Northeast Woman: Amateur Photographer Finds Wonder In World
Jennifer Esken grew up in Scranton’s South Side, the middle of seven kids to the late David and Donna, who always taught their children the importance of giving back to others, even if they didn’t have much themselves.
“We lived the life of volunteers since we could walk,” Esken, 41, said on a recent afternoon in her Scranton apartment. “They instilled always being kind.”
This ethic never left the Scranton High School and Marywood University graduate, who carries on this mission of spreading good in the world after losing both her parents years apart. In some ways, Esken and her siblings walk directly in their parents’ footsteps, such as continuing their roles as leaders of the funnel cake booth at the annual summer festival hosted by St. Joseph’s Center, which the Eskens have run for more than 17 years.
But there are other, more indirect ways that the values of kindness and generosity seep into Esken’s life, both professionally and personally. At work, she has been a reliable accountant for nearly 20 years at Allied Services Integrated Health System and frequently volunteers for the organization’s fundraisers, such as Ryan’s Run. At home, Esken acts as a loving mom to her elderly rescue cats and doting aunt to her nieces and nephews.
She also shares her unique world perspective as a nature photographer, a passion that started as a hobby and evolved into an award-winning venture. Esken picked up her first camera, a small, red Canon point-and-shoot, during her recovery from a horrific car accident in 2005, which left her with a head injury and broken pelvis among other wounds.
Suddenly, Esken found herself on the other side of needing Allied Services, where she endured a couple years of speech therapy and learned to walk again.
“That’s probably when I became more aware of everything around me and went on nature walks,” Esken said. “I was always creative my whole life, but there was nothing I dove into. But I would take macro pictures of bugs. Flowers and insects are probably my favorite (subjects) because they do the things that are overlooked.
“It clears my head,” she added of her photography. “I always have one of my cameras with me. Sometimes I get lost in it. It’s so soothing and calming.”
Her skill has not gone unnoticed. A stunning shot Esken captured in Lackawanna State Park was named “Best in Show” by popular vote in the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation’s “Through the Seasons Photo Contest” in 2018. She previously earned high honors from the foundation in 2012 and 2017, but this marked her first time getting a top spot.
Esken is mostly self-taught behind the lens, though she did take a class at Misericordia University to grow her understanding of the medium. She’s exhibited locally for First Friday Art Walks at venues as diverse as Bar Pazzo, Note Fragrances, Northern Light Espresso Bar and the former New Life Baptist Church at the Hotel Jermyn, as well as in a trio of juried exhibits at the Waverly Small Works Gallery.
She also joined up with Scranton Shutterbugs (now Northeast Shutterbugs). She left that group in 2017, however, to create her own, called Focus NEPA.
Esken said doing things like taking pictures of bees in rose gardens or volunteering with Marywood’s Alumni Association makes her feel closer to her parents, especially her mother, who she believes would be proud of what she does. She carries them with her everywhere in heart and in the spirit of finding wonder in the world.
“You have to embrace everything life gives you — the good, the bad and the ugly — because if you didn’t have the bad parts, you couldn’t enjoy the good parts,” Esken said. “You can always find something good in bad things.”
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Meet Jennifer Esken
At home: Lives in Scranton and is one of seven children of the late David and Donna Esken
At work: Accountant for Allied Services Integrated Health System for almost 20 years
Inspirations: Her parents, who instilled kindness and generosity in their kids
Aspirations: To go on a cruise every year seeing new destinations where she can take pictures
Diversions: Escape rooms, reading, knitting, crocheting, reality television
Aversion: Unkind people
Quote: “It’s not about how much you do, it’s about how much love you put into what you do that counts.” — Mother Teresa; “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is wasted.” — Aesop