Jenavieve Belair bleeds Southern California. Through her lifestyle and fashion photography, she’s been able to capture the movement, magic, and overall vibe of surfer towns, skateparks, and swimming holes. She’s a master behind the lens at telling the stories of long, languorous, sun-drenched California days.
But Belair’s photography does more than just capture a single moment. There’s a sense of movement to her work that drags you along behind the skateboarders. You feel like you’re inside that vintage pick-up truck with the impossibly attractive Southern California blonde. It feels real because it is real to Belair.
“People tell me that my works bleeds southern California and that’s because I bleed southern California,” she explains. “I truly live the same life my photos do.”
The pictures aren’t taken by an avatar outsider, they’re a response to what the artist sees. Belair’s truth comes through in each shot.
Belair’s life wasn’t always amber soaked afternoons spent on sandy stretches of Orange County’s famed “Blue 42.” Her journey began in the fields and forests of Minnesota. Belair was one of those kids who always had a camera hanging around her neck or in her backpack. She lived a creative life by snapping photos of her sister, family, and friends. But even as a teenager searching for a path, the medium of photography spoke to her and she spoke through the medium.
Still, while in Minnesota, photography was more a hobby than a job. “I really started to chase after photography when I moved to California when I was 18,” Belair explains. The move to Orange County for college made becoming a photographer more attainable in her mind, but her career didn’t magically manifest. As with any creative endeavor, it started off as a side hustle — balanced by plenty of “real world” gigs along the way. Belair did whatever she needed to do to buy equipment and pay for film processing.
“I’d be a waitress one day,” she remembers, “then go to the smoothie shop the next day, then I’d be a nanny the next.”
Even her first professional jobs weren’t halcyon dreamscapes, surf scenes, or beach hangs. She started at night, wading through the throngs at bars and clubs, figuring out how to make social media work for her.
“My first real photo job was taking nightlife photos in bars,” Belair says. “I think I made 50 bucks a night and I did that for years.”
Eventually, professional nightlife photos lead to wedding and family photography clients. Her entrepreneurial spirit began paying off. Belair’s keen eye towards lifestyle-defining photography with California as her backdrop helped propel her career, but it’s the honesty in those photos that solidified it.
If this all sounds a little “Cali hipster dream-life” — all yoga-fit blondes with perfect skin, shaggy-haired skater dudes, classic cars, surfboards, and endless summers at the beach — that’s sort of the point. Between jobs, Belair rides her skateboard with her dog to the grocery store. She bums around the very beaches she shoots at. She’s often featured friends or neighbors in her photos.
This is her life writ large in every frame. Her photos are personal, enticing, and — thanks to those two elements — authentic. She saw a dream and put everything else second to chase it, thereby embodying the SoCal hustler’s ethos. How can you hate on her for getting to hang with models at swimming holes when she laid all that groundwork? Fortune favors the bold, as they say.
While Belair seems acutely aware that the clarion California vistas she captures are freighted with a high degree of wish fulfillment, she’s not satisfied limiting herself to one color palette or location.
“I understand how much people love the southern California aesthetic,” she notes. “But growing in your technical ability and being able to shoot anywhere is really important to me.”
In the end, Belair is running a business based on her creative endeavors and that means being open to opportunities that let her reflect her Southern California vibe without limiting her Cali-bred creativity. That requires a large skill set and a willingness to approach each subject as unique and new. It’s fun, but also rigorous.
“The thing I used to let go and be creative with is a job now,” she says. “A job that requires taxes and meetings and conversations.”
As such, every photo she takes is a culmination of a lifetime of practice in her craft — networking, lunches, meetings, setting up a business, nurturing contacts, figuring out tax codes, and editing. Belair admits it can all be overwhelming at times, but in the end, the hard work and hustle are worth it. Through her unique study of life in southern California, we get a glimpse into a world that conjures a sun-drenched dream while simultaneously feeling within reach.
It’s proof of the magic of photography and, in an even grander sense, a testament to the region where Jenavieve Belair lives and works.