Jamilla Yipp: Documenting Stories in the OPAD

Jamilla Yipp, photographer and the Oak Park Arts’ District newest neighbor, knows first hand how to turn a challenge into an opportunity—or in Jamilla’s case, a thriving business. Ten years ago, she started taking pictures as a hobby. She had three kids under the age of three and had had a bad experience at one of the big box chain photography studios. The experience was impersonal, she felt like she was being rushed out, and only ended up with one good picture. But she wanted to capture the details of her family’s life and the special moments she was witnessing. So she asked her wedding photographer to take her on as an apprentice, never realizing that a decade later she would have a studio of her own.

She started off as a wedding and newborn photographer and at the time had little interest in photographing families. But as she photographed her own growing family— (four kids in all, ages 12, 10, 8, and 4!) her interest in documenting the lives of other families grew. It also became increasingly important to turn her hobby into a source of income that would also allow for the flexibility needed to be available for kids with different needs.  Jamilla says, “The reality is, it needed to become a business out of necessity.” One child, for example, struggles with both anxiety and depression. “He needs me home a lot because it keeps him stable.”

Jamilla describes herself as a lifestyle photographer—a form of photography aimed at documenting moments, rather than setting up a pose. Jamilla says, “Lifestyle – that’s organic, pure. I’m a documenter. My goal is to document a story.”

Part of Jamilla’s artistic style comes from her personal background. She was adopted by her grandmother as a young child and the photographs she has of herself as a baby are few and far between. “There are only a handful and we really had to search for them.” Because of that, she has a special passion for capturing these early moments for families and capturing as many details as possible for her clients. “I want to see you interact. I want to see you brushing your daughter’s hair. I want to capture those memories because those are the things that matter most. The time when your kid is toothless or the moment that they lose their first tooth.” She feels the same way about newborn and birth photography, “People are like, ‘oh my God, it’s graphic’ but it’s not the graphic part that we’re focused on its those details that you don’t have time to think of because you’re busy giving birth.”

But despite her passion for spontaneity Jamilla knows that there is still value in a more traditional portrait. She says, “I do a hybrid of poses. I still believe in the one traditional photo because that’s the one grandma wants. The trend now is to be modern but traditional photos still have a place so I make sure to get a few of those in there. My sessions always start with the posed first and then move into the play.”

Jamilla offers a wide variety of sessions, depending on what her clients are looking for or what they have in the budget. These sessions range anywhere from 30-minute Milestone Mini-Sessions to Day in the Life sessions, that can last 2-3 hours and can encompass an activity like baking cookies or a walk to the park. “Mini-sessions don’t get as much lifestyle. Hour sessions we can do more. The longer the session the more we can do. I’m just a fly on the wall and capturing the moments as they go.”


Another way Jamilla’s background has formed her artistic and business philosophy is through her generous donations. She gives free sessions once a month for adoptive families and was at court the day one of her clients adopted their baby. Because she grew up in a low-income family in a low-income neighborhood, she also offers something she calls Help Portraits around the holidays for low-income families, single-parent families, and other families who can’t afford a full session. “They’re two minute sessions, but then they have those pictures. Maybe it’s the only picture they’ve had for years.”

Having a studio will enable Jamilla to hold these donated sessions and will also allow her to mentor other photographers, the same way she was mentored when she was starting out. “Because I was self-taught I have a passion for helping others. Someone took me on, someone gave me a chance. I run Click Snaps which is for hobbyists who want to capture their kids better. I wanted to grab these moments. I love having a space so I can run these workshops. And the mentorships are more for people who want deeper level photographer, and we’re fine-tuning what they want. I’m trying to work it out so we can do them online as well. For people who can’t do in person. Because I have a space I can also offer workshops for kids and teens. I just did a session for a little girl that was five and she knew the lingo. She’s five and she’s talking about composition. And this little girl gets it.”

To learn more about Jamilla’s services, visit her website jamillayipp.com.