Behind the Lens.

Photos by Alexis D.Lea

Raised by theatre parents, growing up in Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles, Jess' journalistic, portraiture and live photographs all share an admiration for the candid - from the total abandon of a dancer to the in-between moments of a musician on stage, she embraces the intimate and often unforgiving proximity unique to photography.

Her first photographic venture began in South Africa working with a Nelson Mandela recognized volunteer organization Dreamcatcher. Traveling to townships along the coast she documented locals involved in the foundations integral work rebuilding communities that were recovering from decades of poverty and Apartheid. A few of these photos were later selected to feature during a gala for the Amnesty International Film Festival. Her first live entertainment stills emerged when she happened upon a burlesque show in Vancouver and was struck by the raw unapologetic performances and the eclectic crowds. She photographed countless performers and shows for over four years, becoming the official photographer for the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival at the historic Vogue Theatre for two consecutive years. Among many game-changing performers, she had the pleasure to shoot award winners Lola Frost (Vancouver) and Perle Noire (NYC).

Expanding her ambitions in live performance she took the chance to approach Cirque Du Soleil. For a publication in Vancouver, she photographed the theatrical 'Totem' in the big top tent. The experience was so exhilarating she later returned to shoot 'Toruk' as well as 'Varekai' in Toronto, where she was also invited to shoot rehearsals behind the scenes. Perhaps equally to the theatrics of the stage, is her love of documenting performers and the process backstage - the co-existence of the two worlds is always an infinite possibility for imagery. For Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre NYC she had the unique opportunity to photograph both the stage production and an intimate two-person rehearsal with acclaimed principal dancers Rachael McLaren and her partner, Yannick LeBrun. This opportunity inspired her to return to her more photojournalistic roots not only in style of imagery but the chance to spend time with a subject.

Jess then pitched her first piece to VICE Media after seeing an intriguing segment on Michelle DuBarry, LGBTQ icon and activist, on the news one night and wanting to further explore her story. When the pieces was accepted, Jess had the rare opportunity to spend three days with Michelle (aka Russell Aldread) in her home, at a charity event and backstage. She and Dubarry talked about the longevity of DuBarry's career, and what it meant to be a touring drag queen in 1950s Canada, a history that's still very much unrecorded. The piece was published with Vice Media in the US and Canada.

With a passion for supporting iconic and emerging musicians, in particular female singer/songwriters, Jess has been shooting music for several media outlets across the country since 2014. Her first music subject was Courtney Love, who's coincidentally is one of her biggest idols. Since then she's covered Alabama ShakesMos Def, Ani DiFrancoKT Tunstall, St.Vincent and celebrated Canadian luminaries Serena Ryder, Jill Barber and Martha Wainwright. Her work has been exhibited at Analogue Gallery, hailed as Canada's sole gallery dedicated to music photography and representing renowned music photographers such as Danny Clinch. She's also covered a spectrum of events at the Luminato Festival, Canadian Opera Company and NY TimesTalks with Nelly Furtado. Most recently, she traveled to Montreal to shoot the hip-hop legend Lauryn Hill at the Montreal Jazz Fest.

Expanding on her passion for supporting and exploring the work of fellow artistsJess has begun to curate for niche magazines, such as  Archer Magazine, a sexual diversity magazine founded in Melbourne, Australia. For issue #4 which won the United Nations Media Peace Award in 2015, Jess researched, sourced and chose artists to feature. Artists included Zachary Drucker, a writing consultant and trans actress on Amazon's hit show 'Transparent' and imagery by Katrin Trautner who's work was chosen for the cover. Archer Magazine is now selling in Barnes & Noble across the USA. Continuing to curate and collaborate, she currently works on marketing projects and the gallery for Photographers Without Borders, a non-profit assigning emerging and established photographers with grass roots initiatives worldwide promoting conservation, sustainability and education in developing countries. 


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