Unapologetically Me: Jenny Kuller, the Queen of Vintage by Miachelle DePiano

(C) 2017, Miachelle D Photography, LLC

(C) 2017, Miachelle D Photography, LLC

Many people dress up in pinup or rockabilly style, but it’s usually on the weekends, or on a night out on the town. Not Jenny Kuller. As I’ve gotten to know her over the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize this is who she is every day, whether at home or out somewhere in Phoenix, and she is very unapologetic about it. This story is more than just about Kuller’s love for a vintage lifestyle. It’s about her life journey, which has been filled with challenges. Thanks to perseverance, help from Fresh Start, and therapy, she finally has learned to embrace who she is.

Kuller is the owner of Redhead Sadie Vintage, a vintage clothing company specializing in clothing from the 1960s and prior. Her career in selling vintage clothing began in 1995 and transitioned to an eBay storefront on May 18, 1999. She still has her eBay store with over 6500 satisfied customers, and recently added an Etsy store. She travels to different trunk shows and specialty markets with her collection, both locally and in other states. She’s been featured in Vintage Style magazine for her vintage lifestyle, and her house will be featured in Flea Market Décor, due out May 30, 2017.

“My house is all vintage,” she says. “I live it. It looks right, feels right, it fits me.”

Born in Portland, Oregon, Kuller’s love for vintage fashion began as a young child. Her most valued vintage possession is an original Bakelite cherry necklace, estimated to be from the 1930s.

“I always loved the 40s and 50s,” she says. “I would dress up to watch Happy Days.”

In 1987, Kuller moved to Arizona due to her stepfather taking a job with KJZZ. Kuller’s teenage years were fraught with obstacles. She had undiagnosed ADHD, and learning was difficult in a day when educational resources weren’t as equipped to help children with ADHD. She also had a very difficult relationship with her stepfather; she describes the situation quite simply, which is more telling than if she went into detail.

“He was not kind to me.”

Mother of LeCresia, 29, and Zefram, 17, Kuller’s challenging journey began early when she gave birth to LeCresia as she was graduating from high school. From 1988-1994, Kuller worked a variety of minimum wage jobs to support her small family. One of those jobs was working at a record store.

“It was a great job, and the movie Empire Records has always rung true for me,” Kuller says. “Crazy cool people work at record stores!”

Other jobs included babysitting and call center jobs. In 1994, Kuller was formally diagnosed with ADHD and began treatment. Simultaneously, Kuller started her vintage retail career with a boyfriend in 1994 as they bought old furniture, upcycled it, and resold it locally. Ultimately they had an antique booth in Mesa, which she kept after they broke up.

In 1997, Kuller got married to her husband, Dan. Kuller opened her eBay store on May 18, 1999, back when eBay was still a novelty.

“I got really good at eBay because my marriage was really bad,” Kuller recalls.

When Zefram was born in 2000, Kuller suffered deeply from postpartum depression (PPD). She realized she couldn’t do both the eBay store and the antique booth, she closed down the booth. Kuller experienced difficulties in her marriage as a result of her depression, and they divorced in 2005. Kuller looks back and acknowledges she needed more than her husband could give her.

“I was way too needy in retrospect,” she recalls. “I wanted to be rescued. It wasn’t all bad, it was mostly that he ignored the fact that I needed his validation. After Zefram was born, I was a mess with PPD.”

In 2005, Kuller entered an intense relationship that eventually would become an extremely important pivotal point in her life. LeCresia had moved out by then, and Kuller was taking care of Zefram, who is diagnosed with ADHD and Asperberger’s. Meanwhile, Kuller still focused on her eBay store.

Kuller was hired in 2007 by Heidi Owens to run her vintage clothing store, the Hollywood Regency, which was located next to the Melrose Pharmacy in the Melrose District. She credits her time with Owens at the Hollywood Regency for giving her an education in brick and mortar retail, and considers Owens both a sister and mentor.

“Heidi essentially said ‘Here are the keys, run the shop’,” Kuller says. “I couldn’t ask for a better education, in many things.”

In 2010, Kuller’s life went through major upheavals. Kuller came home one day to find her boyfriend cheating on her. Additionally that year, Owens passed away from cancer, and Kuller’s time at the Hollywood Regency came to an end.

Realizing she was in an emotional downward spiral, Kuller began Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and credits this therapy with changing her life.

According to the Linehan Institute, DBT is a cognitive behavioral treatment developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It’s also used to treat other disorders including substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders.

“Dialectical behavior therapy teaches you to take responsibility for your emotions, and self-acceptance,” she explains. “It teaches mindfulness, in honoring the sacredness within. That’s the hard part, being responsible for your own shit.”

In addition to beginning DBT, Kuller also entered the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation program in 2010, and credits Fresh Start with aiding her in her transformation and self-development.

“They offer so many good programs to help women figure out what they want to do,” Kuller says. “The self-esteem and personal development workshops are beneficial. They don’t hold your hand but they help you. There is a huge personal responsibility aspect. You will do your part.”

Seven years later, Kuller has fire within, and places priority on her personal growth and evolution.

“I’m keeping going,” Kuller says. “The quickest way through hell is to keep going.”

Visions of GRANDeur by Miachelle DePiano

"Indeed!" as Marshall Shore likes to say.

Indeed, it has been a very long time since I blogged. I went through a period of really examining what I like to photograph, and a meeting last year turned into a project that solidified where I belong in photography, at least in my mind.

In September, 2015, I met Marshall Shore at a Roosevelt District Artist Meetup at Monorchid. Marshall was a breath of fresh air. The beard, the glasses, the bow tie clipped on a lapel and left to dangle, and that laugh. Those of you who know the Mah-velous Marshall know what I mean. I asked my friend Daniel Swadener to introduce us, and he kindly obliged. The first words out of my mouth were, "I MUST photograph you." He laughed and said, "Sure. When?"

That meeting resulted in a very fun shoot on October 24th, 2015. The result was a pretty iconic photo of Marshall, though we did get more than one good shot from the shoot. Mike Eller assisted me, and the three of us had fun working with Marshall's bow tie collection, blazer collection, and eyewear collection.

Fast forward to 2016. I'm on a magazine assignment at a festival on 7th Avenue, and there is Marshall, assisting vintage clothing boutique diva Jenny Kuller. He mentions he might have a project to collaborate with me on. Marshall, asking moi to collaborate? Say no more! It took a couple more weeks to get the deets, but it turned out that Marshall was getting Chartreuse Gallery for the month of September for his 50th birthday, and he was curating his own show. I was one of the invited artists, and his concept was a photo shoot with friends of his who also have unusual eyewear, as a result of that great photo I took of Marshall. He wanted that feel with these images.

We batted logistics and such about for a bit, but in the meantime, I was pondering things like backdrops, lighting, and lighting with eyeglasses. If you don't know, photographing people with eyeglasses is difficult. The lenses have this maddening way of catching the reflection of the studio lights. When you see commercial advertisements with eye wear or sunglasses, the lighting reflection is either very purposeful, or it's been shot to keep the light out and also edited to remove any reflection. My past experiences in photographing someone wearing eyeglasses resulted in lots of time editing the reflections out. I had to get it right "in camera" this time.

Eventually I decided to shoot everyone on white, black, and colored gel backdrops. Marshall's image was lit with both yellow and orange gels, and I wasn't sure how cohesive the photos would be. I decided to give myself options. Options are good--after the shoot, it's too late.

Marshall narrowed down his list of subjects to four people, from an original nine. "Man About Town" Oscar de las Salas, lovely Millye Bloodworth, the impish Deon Brown, and the inspirational ceramicist Patricia Sannit were the lucky models. Actually, at the end of this, I was the lucky one.

We photographed everyone in two weekends, each one with a two hour session. I was methodical. Start with the black backdrop, switch to the white, then change the lighting and add the gel for each subject. Marshall was present for all the shoots, and it was great, because the conversations that came out of those shoots were terrific. Each subject shared a bit of their history and background, and really opened up for the camera. Marshall and I didn't want sedate, serene posing. We wanted the life and personality that all of these people exude on a daily basis.

Ultimately as I edited and combed through the results, I fell in love with a number of the images, but as I thought about the body of work, I decided all of them had to have the gel backgrounds. Furthermore, as I test printed the images on 4x6 paper, and compared them all, I realized that they were beautiful as photographs, but the color was so intense, I was afraid the color would override the personality being captured. One of my reasons for loving black and white photography is that the absence of color frees you to examine the details and the emotion. I kept looking at these images, and decided I need to do something I don't do often. I decided these were going to transition from being photographed portraits to a photographic painting.

The editing began, and once I saw the results, I knew it was the right decision. The portraits had a different life in their new presentation.

The itself was terrific. Marshall did a great job selecting the artists, and a lot of people came to see all the wonderful things he brought together, from the specially made Marshall Muppet to Zarco Guerrero's sculptures to the Cudia City stage curtain Marshall rescued, to Hector Primero's fantastic merging of antique photos and his modern photos, and so many more artists.

Now that the show is over, I look at these portraits, and I'm reinvigorated by the freedom I had in creating these images from beginning to end. Marshall, thank you for inviting me to this show, and I hope there is more collaboration in our future.