Jani Wilkens is not your typical English teacher. Students may think Student Council is her only outlet, giving her something fun to do in her spare time, outside of her family and working as an English teacher. However, Wilkens has a second passion not all of her students are aware of. Wilkens is a photographer.
Wilkens became interested in photography at a young age, whether in front of the camera or behind it. Being a model for her mother was a job Wilkens loved to partake in as a child. However, her mother also got her interested in taking photos, as she ran a business called Fisher Photography. Her mother’s business, which got Wilkens her start in professional photography, was first based in Wilkens’ hometown in Western Michigan.
Wilkens first tried her hand at photography by working as a “second shooter” for Fisher Photography at weddings throughout her high school career. A second shooter is a photographer who works a second camera as backup for the main photographer. This is something Wilkens took great joy in, for it gave her both a creative outlet and a source of spending money. This is also where Wilkens learned many of her photography skills.
“My first wedding I was so nervous, but I felt so prepared,” Wilkens said.
In 2003, Wilkens started her own business, aptly named Fisher Photography, out of her home office. Currently, she averages about 50 jobs per year, but in 2004 she had about 50 jobs during the summer. Of course, this was before she had her two children and before she began sponsoring Student Council. It seemed Wilkens would have to work pretty hard to juggle her busy schedule.
“There is constantly a time issue, because if I’m not grading papers, I’m editing photos,” Wilkens said. “If I’m not editing photos, I want to spend time with my kids. Time is a huge issue.”
Although Wilkens is pressed for time, she finds a way to manage it all. She does what she loves and what she is passionate about, and still fits her family into her schedule. Wilkens’ ability to integrate her love for photography into her hectic life inspired some of her students to follow their dreams as well. A former student, Cami Wade, felt inspired by Wilkens to start her own business, Cami Wade Photography.
“Jani has helped me so much,” Wade said. “I don’t believe I would have had the zeal and drive to start my own business without her help and support.”
Not only did Wilkens teach Wade the business end of photography, but Wilkens also taught her how to work behind the camera.
“Jani’s photos are so fun and cheerful, and you can really tell she connects with the person in her photos,” Wade said.
Wilkens not only inspires her students, she also takes senior pictures for many of them. One such student, senior Alyssa Bocci, was very excited about her senior photographs from Fisher Photography. Bocci already had a previous session with Wilkens, and she is one of the many faces shown on Fisher Photography’s website. Bocci loved the photographs, as many of Wilkens’ clientele have.
“We got the prints, and we had a hard time choosing which ones to order,” Bocci said.
It seems that no matter what Wilkens involves herself in, she excels in everything she does, photography included. The reason for this may be that photography is more than a job- it is Wilkens passion.
“Photography makes me feel creative,” Wilkens said. “It makes me feel good being able to portray somebody as they really are.”