On the Job with A.E. Jenkins

A.E. Jenkins is the owner of A.E. Jwenkins photography.

A.E. Jenkins is the owner of A.E. Jwenkins photography.

ALBANY — A professional photographer for more than 30 years, A.E. Jenkins fell into the craft when he was a student working on the Southside Middle School newspaper.

It was there that an early mentor helped spark his love for portraiture. Jenkins has worked in video and has done some teaching at Albany Technical College.

In 1982, he purchased Cochran Studio at 309 S. Jackson St. and transitioned the name to A.E. Jenkins Photography.

Recently, Jenkins took some time to speak with Albany Herald reporter Jim West.

Q. What was your first job?

A. It was at Cochran studios, which is what I’m doing now — professional photography. It started when I was in junior high. Southside School had a newspaper and we had an old Polaroid camera. Nobody could get it to work to work well. Mr. Cochran, who started Cochran Studios, was a very good friend of ours. I said, “Well, I’ll take the camera to him and see if he can make this thing work,” and he did.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. My dad was also a farmer and he gave me hog. I took care of that little pig all the way up to when it got to be a big boar. At the time I finally sold the boar, it was about 800 pounds and I got $400 for my first check. I bought a motorcycle.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. I think when employees feel like they’re contributing to the business they feel more motivated, so I think utilizing ideas from everybody.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. Actually I kind of fell into to it. I didn’t plan to own a storefront photography studio, but I thought it was a good fit for what I wanted to do. I started to really like photography at an early age and fell in love with it. From there, I had intended to maybe move to New York or Chicago or somewhere. I really wanted to do product photography and work for some big company or a big studio doing JC Penney catalogs or something like that. What happened was that Mr. Cochran became ill and couldn’t operate the studio on a day-to-day basis. While I was away at college in Atlanta, I started coming back and forth to try to help keep things going. Consequently, (Cochran) did start to get a lot better, but he decided by that time to step aside and take retirement and enjoy himself, so I just took over. Thirty years later and here I am.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. I think Cochran would have to be the one I would attribute everything to him in terms of my photography.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. Don’t wait for it to happen. Start preparing for it early.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. The computer, if we can call that a gadget. That’s what I use every day. We used to do photography in the darkroom in terms of processing and printing. I haven’t been in a darkroom in 15 years. It’s all done right on the computer.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. I’m not sure if I have a favorite tradition. There’s one thing I’ve wanted to do and kind of made a pledge to get back to. A while back I took my wife to New York to see a play. I kind of made pledge that I’d like to do that every year.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. Mostly, I read photography trade magazines.

Q. I’m up and going by ...? And what is your morning routine?

A. Pretty early. My wife has me up at 5:30 and on my way to the gym. That’s the routine. Hit the gym, get back for breakfast and on to work.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. Actually, I think I’ve had an opportunity to have that goal fulfilled. One of my mentors was photographer Gordon Parks. I had an opportunity to talk with him and see some of his work. Probably younger people wouldn’t know him. In addition to his photography, he directed several movies including “Learning Tree” and “Shaft” back in those days. He is noted for his work during the civil rights movement.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Well, I’m working 24/7 you know. I don’t know if I really have any activities other than work. Every now and then my wife and I like to do a movie. We like the romantic type comedies.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I love it. I think most people end up in jobs they just do for a living. I just happen to be able to make a living at something I love doing.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Probably my art courses, in as much as photography is an art.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. Teach. That was the thing in college I thought that I really wanted to do. Even in photography I’ve done some things with teaching at Albany Tech and kind of helped out with a couple of grant programs that they had.

Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...”

A. Sitting on the beach.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. First of all, a love for whatever you do. If you love it, you’re going to put 100 percent into it. Then the spirit of never giving up. I think there are good leaders who have probably failed at some things a couple of times but not given up. Just continue to keep going.

Q. Crystal ball time. What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I think there are some positive things starting to happen and my hope for this area would be that if our forefathers downtown can come together and do some good strategic planning economically, maybe within the next 12 or 18 months things would really start to look good.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. Jazz. I love jazz.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. If we don’t really take a good look economically and come together as a community I think more people are going to leave. They’re going to migrate toward bigger cities — Atlanta, Columbus — places like that.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?

A. I would have to say that trip we took to New York, my wife and I when we saw the play. That’s one of the reasons I’d like to duplicate that on a regular basis. We really enjoyed that. I guess I would add in one other trip we took to the beach. We took the girls down and that was really nice.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Well, you know back in the day we used to use a lot of film with photography. Now everything is totally digital. It’s a positive change. It’s allowed photographers to be more hands-on in terms of their creativity from the printing and processing side of it. Years ago we would send things to the lab and the artists at the labs would be the ones who would do the various things for us. Now we’re able to do it all on the computer.