Jonathan Taylor Sweet Takes Us To Kenya
Wayward sat down with Seattle-based professional photographer Jonathan Taylor Sweet to learn more about his creative process, staying inspired, and how Kenya changed his life. We dare you not to fall in love with his enthusiasm and passion for his craft.
Howdy, Jon! Thanks for sitting down with us today. Your work is stunning! Can you share a little about your background as a PNW creative? You shoot both weddings and commercial photography, right?
Hey! I grew up in Tacoma, but am now based in Seattle. I never thought I would be considered a “creative” but am super thankful for life’s turn of events. I was making coffee in Parkland when a lot of the photo magic began to happen! I would get off a shift at Northern Pacific Coffee and drive straight to Mount Rainier for sunset and crush the iPhone 4 with every ounce of my being! Something about being in the mountains and having the opportunity to capture moments alongside meeting amazing people… I couldn’t get enough of it. I kept posting my images to the good ol’ Instagram app and the rest is pretty much history! Instagram is such an awesome platform to connect with people, which spurred a lot of the creative process for me.
After becoming what is now called an “influencer” I quickly realized that a job was forming out of this! I have been fortunate enough to make a business out of creating imagery for all kinds of couples, businesses, and organizations. It’s been an absolute blast falling in love with the craft of photography! I’ve enjoyed learning how to be the best at what I do to give moments back to people so they can hold onto something forever. I’m so grateful that God opened the door of using a camera to make my world bigger and have a fuller life pursuing what He wants me to do.
What does a “normal” workday look like for you… if that even exists!
I wake up at 6 AM Monday-Friday to take my lovely bride to work, then stop at Vif Coffee on my way home to get an Americano to kickstart the day. I then do emails, editing, and other projects until 11:30, when I go to the gym to play basketball to get my heart rate up and stay sane from looking at a computer screen for too long. Anyone that knows me well knows that I am 100% extroverted and screen time doesn’t last long for me! After the gym I go home, shower, then finish all the projects I started in the morning. I try my best to leave evenings open to date my wife and also hang with friends and do social things. Some days change due to having a photo shoot. If I have a shoot, I schedule it after I take my wife to work, and then I go shoot and go home and import the images and then finish up projects I need to finish up! During wedding season, I typically work Monday-Sunday and very rarely have a day to spare. The days are a grind so I am always pursuing new work and also trying to catch up with people… always trying to keep my yapper yapping! I love to talk!
How does the Pacific Northwest serve as the perfect creative backdrop for inspiring fresh ideas?
The PNW is a very diverse place for all aesthetics — for a creative it’s a dream come true. You have a coffee shop on every corner and mountains in sight at every turn of the head so you can let your imagination go crazy. Seattle’s concrete jungle is juxtaposed perfectly against the epic mountains of the North Cascades… you literally can’t go wrong. The PNW also has a massive creative community, so it’s not hard to get inspired by others who call this place home.
You’re a coffee fan so we gotta ask — best cup of coffee in all of Seattle?
This is a touchy subject for a lot of the coffee geeks out there! I am a big fan of consistency. There’s nothing better than a place that simply just does their job, and does it with excellence. Because of that, I am a huge fan of Vif. They serve Olympia Coffee Roasters which is truly an amazing company and their products are just a blessing to mankind! Vif does an incredible job at making coffee and I’m glad it’s on my way home from taking my wife to work! There are other great places of course: Milstead, Elm, General Porpoise, Ballard Coffee Works and Slate are a few of my favorites. If Neptune was still around, I would name them without a shadow of a doubt, but sadly gas leaks had to happen. That place was the best spot I have ever had a cup of joe… worldwide, not just in Seattle!
You recently traveled to Kenya with One Child Matters. Was it your first time in Africa? Can you tell us a little about the trip and your work there?
Yes yes yes! Such an amazing trip! It wasn’t my first time to Africa but definitely my first time to the bush of Africa. One Child Matters is such an amazing organization — I want to affirm what they’re doing around the world makes the lives of kids in poverty-stricken areas have a better life that is full of hope and possibility. They provide the opportunity to sponsor kids so we can be a part of that very mission!
One Child Matters asked my buddy Tim if he would like to come on a trip to document and share on social what and who One Child Matters is — he kindly referred me and some other buddies of ours. OCM has worked in Kenya for quite some time now, from Nairobi to Turkana — they are working at full speed to sponsor as many kids as possible… they are doing amazing work. The mission of the trip was to document Turkana. It’s a place often not visited and very hard to get to; it’s also hot, uncomfortable, and isolated. We landed on a dirt runway in seemingly the middle of nowhere. But after getting off the plane, I realized we had landed in the middle of everything that makes you want to live a more joy-filled life!
I can’t begin to explain the smiles of the wonderful community of Turkana — it was such an honor to photograph the people there. The hugs, hand holds, and the laughs we shared will have a mark on my life forever! OCM has made several hope centers in South Turkana that service the communities in such awesome ways: sponsored kids can enjoy food, school, and activities. They also hold church on Sunday… talk about the best 3 hours of your life! I relearned what it’s like to praise God when I stepped foot in there!
It’s genuinely hard to put words to a trip such as this… which is why I take photos, ha! What I do know is that it was a highlight for my heart, mind, and soul, and was incredibly enriching to my life as a son, husband, business owner, and photographer. It also stretched me creatively. I will forever hold the kids’ smiles in my memories. It’s been awesome to share the journey of working with OCM since I have been home, and so thankful to have the chance now with Wayward!
What’s your favorite photo you shot while in Kenya? Is there a story behind it?
It’s hard to narrow the trip down to one photo… I think my favorite photo has changed like 5 times since going to Turkana! There is, however, one photo that stands out: I was out walking one day, and came across four kids playing on their property (a hut with a tree split through and also a tin structure). The boy in the photo was about to climb the tree and the three little kids to the right of him were all playing by the tin structure. It was in this moment that I began to really take in the reality of where I was. I realized that this was the daily life of a kid in Turkana: playing and smiling, truly using their imaginations, in the beating hot sun without any shoes on scorching sand. I couldn’t remember a time in my life where I was so free like that.
After I took that photo, I approached the boy to take his photo in the tree. It’s one of my favorite portraits I have ever taken. He was probably confused as to why a Mzungu (white person) was approaching him asking to take his photograph, but he changed my life. He represented the moment I realized I wanted to use my gifts and talents to be on mission instead of for my gain. I want my work to tell a story that never ends, and that is the overwhelming and unfailing love of God. Was a beautiful day! Grateful for OCM and all they do, and for giving me and some of my closest friends an opportunity to celebrate life with an amazing community of people in Kenya!
With your huge social following, Instagram obviously plays a significant role in your storytelling. How does your audience respond when you talk so openly about your faith and passion behind projects like traveling to Kenya with One Child Matters?
I believe that my audience responds well to me being a Jesus follower! Since the beginning, I knew that this “influence” I have is not derivative of me. Photography is a gift, my platform is a gift, and my creative brain cells are a gift. My only way of responding to that is by sharing about the God that gifted it all to me to begin with. I have always wanted to have messages behind why I do what I do. Passion projects like this one have allowed for cool opportunities to use the gifts and talents I have for a bigger mission than just myself. I believe that promoting a story that needs is one step in the right direction. If my platform can be a catalyst to promote something or someone on a mission to do just that, sign me up! God gave me the platform so I want to use it for His Glory. I would love to believe that my audience connects with that.
What can we expect to see from you in 2019?
Just going to take it one day at a time! I haven’t really thought about 2019 just yet. I try to be better at today before I can worry about tomorrow! If I were to have a hope for the new year, it is to do more projects such as the one we did with One Child Matters — would love to keep being on a mission with my camera. I definitely don’t want to stay stagnant and repetitious, but let each moment captured on camera be as real as the moment really is.