I first met Jasleen when she joined First Exposures at the age of 15. She had green, blue, & black hair, layers of bright colored bracelets, fishnet stockings, Doc Martin boots, & a huge fun energy to match. I instantly wanted to be friends with her. My current mentee had gone off to college at the end of the year & I was planning to commit to mentoring at FX only part time after that. Erik kept asking me if I was sure I didn’t want to be matched again, & I said yes, unless, by some chance I’d be matched with Jasleen. Everything just aligned & I knew we were meant to have a future together as a FX mentor/mentee pair. I had no idea how close we’d become & how important we’d be to each other. Due to some very special circumstances, our relationship moved beyond just First Exposures & we got to spend a ton of time together. We photographed weddings together, went camping, sailing, river rafting, hiking, went to SF Giants games, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, volunteered for Help Portrait, went to art exhibits, & so much more.
One of my favorite times with her was camping in Yosemite. She’d never been camping before but you’d never know it. She so easily & naturally fit into any situation & had the best time. This was also her first time learning to ride a bike which resulted in a hilarious non-injury crash. When she got up she said, “Okay so now I know how to ride a bike. I just need to learn how to stop.” We retold & laughed about this for years. She spent her time making portraits of & getting to know each person in the camp group. She shared all of her life goals & was excited for her future as an artist. Her cool vibe & up-for-everything attitude was easy & fun to be around.
Jasleen wasn’t ever the average teenager or average in any way. Her intelligence, street smarts, kindness, independence, & understanding of the world made her stand far above average. She took all of life’s punches thrown at her (she had way more than any young person ever should) & turned them into motivation and art. Her fearless confidence & self-assurance allowed her to not be afraid of anything. She’d walk up to strangers on the street & ask to take make their portraits. She recorded what she saw as well as gave directions to create what she wanted & she always knew what she wanted. Her natural ability to create art & have fun while doing it was beyond inspiring. Her photography captured the innocence of children, the comedy of adults, the quietness of nature & the beauty of abstractions. Her ability to comprehend & understand people & the world was shown in her art & stretched far beyond her age.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP