jemerling on

Jenn Emerling Photos & Videos on Instagram

@jemerling   An eye for photographs. A heart for the open road. Personal project: @seeamericafirst Wedding work: @jemerlingweddings

2 months ago

2018 has been an incredible year filled with new experiences I could have never dreamt of—like spending 28 hours aboard a naval aircraft carrier, only to return to land by being CATAPULTED off the warship via a C-2 greyhound that goes from 0 to 128mph within 3 seconds! This once in a lifetime experience was one of the many highlights of working for @aitaf this past year—a nonprofit that brings the arts to men and women in the armed forces. It’s been such a gift to see active duty military and veterans immerse themselves in a performance that can provide a deeper understanding of the human condition, and for me—a civilian—to gain a deeper understanding of what daily life is like for those who commit themselves to the highest level of service. Endless thanks to the sailors, pilots and officers who shared a window into their lives at sea with us, and special thanks to Erica, Lindsay, Joanne, and Adam for letting me be a part of such a meaningful mission of making the arts more accessible and giving back to the military. #AITAF

3 months ago

For the past 65 years, our family had come to accept the fact that the identity of my mom’s birth mother would forever remain a mystery. We had very little info to go off of when we began our search a few years ago, and the lifelong shame my (adoptive) grandmother carried from not being able to conceive her own children made it a touchy subject in our household. While I was driving through rural Iowa earlier this summer, retracing my father’s lineage, I called my brother and asked him to look up an address using our mom’s account. My brother returned my call with the address, and a surprising discovery: our mom’s DNA was matched with strong certainty to a woman we believed to be her biological aunt. One thing led to another, contact was made, and we were welcomed into my mother’s biological family with open arms. Over the past few months a huge family secret was fully unpacked, bizarre coincidences and striking similarities were revealed, and I’ve gained more cousins than I know what to do with. We learned that my biological grandmother—Freda, pictured above—passed away 20 years ago (what a sad irony that she’s the only one of 7 siblings to die, and what luck that the only sister who knew about her secret baby is still alive). Yesterday, I met my mother’s uncle, 5 (!!) aunts, a few cousins, and it was incredibly surreal to see a room full of women who look like my mom. The arched eyebrows, the curly hair, that unmistakable smile, the chin dimple—physical features we had long wondered if my mom shared with anyone else. Our newfound extended family has been exceedingly generous with details about Freda‘s life, sharing countless memories and photos. My mom is giddy beyond measure—she gained the big family she’s always wanted, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. I am still unpacking it all myself, processing the cost of shame unfairly put upon young pregnant women, the power of identity and knowing where you come from, and the meaning of family. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d get this opportunity—what a great gift it is to finally know the woman that brought my mother into this world.

3 months ago

Fireflies line a country road near Lacona, Iowa. . I spent a few weeks this summer driving to every corner of Iowa in the hopes I would be able to retrace my ancestral memory. I went back to every single address I could find after a year of paging through piles of photo albums and documents, believing that if I could see the places of significance to my grandparents in Des Moines—the homes they grew up in, the beauty shoppe my great grandmother started, the high school they attended, the diner they had their first date, the church they got married in, and the house they brought my father home to after he was born—that if I could just see these places with my own eyes, the stirring in my soul that bubbles up every time I smell that sticky summer midwest air would finally be at peace. To my total surprise, every address was a dead end. There were no physical locations to revisit at all, only temporal experiences and new awakenings of long lost ancestral memories I never expected to find. These fireflies hypnotized me for hours one night in June, shortly after meeting a distant cousin. I watched them pulse along the grasses and tried to imagine what my life would have been like if I had grown up here. In that moment it occurred to me that, maybe, the need to be in a specific place to understand my ancestral memory is less important—perhaps the connection can reveal itself through something more abstract, more magical, and maybe that stirring in my soul is not supposed to quiet at all.

3 months ago

John on his centennial farm, Iowa. June 2018.

6 months ago

Butte, America is the city that copper built. These are a few of my favorite copper-themed souvenirs and details I found while working on a story about the tourism draw to the Berkeley Pit for @topicstories.

6 months ago

I, too, have wondered what the tourist draw is to the Berkeley Pit, a toxic body of water steadily rising since the end of Butte’s mining heyday. Turns out, there’s a diverse number of reasons someone might want to see “The Pit”—besides the clearly marked selfie spot. Stephanie Evans, a geology major at Indiana University, came to learn about it as part of a class outing; members of the band Bellows were told to check out “the big stinking hole in the ground” while on their cross-country tour across America; Gary Hix brought his wife, Marilyn, to show her where he used to work as an underground exploration geologist in 1972. For many others, viewing The Pit is a cyclical experience. Like for Anya Sinon and her family, who make a trip to view it every year, curious to see how it’s changed after growing up in nearby Anaconda. It amazed me how many tourists stayed for a long time, just staring out at the toxic water. Gabby Smith summed up it best: “Now that I’m here, I’m glad I can’t get closer to it, but I also wish I could get closer to it.” You can read more about the tourist experience in Justin Nobel’s words on @topicstories this month (and I hope you do, because he paints a pretty wonderful picture of my favorite person I met at the Pit—Barb!) Link in bio.

6 months ago

I traveled to Butte, Montana recently to photograph the town’s most infamous tourist attraction (and Superfund site)—The Berkeley Pit—for @topicstories. After spending 4 consecutive days meeting and photographing tourists on the viewing platform, there were moments when I had to remind myself that the hypnotizing colors are actually a toxic body of water. The viewing scopes and selfie spots almost make it feel like you’re looking out at a natural wonder, and, for some people in Butte, the Pit *is* a point of pride as well as a defining part of the town’s identity. But the consequences of mining are a serious concern, as the toxic water continues to rise closer to the critical water level. I highly recommend immersing yourself in the wonderful storytelling by Justin Nobel in this great piece over on, as part of their August issue focused on the environment. Many thanks to @carolineleighsmith for this superfun assignment.

10 months ago

A lot of people have asked me how my trip to Antarctica was, and, to be honest, it’s not the kind of life experience I'm able to quickly sum up. So, I wrote a personal travelogue about some of the most meaningful parts of my trip, which was published this week on @fieldmag. Many thanks to @graham for providing a beautiful platform for this piece which, as you’ll read, holds a great deal of emotional weight for me. Link in profile.

1 year ago

Antarctica Dream No. 5 | Solitude.

1 year ago

Antarctica Dream No. 4 | Zipping past icebergs larger than life.

1 year ago

Antarctica Dream No. 3 | Crossing the circle 66°33’S

1 year ago

Antarctica Dream No. 2 | Woke up to snow en route to the Antarctic Circle.

1 year ago

I had a dream I went to Antarctica.

1 year ago

Now that I'm a grown adult, I've been trying to make a conscious effort to get to know my last living grandparents better. This has not been easy, as I typically only get to see them once a year at Thanksgiving and my grandfather's health has deteriorated so much he doesn't really know who anyone is, not even his own wife of 68 years. Today I made a quick pilgrimage with my brother to Tucson, AZ to ask my grandma a few questions about her life: Where did you get married? (Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa) Where did you go on your honeymoon? (Bemidji, Minnesota to see Paul Bunyan + Babe the Blue Ox) What got you interested in travel and hiking? (We quit smoking so we needed to find something else to do with our time) What is your favorite national park? (I love them all) I did my best to try and get her to go into more detail, but either her memory failed or she didn't have much more to say. I have this deep curiosity to try to understand more about who she was around my age, but it has simultaneously occurred to me that perhaps, given she grew up in the Great Depression, married young, raised 4 kids while her husband was gone most of the time serving in the Air Force, she might not have had the privilege to really form an identity outside of those things. What I do know is she has a wonderful sense of humor, and ever since I was little she has told me to eat my crust so I'd get curly hair like hers. I've always been somewhat aware of this, but it really hit me today just how different my life is from hers. I should probably accept that there will always be things about her that will remain a mystery, but I'll just keep asking these questions while I still can.

1 year ago

This has been the craziest summer of my life. Too much has happened to fully unpack on here, but I will say that with every challenge thrown at me, I've walked away with more clarity, growth, and perspective than I could ever hope to experience in a decade, let alone in the past 6 weeks.  Given the amount of transformation I've been going through, I was eager to get my aura photographed by @radianthuman_ , so @thisradlove booked us each a session for today. I was blown away by the colors that came through in my photograph, and I was surprised by amount the green, which the artist thoughtfully explained shows growth, perfectionism, ambition, adaptability, long term awareness and determination, among other things that felt freakishly accurate. Beyond that, it gave me chills to see the colors directly correlated with the colors of the northern lights, as I've had three very intense encounters seeing the aurora borealis this year. The first two encounters happened on my birthday, in which I flew to Sweden with the hope that I could view the northern lights for first time, and was lucky enough to see my birthday wish come true.  It was also on said birthday trip that I bought the t-shirt I'm wearing here, which quickly became a beloved piece of clothing. I was so sad when, a few weeks ago, this shirt was stolen from me as a result of my car getting broken into during my annual @seeamericafirst road trip. Thanks to some resourceful thinking, I lucked out again and found my shirt dumped in an alley down the road from where the robbery happened. The third time I saw the northern lights was on the same road trip, just outside @glaciernps , during a rare solar storm mid-summer that serendipitously aligned with my route. I took the subsequent photos in this post, which I believe look exactly like the colors in my aura, and brings it all full circle to me in a big way. All this to say, I believe in magic probably more than ever, and I am so grateful to @radianthuman_ for documenting this moment in time for me.

1 year ago

Woke up to what felt like a crisp fall morning in the middle of summer, because New Hampshire ❤️

1 year ago

The thunderstorms in South Dakota the past few nights have been, well, crazy.  I got caught in another intense storm driving back to my hotel after getting dinner in Custer when the winds and rain became so bad that I decided it would be safest to pull over and wait it out for a bit. I ended up parked outside the sign for the @crazyhorsememorial , and as the electricity illuminated my view, I took a few frames through my car window (you can see the reflection of my dashboard in the right) not actually expecting to get anything, but I like how this came out. I was planning to check out the memorial tomorrow morning when the clear blue skies return, though I’m a bit partial to the drama from tonight.