Jessica Laforet’s #ThisWomanIKnow illuminates stories of women empowering women through photography

Jessica Laforet is a Toronto photographer who grew up in Scarborough before moving to Peterborough for post-secondary education. When she finished school, she moved back to Scarborough before continuing to explore that city’s east-end, landing in The Beach, near Queen St and Woodbine Ave. For the last seven years, Jessica has lived near Ossington Ave and Bloor St.

This Toronto creator is also the Founder of This Woman I Know, an Instagram and Tumblr series that features women who show support, act as allies and empower one another.

We connected with Jessica, inspired by her journey as a photographer, the experiences that have lead her to where she is today and life now as the brand operator and manager behind the empowering web photo series, bringing women together to reinforce community, removing competition and fighting against discrimination.

Here is her story:

  1. In addition to being the mastermind behind This Woman I Know, you’re also a photographer. Who was a creative influence for you as a child and/or young adult?

I’ve had many influences throughout my life, but the first one, the person who got me into photography was my father.  He gave me my first 35mm camera when I was nine years old, and I always remember him taking photos of me and my siblings growing up. I would say the people who have influenced me the most in regards to this series are people like Viktoria Belle, Sarah Ratchford and Samantha Viarruel.  These folks do not give up on me and have shown me an unwavering amount of support and guidance with this work. Lastly,  there are two people who are also photographers who continually inspire me: Chris Bodnar and Tara McMullen.  They have both given me the chance to work with and learn from them which has given me more confidence than I have ever had before as a photographer and I will always be so grateful to them.

  1. Toronto is a busy city – there is a constant hum and in the summer, that hum turns into quite the loud buzz. Where do you go when you need to find that quiet, when you need to refresh and find new ways to create?

Summer is the busiest for me, so I don’t feel like I actually get to get away as much as I would like to, but when and if I do, I usually go and visit my parents who live outside of the city. There I will take my camera, go to the beach and take photos of sunsets, of the calm, silky looking lake.  This grounds me and relaxes me to my core, but if I am still in the city, I usually grab my camera and a coffee and hang out with one of my friends and snap some photos and just chat, creating something together.  

  1. What was your first job and how do you think it impacted you to be the woman you are today?

I don’t feel like my first job really impacted me as much as when I started working in a hair salon in Scarborough, called A Touch of Beauty, when I was 17-years-old. I started working there two days a week in the evening, but in the summer I got hired on full time as a receptionist/assistant. Working with all of those strong, independent women who treated me like their family definitely shaped me in the most amazing way.   My boss especially had the most meaningful impact on me. She treated me with respect, she gave me advice when i needed it and she never hesitated to tell me when I needed to smarten up. I genuinely believe I would not be who I am today had it not been for her support.

  1. You started This Woman I Know on April 2, 2016 and have featured over 50 women so far. Why did you start this adventure, this wonderful and empowering initiative, late last summer?

I started This Woman I Know because I wanted to surround myself and open other women up to a community of women who support and empower one another. I feel that this series has grown into something even more positive. It has become a place where I get to highlight and put a spotlight on so many incredible talented, deserving and giving women who do so much for others.  

  1. How do you find the women you want to highlight? And, how do you build and retain relationships with them?

Most of the women I have photographed have been women who inspire me and people I come across on the Internet by whom I am blown away.  A handful of women have come to me and recommended other women who are constantly going above and beyond the average person in their day to day life and doing good for others. Those women recognizing other women is what this series is all about. It is about lifting each other up and seeing the good that we put into this world. There are some women I was already close with before the series began, and some I have become very close friends with because of this series, and for that I am grateful.

  1. In today’s culture of hate, and culture of fear, why is it so important for people to empower one another, giving them safety, security and confidence to make change?

I would say it’s important for those very reasons.  When you empower someone, you give them the confidence to be themselves in hopes that they create positive change.

  1. Since the US election, and the campaign before it, there have been so many initiatives popping up and encouraging hope, encouraging the power to fight back and ultimately making change by forcing tough social and political conversations to happen! This Woman I Know started before Donald Trump became the President of the United States. To me, this means you’re proactive, but, it also shows that you could see the benefits of uniting to empower well before Trump took office. I think this serves as an important reminder to many of us – we’ve come a long way, but we’ve always had a lot of work to continue to do. What are your thoughts on this?

I couldn’t agree more. It seems as though everyone’s rights are being ripped away in the US, unless you are a middle-aged, rich, white man. It terrifies me and shows me that even more so now, we all need to stand up, start listening and rally together to speak up for women’s rights, trans rights and POC rights. We need to protect each other every single day.  What is happening in the US is terrifying, but what is happening here in Canada is not good either, and all of us need to come together and make change so that we can start to see an actual difference in our country.

  1. What kind of impact do you hope This Woman I Know makes?

It is my hope that this series encourages people to do more in their communities and to empower each other so that they can be their authentic selves.  

  1. Since you launched This Woman I Know in April 2016, what kind of response have you received about your efforts to share stories about women making waves, leading efforts for change?  

I have had very positive feedback about this series. It warms my heart to know that people enjoy reading about other women doing amazing things.  

  1. In all avenues of your work, you must hear and even experience wonderful stories. May you share one story that continues to motivate you in your work, even today?

I can’t pick just one, that would be impossible for me.  All of the women that I have highlighted in this series blow me away because they are incredible and they do so much. The work that they do, empowers me to be strong and stand up for myself and others and motivates me to work on this series and share as many inspiring women as I possibly can.

  1. For other photographers and/or creators looking to start an online initiative of their own, can you explain why you chose Instagram and Tumblr as This Woman I Know’s main hubs for content?

To be honest, Tumblr is just a free site that is a great way to share things on other social media sites, so that is why i chose it. Instagram I chose because I am a photographer and it’s the best platform, in my opinion, to use when sharing one’s images.

  1. Social media can be tricky business – especially as there are no rules, and best practices constantly change. Where do you look when in need of new social networking and online marketing tips?

I don’t really look to anyone for advice on social media, I just want to focus on sharing my work with people in hopes that they are interested in the positive stories that I am sharing, when we unfortunately see and hear so many negative things in our news feeds every day.

  1. There are so many photographers out there, and with social media, everyone can be someone capturing the perfect image, or sharing that citizen-journalist story. What about your brand makes you stand out from other photographers and story-sharers out there?

I’m not sure I would say my series stands out, but I’m happy to be part of a community who highlights women and the positive differences they are making within their communities.

  1. What advice do you have to other creators looking to make it in a sea of online content-creators?

My advice is to be yourself and photograph what you love.

For more of Jessica’s journey, visit her website, http://jessicalaforet.com/, personal Instagram account, where she shares her portrait and landscape photographer, and personal Twitter account. You can also follow the #ThisWomanIKnow story via said hashtag.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jessica, and for spreading goodness in a world where bad news spreads too quickly. We can’t wait to see what’s next for you and This Woman I Know!

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