A couple of years ago, Jamie Beck did the thing that so many of us dream about– she left the stress of New York City to live a more simple life in Provence, France.
While the relocation made her more emotionally at ease, it’s also clear that in her new life she’s creatively fulfilled as a photographer (just check out the heart-breakingly beautiful images on her Instagram page). We wanted to take a dive into Jamie’s life so we asked her to shoot a series of self-portraits for us and tell us a little bit about her story.
Christina: Tell me about your journey of moving to Provence. How did it come about?
Jamie: I came to this region on a photo job, actually–I fell in love with it and I could never shake it. I came back for another photo job a year later and I brought my husband, and it just got into my soul.
We were coming back from an overseas flight and I thought the plane was going to crash — just rare anxiety — and the first thing that popped into my head was, “Great! Now I’m never gonna know what it’s like to live in France.” So I thought, if that’s the first thing I think of when I think I’m going to die, I should probably do that. I made a promise to myself that if the plane lands, then I’m going to move to France. Obviously, the plane landed.
My husband was not aware that any of this was going on in my head. I was like, “Okay! I’m moving to France!” He’s like, “Ooh… when?” And I’m like, “Next month!” And he said, “Okay!”
Were you married then?
We were married. We knew we wanted to leave New York. We were super unhappy, so stressed out from work and life. We were at this stage of, “What is this all for? What is this all about?”
He was going to go to L.A. and, eventually, I was going to join him after a year in France. I got the visa; a month later, I was here.
I loved it. It ended up being much more life-changing than I even anticipated, much richer. Later, my husband came to visit and he saw what it is that I saw. He saw how I changed and the work that I was doing, how much more balanced of a person I was, healthier. He’d stay for longer and longer and then he moved here. We decided to put L.A. on pause. I thought, there is no way I can go to L.A. now after being here. It would be like going back to New York, that same stress. He agreed. We decided to get our visas properly and commit to being here until we’re ready to not be here anymore.
Was your intention always to work as a photographer?
I still do commercial work, that’s how I make my living. Part of being here was leaving a lot of the commercial aspect of my work, and being able to be the photographer that I wanted to be. For me, it’s much more about the human experience, expression and ideas, and less about, “I want to sell this beauty product, or these shoes.” But with that said, I still have been fortunate enough to work with commercial clients that are really cool.
The more personal work I did in France, I thought, well this might be the end of my career, but I just know I have to do this thing, and I’ll start over and it will be fine. But, it was really amazing because I started putting out all this personal work–I was really growing as a photographer and finally focusing on things that really meant something to me and experimenting with the craft–and then, I started getting jobs based on what I was doing in my personal work. That was the best feeling in the world–I get to show up to jobs and do what I’ve been doing and be totally who I am, instead of mimicking a trend or a reference. I get to really bring myself to the work and that’s been one of the biggest surprises of my journey here.
You have such a distinct personal style–very romantic, very feminine. Is that how you always were, or is it a result of moving to Provence?
I’ve always been, mentally and emotionally, very romantic–as far as what I like to read and watch, how I thought and what I dreamed of. But in New York, it’s just not practical.
I had an armor in New York–I wore black, very simple, sophisticated, powerful, easier for hopping around the city. Now, all I wear is white and tan, haha. Mostly linen. Long, white sleeping gowns do not play out well in New York. So yes, my style has completely changed. I keep looking for French designers who do bigger sleeves, more ruffles, more lace!
Tell me about what inspires you, both your work and your personal style? It sounds like it’s mostly nature, but is there anything specific that strikes you?
I think of places in the world as characters, so the way I dress in Provence is not the way I would dress in Paris or New York or in L.A. So, I have these little characters that I dream about and it’s visualized in a place.
I look around in Provence and all the stones and the villages have been here for thousands of years. They’re Roman and bleached out by the sun. Or, they’re limestone, all white, light grey, and warm tan. I like to camouflage myself in the landscape. I want to be able to watch and observe the world around me in order to capture it, to quietly observe in order to create the story I’m trying to tell. To do that, I want to blend into that world.
There are times when I’ll go to a chateau and a chateau is not an ancient Roman stone wall, it’s a total fairytale. So, I have all these fairytale dresses full of lace. It’s fun to give a nod to the history of a place through fashion. There’s nothing worse than going to a chateau and seeing someone wearing a modern day t-shirt. It’s like, what are you doing? It just feels wrong, you know, pay homage… at least wear a floral!
I really admire people that have their personal style down, and that’s it, no matter where they are in the world. I would love to have more of a uniform, but I just can’t. I’m so emotional, I feel places, and I feel like I have to fold into the place to get the experience that I want.
I’ve been living in New York for a long time and if I were going to move somewhere remote, I’m worried I would miss being surrounded by the energy of ambition, competition, creativity–the scene of the city. Is that something that ever bothers you?
I know exactly what you’re talking about. When I go back to New York, it’s amazing to me, the amount of presence and intensity on people’s faces. I’m like, who are you? What do you do? It’s very exciting. I do miss that engagement, in my mind, of people who are ambitiously creating interesting things. That is tough and it makes New York unlike any other place in the world.
But, I’ve also learned so much about the way I like to work. I thought I could only do this for a year and then I wouldn’t be able to survive and I’d have to go back to the city. But, with discipline, I’ve learned that you can still be an ambitious person outside of that world–while having a bit more balance.