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Meet the photographer behind ‘Funky Naptown’

Posted by: IndyHub
Posted: February 20, 2023
Categories: IndyHub

Hey Jes! You are originally from California. What brought you to Indy and why do you continue to call it home?

I moved here with my family in 2007, mostly on a whim. California’s cost of living is astronomical, not to mention how crowded it is. I had just finished high school and wasn’t sure which academic route I wanted to take, but I knew Indiana has great schools. Moving here I thought I would stay long enough to finish school and head to another city or go back to California. That was sixteen years ago! I started finding a community here, making very meaningful friendships and connections, and eventually starting a photography career. At this point even if I ever did move to another city, I’d still want to continue calling Indianapolis home and maintain all my ties here.

Speed round: what are your top 3 favorite things about Indy?

  1. Coffee culture! (Truly, no other city compares to how much incredible coffee we have here.)
  2. How easy it is to meet other creatives.
  3. And the fact that there are always a few dozen people willing to rally behind anything someone can dream up – no matter how logical or out there it may be.

You are a nurse turned small business owner. What did you learn about yourself through that process?

There were so many learning moments when I switched industries, but maybe what’s been most impactful is a shift of perception around how we view these careers. I pursued photography in hopes of finding a new hobby and never anticipated it being my livelihood – not until I was a few years into it. Since then I haven’t stopped thinking about nursing or medicine, in fact that knowledge is applicable in more ways than I can count, but it’s taken a new form. Seven years ago I wouldn’t have thought to consider medicine a hobby one could have, and yet that’s how my interest in it has shaped. I hope to see more and more people constantly questioning how their interests are shape shifting over time, and whether they’re in the right career or industry. Who’s to say you can’t change course every 5-10 years?

Was there a distinct moment when you made the decision to pursue your passion of photography full time? How did Indy play a role in helping you go all in?

In the summer of 2016, I left my nursing job and got a camera for my 27th birthday. That was the summer of Open Society for me. I was at the SoBro cafe and bar CONSTANTLY. I started out photographing anything I could there, from action shots of coffee and cocktails to styled photos of plated food. There was no real motivation or end goal in mind for these photos other than to share them on Instagram. Then one day one of the shop owners asked if I’d take photos for their website and socials and that’s how I got my first photo gig. From the experience I gained there and the wonderful connections I made, I saw it slowly begin to snowball into a career. It’s such an Indianapolis story to me: being able to make such rich connections that I still maintain today and someone taking a chance on me and my beginner camera. Through Open Society I met Neal Warner who would go on to open Coat Check Coffee (part of the Small Victories Hospitality group). I began working with him in early 2017 and over the next 6 years I photographed food, drink, people, and spaces in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Again, all through the power of Indianapolis connections. While it’s not to say I couldn’t have pursued photography had I stayed in California, I really don’t think I would’ve found the same success and opportunities that have been afforded to me here. In Indy everyone knows a handful of people that can help you in your goals and they can’t wait to facilitate that connection.

Any creative project I’ve been a part of since then can be traced back to those early Open Society days – working on Batch Magazine with Scott Curry of Indianapolis Coffee Guide, volunteering for Creative Mornings with people like Ryan Hunley, Melanie Allen, Komal Sheth (and so many others!), and now documenting the history of Indianapolis’s soul, funk, and jazz scenes alongside Kyle Long.

You started photography as a side hobby and now you’ve launched your own business! Tell us more about Pretty Not Bad.

I love to talk about Pretty Not Bad because it’s all about collaboration! Since I started in photography, I’ve wanted to initiate something that resembles a creative hub or art collective. Pretty Not Bad is a one-stop visual studio that offers photography, videography, design, branding, art direction, web and social services, and marketing and small business consulting. It’s a group of friends from all walks of life who come together to create visual storytelling for businesses in Indy and beyond. We combine our expertise to cover the full array of visual and marketing needs for businesses. Creating with your friends is such a beautiful way to live. The inspiration and awe is endless.

What’s your favorite subject to photograph?

This is something I’m still figuring out. Most of my work is in food photography, which I love endlessly. But photographing people, especially in their home or creative environment, is such a unique experience that allows me to tell a story each time. And then there’s architecture which is like a creative palate cleanser for me when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired.

One of your more recent projects included a collaboration with Indianapolis-based music journalist, DJ, and radio personality Kyle Long to curate a new exhibit at the IND airport called ‘Funky Naptown’. Tell us more!

Kyle Long is a national treasure! His dedication to music history and journalism is unparalleled and I’m so excited to work alongside him. This project is something he’s already worked on for years, collecting interviews and vintage photographs. He proposed an exhibition to the Arts Council and they chose the KIND Gallery at the airport to be its home so it can be spotlighted to thousands of people. We photographed over a dozen musicians with the help of other incredible music photographers Ernest Stuart and Ted Somerville. While we weren’t entirely sure of the scope of this project when we began, it quickly became clear that this is something we’ll work on for years to come as the history of music in this city is so rich and nuanced. There is also a sense of urgency to preserve it.

How can residents experience the exhibit? Is there a fee to visit?

The gallery is in Terminal A and will host this exhibition through June. While you can’t access it without a ticket since it’s past a security checkpoint, you can see it anytime if you’re flying in or out of Indy the first half of the year! 

What’s one thing you hope that the community takes away from this exhibit?

It’s been incredible to see the community support for this project already. The airport hosted an opening ceremony where a couple hundred people showed up to view the gallery and see performances by many of the artists in it. We heard classics by Rodney Stepp who played with The Spinners through the 70s, Kenny Dodson of The Sensations, Reggie Griffin who was in Manchild with a teenaged Babyface, and several others who have helped shape the landscape of soul & funk not only in Indianapolis but throughout the country. I’d love to see all these musicians continue to be honored for their undeniable legacies and for people who call Indy home to stay invested and curious about the roots of this heritage.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I love meeting new people and have never been known to turn down a cup of coffee. I’d love to connect with anyone who might come across this! Drop a line at @jeskeepswimming on Instagram!


Jes Nijjer, owner and principal photographer of Pretty Not Bad Visual Studio, began working in photography in 2016. Over the last seven years she has photographed hundreds of headshots, businesses, and products. Her work maintains an emphasis on utilizing natural light and natural form. She has called Indianapolis home for 16 years. 

Connect with Jes on Instagram and Twitter: @jeskeepswimming

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