Jessica Monte runs a successful photography business, Jessica Monte Photography, and is the Editor-in-Chief of NVSL Magazine. If you follow Jennifer the Beholder on Facebook, you might be familiar with this magazine already. Earlier this fall, I received an email from Jessica regarding my article about Kim Moehnke of Pure Love Macarons (blog post date 9/10/17). Jessica is a friend of Kim’s, and being a good friend, had checked out the blog post. Long story short, she liked the article and reached out to me as a potential contributor for her new publication, NVSL Magazine.
Like I said, if you follow Jennifer the Beholder on Facebook, you have seen the social media fireworks and skywriting regarding my excitement of being a part of this magazine. So what better way to bring this relationship full circle than to highlight this fantastic woman right here on my blog.
NVSL Magazine is an arts and entertainment magazine focused on the abundance of culture available and growing right here in Northern Virginia, but with a decidedly and purposeful grown-up angle. Says Jessica, “I felt like that there are several publications in the area that tend to focus on suburban types of topics. Loudoun County and Fairfax County, [although] they are the suburbs, there’s such a high population density here that I feel like there’s a city aspect to our community and a good deal of arts and culture to celebrate. So this publication exists to cover those topics.” The magazine will feature art galleries, wineries, distilleries, fashion, recording studios…the list goes on and all the while helping small mom and pop businesses. Bottom line, says Jessica, “We’re trying to help people and inspire the community with this publication.”
Neither photography nor running a magazine was necessarily a dream for Jessica early in her career. She shares, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I originally had intended to go on to graduate school and do divinity school to study comparative religion or comparative literature.” It was around that time that her father passed away unexpectedly and she had met who would be her future husband. Jessica married and after, began working part time teaching English as a second language (ESL) at NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College) and in Fairfax County through the adult education program while attending graduate school. She was going to take a job at George Mason University doing more of the ESL work but, as many do, realized that her pay was just going to cover their childcare expenses. After she had their daughter, she decided to stay home.
Jessica’s work as a photographer came in a roundabout way. Of course as a stay at home new mom, she would photograph every single thing that her daughter did. Says Jessica, “I had been always taking photos when my husband and I would travel. We did travel quite a bit. Whenever we got a chance…if we got a tax return, or something like that, we would go hop on a plane and I would always bring my camera. It was my dad’s Canon, a film camera, and I would bring that with me.” Her husband gifted her a little digital camera and she befriended another photographer who had studied at The Corcoran. She adds, “She taught me a lot. And then I met another photographer who had a studio in downtown Leesburg. He had photographed The Pope and prominent politicians and public figures from around the world. He taught me a lot. He told me to approach photography as an art. He sent me home with stacks and stacks of art books. They weren’t photo books. He said, ‘Study the lighting.’ That’s how I got into portrait photography. As I acquired more and more photo equipment, my husband said, it makes sense for us to start a business so that you can write this off. And so I started the photography business eight years ago.”
Jessica’s journey into the print world happened really organically. Through her charity work and work with professional athletes and politicians, she has been published in established publications like USA TODAY. Being a professional fine art portrait photographer, and with the goal of continuing to grow her photography business, Jessica attended a networking event held by a large organization in the area. While at the event she realized that she was sitting with people who were in finance or real estate. Jessica says, “I felt alone as an artist in this group and I wanted to create a network and highlight the existence of creatives living in Northern Virginia: writers, photographers, artists, and designers…” She stayed a little while longer but began trying to figure out a way to make other people like her feel like, “Yes we do have a community.” Adds Jessica, “We do belong here in Northern Virginia. We are a wonderful, creative place, so let’s tell those stories. It wasn’t like a big ah-hah moment for me, like ok I’m going to do a magazine, but it was at that meeting where I realized I needed to do something to change myself so that I could influence my community in a positive way.”
When vetting businesses and artists for the magazine, there are a lot of things you can’t read or discover on the Internet. Admittedly, you can do research about an entrepreneur or a creative person, but a lot of the best information comes from people. Jessica explains, “I spend a lot of time getting to know the business owners by just popping into their shop and talking with them and finding out what their stories [are]. That’s how I continue to do this. Or I’ll get a referral from somebody that I trust. It kind of happens organically, but I will say that I do sometimes do secret shopping. I will go in a place and see how a person runs their business and their shop, how they treat people, because if I write about them, I’m endorsing them. I try to select people who I also feel are doing good things in the community, with their business or with a volunteer effort.” She goes on, “It’s not that I’m trying to be judgy, I’m not. I’m endorsing that person and their product.” She adds, “One of my mentors for this magazine said to me, ‘When I pick up your magazine I want to read about an artisanal bread and know that whatever you’ve told me about that bread, I can trust it. I can go there and it’s going to be quality.’ So that’s part of why I do the secret shopper thing.”
Other than getting the Winter issue out the door, a short-term goal for Jessica would include organizing a launch party. Says Jessica, “We’re going to do a soft launch for the magazine in mid to late January, and look to host a stylish and classy event in the spring for the writers, the artists, the businesses that are putting ads in the magazine, and the community. We’d like them to come and celebrate and support our magazine.” Fun!
Her long-term goal is to inspire the growth of arts and entertainment in Northern Virginia with an art center in Loudoun County that can support a full orchestra and ballet company. Jessica would also like to continue to work to ultimately be able to pay herself a fair salary for her work for the magazine, pay her partner a fair salary, and continue to compensate the writers and artists fairly. She shares, “As an artist, I worry that artists are not valued for the work that they do. I want my publication to set an example.”
There are definite ups and downs to running a magazine. Jessica shares, “Some days I feel like, wow this publication is great and we’re doing good things, and I love all of the interesting people that I’m getting to meet, but then the other side of doing a publication or being a writer or an artist is a lot of solitary time. I would say the downside is maybe not feeling like I get enough people contact.” She explains that even though she’s out doing photo shoots or “secret shopping” getting to know the community, some days are really slow. She admits that solitude is part of doing this kind of work, but she adds, “I think also, because we are a start up, we’re all [working] out of our homes. You’re not going to the water cooler and getting five minutes of chitchat. You’re only people contact may be if you see the mailman, or if [you] go to the gym. So I would say, the downside to doing this has been that there is some isolation involved, that and having to learn to do sales! I brought somebody on who is doing business development. He’s very friendly and he’s a good person, but I’ve also been having to get out there and meet with people, and present myself nicely, and explain why this magazine, website and newsletters can help a person’s business. Of course I’m very passionate about the magazine, so everybody I’ve met with is like, ‘Yeah let’s do it’. But it definitely puts me out of my comfort zone because I don’t consider myself a sales person.”
Jessica is most proud of having set up her photography business that has allowed her to also be a mother. Says Jessica, “I think that for [my children] it feels really neat that their mom has a business. I feel proud of the fact that I’ve managed to start businesses while also trying to be a part of my kids’ lives. I feel like I’ve really gotten this beautiful opportunity to be a part of their lives, and I feel grateful for that because I know a lot of moms and dads don’t necessarily get to have that kind of lifestyle.”
Other than her children and her businesses, personally Jessica is most proud of her involvement in community service. Interestingly, Jessica was considering going to divinity school while in college, and even considered being a nun. She jokes, “My mom was not too thrilled because she wanted grandchildren.” Although she would not describe herself as a religious person, she is quite spiritual. Admittedly, meeting her husband steered her away from religious life, but she felt that she could still experience spirituality and God through a family. Jessica says, “I feel like motherhood is one of the hardest service positions. (Amen!) And I think [through] getting to do community service, since I didn’t go into The Church, I still get to do work for mankind.” (Beautiful.) The true beauty of her spirit was revealed when she asked, “Don’t most of us want to do that?” Unfortunately, I think the answer to that question is ‘No’. In my opinion, that’s where a lot of our problems as a country stem. If more people took Jessica’s approach to life, maybe we would all live very different lives as a whole.
I asked Jessica what she would like my readers to take away from this interview. She answered, “I’m not Super Woman. I have a lot of help. I have baby sitters that help me. Sometimes my friends will pick my kids up or take them to different activities. My husband is a wonderful support because there’s no way I could do any of this without him. I definitely have my struggles. A lot of my life is jumping through hoops and just trying to find some kind of balance. I think that women, especially in this area, put such pressure on themselves. I’m not perfect. If anything I would say to all the mommas, I bow down to them and I think that is the greatest job.”
1 Jessica and her husband in Peru. 2005
2 Jessica and her dad. copyright 1999 Carol Fernino
3 The Monte kids. 2017
4 Jessica as a volunteer for FACETS. While at George Mason University, Jessica volunteered with FACETS in both their marketing and community out reach. In that role, she was tasked with interviewing the homeless and precariously housed individuals and families residing in Fairfax County. In addition, she helped lead youth education programs for the families served by FACETS. Interestingly, she now serves on the Board of A Hand Up NOVA, Inc. which provides a diaper bank for FACETS and several other non-profits in Northern Virginia.
5 Jessica’s husband and two children, Puerto Rico. 2010 Says Jessica, “Our family still makes travel a priority and we forego new cars, house updates, etc. so that we can afford to take our children around the world. Learning is among the highest of values for my husband and me.”