Photography by Jeremy Jeziorski

2014 Annual Review

Here we are, at the conclusion of another year. In that odd interval between major national holidays, travel time, down time, harried work time and (hopefully) a touch of quality time spent with those we love.

My side of the family at Christmas in Warren, PA.

My side of the family at Christmas in Warren, PA.

And, while all it really amounts to is an arbitrary arrangement of socially agreed-upon numbers, it still feels like the best opportunity, in our cyclical trip 'round the sun, to sit down with a hot cup of coffee, (with a good dose of coconut oil to fuel the brain), open up the blog, the journals and the books... And take stock.

I did this publicly last year for the first time, inspired in part by several years of following Chris Guillebeau do it on his inspirational blog. A lot of people stopped me on the street to say they enjoyed reading it. So I figured I'd do it again. Maybe it will help others frame their thinking about what they're doing and where they're going. Maybe it will just be a plane crash. Difficult to watch, but impossible to tear your eyes away. Most likely, the results will lie in between.

It's wordy. Like, really wordy for a blog post that should really be filled with images. If you're not into that, just scroll down to the photo of our cats light-painting with sparklers. It's a doozy.

The point? Look back at the last year, and figure out what worked and what didn't. And then decide how to proceed in the coming year. I see some bulleted lists in this page's near future.

Let's begin with the not-so-good.

What Didn't Work?

Well, to be honest? A whole lot. If I were to sum 2014 up in a sentence, it would be - I'm glad it's over.

  • Efforts over five years of working towards making myself available as a specific, local, Warren asset proved, largely, to be a big mistake.
  • I grew increasingly displeased with the state of my business.
  • Displeasure led to stress, which led to poor time management, which led to slow response time to customers and constant delays in work, while still feeling like I had no spare time.
  • My mother was diagnosed with aggressive, small-cell lung cancer.
  • Didn't travel to any new countries (a yearly goal).
  • My exercise routine (and weight-loss) has hit a serious plateau.
  • Stress and depression became increasingly difficult to manage.
  • I sense a case of creative burnout is nearing.
  • Social media seems to be a place where I'm constantly inclined to get in an argument.
  • I didn't do a very good job of either clearly communicating my abilities, or further developing them to a fruitful end.
  • I've done almost nothing to maintain old friendships over the year.

A lot of those are pretty easy to explain. I'm not confused about the causes, or crying to the heavens about it. And it's pretty clear that most of these have a lot to do with each other.

The social media thing is big for me. I just can't help myself. A lot of folks are quick to post inflammatory material, pseudo-science, hearsay, horrid parenting "advice" and political material that really serves no purpose but to divide us. And I am horrible at ignoring it. So I'm going to take a break. Again. A month to start, but I'd love to experiment with what a year offline looks like for someone like me.

What Worked Well?

It's not all doom and gloom, to be sure. Plenty of things for which I should be, and am, quite thankful.

  • I made at least as much income as I did in 2013, without having to take on as many clients.
  • We finally managed to move out of Warren.
  • We made it back to Haiti back in February, with a group of people with whom we'd never really spent time previously. We made friendships, we built a house, and we learned a lot more about ourselves than we ever would have on another fun vacation.
  • Mom's cancer was successfully treated, and her tumor shrunk to near invisibility. For now, she's doing just fine.
  • Saying "no" a lot more worked out really well.
  • Limiting Facebook exposure to once or twice a week alleviated some stress. Shutting it down entirely for weeks at a time worked even better.
  • Biking 50,000x more than I'd ever done in previous years has shown immeasurable benefits, both physical and psychological.
  • Resuming meditation practice (I don't know why I ever stop) keeps me well-grounded.
  • A full year of regular yoga practice has me feeling much better than this time last year.
  • Living in a nicer apartment, with more space and attentive property owners, in a town with a bit more to offer, has eliminated a crazy amount of stress from our daily lives.

To elaborate... I'm not going to give a rundown of exact financials like I did last year. But we're in an even better place than we were last December. We still feel like we never have a dime to spend on ourselves. But our debt is under control, I have a new-to-me car, and we live in a much, MUCH better home. We also feel like we don't really need anything.

There's never been a better time to be broke in America!

On saying "no." I've never really wanted to be the go-to small-town photographer. I moved back to Warren in 2009 out of necessity, not desire. Had I not met and married Emily, chances are I wouldn't have spent more than a few months there. So most of the work I created, and the activities engaged in, were servicing a hazy goal of making the best of the situation.

And, truth be told, every step that led in the direction of setting down roots in Warren was actually pulling me (and Emily) away from our real goals. I've never really liked living in Warren. I won't elaborate on the various faults I find in the town. I don't want to focus on the negative. Because it does have a lot of wonderful aspects. It's a great place to enjoy nature. It has a world-class art gallery and performing arts venue. But, well, all I'll say is, to the intelligent and motivated people whom I've grown to know over the past five years, and whom I deeply respect in Warren, who are trying to make the town the best it can be... You've got your work cut out for you.

When I was a teenager, my only goal was to get to New York or Los Angeles and get to work. And that's exactly what I did, five days after college. And it was great. Sure it had it's ups and downs. That's life. But I was largely happy. I worked harder than ever before or since. I made lots of friends. I foolishly got married and divorced. But things were pretty good. Until the economy tanked and I was forced to head back and rely on the kindness of family for a little while to build things back up. And I did. So now it's time to move on. To get back to work.

So... What's Next?

I'm skipping New Year's resolutions, mostly because they're bullshit... But more specifically, because if you want to be successful in your goals - keep them to yourself.

But I will share some strategy.

We've moved to Corning, NY, not because we wanted out of Warren like a tiger wants out of its cage at the zoo... (though there's a kernel of truth in that simile) but because Emily was offered a real job. One that brought our meager earnings up to a level that will allow us to get out of debt faster, and eventually, to reach our bigger goals of returning to a major city.

Why a city? Well, she wants to publish novels, and I'd like to get back to earning industry standard rates for the things with which I've acquired a considerable amount of experience. And those are performing, voice-over, photography, producing, directing, and yes, even juggling. Despite the internet's best efforts to make everyone location-independent, these are skills best deployed at the heart of the business. And the film, commercial and publishing industries are still pumping away in NYC & LA.

To that end, all effort is being focused on developing new portfolios and demo reels, getting the resumes updated, and all that. I've got a good year before we'll be deploying to a new urban center, so this will be a year of reaching out to more agencies, creative directors and production companies internationally. Of creating a ton of personal work. And generally getting back in touch with who I am.

I am no longer accepting bookings for anything in the 'retail portraiture' business. No more weddings, no more family photos, no more seniors, no more kids and dogs. I'll elaborate on this decision in a future blog post.

As I mentioned at the top - I'll be going dark on social media for at least the month of January. I need to keep my accounts, because I'd literally have no other way of contacting a lot of my college and high school acquaintances and such... But I'm going to shut them off for at least a month to focus on work and travel. The blog will still post everywhere, so if you aren't subscribed via email, you'll still be able to keep up. I may keep Instagram live, because it's an entirely positive experience and I spend very little time on there. I'm hoping to blog more regularly (at least once a week) in order to keep a discipline of sharing new work.

But email, phone, Skype and good ol' snail mail will be the best way to stay in contact. And that's one of my strategies for 2015 - to be better at staying in touch with people. Hopefully, without the annoying distractions of Facebook and the like, contact will be more meaningful.

Thanks for sticking it out for this post. I hope your 2015 is the best year yet!



Mobile Roundup

Thought I'd start a new thing here on the blog (new to me, tons of other folks are already on the bandwagon)... And that's posting a weekly-ish roundup of photos I've made with my phone.

We photographers love to grumble and groan about cell phone photography - but the truth is, both the technology and the users are getting better at it each year.

I recently upgraded my smart phone to the newest, shiniest model out there... And even though the images captured aren't technically the best (pixel-peeping reveals all sorts of shortcomings if you're really critical)... There's just something about the phone that makes me really dig making photos with it.

I've actually caught myself thinking, "Nah, I'll leave the SLRs / Fuji at home, I've got my phone if I need it," more than a few times lately. I had a crazy high-end smart phone before this too - but I NEVER thought those words.

Anyway - these are all a sampling of images shot and processed entirely on my smart phone (the Samsung Galaxy S5 if you must know) over the past week.

More tk.