34 min read

Jeremy Cohen on Content Creation and Bringing Positive Energy Into Your Work (#081)

Jeremy Cohen on Content Creation and Bringing Positive Energy Into Your Work (#081)
Jeremy Cohen on Content Creation and Bringing Positive Energy Into Your Work (#081)

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Jeremy Cohen (@jermcohen) is a photographer and content creator based in New York. He's photographed celebrities like President Joe Biden, Post Malone, and Lizzo among many others. He's produced multiple viral content series that have reached millions of people across Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. You can subscribe to Jeremy's podcast Ask (Not) Me Anything! on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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This episode was edited and produced by Josh Perez. If you're looking for help with your podcast, Josh is your guy. Connect with him at www.justjoshperez.com.

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Alex: This is Make Something Cool. I'm Alex Sugg. Today, I am super stoked to be sitting down with Jeremy Cohen. Jeremy is one of my favorite photographers and content creators, also living out here in New York. And yeah, I'm super excited to talk, Jeremy. Thanks so much for being on, man.

Jeremy: Thanks for having me.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. Well, I think a cool place to start is maybe where I discovered you. And I imagine that when a lot of people discovered you was quarantine back last year. You were a very, in my opinion, and I want to get into this more later, but you were a very bright spot in a very dark time as a fellow New Yorker. Because it was tough being here, last year around April/May, but you made some different moves that kind of brought some light on maybe a little bit of a darker season. Would you maybe just dive in to what you were working on, what you did, things like that? Just to give some context?

Jeremy: Yeah, so at that time, when things were tough, New York City where we both live was considered the epicenter of the whole virus. It was bad in New York. We were told not to leave our apartments, really, even to get groceries. There were kind of blurred lines of what you were supposed to do. So I was stuck in my apartment all alone, and that's when I noticed that people started to go to their roofs. This was also while New York just had a very long and cold, brutal winter. You know, classic New York winter. It's just miserable for a while. And then all of a sudden spring hits, it gets really nice. And this is all while we were told to stay inside.

Alex: Right.

Jeremy: And everything else going on in the world, which is crazy. So in my neighborhood in Bushwick, a lot of us have rooftop access. So this was the one place that everyone could go, where you could still do the things you loved to do. Even though you couldn't go to the music studio, you could still play guitar on the roof. Or even though you couldn’t go to the gym, you could work out on the roof. Or do whatever activity you wanted to do, really. You could just go up to your roof and do it there and get some fresh air.

Jeremy: And that's when I started my photo series, where I documented rooftop culture specifically during this time. And to me, the photos are just showing New Yorkers’ resiliency. New Yorkers are some of the toughest people, you know? And no matter what happens, they can still make the best of it. So this was me kind of shining light on that.

Alex: For sure.

Jeremy: And that's one of the series that I was doing over quarantine.

Alex: Yeah, definitely. I felt like unless you live here—and I don't want to be too “inside baseball” for people listening, who aren't in New York, but it's crazy how important rooftop and outdoor access was at that time. Just purely for our mental state. ‘Cause our apartments are already tiny. We're in these little boxes all day anyway.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: So to have any sort of outdoor—we were fortunate in that we have a dog, so we were able to go out and walk him. But otherwise, you're just cooped up. But what was so cool was you're right, it’s around you. And I don't know, your building seems perfect for this too, because it's super high. So you're able to capture all this stuff going on around you. So what were some of the things you saw? I know you had mentioned guitar playing, but there was some other crazy stuff that you caught, too.

Jeremy: Yeah. And that's a good point, by the way. New York apartments are notoriously very small, and some are without window light.

Jeremy: A lot of people's bedrooms that I know of, they just don't have windows. It's like, you’ve got windows in the living room for sure, but there's a lot of makeshift bedrooms, so more people can fit into apartments. ‘Cause rent is so expensive.

Alex: Right.

Jeremy: So that, while being also told not to go outside at all...it was brutal. But luckily, going to your rooftop is a safe place where you can still go outside and still get that Vitamin D.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. For sure, man.

Jeremy: So activities on the roof, let's see...like one of my favorite photos I took from the series is a guy playing tennis, like practicing his serve just with himself. I saw him throw up the ball and practice his form to serve it like a hundred times. And then just a bunch of people exercising, whether it's yoga or just doing calisthenics on the roof.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: Like using whatever on the roof. There was this one guy, like there's a little like, uh, you know, indent? So the guy used it to do, um, what's it called? Just like pushups with different...like on different levels, you know? I saw people being creative to work out in different ways. I saw people jump-roping. So many different activities, honestly. Hula-hooping, flying kites,

Alex: (laughs) Right.

Jeremy: Meditating...

Alex: Yeah, that's cool.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: You had one that ended up on the cover of New York Mag, which is like a huge, huge deal!

Jeremy: Yeah!

Alex: And that was the playing...what was it, a standup bass, right?

Jeremy: Yeah, I keep forgetting if it's stand up bass or if it's cello.

Alex: One or the other.

Jeremy: Those two instruments are very similar. And I remember when I first posted it, people in the comments were saying it was two different things.

Alex: Oh okay. (laughs)

Jeremy: So I’ve got to double check which one it is. I believe it’s a…I believe you're right?

Alex: Okay.

Jeremy: But yeah, it's been so long (laughs).

Alex: Yeah, man. I mean, that was crazy though. ‘Cause I felt like it was just a cool moment to just see that and to be like, “Wow.” And again, being here, it really was like a survival mechanism for all of us. And people who were fortunate enough to have that—a lot of people didn't even have rooftop access and stuff like that.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: But all that to be said, it was a really cool moment. You also built some relationships through this, too. I know you made friends with some of these people. I think you got a girlfriend out of it, that was a big series from this!

Jeremy: (laughs) Yeah.

Alex: I mean, maybe tell that story too, I know people will like that. And then we'll jump into more of the creative stuff.

Jeremy: Yeah! So that was the other thing that went viral. So I was looking out my window all the time because I was photographing this series. I'm a photographer, traditionally.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So I was looking out my window and looking at these people, and then there's this one person that was right across the street from me. Because from where I'm at, I could see a lot of different roofs—and I have a really long lens, so I was looking at all different roofs. But it wasn't often like right across the street from me, there was someone. So I noticed this girl dancing across the street and, you know, I was just attracted to this energy, especially during this time where there wasn't a lot of positivity. I just saw someone dancing across the street. She had long, dark, curly hair. So I was like, who is this? And at that time I was probably alone for like a week straight, or a little bit over. And I'm a very outgoing guy. I'm very talkative and social, so I think I was craving some sort of social interaction, because I was just in my zone shooting this photo series. So that's when I decided to shoot my shot, and just put my number on my drone and just fly it across the street. And this was also at a time when my New Year's Resolution for 2020 was to get into TikTok.

Jeremy: Because TikTok started to become a thing. I'm a photographer, but I like creating in general.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So I saw that TikTok was becoming a thing and I wanted to give it a shot, even though it just felt like the same as Instagram. I was like, “You know what, let me give this a shot.” So I got on TikToK in January and started posting a couple things. And so I started getting down with this TikTok format I was doing of telling stories through video. And when I asked her out, I just recorded it, just in case I wanted to make a TikTok out of it. And then yeah, I sent her my number, she eventually texted me back, I had some footage of me flying my drone over the street, and I thought it could be an interesting TikTok.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So now that I had her number, I texted her. I was like, “Hey, is it cool, by the way, if I post this as a TikTok?”

Alex: Uh huh. (laughs)

Jeremy: And little did I know, that video got like 32 million, 36 million views or something like that?

Alex: Yeah!

Jeremy: And then once I posted it on TikTok, and it started to really resonate with people, I was like, “You know what, this isn't something I would normally post on my Instagram.” Because I used my Instagram as my photography portfolio. I like to post my best work on there, and posting this “TikTok video love story” is not like...I don't know if I'd do that. But once it went pretty viral on TikTok, I was like, “You know what, I'm not really shooting right now anyways, besides this rooftop series. But like, it's kind of…it relates to this, your top series, so I'm going to post it.” And I did. And then on Instagram, it blew up and then I was like, “Okay, well maybe I’ll also post it on Twitter.” And so it did well on all those different platforms with all different audiences. So on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, my following started to go up and people started to ask for more. So then I made a Part Two, and then I made a Part Three, and it became this whole thing. So I kept getting inspired to come up with the new video, like a more creative date for Tori, who is the girl. And yeah, so we ended up doing six parts, and it was a crazy time.

Alex: Yeah man, it's so cool. I loved the, my favorite one and may have been part— I watched these last night cause I was recapping, but I was following closely last year—I think it was part three when you were in the bubble. You actually got an inflatable bubble that you walked across the street in and all this crazy stuff. ‘Cause you couldn't actually interact.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: ‘Cause of COVID stuff. But yeah, it was so fun to watch. And yeah, it was funny, I felt like...at the time I was working at a news organization, and it was circulating within like, “Look at this crazy guy doing this, like shooting his shot across the street through a drone!” (laughs) It just kind of went crazy back then. But yeah, it was really fun. And I felt like, again, bringing it back to positivity. And I love your photography and your content in general, and I think the real reason why is I feel like you embody positivity. And I think that is why your work kind of cuts through so much because, you know, the world is kind of a bummer a lot of the time. And I think that optimistic point of view is really, really cool and really, really refreshing. I mean, maybe to start, where does that come from? Are you just a naturally, very optimistic guy? Are you always kind of saying the “glass half full”? Where does that come from?

Jeremy: Yeah. So a lot of it...honestly, it comes from my mom, I'd say. My mom is a stage four cancer survivor and she was very close to not surviving at one point. And she survived. And ever since then, she really does live life to the fullest. Growing up with her, she just, like, I just saw how she lived life and how she really made the best of everything and that kinda rubbed off on me.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: And it just like, yeah. I just really look at, I don't know, there's just like, so...I'm just, I'm just an optimist, I would consider myself. I just really enjoy life. I love what I do. I love my friends. I love talking to people. I just find so many things interesting. Obviously the world's not a perfect place, and there's bad times for sure. A lot of bad news out there. But I'm pretty good at not stressing about things that I can't control.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So yeah, I don't know if that's a good explanation for it.

Alex: Yeah, it is.

Jeremy: It's just like something that I was born with.

Alex: Yeah. We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. But I mean, with your mom, did that happen earlier in your life? Were you younger?

Jeremy: Yeah, so...it's funny we’re talking about this now, ‘cause for my podcast, which you're familiar with too, I just recorded my first episode, and it’s with her.

Alex: Oh, cool.

Jeremy: We talked a bunch about that, so you should check that out if you get a chance sometime. But yeah, so this happened...she got diagnosed when I was seven years old or six years old, six or seven years old, yeah.

Alex: Okay.

Jeremy: It was at an age where I knew it was going on, but I was also a little confused.

Alex: Sure.

Jeremy: And yeah, it was intense. My mom wrote her final note and everything, pretty much saying goodbye. And her doctor gave her like a 15% chance of surviving. But yeah, I don't know what it was actually like to go through this, but according to my mom and all other people that have been through difficult stages of cancer...I can’t imagine.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: I'm super, super proud of her for fighting through it, for multiple reasons. Of course for her, but also I would be a totally different person right now for a fact if she didn't fight through and if she didn't make it.

Alex: For sure. Yeah. I mean, you said you don't know what it's like to go through it, but you had your experience going through it, you know? And that's through your adolescent years of starting to really understand the world. And I think that's so cool that her positivity—even through something unthinkable, that most people can never go through...that's so cool  that's what you got from it.

Jeremy: Yeah. And like since then her license plate on her car says, “To Life.” Like cheers to life, it just says “To Life.”

Alex: Oh, I love that. That's so cool.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: I'd love to hear the interview with you and her. ‘Cause I see you post sometimes, and it always feels like it's a party when you're hanging out and stuff, and that seems just so cool.

Jeremy: (laughs)

Alex: Yeah man, that's great. I mean, it really shines through in your work too, though. I'm wondering when it comes to photography..maybe you're known for your content creation and the stories and stuff, but I think professionally, most of your income and stuff comes from taking photography, and you can correct me if I'm wrong. But your photos are amazing and you've shot the president, you've shot a lot of really high level people.

Jeremy: Yeah, I like to say, I like to say I photograph the president, not to be confused. I didn't shoot…

Alex: Ohh...good point, yeah (laugh).

Jeremy: I usually say shot too, but when it's with someone like the president, I try to say photographed (laugh).

Alex: That's a really good point, really good point, thanks for catching that.

Jeremy: Just so everyone's clear, I’m not like, Harvey Oswald or whatever.

Alex: Yeah yeah, for sure. You don't want someone to clip that for sure. No, that's a good point.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: But yeah, you shot or you photographed (laughter) President Biden and lots of other, you know, like Post Malone and all these big artists. How do you approach...well, I guess I'll frame it a little bit better. What I feel like in your photos is you're really good at telling even a story in a single photo. And I guess, how do you approach your photography? ‘Cause that's a big deal, you know, you're taking a photograph of the president or some big artist. How do you approach those moments? I'm really curious.

Jeremy: Yeah. I mean, I guess it's different in different situations, but if it's someone like a celebrity, or anyone whose story I'm trying to tell, I need to know them first or get to know them. So whether, for example...like for you, if you're interviewing me, you do some research on me before you interview me. It’s similar with photography. I need to know about them and know how I'm going to go about photographing them.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: I don't know if you're familiar with my personal project, “Today I Photographed”?

Alex: Yeah, I saw it on your site.

Jeremy: That’s my personal project, my baby; it’s been what I've been working on since 2016. And I think it's going to be an ongoing series forever.

Alex: Okay.

Jeremy: At first, for the first 300 or sorry, 613 days I believe, my goal was to go up and meet a stranger and photograph them every single day, once a day.

Alex: Okay, cool.

Jeremy: So even with that, for example, if I just went up to them and say, “Hey, can I take your photo?” and photograph them and then just left, it’s not going to be as good in the photo as if...compared to what I did, which is I went up to them, and I would ask to take their photo, but then I would talk to them a little bit and get to know them a little bit. Sometimes it would be a quick one minute conversation, but sometimes it would be a longer conversation. And then once we were comfortable with each other, and I knew just some basic things about them, I could photograph them better.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. So that's a big part of it, is that personal touch.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: Yeah, I think that that adds a lot, too. And when you're trying to tell somebody's story, just that personal connection matters a lot. And you said you're a people person anyway.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: So it's probably fun for you to be like, “Hey, let's talk.” ‘Cause it's not just celebrities you photograph; it’s everyone across the board, and it's really cool. But I love...you basically enter every moment the same. You're just like, “I want to get to know this person a little bit better.”

Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely.

Alex: That's cool, man. What got you into photography as a storytelling medium?

Jeremy: Yeah, so I think a couple of things got me into photography at a couple of different stages before I really, really got hooked. But at first, it was a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, actually, when I was about 15, I believe. And my dad, who was always into gadgets, he brought along this little digital point-and-shoot camera that he got from some electronic convention he went to or something like that. It was a Japanese camera—I have no idea what the brand was—but he brought it on this vacation. And my younger sister took it from him and took some photos on it.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: And I looked behind her camera and the photos looked really cool. And I got a little jealous because we were naturally competitive being so close in age.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So I borrowed the camera a little bit, took some photos, and it made the vacation that much better. ‘Cause at the time...it's so silly, I was not that excited to go on this vacation. ‘Cause I was a stubborn brat, you know?

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: Like, you know, “Oh, hiking for a week? That's not fun. I want to play video games or whatever.”

Alex: (laughs) Sure.

Jeremy: But once I got that camera and started taking well, you know, once I borrowed that camera and started taking photos, it made the trip that much better. It made me experience nature in a whole different way and appreciate its beauty. And I really liked seeing the photos; it was fun for me. I wasn't familiar with that feeling too much. Something new like that, like a hobby.

Alex: Yeah.  

Jeremy: For me, it was like, “I love sports.” Sports and video games, that was about it. I was a basic fifteen year-old.

Alex: (laughs) Yeah.

Jeremy: And I got back from that trip, and I was still thinking about photography, and I was excited to look over the photos of my dad's computer. And then, for my 16th birthday, I asked for a camera. But to get that gift—because it was, you know, it was a pretty big ask, those cameras are expensive. So I made a promise to my parents that I was going to use it if they got it for me. Like it was gonna become a thing. So I didn't want to let them down. And I started shooting all the time on it, and I got more and more into it. And then I took a film photography class at my high school, with a teacher named Mr. King. And I credit him a lot for really pushing me even further, because I didn't really have any friends or community at all at the time that did photography. All my friends were into sports, pretty much.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: And no one...yeah, just the kids in my photography class were just...a lot of people took that class because it was just an elective to take. And it wasn't that difficult.

Alex: For sure.

Jeremy: But for me, I really liked it.

Alex: Right.

Jeremy: And I still didn't consider it an actual...I never really considered it an option to be a career or anything until it came time to applying for colleges. And a lot of kids had no idea what I was going to do. And I think I applied to nine schools and then one or two of them were art schools, ‘cause I just considered the option of going to art school. Even though I hadn't really flexed my creative muscles at that point too much, it was just with photography really, but I didn't know. I shot here and there, but I just didn't think I could go to college for it for a second. And then SVA, which was the art school—that was the first school I visited, and it's in Manhattan, and I grew up in Pennsylvania—I went over to Manhattan to visit the college with my parents and it just, I just went there and it felt really good. It felt like “I could belong here.” So I ultimately decided to go to SVA, and it was a really good decision.

Alex: For sure.

Jeremy: One, to go to that school, But two, that I was in New York. It was very important to where I’m at now.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. So in my high school, it was photography, ceramics, and art, all kind of in the same corner. And you could basically count on that corner of the school being where you would take electives not to do work (laughs).

Jeremy: Right, exactly.

Alex: But there were always...I'm forgetting his name, but he was just this incredible ceramicist, like he was so gifted at ceramics. While all of us were not paying attention or whatever, and just goofing off, he was so, so talented. And I remember that too for photography. Some people just took it really serious, and it just really clicks, and that's such a cool opportunity. So shout out to, you said Mr. King?

Jeremy: Mr. King, yeah.

Alex: That’s cool, man. Coming to New York too, I mean, that's a big stop as a young person, but I bet even then, it probably felt pretty far off that this could become a career. I'm curious, what was that first paid gig, or what was that first moment that really clicked for you where you're like, “Oh, this can actually be real.”

Jeremy: Yeah. I just didn't take my future too seriously up until my junior year of college, I feel like. ‘Cause I was nervous about if I was going to be able to survive as an artist. All my friends are going to schools and getting these degrees that I just knew, I don't think I would ever be capable of doing. So what was the first job....so I had a couple, my couple of my first jobs did not go well.

Alex: How so?

Jeremy: I think my first ever paid job—that was for a client and not for a family friend type of thing—I was shooting for this magazine, and I was so nervous. The shoot itself, it was just a laughable amount of money for this shoot. But I still, at the time I was so excited about it.

Alex: For sure.

Jeremy: And I had to, you know, it was a type of thing, like renting the gear and taking an Uber to get to the shoot. Those two costs..

Alex: Like that was the cost of the whole shoot?

Jeremy: Well, no, it was more than what I was getting paid for the actual shoot itself.

Alex: Yeeaaahh...golly, okay.

Jeremy: I didn't realize that until after, but anyway. I get to the shoot, and I'm just photographing this artist for this magazine. And I show up with my lighting gear and my camera, and my friend who is my assistant, and we shoot it really quick, we shoot it for like an hour. I didn't really know what I was doing.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: And I was really nervous, but I got some okay photos; they're not great by any means, but they're okay.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: And I edit them and everything and then sent them to the client. And I don't know, I didn't really get any feedback, but they ran them in the magazine. But when they ran them in the magazine, I remember just being really upset ‘cause they cropped them totally differently, and they edited it themselves. And, I’m pretty sure to this day, I still haven't gotten paid for that shoot, which is crazy.

Alex: That's so sh*tty.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: But I mean, I feel like that's kind of the, a lot of the stories of starting out.

Jeremy: Yeah. So you know, it was a learning experience, and that's what I got from it. I got to get those nerves out and be able to get my first shoot under my belt. To answer your question though, the first shoot that I really started to take this seriously was when I got hired to shoot this 15 second video, actually. It wasn't even photography, but it was a video that I shot on a GoPro for Beats by Dre

Alex: Cool

Jeremy: for this campaign that doesn't sound as cool as I might be making it sound, but they hired a bunch of different creators to shoot their campaign for them, which was the...what was it called...I forget what it was even called, but it was for their new headphones over your headphones. And what you're supposed to do is you take your camera and you go from ear to ear, in like a 180 gyrating motion.

Alex: Oh cool.

Jeremy: So you bring out the camera, and you extend your arm fully and swing it in front of your face. And it shows, your face is in the center of the frame the whole time, and it shows your background of where you are, and then it goes into the other ear, and then transitions out the other ear again, and you're in another setting.

Alex: That's cool, okay.

Jeremy: So I made this video while I was on a snowboarding trip, actually, with my friends. When I first got offered it, I was like, “Damn, I can't do this. I'll be on a trip.” But then I realized, “Wait, I could just make it, I don't have to be in New York to make this. I can just make this while I'm on this trip.”

Alex: Right.

Jeremy: So I made it, you know, while I was snowboarding. So one scene was while I was on a chairlift maybe, and then another scene was while I was actually snowboarding, and then another scene was while I was in the hot tub after the day of snowboarding. Which is one of my favorite things to do, by the way, like a hot tub in the winter after snowboarding, it's a great feeling.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: It's gotta be Top 10.

Alex: For sure.

Jeremy: And then I think the last one was like, to switch it up a little bit, I did it with a snowman’s face instead of my face.

Alex: Oh, that’s cool.

Jeremy: So, I don’t know...money-wise, it was paid like nothing, even though it was for Beats by Dre, but I made this video that this agency hired me for and hired a bunch of other creators for, and I think it just showed my creativity, and this agency was really interested to work with me again because of that. And so they hired me for another thing, and then they hired me for another thing, and then it was just the snowball effect.

Alex: For sure.

Jeremy: And I kept wanting to make the next video or photo project better and better, and, yeah. That’s how it started. And I think projects got bigger and I started to get more clients,

Alex: That's cool.

Jeremy: And that's pretty much what happened. And that was in...that was right after I graduated college. It was when I was 23, I believe.

Alex: So you've been doing full time content creation since then, or have you had  other jobs throughout the time?

Jeremy: So I had...I forget the timing exactly, but I had a pivotal moment, I think, where I had a job right after college. I was applying because...while I was in college, to make money I was working as a photo assistant for a lot of different photographers. So I would assist on shoots. And that's also how I learned a lot about photography, by just hands-on experience—working next to photographers, seeing what they were doing. So then I graduated college, and I was still assisting, but I was scared I wasn't going to make enough money. So I wanted to get a part-time gig—because I didn't want a full-time thing, because I still wanted to assist. I wanted to work on my own work, on my own projects, which was very important to me. And then I just thought I would feel better if I had a part-time steady thing that was photography-related.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So at this one studio, they were hiring part-time studio hand assistance, and I applied for it, and I got the job. And it was this new studio that is a huge studio now in New York—it’s like a lot of things happen there, it's a cool studio. And my first day there, I got on the job, and within the first 30 minutes of the job I quit and (laughs) this isn't my style, really. I don't really quit, but...I quit. I just, I was doing the job, and after 30 minutes, I literally just walked out and ghosted them.

Alex: Wow!

Jeremy: Which isn't my style, at all!

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: But I was pretty upset, because we had this whole interview process and everything. And from my understanding, I was an assistant. I was going to be on set, assisting photographers. There are shoots happening there every day. You know, I would be, I'd be on set. I thought I was going to be learning whatever. The first thing they made me do, as soon as I got there, they put me as elevator duty. So I was literally in an elevator, just standing in there, pressing a button for anyone coming in. And I was pretty upset, because it's not what I signed up for.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: But it was fuel for me. I walked out after 30 minutes. I was like, “I'm not doing this.” And I walked out and it was fuel to work harder on my personal projects and do my own thing.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. Those moments are huge. Those moments are huge.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: ‘Cause I'm sure you're sitting there, and your life is flashing before your eyes a little bit, like “What am I doing? I need to go.”

Jeremy: Yeah, that's what happened. And I, you know, I've never...that was the only experience in my life that I’ve ghosted people. Even in dating, I do not ghost. I'm a firm believer that it's very messed up, but in this situation I give myself the exception, because...yeah, I don’t think they even cared. I think one of the guys reached out. He was like, “Hey, did you...?” And then I had a friend working there, and I told my friend to tell them that I quit (laughs). I didn't want to give them the time of day.

Alex: Right, for sure. I mean, so I'm curious—and if you remember, I know it's been a while since then—but how did your mindset change that day? Did you all of a sudden, did you shift to, “I don't need another job and I just need to bet on myself”? Was that a real turning point?

Jeremy: Yeah, I mean, I didn't say it to myself exactly like that. I wasn't, I think I just, I remember...it's so long ago now, this was eight years ago. I just remember walking out like, “Yeah, I'm not going to do that. That’s just a waste of my time. I'm gonna keep assisting and make money that way. In the meantime, I am going to work on my own projects.” And at that point, I was working with photographers a lot, and I was taking bits and pieces from each one and applying it to myself for my own work. And I felt totally capable of doing these shoots that all these photographers were doing really well on. Like they were all photographing different ways and are all very talented, but I felt like I was talented too, and I could do it.

Alex: Yeah, for sure.

Jeremy: And a lot of that was the confidence. And I build up confidence from seeing how...before I've worked/assisted with photographers that...Like I did this magazine shoot—that was right when I started assisting photographers—and I just went in and just had no idea how to handle a shoot. But at this point, I saw it from beginning to end.

Alex: Right.

Jeremy: And I felt like I could do it. I just needed to get the clients. And that's how...that's when I started also working on my personal work, which is what gets you work, I think. Once you put out a personal project telling a story, showing that you're not only talented as a photographer—like technically taking good photos—but also stringing those images together to tell a story, that's when people will come to hire you.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. When did that start clicking? Like, “Oh, this isn't about just being technical, I have to tell a story here. What does that look like?”

Jeremy: Yeah. So that started at about the same time, because my background was studio lighting. I thought in my mind, I was like, “Okay, to be successful as a photographer, I have to know how to light a photo.” ‘Cause I wanted to be a portrait photographer. I have to know how to have a three-lighting set up and do all these different lighting techniques, depending on what type of portrait I want to take, this and that and have all this gear. That's why I showed up to that first year with all this gear. But then I realized, it's not about the gear. It's about being able to tell the story and taking good portrait. And natural light is the best form of light. And even though you're not necessarily working as hard or...that's how I thought it, “You can't take as good of a photo if you're not setting up all this equipment.” But I found if you get the right moment at the right time, it's like a lot of times you could lose it if you're setting up this equipment.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So I started just not relying on having gear: just me and my camera and maybe a couple other lenses. And that's how I started taking photos.

Alex: Yeah. I feel like that's a metaphor for anybody trying to make anything. Because I think it's so easy to go down the rabbit hole of gear and gear reviews, like which camera should I get, or which microphone should I get, or which...whatever.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: And really, what you said is pretty profound, and I think it's true. And I think it happens all the time where you miss the moment because you're so caught up in what you're using instead of why you're doing what you're doing, or the story you're trying to tell, or the thing you're trying to uncover in this moment. I just...that's been an ongoing thing I've noticed throughout my whole life. I don't know, I feel like I'm kind of obsessive about, “Give me the bare minimum to get what I need to work, to go do the thing I want to do.” But I have friends, like I grew up playing music, and I would call my friends to be like, “Hey, what guitar should I buy? What pedal, what amp?” Because I don't want to research that. I just want it to sound awesome, you know? (laughs)

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: But I feel like it's so easy to get caught up in the gear, but what really matters and what really connects is the story.

Jeremy: Yeah. And sometimes the story is like, for certain photographers, you need that gear to tell it.

Alex: Sure.

Jeremy: Like that's how you do it. But I found the way that I wanted to do it is...it was easier for me to not have to use that stuff and not be in this controlled setting, which is easier for a lot of people. And you can take amazing photos that way. But I value being there in that moment and being really mobile, just me and my camera, not having a long set of time. Just being able to capture whatever, whenever. And especially with cameras now. These camera files, there's so much information in them, it's almost like you could fake a light in post-processing. If something's too dark in a certain spot, you could do a spot adjustment.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: I mean, it's definitely not the real thing, but you can fix a lot of things like that.

Alex: For sure. And catch the important moments.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: That you're not trying to fix a light or whatever, you're actually catching something happening in real time.

Jeremy: And I was doing that for so long, like while I was in school and right after school. I'd feel like I needed at least one light at all times.

Alex: Yeah, for sure.

Jeremy: Now I'm almost all natural light. I still sometimes bring a light with me on shoots, just in case. Just like a fil.

Alex: Yeah, that’s cool.

Jeremy: But yeah, natural light!

Alex: Yeah, for sure. I think this is probably closer to the last section of our conversation I want to get into, but I do find it interesting, especially with creating and publishing content publicly. And I think you're a great example of this, ‘cause you have a lot of followers and a lot of people looking at the stuff you're posting. One thing that I personally encounter, and I know a lot of people listening encounter, is insecurity around both creating content, but also posting content. I'm curious, do you still face insecurity around posting things? Did you ever face that, or was it always just kind of like, “No, I feel pretty secure in posting what I'm working on” and all that stuff? Or has there been any sort of learning around that for you as well? What's that been like?

Jeremy: Yeah, I definitely get nervous about posting certain things. I think at this point, a lot of my work also, how I make money, is I do influencer stuff. Which I pretty much only say “yes” to jobs that...I'm not just saying “yes” to everything. ‘Cause there's a lot of brands out there that want to work with influencers, and I'm pretty selective about who I work with. But at the same time, there's a lot of cool projects that I still want to do. And I'm at a point where the thing that makes me most nervous is I'm doing a decent amount of brand deals, and I'm not having enough time for my personal work. So I feel like my ratio right now posting on my Instagram—like brand deals compared to personal work—it's a little skewed. It’s a little too much brand work right now. So I am nervous about that. I get more excited about posting personal work. And I still am nervous about posting certain personal work that's a little bit out of my wheelhouse. But yeah, I think a lot of people, most people, are like, you know, you want as many likes as possible. If we say we're not, we’re probably...it always feels better when we have more likes. But I try not to think that way, and I'm pretty good about not thinking that way, but I do feel like if I post something and it gets more likes, I'm definitely more satisfied with the thing that I put out there.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. Was it always easy for you to just put things out into the world? Because I do find a lot of times—the conversations I had, and again, with even my own insecurities about stuff—I find that it's just that initial fear. And maybe now you've kind of crossed the mountain or whatever, so to speak,

Jeremy: (laughter) Yeah.

Alex: To where it's okay, now you've kind of crossed this threshold of influence or whatever to where now it's like, everything kind of works for the most part. I mean comparatively speaking, versus somebody who has like 500 followers or something like that.

Jeremy: Right.

Alex: I mean, were there points when you were just starting out, where you were just kind of going for it and you didn't really feel any of those insecurities? Or were you just working past it, moving past it, just like anybody else?

Jeremy: No, I mean I definitely had insecurities about putting things out, and I still do sometimes. Like sometimes I know I'm going to put something out, and I know it's going to resonate with people, and people are going to like it. But other times, it's a little bit different, and I am nervous about posting it. And really anything that I post, I still get a little nervous about posting it. ‘Cause a lot of people are going to see it and...yeah, it's a little scary.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So it's a mix of feelings. Like, it feels good. I feel like if I don't post, people are gonna forget about me, and I’m not going to get hired for work. I feel like I have this constant pressure that I have to be posting. And so whenever I do post, it's like a feeling of relief, but also I'm nervous when it posts.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. Is that hard to balance that? Like that fear of...you don't want to be forgotten or whatever, but I'm sure that weighs...I don't know. I imagine a lot of people were like, “Wow, Jeremy, he just does freelance, and he works for himself, and he has this really cool fun life.” Which are all true, but there's probably some pressure there too that's probably...can get hard to manage.

Jeremy: Definitely. I mean it's...yeah it's a lot. I love what I do and I love working, but there's moments where I feel overwhelmed. ‘Cause it's not only the photography part. I don't really have anyone helping me. I mean, I hire assistants and editors sometimes, but all the emails and admin work and taxes and every...being a photographer is 10% of the photography, is what they say.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: So yeah, just like pre-production, post-production...everything takes a lot. Lots of shoots I'm producing myself. And now like with video editing, and that takes a lot. Wait sorry, what was your original question?

Alex: The original question was just...it wasn't really even a question, it was more just an assumption that, at times, the pressure can feel like a lot.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: And especially now that your following has grown so much. On the outside, it's like, “Oh, that's so cool.” But I'm sure that there's also this other side of that; there's also some pressure to that, too.

Jeremy: Yeah. I mean, I'm curious if there's such a thing as a perfect job out there. I feel like, with anything—I love what I do.

Alex: Yeah.

Jeremy: Trust me. And I wouldn't want to do something else at this moment in my life. But yeah, I definitely feel overwhelmed and pressured often as well.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I definitely agree with you. I don't think there's a perfect job.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: I think it's cool to hear, though, that…’cause in the modern world, it's easy to assume things.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Alex: I have a lot of empathy and compassion for people who are more successful or have more notoriety or things like that. Because I think there are a lot of assumptions around, “Oh well, because they made it or whatever, their life is a certain way.” There's an assumption. But I don't...I think it's just not true. I think we're all just human beings.

Jeremy: We’re all human. We all feel a spectrum of emotions, no matter what. But it's skewed online, ‘cause we always post the best things online.

Alex: Yeah, exactly.

Jeremy: It’s the highlight reel that’s online.

Alex: For sure. Well, man, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I'm curious, was there anything we didn't touch on? You want to mention...what do you wanna shout out for people to go check out? I know you have your podcasts, your photography...

Jeremy: Yeah, I guess so...if anyone here is interested or involved in the NFT world, I'm gearing up to release my rooftop series as an NFT series. Like I'm thinking an addition of 50 photos. I have a lot of friends, photographer friends specifically, getting in the NFT space right now. And I'm really excited about it. It took me a little bit to understand after being skeptical about it—and there is still a lot of skepticism about it, you know, buying JPEGs, buying and selling JPEGs online, blah, blah, blah. But at this point—I don't want to get into it right now, but it makes a lot of sense to me, and I'm really excited about the space and the community. And I feel really good about releasing the series in that space. So I'm gearing up to make the final selection of...it's either going to be 50 or 55 photos I think, of the best rooftop series photos. And yeah, I’ve just got to put it together and promote it a little bit, and it's going to be out within the month, I am expecting. So I'm really excited about that.

Alex: That's awesome, dude. Yeah, we don't have to talk about it, but I'm excited about that space as well. I don't know if you saw the rock that got sold for 1.3 million bucks or whatever.

Jeremy: Wait really?

Alex: That cartoon rock? My buddy Tom, who I want to have on the show soon, that was his rock.

Jeremy: Wow!

Alex: I think it's just a crazy, weird space that I'm really interested in. But I think you're gonna crush it on there. That's a really cool project that I think will really connect. So that's cool, man.

Jeremy: Thanks man.

Alex: And then also your podcast?

Jeremy: My podcast, yeah. So I have a podcast myself, too. I'm just interviewing...some of it's photography-related, but it's an interview series where I'm interviewing a variety of just interesting people.

Alex: Cool.

Jeremy: People that I find interesting. First episode of Season Two just came out, which is...my mom, as I mentioned earlier, a cancer survivor—also just for anyone that's a fan of me on the internet. It's interesting to hear my relationship with my mom, I think, ‘cause we just inspire each other creatively. She's an artist as well. My next episode—which I'm actually recording today, later tonight—is of this guy who is like an eight time Jeopardy winner.

Alex: Whoa.

Jeremy: Austin Rogers, I believe. I haven't met him yet, so I'm pretty sure his name is Austin Rogers.

Alex: (laughs) Okay.

Jeremy: And he...not only is he a Jeopardy winner multiple times, but he's also still a bartender in New York. So I thought that was a pretty interesting story—still working as a bartender in Hell's Kitchen, even though he's won a lot of money with Jeopardy.

Alex: Oh, that's cool.

Jeremy: And he just seems like a really interesting dude. So a lot of these people that I'm interviewing, I don't really know them that much. I do a little bit of research. I'm going to do a little bit more research about him before I interview him today, but I'm excited that our first conversation is being recorded.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. Oh, that sounds cool. Cool. All right. Well, I'll link all those things in the show notes to this episode for people who want to check it out. So awesome! Jeremy, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.

Jeremy: Cool, thanks for having me, Alex.

Alex: And thanks so much to everyone listening. If you enjoyed this episode and want to get more of these conversations sent directly to your inbox, just head over to Alexsugg.com and sign up for my newsletter. And as always, please go and leave a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts.

And lastly, I have to give a shout out to Josh Perez. Josh produced and edited this podcast, so if you're looking for help on your show, he's a great producer and an even better dude. I'll be back soon with another new episode soon, so until then, let's go make something cool.