Austin resident Julissa Marie is never without a camera. So when a photographer was delayed for a friend’s 40th wedding anniversary, she didn’t hesitate when asked to snap pictures of the couple renewing their vows.

“I never leave my house without my camera. It’s lipstick, mascara, keys and camera. Oh yeah and my visa card,” and quipped.

But accolades poured in about her abilities.

“Everybody at the reception was like ‘Do you do this?’ ‘You should, if you don’t,’ and ‘You are really good,'” she recalled of the July event.

With that encouragement, J’Marie, her professional name, is now turning a childhood hobby into a budding photography career. She launched J’Marie Photography, sharing the same space as Austin Oasis located at 5847 W. Chicago Ave. until she opens her home studio.

She credits her quick success to God and capturing what others do not see. That is evident in her glossy prints and black and white stills. In one image she captures footprints left in the sand of a just married couple as they walk along the beach.

In the “upside-down” kiss portrait, J’Marie captures a tender moment between a couple celebrating their first wedding anniversary reminiscent of the kiss seen in the Spider-Man movie.

“I’m blind in a sense without my glasses, but I am so much better with my camera,” she said. “If I had full vision, that is what I want to see. So I shoot what I feel like is my inspiration. My inspiration obviously comes from God.”

Since that July wedding anniversary, J’Marie’s portfolio filled up with weddings, anniversaries and baby showers. She also shoots landscape, architecture and personal portraits.

Her dream is to be featured in Ebony magazine, but her decision to do photography professionally was one she had to pray over. Her uncle Malcolm Crawford who operates Austin’s Sankofa Center, encouraged her to take that leap of faith.  She was concerned about juggling photography with working as a manager at a downtown CVS store and attending Chicago State University full-time.

“I prayed about it,” said the 26-year-old. “If it is meant to be, I know you [God] are not going to steer me wrong. I know it is not going to crash and burn.”

Her uncle put her in touch with several West Side photographers who advised her on the equipment she needed. With a $700 investment from her boyfriend, J’Marie purchased a professional Canon camera.

To build up her portfolio, she started doing freebies for co-workers and friends and posting the pictures on Facebook. Soon after, her friends wanted to buy the pictures.

“I still end up making a couple of dollars from a shoot that initially started off as you help me out; I help you out,” she said.

Her big break came when a friend recommended her to do publicity photos for Kierra Sheard’s gospel group. Sheard is the daughter of Karen Clark-Sheard, of the gospel singing group The Clark Sisters. For a novice, shooting a 50-plus gospel group was intimidating, but a learning experience.

“I haven’t been this nervous since grammar school doing a speech in front of a group of people,” she said of the photo shoot that took place two weeks ago. “I’m glad that I have the experience. Now I know how to take on something like that.”

J’Marie got her experience in photography by happenstance when she was 13. During the summers, she worked for her grandfather John Crawford’s nonprofit called Faith Inc. There, she was tasked with taking pictures of dignitaries and politicians who visited the office.

Her summer job was a way to keep her off the streets, but taking pictures “became second nature,” J’Marie said. She honed her skills, first on disposable film cameras from Walgreen’s, before moving up to point-and-shoot digital cameras.

“That was my best friend,” she said of the disposable cameras.

In high school, she began carrying a camera everywhere. She became the go-to person friends relied on to take pictures of outings and girlfriend get-togethers.

“That’s what kept my interest in doing it, because I was in demand,” said the Prosser High school graduate.

Though bitten by the shutter bug, J’Marie never joined the high school yearbook club. She always considered taking pictures as a hobby. She never wanted to make it a career, until family members again pressed her to do something with her gifts. Again she was tasked with photographing her grandfather’s 72nd birthday celebration when the photographer failed to show up. The coincidences were too much for her to ignore.

“I never really thought of myself as being an entrepreneur in that sense, considering my whole family is a family of entrepreneurs,” she said. “I just figured that I would get my career in my field. But God had a different plan.”

The Enterprize Zone is a regular business feature in Austin Weekly News.

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