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Photography Beth Garrabrant
Fashion Doria Santlofer
Words Natalie Shukur
Jen Steele has a fierce strength and passionate determination that belie her delicate physicality. Such tenacity along with curiosity and openness are the kind of qualities a girl from Wisconsin needs to make it in New York. What makes Steele’s version of “making it” most compelling is that she freely pursues independent creative projects that encompass all forms of narrative-making, from photography to writing and, most recently, film. Steele’s just-completed debut short Follow the Roses (a teaser to a feature), channels her tender, perceptive, and truth-telling point of view, while romancing an astute aesthetic sensibility. We chat to Steele about wearing multiple creative hats, the beauty of podcasts, and why getting dressed is emotional.
“Fashion is a very special thing, it can be transformative and, if you allow it to, it can lift you up.”
If I'm perceived to be chameleon-like in my endeavors, it's because I have to be. At this stage in my career it's vital to be flexible in my work but only for financial purposes—I can’t wait for the day when I can focus solely on making movies...when chameleon behaviors are a thing of the past.
Lately, podcasts have been taking me to new places. With access to information and art though conversations with respected individuals, we’re afforded a “fly on the wall” experience. I want to know more about how the people I admire think, feel, and react. Podcasts I enjoy quite a lot are: The New York Times’ The Daily, WTF with Marc Maron, Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Women of the Hour with Lena Dunham, Waking Up with Sam Harris, and UnStyled with Christene Barberich.
As a photographer I love capturing a mood and mundanity in moments; as a thinker, I enjoy unfolding layers, and I never block bizarre or imaginative ideas. I was compelled to move into filmmaking partly for these reasons, and also because I very much enjoy building worlds—and what a wild, exciting opportunity it is to build a world with the elements of cinema.
Follow the Roses is a piece of a larger project. In 2016 I wrote a feature film and have been taking steps to create that work. Directing Follow the Roses was the first step in that process. It's a short film—three scenes from my feature, expanded upon. We shot on location in Wisconsin. It is [set] in the summertime of 1994. The loose narrative follows two young girls the day their father is arrested.
Fashion is a very special thing, it can be transformative and if you allow it to, it can lift you up. In my relationship to dressing, I prefer to make decisions quickly. I think the most fascinating aspect of fashion or dressing rather, is that whether we like to believe it or not, how we dress is quite important to how we are perceived. Of course it's just the surface...but it's sensory, and that's juicy.
Reading Dreamland by Sam Quinones, watching Filmstruck and Le Cinema Club's weekly offering, listening to Weyes Blood, Front Row Seat to Earth.
Tessa Matthias; Frank Lloyd Wright; the work of my favorite photographers. Slower places, small towns, farms, nature, animals, music, and travel.
I have a home yoga practice in which I play a record and commit to moving and breathing for the duration of it. I wouldn't say it's daily, however…but that's the goal.
I love New York for the access it provides us, to love, to growth, culture and diversity, and also for walking. Bed-Stuy, my neighborhood, is elegant and vast.
When you can look back at an experience and see the truth in it.
Connecting with what nature has afforded women and men and everyone between those gender markers...the ability to grab a hold of personal desire with strength and conviction.
Spend less time on devices.