One Last Photo Shoot

Evgenia 11

I met Evgenia Eliseeva six years ago. She was the primary photographer at a friend's wedding, and I bumped into her while I was toting around an entry-level DSLR, trying to take some memorable photos of my own. Even back then, I was impressed with how gracefully she worked, how good she was with couples. Above all else, her enthusiasm and energy seemed boundless. And that was before I even saw her photos, which were incredible.

I later found out that, for our day jobs, Evgenia and I serendipitously both worked for the same company. I visited her desk on a number of occasions and she was always incredibly encouraging of my own photographic exploits, even though I will readily admit that my photography was absolute crap back then. Despite my shortcomings, Evgenia hooked me up with a couple of wedding gigs, vouching for me to her own photographic employers. I vaguely recall showing up at a wedding gig one morning as a Canon 50D was placed into my hands and I was told to just GO.

Becoming a wedding photographer is a chicken-or-egg problem. It is difficult to justify spending much on decent gear unless you already have paying gigs lined up. And it's pretty much impossible to get decent gigs unless you own and know how to operate decent gear. Photography may look easy, but using professional-grade equipment skillfully requires making dozens of technical decisions instantaneously with each image that you snap. I didn't have any photography equipment back then and thus, I clumsily fumbled my way through those first few weddings. It was a painful experience that resulted in photos that were not up to my standards, let alone anyone else's. I decided to give up the photography game for awhile and focus on other things.

Years passed. Then, not too long ago, I decided I loved photography too much to let my passion go by the wayside. I'd saved up a decent chunk of money -- enough to give photography a fair shot -- so I invested thousands and thousands of dollars in camera equipment, then spent thousands more on a class with one of the world's best wedding photographers. I spent hours poring over some of the best photography blogs, honing my craft with precision so that I knew exactly how to get the results I wanted "in-camera." Soon, I was shooting gigs regularly for money (including weddings). More importantly, I was crafting images that I was actually proud of.

With my newly learned skills, I went back to Evgenia again, and she encouraged me and referred me with an even greater enthusiasm than before (if that were actually possible). I may have rekindled the spark, but Evgenia helped to keep it burning.

This week, I leave my home in Boston for an exciting new adventure in Seattle. I've been saying goodbye to close friends and colleagues for the past few weeks, but I saved a special goodbye for Evgenia. For months (years, maybe?) I've been trying to convince Evgenia to do a photo shoot with me. But even though she's stunningly beautiful, Evgenia is also quite modest and thus, repeatedly demurred at my request. With my imminent and hopefully permanent departure, I finally swayed her. So, this past Saturday in the freezing and bitter Newton air, we did a photo shoot together. I took some shots of her, then I handed her my Canon 5D Mark II and she took some photos of me too. It was my final photo shoot in Boston, and a great way for me to cap off my time with her. You'll find the photos below. I think it's some of my best work yet.

Sometimes, people touch your life and leave an indelible mark, both emotionally and professionally that can never be forgotten. Evgenia is one of those people. I will never forget her. If you're in Boston and looking for a kick-ass photographer (or even if you're elsewhere, but are willing to pay for travel/other costs), please check out her amazing work!

Click here to access the slideshow, or play it below in your browser:

Everything Matters

Stephen practicing on stage at The Bell House
This will be the second in what I hope will be a series of three blog posts chronicling an important transition in my life. Read the first one here.

When I started The Tobolowsky Files a few years ago, I had no idea where the project would lead. All I had was an abiding belief in the extraordinary nature (perhaps even the necessity?) of the stories. I knew that they were of superlative quality. I knew that they needed to be available to the world. And after they became available, I knew they needed to be heard by as many people as possible.

So I worked at it. I produced and promoted it. I devoted hundreds of hours to it, with essentially no monetary compensation. I did all this for no other reason than that I believed in the product. Perhaps I had a vague sense that in the end, it would all be worth it somehow. But that alone could not have been sufficient to motivate me for those first few months and years.

Even before it paid financial and professional dividends, The Tobolowsky Files had already become hugely rewarding. People wrote in with moving stories about how the podcast had made a difference in their lives. I myself enjoyed listening to the stories, many of them over and over again. Certain episodes illustrated truths and forced me to rethink things in ways I hadn't previously imagined.

Then, more conventional markers of success started to materialize. The show was picked up for broadcast on public radio. We got offers to perform the show live at some awesome venues around the country. Simon & Schuster offered to publish a forthcoming book based on the show. Money(!) started to slowly trickle in. But that couldn't have prepared me for the next development.

The short version of the story is this: Stephen and I performed the podcast live in several locations. At one of these gigs, I met some great people who knew some more great people, who introduced me to some awesome people, who recommended me for a job at Microsoft. Obviously, a recommendation isn't sufficient: you have to actually have skills and interview well. But my work for the Tobolowsky Files demonstrated some of my proficiencies, sparked conversations, generated intrigue, and ultimately, led to a job offer.

That job offer came two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I found out my life is going to change, possibly forever. That's how I find myself sitting in the disorganized shambles of my bedroom right now, typing this blog post, slowly packing up my entire life, and readying myself to move from Boston to Seattle in three weeks.

If there's one thing I've learned over the past few months, it's this: everything matters. All the pieces of the puzzle of your life can fit together in unexpected ways, ways that you may have no awareness of until the results become inexorably clear. I'm reminded of my friend and colleague, Dan Trachtenberg, who gained internet fame by hosting a geek video podcast. After building up a huge following on Twitter, Trachtenberg leveraged it to find people to work on his Portal short film, a project that got him dozens of meetings and ultimately a major film deal. Everything matters.

Sir Francis Drake once intoned, "There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory." I'm sure many of you reading this have your own projects and films and exciting things that you're working on. My advice to you is this: If there's something you believe in, work at it passionately. Work at it without the promise of compensation, reward, or personal gain. Work at it because you believe it has to exist. Work at it until its completion.

Because while the work is frequently its own reward, sometimes it can end up leading to unexpected delights.

Cars No Longer a Status Symbol

Turns out that young people no longer see it as necessary or desirable to own cars. As a guy who owns a camera that's more expensive than his car, I'm fully in support of this trend (via Vicky):

A study by J.D. Power and Associates, most well-known for their quality rankings of cars, confirms what young people tell me: After analyzing hundreds of thousands of online conversations on everything from car blogs to Twitter and Facebook, the study found that teens and young people in their early twenties have increasingly negative perceptions “regarding the necessity of and desire to have cars.” "There’s a cultural change taking place," John Casesa, a veteran auto industry analyst told the New York Times in 2009. “It’s partly because of the severe economic contraction. But younger consumers are viewing an automobile with a jaundiced eye. They don’t view the car the way their parents did, and they don’t have the money that their parents did.”

Amazon, Monopoly, and Monopsonies

Things have been a bit quiet on this front, as I've been prepping for my big move to Seattle, where I'll be starting at Microsoft in early May. I have a few more blog posts to share with you about the interesting process I've been through these past few weeks, so stay tuned for those.

In the meantime, check out this fascinating piece by Charlie Pope about what Amazon is trying to do to shake up the book industry:

You're probably familiar with predatory pricing. A big box retailer moves into a small town with a variety of local grocery and supermarket stores. They stock a huge range of products and hold constant promotions, often dumping goods at or below their wholesale price. This draws customers away from the local incumbents, who can't compete and who go bust. Of course the big box retailer can't keep up the dumping forever, but if losing a few million dollars is the price of driving all the local competitors out of business, then they will have many years of profits drawn from a captive market to recoup the investment. (Meanwhile, helpful laws allow them to write down the losses on this store as a loss against tax, but that's just the icing on the cake.) Once the big box store has killed off every competing mom'n'pop store within a 50-mile radius, where else are people going to shop? Amazon has the potential to be like that predatory big box retailer on a global scale. And it's well on the way to doing so in the ebook sector.