Jessika Zachary

Creator. Photographer. Journalist.

Jessika Zachary's own photography and journalism portfolio. A senior photojournalism major at Ball State and a love for detail. Let's connect.

Am I A New Yorker Yet?

Still deciding on the true reason I decided to pick up my Indiana small-town self and transplant to one of the largest and fastest cities in America.

I've taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging since graduation. Mostly because I'm still adjusting to having enough energy after a full week's work to go to the grocery store for the essentials. Whatever essentials may be for you, I'm a milk, eggs, bananas, and peanut butter type of girl. Since May, I've accepted a job 12 hours away from my family, friends, and those who I'm closest with. Since May, I've learned that New York isn't for the weak or those who complained about walking to class in college just 2 minutes from the front door of their HUGE apartment. 

That's right, you read it right, New York. I accepted a job, landing me in one of the biggest, face-paced, and loudest cities you could possibly live in. This is something I knew I wanted to do since I was young because any job you could possibly dream of is in this city. My parents, the kind and loving people that they are, helped me move out to the city with a Uhaul to my fourth floor walk-up apartment. That's right, my "buns&tighs" are in good shape just three months later. We can't forget to relive the time we had to park the Uhaul 10 minutes walking distance from my apartment where it got vandalized the first night we were all here by only what I had assumed as a gang member officially welcoming an out-of-towner. I moved in with two Ball State alumni, which is great because it's like I have a piece of home in my new home. Not to mention the amount of friends I already have here, which makes it a little bit easier to be on my own. 

Since living here I have officially seen it all. Being a huge Seinfeld fan, I used to think my life was made up of these long, dramatic moments of events that only happen to me. Qualifying me to have my own reality show, because really, these events only happen to me. Nope. Since living here I have seen drunk men sing in Italian on the subway during a quiet Sunday morning, men viciously scribbling math equations on kleenexes who looked like they were going to commit a dangerous crime or spontaneously combust, men peeing in the street, and 300-pound women mooning their boyfriends during a fight across a traffic crosswalk. Not that you only see these things in New York, you see them everywhere, but only in New York can you see these things in broad daylight, in tight subway spaces, and in very public areas where it causes 300 people per square mile to stop and stare. 

Regardless of the moments when I want to have the subway to myself, the times I want an air conditioner blasting my skin off while waiting on the subway, and the times I want to take out a loan to construct my own grocery store, laundromat, and pharmacy right outside my apartment door...I really love living here. Sometimes I just look back and admire the amount of people, the buildings, the bustling traffic, and the children walking their dogs with their families...I really have to be thankful. I've learned so much about myself for example:

1. I'm on my own time - If I want to cross the street during the "walking symbol" at a slow pace, then okay I will. People do that to me when I'm in a hurry, I'm going to do it to them when they are in a hurry.

2. That being said - If I need to be somewhere in 30 minutes, I need to allot myself 45 minutes or even 50. Living here has really made me over-punctual for work.

3. Grocery shopping in shifts - If I can't carry the bags back to my apartment for a 15 minute subway ride and four flights of stairs then I need to buy less and get more 3 days later. Multiple trips in a week, almost like going to Walmart with mom when she forgets something. 

4. Nights out - They are great; however, really plan your time because YOU WILL take an Uber home and need to be prepared to spend up to $20 for that.

5. No energy - I physically have to force myself out of the house on Saturday and Sunday because the city is very go, go, go. It's so easy to want to hibernate during the weekend, but it's NYC. Don't waste it.

6. People don't say excuse me - It's so funny yet frustrating how many people expect me to move when they are trying to move around their shopping bags, purses, or bodies during a MOVING subway ride when there is hardly any space to begin with OR when people walk very slowly and take selfies in front of you, while gawking around like they have never seen the sky before. 

7. You can't be afraid to ask questions - If I had a nickel for every time I asked someone which avenue was which way, or if the train went to a certain stop, or even questioning the time I would be rollin' in the dough. People are friendly when it comes to answering your questions, because they want to feel like they are right. 

8. Allow a day to do anything - Whenever I try to go downtown shopping, out to brunch, or to anything...it's a whole production. By the time I get ready, walk to the subway, ride the subway, do the activity and come home, a whole day goes by. 

9. Make an effort - When it comes to spending time with friends, you have to make an effort to see each other. For example, my big sis from college lives 100+ blocks from me, which is only about 3 miles and I never see her. We also work across the street from each other. We have to plan 2 weeks out to see each other because our schedules are so packed. 

10. No one ever sleeps - I swear to you, the families that live below us, they never go to bed. Last night it sounded like they were having a haunted house because of the amount of children screaming and laughing into the wee hours of the night. I think they were just playing dominoes on card tables that they set up on the street.

While all of these lessons are very important, I have learned more valuable ones as well. Like the fact that it's okay to miss home, but it's even better to get a war story out of yourself. What kind of woman would I be if I never went after my dreams. Sure. I get anxiety on the subway, people are grumpy, and it is unbearably hot when I'm hurrying to be very punctual to work every morning, but I am a New Yorker in my own terms. I'm chasing my dream and having fun doing it, while learning what it's like to live in the city that literally never sleeps. 

Ranch Hands

A creative writing piece exploring the shared stories of rural Montgomery County in Indiana.

The sun began to fade behind the haze as the school bus rolled its way to a stop. A young, curly-haired girl stepped off with her three male siblings to begin the trek down their mile-long driveway. It was September and the warmest days of all Indiana summers. The cows bawled from the nearby pasture, and the chickens grazed nearby the front yard of vintage perennials.  As the siblings took their steps down the driveway, gnats gathered in front of their eyes making it almost impossible to see their elderly mother standing on the front porch. Finally, after a few minutes of walking and brother John picking on Janet, she stumbled upon the littlest pebbles at the edge of the front porch steps. Their mother, dressed in her calico house dress and her traditional hand-crafted apron, greeted them with strawberry rhubarb pie, which was Janet’s favorite. Youngest brother Steven waved to a distant figure out on the farm grounds. Their property, as large as it was, took their father an entire week to keep it to his perfection. Once the next week started, his work began all over again. Corn fields surrounded the front yard and the barn stood stately in the rear of the family farm. Near the barn was an outhouse, that each child dreaded using especially during the winter months.  To Janet, her father and mother had provided more than enough for each child. Her father, always worked long hours and harvested the crops to make for a great bountiful season.  Her mother, Mary, always slaved away over a hot stove and made her speciality of mashed potatoes and homemade noodles. After all, Mary always said that to live on a ranch you have to eat just as much.

Mary ushered the children inside as they threw their satchels in the doorway.  Janet ran to the window, eager to hear the sweet sound of a John Deere puttering its way to the barn. There wasn’t a better sound. The purr of its engine and unique rumble of its power in road gear, raced down the gravel as it made its way near the white Lapland farm house. The children washed up in the kitchen sink, the same sink that Mary bathed them in when they were infants. Janet ran to the back door, as her father made his way up the pathway. Robert, or Bob as he was commonly known, was dressed in his usual weekday attire of Oshkosh bibs, a Chambray shirt and his weathered work boots.  In his right pocket, a brown pipe rested, that was still warm from the previous smoke. Bob had his everyday pairs of bibs to where some were showing heavy signs of  distress. Being a couple from the Depression, they were frugal in their lifestyle and throwing things away.  Mary always described that time as a dismal period. She always spoke of nothing but rice in the kitchen and one pair of Sunday church clothes. Since then, the family was better off raising four of the most needy children, but they were content doing so. Janet greeted her father at the door, with a big hug, as she was a true daddy’s girl.

The family gathered around the table and gazed out the window when their dog, Frosty, an American Eskimo breed, made his way to the back door. Frosty was always a good livestock dog, but if a stranger came near he knew how to bite in the worst and agonizing places. Bob stomped his foot, the way to give every family member a stern upright position in their seats. He began saying a short and simple grace, where each kid then said, “Amen.” The family dove face first into their meals gobbling down the potatoes. If an outsider were to visit the family, they would think the family hadn’t eaten in days, but Mary’s meals were just that delicious. Janet knew they ate like kings during every meal. Even though the family didn’t have much and every sibling shared a room, their parents kept a tight budget. After all, they were raising four children and had them both working through to every weekend auction in the area, where Bob ran the entire tabacle, with Mary clerking alongside the auctioneer.

    Janet looked over at the sugary rhubarb pie that she resisted eating until after her supper. “What are you looking at?” brother Steven asked as Janet appeared to be looking at him. “I’m not looking at you,” she sassed. Their father stomped his foot, stern, just enough to capture their attention. They immediately stopped their conversation as it was soon to turn into an argument of some sort. Bob wrestled his fork into his dessert when he looked at his wife almost begging for ice cream. "You know what would be perfect with this? Ice cream on the side." Mary quickly stood up from the table, headed toward the freezer to pull out the homemade cream she had made just last week. Quickly the children caught on and Larry opened his teen mouth, "Oh mother, maybe you should put that on all of our plates." Really, Mary never got to enjoy a meal as she was always answering someone's request for ice cream, more noodles, or some of her famous magic tea.

    Janet stared out the window when she noticed the swift and dark cumulus clouds rolling in from the west. She excitedly watched and said, "Pop, it looks like it's going to storm this evening." Bob turned his head, looked out the window and quickly responded, "You know what that means. We'll have to watch it from the porch swing." Janet quickly finished her pie and urged her father to do the same as she quickly swiped up the plate from underneath his silverware to rush it over to the kitchen sink. The rest of her siblings and their mother continued to enjoy themselves as dinner was the true time the farmstead came to a halt.

    Janet ran out the front door as Frosty came running up to the cracked and squeaky steps. Frosty jumped up towards Janet, licking her in the face when she nudged at him to back down. Frosty and Janet had been the best of friends ever since a thief tried breaking in the first time she was home alone almost three years ago. Janet looked at the white fluffball and paused. Frosty chased the foolish man down the mile-long driveway as he screamed in agony. Janet always talked about that memory, reminding her that he was the best guard dog. Finally Bob made his way to the swing when he sat down and put his hand on Frosty's head. "You know, when the sky is yellow or green, that is never a good sign." Janet always admired the way her father kept track of the weather. Every morning and night he would write the high and low temperature from that day on a calendar along with the type of weather, even news that he felt was important as well. She secretly admired it, but it was one of those things that she never felt was important to tell him. They both heard the crackle of sharp thunder in the distance and saw a quick peek of lightning that acted like it was a spastic child deciding what to open on Christmas morning.

                    ------------------

Bob looked at Janet, awestruck that the wind was picking up and swirling the imperfect flowers around them. It had been so hot and humid, that the flowers were starting to wilt, not to mention the deer that came and munched them away to the ground almost every summer night. The rain began to fall as Janet extended her arm out from underneath the porch to fell a small drop. Frosty huddled closer to the door pawing to get inside. "Not a chance Frosty," Bob exclaimed. Frosty NEVER went inside. Mary would've croaked if she saw him step one paw onto the living room floor. Janet always imagined what it would be like. She imagined him sitting on the couch with her, watching tv with her, and even waiting for his turn underneath the kitchen table while he waited for the smallest crumb to fall. It never happened. He never went inside and a little storm wasn't going to stop that.

BOOM! The house shook as the storm was now closer than before. Maybe three miles away, Bob described according to his almanac rules. Janet continued to pester her father with preposterous questions, not ignoring her, he intently watched the sky to hopefully predict the storm. Suddenly, the thunder crackled closer and the wind howled violently down the driveway. "We better think about heading towards the cellar, daughter," Bob said to Janet. She looked worried in the face when there was a flash in front of her eyes. It was so bright, it looked as if the sun was rising and reflecting off ice in a glacier climate. Everything went white and now the dark, greenish clouds were well over the house. Mary screamed from inside, "Bob and Janet, get off the porch." Bob looked at his daughter and Frosty like he was questioning his next move. Then, hail let loose all over the ranch like candy falling out of a piñata at a young child's birthday. Janet's eyes grew wide as her pupils became large as it was now completely dark out. The only sign of light the family saw was the lightning running through the sky almost three seconds apart, according to Bob's predictions. Mary and her sons came running toward the front door and ordered for Janet and Bob to get inside one last time. Janet frantically grabbed Frosty by the collar, hoping Mary wouldn't notice his entry in the dark. "Leave him outside," she stated. "He can't come inside, he'll come with us to the cellar."

The family made their way through the unsteady and violently shaking house as Mary and Bob collected the small stitched picture albums that rested on the lobby bookshelf. Janet could hear the whimper of her guard friend while they made their way around the house to the back cellar. Bob raced quickly over to the last corner by the exit door and grabbed his dented and dirtied shotgun. Ready for the storm like soldiers on a warfront, which he had done before, he ordered the family to pull the cellar door. During his time in World War II, he had witnessed things given and taken from innocent families while their loved ones fought for their freedom. He reflected upon his war memories when the going got tough within the farm house, "I've had worse times," he always said. Those war memories and statements quickly silenced a room, as he intentionally made others contemplate their intangible troubled times.

As Mary opened the cellar, her apron flew off into the wind, the same apron that her mother hand-crafted for her when she first married Bob. Janet watched as tears swallowed her blue eyes, but Mary quickly reached her hand near her face acting as if dust had forced her eyes to water. Bob waited until the entire family was in the cellar, when Frosty came hurdling through the yard, he then lifted the white ball into the protection space. Now the clouds had dispersed into a giant Pangea-like figure. A supercontinent of dark clouds that rolled with the wind, while hail hammered straight into the cellar door right as Bob sealed it shut.

Mary grabbed a candle before they exited the house, the same time she grabbed the stitched albums from the bookshelf. Bob lit the candle from his still-warm pipe from his Oshkosh bib pocket. Still warm enough to light a flame, he blew into the candle as a spark ignited from the candle wick. Bob began a small prayer, where his teeth barely separated from his clenched smile. The family reacted, joined hands, and bowed their heads. Janet, standing next to her father, buried her head into his left arm. This was the same arm that he had around her on her first tractor ride. "Hold on Janet, I've got you," he said.

After the prayer, Larry reminisced of his time during his last date when he was at the Ben-Hur Drive-In. During this date, a storm, similar to the one they were experiencing enclosed Lapland in a pocket of bad weather. Larry and his date had stayed in a local restaurant, while Bob and Mary worried sick from the storm cellar. After the storm passed, Larry came in his old fashioned Chevy, tinkering its way down the driveway.

This storm differed. During this storm, Bob and Mary had all of their children together when the loud sound of a train started to roll toward, what seemed like, the beginning of the road. "Here it comes," Bob warned. Surely, they hoped what they were hearing, wasn't a tornado. It couldn't be, Janet thought to herself. It was a perfect day of school jokes, rhubarb pie, and dinnertime bonding. Rocks hit the cellar and the barn near the fields, as the family heard the sound of wood tumbling over the cellar. All six and Frosty, grasped each other while waiting for the noise to fade. Janet turned toward Bob in a hurry, when all of a sudden his shotgun barrel whacked her upon her right temple. She laid low, while this wasn't the time among all the testosterone crammed in the cellar, to bring attention to herself. She lowered herself to the ground and shut her eyes.

The sounds of the storm circled in her head, while she tried to concentrate on the previous prayer. The conductor and it's train ignited their engine, "All aboard!” while Janet prayed that her conductor would keep them safe during the long train ride. She hated train rides and was fascinated with them all at the same time, but more importantly loved the time her family took to get out of the farmstead. She watched as trees sped by, looking like ink blots of green and brown out of the clear window. Trying to interpret the nature around her, she drowned out the voices of her siblings. They constantly annoyed her, picked on her, as mother always encouraged her to "be brave". She felt the jolt of the train gears when the conductor accelerated the locomotive through the countryside. Janet gazed out the window admiring the busy fields of green beans and yellow corn that sparkled in the light. The train blew its whistle which made it impossible for riders to relax. Janet could never sleep on train rides, as she was too busy waiting for the nature to seize its movement, or she was hoping for the train to halt altogether.

She hummed to herself, rocking back and forth, seeing the blurred images of the sunset form a magnificent painting of her home. The train stopped. The gears twisted and smoke spouted out of the blower. The conductor aggressively triggered the whistle, giving it one last blow. They were home. The ride was over and it was quicker than what Janet anticipated. Finally Bob tapped her shoulder, "Daughter, let's go."

The family exited the doors and arrived at the wooden passenger steps. Janet gazed up and realized that the train had taken her away, somewhere different. "We aren't home," she stated. Bob opened up the white door as it squeaked like an old attic floor. Once the family entered the door they approached a wall that was nothing but framing. The wall was missing, empty, like the rest of the house. The house had been robbed, torn down, run over. Whatever house it was, Janet didn't like it.

She tried to keep quiet, "Be brave Janet," her mother's voice played in her head. She walked around the corner and saw a white piece of paper flapping among the wall. The paper appeared wet from a distance, but was still dry enough to move with the breeze. She walked closer, stepping on her tiptoes to reach it. Her hand grazed it, the bumps of stiff ink in the paper, making out ink blots of green and brown mixture, like those of the fields from the train. The artwork among the paper seemed mixed and confusing. She ripped it off of the wall and folded it over. "High of 80 degrees and low of 60 degrees." Above the prediction, a statement wrote "farm weather summer".

It was her father's calendar and before she could grasp her thoughts, a frail hand cupped her shoulder. The big ranch hand patted her head, kneeled, then kissed her, and the rest of the family gathered near the one-standing wall. They gazed through the window out to the mile-long driveway, the same driveway that the school bus stopped at the next day. The day after the farmstead family lost everything in the late-summer storm.

All That and A Bowl of Soup

The tales of a simple soup becoming a medley of winter goodness. Prepare, Cook, Enjoy! 

About a month ago, close to the first day of spring semester, my photography professor began explaining a future assignment...fast forward to the future and here we are. For my recent photo assignment my class was told to photograph a winter soup. The catch to this second food assignment, shoutout to those of you who read my pancake post, was that it was a collaboration assignment with a graphic design class. Luckily for me, I quickly found out that I was paired with one of my AXO sisters. (Thanks Jenny for making this collab easy and fun!)

The first step was to pick a subject. My advice is that if you ever have a creative assignment, always envision what you want the finished product to look like. All great things come from a good plan. I met with Jenny about a week before we started shooting so we could be on a common ground for the assignment. When we met, we talked about how amazing it would be if we could do chicken noodle soup. Honestly, who doesn't love chicken noodle soup in the winter? We just had to make it look "hearty". By hearty, I mean full and savory. She explained that she wanted to do a magazine spread so we quickly headed on over to Pinterest where we found a design like this photo below. 

Photo courtesy of http://www.antonettejoseph.com.

After deciding that we both wanted to follow this design we decided upon a similar theme: "Prepare. Cook. Enjoy." It was simple enough for both professors to appreciate, but challenged both of us within our separate skill sets. One thing we did agree upon right away was the way the photos were going to lay. We definitely wanted our bars in the spread to be vertical instead of horizontal. 

Cue trip to grocery store.

I had great advice given to me that was going to shave off hours for this assignment. The trick to photographing soup is not wasting your time cooking it for a long period of time because anything you photograph, you throw away. There wasn't a point in creating this delicious, gigantic, crockpot full of soup. Instead, we opted for a can of Progresso Chicken Noodle and decided to buy the raw ingredients within this can. We purchased parsley, Italian seasoning, carrots, and extra egg noodles to add within the image. Then we headed over to the kitchen utensil aisle where we purchased a decorative, deep bowl and a set of shiny spoons. (Buy new spoons when photographing soup or put a reflector on the strobe you are using to make the spoon look shiny instead of dull and black.) 

Once we arrived back to my apartment we began cooking the frozen chicken breast tenderloins I had in the freezer. Thank goodness for these because we did NOT want to spend an hour thawing, cooking, and cutting chicken. Instead, we popped those 'loins in the oven for about 18 minutes or until they were tender. 

Once they were finished we heated up the soup to make the noodles expand and look full. We cook extra egg noodles and chopped up carrots into a round shape. We then compared the size of the chicken from the can to the chicken we took out of the oven and began to replicate the slice width. 

We packed a bag of goodies and extra goodies in case we forgot anything on campus while we were in the studio. Bring more than enough paper towels, utensils, and one each of a knife, fork, and spoon. 

Once we got in to the studio and began setting up our shot, we finally hit a good lighting spot. 

In our class we were advised to put a mini bowl upside down within the bowl we were going to pour the soup in, but this is impossible because there is way too much air in the mini bowl which makes it float completely to the top. Instead, mix broths with flour or milk, or buy another can to completely fill the bowl. Now, for this assignment we wanted to show the raw ingredients. After a series of experimentation shots we ended up with some winners.

The next step was to actually pour the soup into the bowl. Creation is key when creating a food portrait. We brought extra cooked egg noodles, raw carrots, cooked and sliced chicken, and parsley to add in if any places looked bare. I also added some salt and Italian seasoning on top with the pinch of two fingers, carefully not putting too much like I would on a normal bowl. With some experimentation of light and reflective objects we only needed one strobe. 

My talents with shapes coming to life again...

After ONLY 40 minutes, Jenny and I officially had the photos we needed to convey Prepare. Cook. Enjoy. Now, you too can create your own winter soup themed portrait or maybe just a bowl for yourself. Bon Appétit!

Stay warm. Stay fresh.