Saved by the Lights and the Lens: Jesi Cason Overcame Lifelong Challenges to Become a Top Photographer in SWFLNov 23, 2020 05:00PM ● By DAVID ACEVEDO
The “rock star” of photography who loves to photograph rock stars—this and much more—is Jesi Cason. Her eponymous photography studio is located in the Edwards Building, at the north end of the Alliance for the Arts campus in Fort Myers, Florida.
Under the Union Artist Studios’ umbrella, Cason’s space is where many locally prominent “movers and shakers” have their photographs taken for their respective endeavors. Likewise, the area’s music scene has been brightly documented by the lens of this Texas native, who is now a big part of Southwest Florida’s cultural uprising.
From her first breath of life, in the back seat of a 1986 Chevy on the way to a hospital in Texarkana, she has been determined to survive. Cason grew up in different parts of Texas, entering Tyler Junior College at 17. When crippling panic attacks and severe depression forced her to discontinue her studies, she found herself in turmoil while struggling with mental illness. Unemployment, eviction and what she describes as a “half-hearted suicide attempt” were all part of a cluster of difficulties for her. Such anguish could cripple anyone and for some, it is just too much to take—but not for this spirited woman.
In 2008, life smiled back at Cason after she received a very special birthday gift—her first digital camera. “I primarily wanted it so I could take selfies for social media and get photos of my cats. Soon, I realized my camera was becoming a therapeutic tool,” explains Cason, who quickly sought opportunities to put her newfound talent to work.
“I heard about a political protest happening in my town and I decided to attend with my camera. Normally a crowd of that size would have triggered a panic attack, but for some reason, having my camera with me prevented me from having an attack,” the artist recalls.
She had just discovered a powerful weapon against her anxiety disorder. This first experience became the catalyst toward steadiness, health and happiness.
Cason landed in Southwest Florida in 2011, seeking a “less restrictive” social environment. She transferred jobs as a Goodwill Industries trainer, later becoming the lead campaign program coordinator, helping many adults with disabilities.
“It was the greatest job I ever had, besides working for myself, and I loved working with the disabled population,” Cason adds. She used her free time to work on her photography skills, noting that in those days, “I would not call myself a photographer, but a person with a camera who occasionally accepted tips for letting me practice my camera skills on events or people.”
After completing a Goodwill MicroEnterprise entrepreneurial skills program, Cason received a grant to start her own business, spending funds to upgrade her camera and gear. In 2015, the Jesi Cason Photography business was officially established. She started photographing weddings, quickly realizing she needed to find a different specialty.
Today, her studio focuses on what she calls “branding photography”—which means “creating photos for commercial use that appeal to a person or a company’s ideal client. I help businesses and solo entrepreneurs tell their stories visually,” says the prolific and creative shutterbug, whose photos stand out because of bold color and dynamic lighting.
“I’ve learned to shape a photo into existence by controlling the light, shadows, colors and textures. I focus primarily on portraits and product photography within the branding photography genre, and I serve as a general branding expert for my clients—advising them on how to best present their business to the world.”
Cason says she finds inspiration in the enthusiasm of others, especially those who “unapologetically know who they are.” In addition, she admires and studies the work of such established photographers as San Francisco-based Diane Villadsen, and Nikia Paden of Houston.
Southwest Florida musician and visual artist Duke Stamina has worked directly with Cason. “Witnessing first hand her ability to quickly connect with people and quickly bring out the true expressions of their personality is her gift,” says Stamina, creator of the lead single and music video Gay Pac.
One of Cason’s biggest honors was to photograph a Grammy Award-winning music group signed to Sony Records, in early 2020—right after deciding to leave her day job to operate Jesi Cason Photography full time. “The universe was just like, ‘YOU MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE, JESI,’ in big neon letters,” recalls Cason, who yearns to return to her nomadic roots and travel, while still being able to create amazing photos for clients around the world.
Information and booking is available at jesicason.com and @jesicasonphotography on social media platforms.
David Acevedo is an accomplished award-winning visual artist and arts writer living in Southwest Florida. He is the founder and owner of DAAS CO-OP Art Gallery and Gifts and The Union Artist Studios. He has a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus.