Growing up in Decatur, Natalie Jackson had a camera everywhere she went—a gift from her father, the renowned artist and musician Preston Jackson. In addition to his artistic influence, she gained a love for literature and art history from her mother, Melba. By the time she was in high school, her family had moved to Peoria and Natalie had entered and won her first art competitions.
After graduating from Bradley University, she did co-op work for Caterpillar and IBM before moving to Atlanta, where she returned to school to study photography. Hired as a staff photographer for a local magazine, she became known for her striking photos of the city’s jazz musicians. Upon her return to central Illinois, she became a medical photographer for Soderstrom Skin Institute and opened Natalie Jackson Photography in a space at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria.
Over the years, Natalie has worked on Jane Fonda’s project to support the Lost Boys of Sudan; shot photos for Art AIDS Africa and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival; and was chosen as one of Sky Art Peoria’s billboard artists in 2019 and 2021. She finds joy in photographing empowered women—including this issue’s five Women of Influence, as well as Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, the city’s first woman and first Black mayor. In addition to her fall exhibition at the Macomb Art Center—the largest showing of her body of work to date—she recently juried her first large photography show, joined the board of the Central Illinois Jazz Society, and participated in the Peoria Women NOW exhibition at the Peoria Art Guild, a Big Picture Peoria initiative.
- Favorite childhood memory: I can actually remember bringing my newborn baby sister home from the hospital.
- What living person do you most admire? My dad. He’s got more talent, knowledge, heart and energy than anyone I know. He’s very inspiring… every 10 years he tells me: This will be your best decade yet!
- Favorite vacation spot outside of the U.S: I love Paris! It’s artsy, romantic and sexy all in one! I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to do several photo trips there. My mother and I celebrated our birthdays there together one year.
- What unique things do you collect? Old cameras and film projectors. I had an old Brownie still in the original box.
- What is your most treasured possession? A ring passed down from my great grandmother.
- Favorite splurge: Boots!
- Favorite album: Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. He’s a musical genius and that album is truly a masterpiece.
- Favorite journey: Motherhood.
- If you could grab one thing on the way out of your burning house, what would it be? My hard drives containing family photos. Those captured moments and memories are what life is made of.
- Words to live by: Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. Develop from the negatives. And if things don’t work out… just take another shot. PM