A Personal Project Documenting Family, by WPPI Educator JVS

May 8, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

Photo © Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Photographer, WPPI judge and veteran speaker Joseph Victor Stefanchik (known in the industry simply as JVS) lives and breathes photography. As a photojournalist who once worked for The Dallas Morning News, he has traveled the world documenting incredible stories and won a number of awards for his coverage, including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for International Photojournalism (twice).

Over the years, he has also photographed music legends, movie stars and Olympic athletes, but what really gets his creative juices flowing is food photography and documenting his family.

[Read: Tips to Shooting Creative Indoor Portraits Using Only Window Light]

Joseph Victor Stefanchik has a photo documentary background that helped when photographing his family while in quarantine.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Victor Stefanchik

I recently caught up with the multi-talented photographer to chat about life amid COVID-19 and his work across many genres.

1. Every year you are at WPPI, teaching classes and judging Print Comp, and for the last two years, you have been a Print Comp Chairman. Everyone in the industry knows the name “JVS.” But what’s one thing a lot of people may not know about you?

When I worked for The Dallas Morning News, I was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998 for my photo coverage depicting the effects of war and land mines in Angola.

2. Wow, that’s super impressive. Your life then must have been incredibly intense as you traveled the globe covering dangerous stories. And now we are in a global pandemic! What has life been like for you lately?

Along with everyone else in the world, I’ve been home with my family waiting for life to resume once the COVID-19 crisis is over. Like many photographers during these last two months or so, I’ve turned my lens on my family—Stella Jean (2), Judah (13) and Zion (15), and my girlfriend, Candice KausHagen, also a photographer and WPPI speaker and judge.

Stella Jean, Judah and Zion are JVS's precious kids as well as photo subjects!
All Photos © Joseph Victor Stefanchik

3. It seems like every photographer I talk to lately is doing a creative personal project on their family. What is your goal with this series?

My 2-year-old daughter won’t remember this interesting time that we shared as a family. My goal, with any photograph, for myself or a client, is to leave a visual legacy for generations to come.

Documenting family includes catching the moments when your subject thinks no one is watching,
When the beach opened back up in early May, JVS was there with his camera to document family again.

4. Where do you live and what have the restrictions there been like?

We live along the Florida panhandle in Inlet Beach, Florida, a short five-minute walk to the Gulf of Mexico. Our final visit to the beach was at sunset on March 18. The beaches were closed the following day and didn’t reopen until May 1. And when it did, we were there and I had my camera in tow.

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5. How does the documentary style of this personal project differ from how you shoot for jobs?

I currently shoot more commercial and editorial work but my previous career as a photojournalist definitely influences the way I photograph my family, more fly-on-the wall approach.

6. What do you like most about doing this project?

I really started photographing our family back in the spring of 2017 when we found out that Candice was pregnant with Stella Jean. Since then, there’s always been a camera nearby, so photographing our time together during this quarantine was natural. Everyone has grown accustomed to my camera (and near-silent shutter), which makes it that much easier to capture genuine moments. 

7. I know it was hard for you to edit down from all the images you’ve taken over the past 50 days of shooting. You have hundreds and hundreds of images, and I asked you to send me 20! Do you have a favorite that really stands out?

My favorite image by far is the one of Stella Jean with her two big brothers, Zion and Judah, sharing a comforter and Goldfish crackers while watching the original Trolls movie for the umpteenth time. The love they share towards their little sister could be felt while pushing the shutter and brings me tears of joy.

documenting family at home.
A fun moment at home while in quarantine.

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8. Did you use the same camera for the entire series?

Everything was shot with my Fuji X100F, which has a fixed 35mm lens. It’s small, lightweight and easy to take with me everywhere I go. I can’t wait to get my hands on their newest model, the X100V

Mother and daughter in a sweet family moment.

[Read: The Fujifilm X100V Camera]

9. What are you looking forward to most about the Fuji X100V?

I’m looking forward to the articulating touch screen (for low and high shots), weather-sealed body (I can walk to the Gulf of Mexico), and the new, larger sensor.

10. You have three kids and a fabulous girlfriend, several photo brands (including modernmadeweddings and modernmadephotography), and you always make time to teach and judge at WPPI every year. Sounds dedicated but exhausting. After being in isolation for the last couple months with time to reflect, is there anything you would do differently going forward?

No, I wouldn’t change a thing!