More than 30 years ago, Steve Jessmore took his first steps on Central Michigan University’s campus as a student.
This year, he returned as the Assistant Director of Photos and Image Marketing.
Jessmore, who grew up in Saginaw, was thrown into the world of photography at an early age.
“I’d always been around photography, but it wasn’t my primary focus. It was a hobby as a kid when I was growing up,” Jessmore said. “I shot more than 100 concerts for The Saginaw News before I got out of high school.”
Jessmore originally planned to study medicine, but since his father owned a local photography business, he eventually changed his mind.
“I didn’t really know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, but my primary focus was to tell stories,” he said. “I wanted to do picture stories, projects and essays, as well as documentary photography. I knew I wasn’t going to go and report with words, but initially, I knew I wanted to work for a newspaper.”
After working several part-time jobs to make ends meet, Jessmore landed his first full-time photography job at The Saginaw News.
“I think that was where I really gained a foothold on doing community-related stories,” he said. “I got a taste of what it was like to help the community, doing things that were worthwhile and making a difference.”
Spending more than a decade in Saginaw, Jessmore worked on many projects that he looks back on with a sense of accomplishment.
“We did a major rental housing project and we found out that the worst landlords in the city were the school board president and two city council members. We ran a project that was 21 pages of pictures over seven days, along with stories,” Jessmore said.
He said another high point in his career was following a puppy for 17 months as he transitioned into a service dog.
Jessmore said the climax of his career began after leaving Saginaw for a job at The Flint Journal, where he served for nearly a decade.
“My biggest highlight was the sense of community in Flint,” Jessmore said. “To me, that was the essence of what I wanted to do. I wanted to highlight the people who wanted to make (Flint) a better place.”
After numerous cutbacks in the photography department, Jessmore decided to accept a buyout and moved on to a local newspaper in Myrtle Beach, S.C., only to see the recession take a toll on their newsroom as well.
After spending 31 years in the newspaper industry, Jessmore came to CMU to fill a spot left by recently retired 30-year veteran photographer Robert Barclay.
“As a curious person, I thought there would be a lot more here for me to be curious about,” Jessmore said. “My job at CMU is to highlight the good, to tell stories about what makes Central special, and to do photos to show that there is more good than bad.”
Community photojournalism is something that Jessmore holds to a high standard, and he says he’s excited to bring his experiences to CMU.
“I was a student here,” Jessmore said. “It’s a great feeling to be back and walk around.”
Some of Jessmore’s co-workers are also excited with his work so far, including Director of Public Relations Steve Smith.
“He has a fresh perspective, knows what’s going on on campus and has been a great addition to our staff,” Smith said. “Steve is a very personable, hard working photographer.”
Smith said Jessmore has already streamlined the photo archive and has established a CMU photo store.
“He brings a good attitude and creative flare to our group work. He became intimately involved in that work and he has a natural affinity and a love for CMU,” Smith said. “He is a top-notch co-worker, one of the best I’ve ever encountered in my professional career. He has quickly become a member of our A-team.”
Jessmore also helped create a new internship program within the communications department this year.
Grand Marais senior Charlotte Bodak is one of the interns for the new program.
“I was hired on the Monday that class started. (Jessmore) is a really great mentor,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from him as far as sighting and posing people and working with people in general. Getting hands-on experience is really valuable.”
Bodak said despite Jessmore’s passion for photography and his mentees to succeed, he’s not an overbearing teacher.
“He’s very patient and very nice,” Bodak said. “He really wants you to do well. He wants you to take your time and he makes you push yourself.”