breath away?
I really love Sailboats and Swans right now and his approach to portraiture.
What other documentary projects are on your horizon?
I have been finishing a project that I have been working on the last couple of years that I haven’t really shared. Frozen is a project of 4×5 portraits about the stillness of winter. I recently finished a project with Tim, my husband, on portraits at county fairs and I just started a project, another project with him, about small towns in Minnesota.
Here is a preview of some of Jenn’s DPF funded work on the Minneapolis Somali community. We are really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together for her. It is a project that can have lasting impact in both her community and nationally. To learn more about her Somali project, please visit her website at ackermangruber.com/somali/.