Facsimile: Interview with Photographer and Business Owner Jenn Cohen

Facsimile is a company that digitally restores damaged photos back to their former glory. The company was founded by Jenn Cohen.

Facsimile is a company that digitally restores damaged photos back to their former glory. The company was founded by Jenn Cohen, who has two decades of experience working with photography, art, and digital imaging technology. She describes Facsimile as an integral small business to help people preserve, restore, and make copies of their precious memories, historical artifacts, and artwork. Jenn earned a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Founding Facsimile and personally working with each client has been a dream come true for her. She recently discussed the company via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your passion for photography, and how did you break into the restoration industry?

Jenn Cohen (JC): I think that as a child, I was looking for a way to express myself. My first creative love was poetry – reading it and writing it. When I went on family holidays, my parents would tote around a camera. Eventually, I wanted to play with it, so they gave me disposable cameras. The disposables fostered my first experience of being autonomous. It was just me peering through the viewfinder, capturing something that felt special – scenery, people, objects. From then on, I viewed the world as an artist. Photography became my first visual art love.

By the time I headed to university in Los Angeles in 2001, I was determined to follow this love. There was no formal photography major at my university, but I became a studio art major who greatly emphasized photography. Through this broader experience, I became a well-rounded artist. I learned to see in a new way through drawing and painting, which influenced my creative journey and supported my photography in a way I did not anticipate at the time.

I soon became an intern for a professional photographer in the LA area, which bridged the gap between the darkroom and digital era. From that point on, I learned so much about analog cameras, film, studio lighting, and the post-production process of scanning film and working digitally, retouching and printing. From that periodI went on a journey of discovery with different art media and life experiences, always taking photographs along the way. Fast forward to 2016 when I moved to Washington state and wound up with a job at a local, old-school photo lab.

I fell in love with photography, digitizing film, and printingall over again. There I was, using these skills I learned long ago, connecting with the film and digital realms. Soon after, I was doing restoration work, different from retouching work in the sense I was fixing something damaged rather than manipulating something to appear different. At the start of the pandemic, I opted to become self-employed and take the parts of my job that I enjoyed. So here we are.

MM: What are some of the most incredible photos of artifacts that you have restored?

JC: A project from late 2020 in which a man from South Carolina shipped me several original photos – two of which were extreme restorations of Civil War Era cabinet card photographs. One, in particular, was of a home with the family on the doorstep, a dog laying on the walkway, guests fraternizing on the porch to the side. Over the years, this photo had faded and suffered some moisture damage in which the emulsion was essentially wiped away. The streaks and blemishes on the original were greatly challenging. Some of the work was done by replicating textures and objects in the original, and some restoration was actually done by replacing too far damaged parts with new and historically relevant objects. It was a 10+ hour restoration, very satisfying (see photo).

One of my favorite projects to date was a series of hand-tinted tintypes and daguerrotypes, set in velvet and brass adorned box frames. There were about 10 of them that I got to scan and work on for a family’s genealogy archive. Though the restoration was not done on the original, the scans really embodied the richness and beauty of these objects. I restored the significantly damaged areas and still maintained the antique quality and textures. Sadly, this was several years ago, and I do not have documentation of this project, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. Excitedly, more daguerreotype restorations are on deck currently.

MM: How long did it take to develop your company, and has it been tough to keep it afloat?

JC: For better or worse, the idea came to me, and within weeks I quit my job to dedicate myself fully to forming Facsimile. From the time I filed my application for an LLC to the time I received my first customer was five months. There have been moments of bustle and moments of unsettling quiet. I’ve been very patient and diligently working to grow the business and reach more broadly. Learning a lot as I go. The initial costs of equipment and supplies along with marketing have been the largest expenses. And they all have a finite cost and value at the end of the day. Monthly maintenance to run the business is manageable. I am still in the growth stage, with plenty of room and promising client interactions. So maybe check back in another year…

MM: What are your favorite things about working for a company you founded?

JC: How much I’m learning: I had no idea that there was so much to discover during this process. Facing fears, growing confidence, asking for what I’m worth, and being the kind and communicative person, I want to be when interacting with customers. I set my own standards as an artist! I get to operate with the integrity I value. Discovering how to balance work with personal life, time, and space. For me, it has been wonderful, and I feel so fortunate to work from home. I dance and sing, sit and stand, and take walks whenever the mood or need hits. I get to form my own boundaries and listen to my intuition. Becoming more financially literate and learning to manage money well. I thought this part would be horrifying, and it has been a wholesome and humbling experience. Gratitude. Gratitude as an action. This work I do – especially to restore damaged photos –feels like a calling that I get to provide such a special service for my fellow human beings.

 MM: Where do you hope the company will be in 10 years?

JC: Wow, that is actually challenging to consider – I’ve been so focused on simply appreciating the moment and doing the next indicated action. In 10 years, it would be wonderful to have grown so much that I could have a team of a couple of other well-trained photo restoration artists accompanying me in this work. The thing that feels so important as a formally trained artist in this work is honoring the value of artistry.  There are so many apps or companies out there that really dim the light of this work by putting a nominal value on it. I promote and encourage the support of artists and small businesses. Financially, I would love to get to the place of affording the ability to donate these services to those in need.

MM: You also speak about women in the arts. So, what are some of the most significant issues that women artists must overcome today?

JC: Some lingering historical issues are seen in (dare I say) ordinary and widespread misogyny. Some people struggle to speak to womxn respectfully, let alone take womxn seriously. I’ve personally had customers (both men and womxn) call with questions about placing an order who have been unintentionally derogatory regarding me being a young womxn. I say “unintentional” because they don’t even know they are doing it and likely don’t think they have a problem. I don’t take it personally and react- I just keep conversing as the person I am and want to be.

On one occasion, in particular, a man decided he was going to speak for me when in a meeting with a publicity firm. That did not last long. Aside from these sorts of personally affected societal residue, we need only look at history in the art world – and there, you will see a large majority of maleness. White maleness. The numbers in the art world loudly show the boys club of today is still going strong but is slowly being infiltrated and influenced by social justice and artwork brought to light in recent decades.

In my office spaces for Facsimile, I’ve increased the frequency of my surroundings by hanging original artwork by womxn and transgender artists. All I know is that I put one foot in front of the other, being the kindest, best person and business owner I can be, making time and space for my personal growth and artwork. I support other womxn, black, indigenous, and people of color in the arts as much as possible.