Community Voices - Tanya Rosen-Jones

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Tanya Rosen-Jones is the owner of Rosen-Jones Photography. She is an Oberlin alumnus who studied History. She now lives in Oberlin with her husband, who also graduated from Oberlin, and her two sons. She hails from Berkeley, California.

 Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? Why would you choose these words/images? 

A: I would say trees and green. There is a universal commitment to try to be greener here, and to try to live a more sustainable life. It’s one of the reasons why we moved here, actually.

Q: How is it that you came to open your business in Oberlin?

A: I went to Oberlin College in the ‘90s, back when fashion was horrible and we had no hair products. I met my husband here—we’re one of those Obie couples—and we left for eleven years. Then we came back for our tenth reunion and were astonished at how beautiful it was here and realized that Oberlin was the community we were searching for; it’s a place where we could afford a house, we could walk or ride our bikes to work if we wanted, and our children could ride their bikes in the streets. Also, Oberlin had tons of artistic and cultural attractions that were available to us. So, we decided to try to get employed here, and my husband actually got a job at the college. He’d been working at MIT before.

Q: When you lived near MIT, were you more in a suburban or an urban kind of community?

A: We had been in a more urban community, but right before my husband got the job at MIT, we had just moved to the suburbs. It was pretty bad timing! We had lived in an urban environment, but we wanted more green space and we wanted more of a yard. But when we moved to the suburbs and my husband started his job at MIT, we realized that we weren’t really suburban people. So we were like, “if we’re not city people and we’re not suburban people, what are we?” And then I remembered: I grew up in Berkeley, California. That was when I realized that we were college town people. It’s that happy medium between urban and suburban—it has the comfort level where you know lots of people, but there are still intellectual conversations happening. Then we moved back to Oberlin. I had had a photo business for years in Boston and decided that I wanted to open a storefront here.

Q: What’s it been like running your business in Oberlin? Have you enjoyed your interactions with the Oberlin community? Have you met interesting people?

A: Absolutely! We’re very fortunate.My husband and I are both alums, so we’re connected to the college in that way. My husband also works for the college, so we’re connected to the college in that way as well. We have young children, so we got to know a lot of people through the daycare and the elementary schools in town. And then, opening a business here, I got to meet a lot of the local business owners, so it felt like I was connected to Oberlin in five different ways, so I definitely felt blessed in that way.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: I try to be a small-town photographer, so I offer all different kinds of photography from headshots to weddings, babies, maternity, engagement sessions, seniors in high school, and I just kind of try to be here as a resource for the community. I even do some random requests for some of the more elderly residents of Oberlin; sometimes they’ll bring me old photos that I’ll scan, fix up, and then give them the new prints. So, again, I like being here as a resource…and if I can stay for the long haul, it’s also nice to see, as time passes, how the children grow, or, as the students become famous, I can pull out pictures I have of them when they were just starting out. It’s pretty fun! I like to help people document important times in their lives, and it’s fun to be associated with our small community in that way.

Q: What changes have you seen at Oberlin College since your time at the school? If you could look twenty years into the future, what would you want to see in those students that you don’t see as much currently?

A: Well, even though Oberlin does change all the time, there are these weird constants as well. There are these archetypes of people who are attracted to Oberlin, which is comforting in some ways. We all knew those people when we were back in school here too, and hopefully they’ll just keep coming for decades to come.

The students are, from what I can tell, more confident in a way. I actually think it’s because of the Internet because in our day, we came here and there were all these strong personality types in high school, like the ones you see in those ‘80s movies, the jocks, and the nerds and the weirdos—that actually existed. Or at least, you felt like you had to fit into those categories. And people who were attracted to Oberlin back then were generally trying to fight against those things. So we came to Oberlin and asserted that “we were different, we were weird!” We got here and we were all very vocal about it, but then we realized that we all were slightly weird. We realized that we didn’t have to be so loud about it and that we should just be ourselves.

But that was a process for us, and now people come here with more of a sense of themselves because they’ve almost all gotten a chance to have a community before. They could find people who looked like them, felt like them, acted like them. They don’t have to try to prove themselves as much. That’s the only difference I’ve really noticed, and I’m not sure if that’s even a positive or a negative, it just kind of is.

In Twenty years, I would hope that students would continue to be more confident in themselves, and more compassionate of others.  I would hope that they would see the world as gray, instead of black and white.  And to see commonalties in people that appear quite different from themselves.

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: Sustainability, for me, is a way to prolong and to provide. The reason that I think sustainability is a possibility for Oberlin is that we have farmlands and a drive to create an area here from which we can support ourselves. We’re becoming more and more self-sufficient and relying less on getting our products from outside. I guess, to me, sustainability is just about providing for our future.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions? Why?

A: I try to source as many products as locally as possible.  And I shop downtown whenever possible.  Sustainability of a vibrant downtown is also very important to me.

Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives? 

A: I would say to really do your research and figure out if there’s a way to minimize cost, expenditures, and damage in your business. And if there is, price it accordingly. You just have to do your research, and whenever possible, think with your heart.

Q: As a photographer, what inspires you to create?

A: I’m the rare person, I guess, in that I’m completely inspired by people. I tried many different kinds of photography and worked for many different photographers but I kept feeling like, “I hate that! I don’t want to do that!” Eventually, I realized that I could just take inspiration from my clients ‘and their events. I mean, like, if there’s a wedding, yeah, there’s a lot of headache and pressure involved, but it’s also this incredible experience that brings people and families together and so many beautiful and genuine emotions are expressed. I take my inspiration from the history that I’m helping to create, and from light, of course, but really, it’s the people who drive me to continue creating. People always ask me, “What do you do for yourself?” And I reply, “I work!” I love working, I love what I do, and I love the people I get to meet and work with.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: What I would love to see happen—which happens in my home area—is compost pickup, which is really cool. At my sister’s house, they have a huge garbage bin that’s entirely compost and then a teeny little garbage can for garbage. It’s so nice because not everyone can have a compost bin in the backyard. They pick it up the compost every week, and it’s an incredible system. It might be hard to implement in Oberlin because the size of the town is a bit limiting, and people may not be willing to compost because of the smell, but I think it would be great for the town. 

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Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. She is also a member of the Oberlin Student Theater Association and a DJ for WOBC 91.5 FM.

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Melissa Cabat
Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. Sh
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