Jenny Wheat may just be the luckiest photographer in the world
Story by Pete Dulin | Photography by Jenny Wheat
Jenny Wheat is a woman with a plan.
She started Wheat Photography about 10 years ago as a portrait studio. Over the years, she has transitioned to being a commercial studio focused on lifestyle, fashion and corporate projects. Wheat says, “It’s been a crazy ride.”
Nonetheless, her personality and work ethic are well suited to being an independent business owner. She says, “I have the kind of personality that thrives on networking and the social aspect of being an entrepreneur. So I’m the luckiest person in the world to make a living doing two things that feel like playing to me: photography and networking.”
Wheat enjoys the challenge of building a team of creative personalities like models, hair and makeup stylists, wardrobe experts and video people and then collaborating with them. She says, “My team is amazing and so much fun to work with every day.”
Wheat also operates Manifest Talent, a boutique male modeling agency that offers career development and management for a select few male actor/models. She works to connect each model with casting agents, agencies, photographers and filmmakers. Judging by Wheat’s enthusiasm based on Facebook posts from shoots, her work has no shortage of joy and pleasure.
“My team and I love to photograph menswear. It’s really our favorite kind of job. So over the years, we hired a lot of male models to work with us at photo shoots,” Wheat says. “A number of them told us how much they wished there was an agency in this market that really specialized in men, menswear, photographing and representing just guys.”
Ever savvy, Wheat recognized a viable niche in the Midwest for a men-only talent agency. Her agency now represents “seventeen awesome, talented, handsome gentlemen,” Wheat declares. “We are very selective and rarely add a new face to our roster. I act as a booking agent for our men, but because we are small, I get to know them on a personal level.”
Wheat acts as a mentor, a photographer/portfolio-builder, and kind of a second mom. “We have a wonderful, supportive ‘family’ atmosphere at our agency. Our guys help each other and know each other well, share workout tips and even clothes,” she says. “We have a private Facebook page where we post news and info about our successes and they all chime in and congratulate one another there. I’m really proud of the quality of young gentlemen I’ve been able to gather into an agency.”
In society and fashion in particular, images of women are presented from a masculine view, the so-called “male gaze.” Wheat flips that gender role when she photographs her male models and relishes the artistic opportunity.
“I’m just like any artist, painter or sculptor. I love beauty and lines and angles and light. Men who are fit and muscular have amazing sculptural qualities and I am the first to say that I love to light and photograph the male form, from an artistic perspective,” she says. “I am also crazy over stylish menswear so dressing up handsome guys in beautiful clothes is pretty much the most fun I can imagine having.”
Running two businesses requires not only perspiration but inspiration. Wheat draws hers from her crew of collaborators. “I absolutely love to collaborate with other creative people. My shoots are noisy and fun and full of laughing and sharing ideas,” she says. “When I have great stylists and talented models and amazing clothes and a beautiful set… I’m truly in my happy place. And that feeling just flows through our team and we create exciting images full of emotion or movement or beauty. That’s what it’s all about.”
Outside of her busy career, Wheat also works at maintaining an active family life. “It’s so challenging when you own your own business to achieve balance. I am a mom and wife, first and foremost,” Wheat says. “I schedule around my child’s school and social life as much as I possibly can. I only work weekdays 9 to 5.
“I try to give full attention to home life during evenings and weekends. Late at night, I do check emails or edit sometimes, but I try to keep it sensible. And I have a great team of second-shooters, Rose and Joel, who shoot evening/weekend projects or events, when I can’t be there. They are loved by many of our clients who need weekend photography. And of course, I always feel like I’m walking a tightrope in a handstand, just like every working mother.”