New York City based lifestyle and portrait photographer, Jeremy Cohen, joins me on today’s episode of Unstoppable.
Also known by his social media name, Jerm Cohen, Jeremy’s creativity and photographic style has caught the attention of major brands such as Beats By Dre, BMW, The New York Knicks, Jameson, and Everlane.
Jeremy tells us about how he became the successful photographer that he is today, the passion that drives his projects, the challenges of being an entrepreneur, how he started working with major brands, plus much more on today’s show.
And I have some very exciting news to share with you! For the next 3 months as a special thank you to all my listeners, I’ll be choosing 5 lucky listeners to win ONE YEARS supply of Hint Water!
To enter and win, all you have to do is head over to iTunes HERE and leave a meaningful review for the show. That’s it! And if I see you tweeting it out and tagging me @karagoldin, you’ll increase your chances of being picked. Please be sure to spread the word to your family and friends, and thanks for listening to Unstoppable!
You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!
“Storytelling is something I love to do.” – Jeremy Cohen
- How to become a photographer
- What is a meetup
- How to tell stories with photography
- What is Today I Photographed
- The importance of a routine
- Influencer brands
“I feel like I’m learning more now than when I was in school just through people and experiences.” – Jeremy Cohen
- Connect with Jeremy Cohen:
“The most helpful thing is being passionate about it. I genuinely love photography, so that alone just makes this all easier. It makes it easy to do this. If you love it, you can make it happen.” – Jeremy Cohen
Kara Goldin: Hey, everybody, I’m super-excited today to welcome one of my favorite photographers, Jeremy Cohen. Here we are talking about everything creative. We’re so excited to have Jeremy. As we were just chatting about, he is our first photographer, and really, really excited to have him here today. Thanks so much, Jeremy, for coming over.
Jeremy Cohen: Yes, thank you for having me, Kara. I’m honored to be the first photographer, and excited to do this podcast.
Kara Goldin: Very, very excited. Today on Unstoppable we’re going to chat with Jeremy for a few minutes about just being creative. Whenever I think about people who are creative in general I feel like it’s something that goes against the grain for sort of traditional education in schooling, and it takes a lot of bravery to just jump outside of maybe what even your friends are doing, or maybe what your parents thought that you should be doing. Anyway, I really admire that entrepreneurial spirit that you’ve shown.
Jeremy Cohen: Thank you
Kara Goldin: Obviously, you’ve got a talent for doing what you’re doing. Tell me a little bit about how you got started.
Jeremy Cohen: Speaking of that, actually, I got the creative bug from my mom.
Kara Goldin: Oh, awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: She’s one of the most creative people I know. She started off as a professional storyteller telling Jewish folk tale to synagogues and middle schools and high schools growing up. Her way of storytelling was actually interactive storytelling. She kind of created this genera of storytelling where she would bring up puppets and different costumes and have the kids act-out these stories. At the time I didn’t think of it, but that’s totally shaped a lot of my art today, just seeing how she works and how she tells stories because a lot of my photography I consider storytelling. As for friends, so growing up all my friends growing up were very much into sports, including myself, football, basketball, ping pong, loved it all. Deep down I’m more of an artist, and my friends were never into art, so I never got the chance to try it out until one day I did.
Kara Goldin: How old were you at that?
Jeremy Cohen: The exact moment was my family, we went and a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, and my dad was always into gadgets. He recently went to some convention and got this little point-and-shoot digital camera. He was really excited to bring it on this trip and take some snaps of nature with it. He’s like really into gadgets, all the way from reading all about airplanes to Japanese toilets. He’s obsessed with-
Kara Goldin: With all of it.
Jeremy Cohen: He went on a trip to Japan one time, and saw these Japanese toilets with heated seats and bidets installed in them. Anyway-
Kara Goldin: He had to get one.
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah, and he had to get one. I’m a huge advocate for bidets now. That’s another conversation.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: He brought this camera on this trip, and I have a younger sister, just a grade below me. She borrowed it from my dad and started taking photos of just nature and flowers and just different animals we saw. Being so close in age we’re naturally really competitive, and I saw the photos she was taking, and I thought they were pretty cool.
Kara Goldin: So it was her first that was the photographer.
Jeremy Cohen: She was first. I credit her. I wanted to be better than her, so when she wasn’t shooting I would take the camera, take some photos, mess around with a couple of features this camera had. That’s when I had the first feeling. I took a photo, and just had this feeling inside of me. It felt right to take photos. I knew right away I just really enjoyed it. I think later that year when it was my birthday I asked my parents for a camera. It was my 16th birthday, and I got my first camera then and started taking photos mostly on weekend adventures with my friends where we’d go to abandoned buildings or did some hikes. I’d kind of document just behind-the-scenes and make Facebook albums with the photos. That’s where it slowly got started.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Well, you know, clearly, I think the first place that I saw you was just on Instagram. Obviously, your profile just really highlights uniqueness. I think that that really is such an amazing place to sort of share just exactly what you’re thinking about too. I feel like that that’s what’s so cool just about Instagram in general, that you can really not just see where people are going and where they’ve been, but I think that your photos really share a lot of your thoughts. You mentioned like abandoned buildings, for example, that kind of stuff, it really goes back to, as you said, what your mom taught you around storytelling and how do you engage people in a way that really allows them to let them know a little bit about you and sort of what you’re thinking, which is super, super cool. How have people found you? Do you think Instagram has just been instrumental in finding you and your business?
Jeremy Cohen: Absolutely. Yeah, extremely grateful for Instagram, which has allowed me to, most importantly, to find a community of like-minded creatives, mostly photographers, but also all types of creatives. I joined Instagram right when it started, actually. I was a freshman in college when Instagram came out in September 2010, I think it was. Then I think a month later my room mate, who was all in-the-know, told me about this app to download, and I downloaded it. I think I took one photo and posted it, and then kind of forgot about it for two years. Then, it was three years later, 2013, I just completely randomly saw on Instagram that this guy was having an Instagram meetup. It was for people who liked taking photos and riding bikes, and those are two of my favorite things. It was 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I saw it, and then I was like, “Uh, I don’t know if I want to do this.” I thought about it a little bit, and I was like, “You know what? I’m not doing anything. I should just go.” Because I went to that, it’s funny looking back on things, just making a tiny decision how much that can affect your whole path. From that day, just from this Instagram meetup I met so many people that I met, and I’m friends with today as well as creative partners.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Instagram meetups, I hear about those a lot. Do people reach out to you, or do you see like a posting? If somebody is listening to this podcast and they’re thinking, “Well, how do I actually find these Instagram meetups in my city?”
Jeremy Cohen: Instagram meetups are a little different now. They’re still happening and they’re still great, but this was when people were first signing up for Instagram, and it was very new. Sorry, I’m losing my train of thought a little bit. Can you repeat the question?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, so Instagram meetups, so if somebody is listening to this podcast and thinking, “Gosh, I’m living in a city, and I’m sure there’s some other great Instagram people around the city, but how do I actually get in contact with them or hear about these Instagram meetups?”
Jeremy Cohen: I found that Instagram meetup by following this guy, Tim Kau, who I loved his photos. He took photos of bikes around the city combined with the architecture he saw. He would just place his bike, and it would be a very simple photo of just the lines of a building lining up to meet his bike. Then he just posted about this meetup where we would bike from, I think we all met in Manhattan and took a train to New Jersey, and biked around New Jersey and back. That just sounded really interesting to me. The way you could find it is follow people and follow photographers or people you look up to, and hopefully they’ll post a meet. If they do it might be a little nervous to go, but you should totally go. People are a lot friendlier than you might expect.
Kara Goldin: I think what you touched on too, for me, is I always hear people, no matter what industry, there’s two types of people. There’s people that will actually say, “I can do better.” Whether they’re calling out, “There’s certain people that I look up to or I wish I had as a mentor or I admire something that they’re doing.” Then there’s other people who are saying like, “Oh, I don’t need to listen to anybody. I’m the best, and I’m just going to do my thing, and no one’s going to be better than me.” I always think that the people that really believe that they’re the type that can always learn, and will, whether it’s hiring people that are smarter than you or know more than you do about something, that the more time you can spend around those people. I think it says something about you not only as an artist, but as an individual that you want to go learn from people, which I’m constantly telling people that that’s an important aspect.
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah, I always consider myself a student. I feel like I’m learning more now than when I was in school just through people and just experiences. It’s important just by talking and learning their stories. I do a project called “Today I Photographed” where I take a portrait of someone every day. I was doing it every day for 614 days in a row.
Kara Goldin: Awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: I recently stopped don’t it every day, but I still take portraits of people, just not as common, and share their story. It’s just a little bit more high-production and not as frequent now. Just through approaching strangers on the street and just listening to them I surprised to find out how much I can learn from someone else’s perspective on life.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s really, really, that’s super-cool. Freelance work, so that’s another aspect. I know that there’s a lot of Instagram or, I should say, influencers that are probably at these meetups as well that are really trying to figure out, “How do I actually go and make a living out of this?” Whether they are photographers or doing other things that is freelance work, writers, whatever. What kind of roadblocks do you think exist for people who are really trying to go out there and be the freelancer or sort of have that kind of freelance role? What challenges do you see are out there?
Jeremy Cohen: For me, I think the most over-looked challenge is time management. I’ve found over the last couple of years it’s so important. As a freelancer, you’re your own boss, which is a blessing and curse. It’s so easy, if you allow it to be, to fall behind. It’s very easy to also get comfortable. You never want to get comfortable. Always keep challenging yourself and setting goals and pushing forward, as well as just balancing everything in life. The most important thing to do, for me, it’s having my routine, wake up early, get my exercise in so my mind is strong.
Kara Goldin: I’m like that too, I have to get it in the morning.
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah, I have to do it in the morning. Get my morning routine down, and then I’m ready to work. Keep up with all the emails and all the types of communication through all the different apps, Facebook messenger, text, email, Instagram DM. I shoot very often, almost every day, so I don’t like to let work fall behind, so I have to constantly just keep it grinding, keep it moving. If I forget about something or don’t edit some photos that I like taking one day, it’s just going to keep falling back, and I may not ever see them.
Kara Goldin: I know that you’re working with some very, very large brands in print and social and billboards, websites, social media campaigns. First of all, how did that happen? How did they find you? Do you have an agent?
Jeremy Cohen: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Kara Goldin: Did they just find you on Instagram? I think that when I look at your career, it’s very homegrown where you did it out of a passion, and now you’re starting to be hired by these large brands, corporate, stay in the lines. Is that challenging for you as an individual? What advice would you give to other people who are looking at working in that way?
Jeremy Cohen: First of all, the most helpful thing is being passionate about it. I genuinely love photography, so that alone just makes this all easier. It makes it easy to do this. If you love it you can make it happen. I got started when I was a junior in college. Reality started to kick in, and I knew I had to start making a plan for once I got out of college. At that point I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be a photographer. I just knew I wanted to work somewhere in the creative industry. I looked up to a lot of these photographers in New York. Being in New York was a blessing.
Kara Goldin: Did you go to school in New York?
Jeremy Cohen: I went to school in New York at a school of visual arts.
Kara Goldin: Okay, cool.
Jeremy Cohen: I had to take advantage of being in New York. A lot of people consider it the photo capital of the world in the sense that the best photographers live here, and the most work you could possibly get is here. There’s a lot of opportunity. I looked up to a lot of photographers, and a lot of them I found were based in New York. I sent the equivalent of a cold call. I sent emails instead because-
Kara Goldin: Smart.
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah, I think it’s better on both ends. I would send emails just saying how much I would like these photographers’ work and what I enjoyed about it, and that I was a student at SVA and I wanted to learn, and if they ever needed an assistant, I’m here.
Kara Goldin: Did you send like five emails out, or did you send like a-
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah, no, it was between 50 and 75 I would say.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: To all different types for photographers.
Kara Goldin: A lot of people probably didn’t respond.
Jeremy Cohen: Oh, yeah. It was only a few that responded. Those few, I’d say I learned more from these photographers than I did in my four years at school. It’s unteachable stuff in class, I think. I saw how everything went down with photo shoots from different photographers’ perspectives. All these photographers that I worked with work differently. From just seeing how they did things I naturally found out how I like to work. Some of the photographers did a lot crazier things than other ones. From that not only did I learn, but I built the confidence to be able to go out in the field and photograph. I did that until I graduated school a couple of years later. I was still assisting photographers, but then with the free time that I had that I wasn’t going to school I decided I was ready to make my own photo series, which I think is really important if you’re a freelance or artist in general. Anyone can take a good photo nowadays. If you’re in the right place at the right time you can get a really good photo. But, I think not everyone can piece together a series of photos telling a story-
Kara Goldin: A story.
Jeremy Cohen: … in their perspective. That’s some advice I got at one point, and it kind of stuck with me. At that point that summer right after I graduated I started working on some personal projects. Looking back on them they’re so silly and so much different than my work now, but no shame. The projects that I worked on, at that point my work was a lot more quirkier, and very more Instagrammy, just fun and quirky. My first project was called “Pizza Portraitz”. The way my projects were viewed is I slapped a hashtag on them, so if someone wanted to see the whole series they could just click on the hashtag on Instagram, and they’d see the whole series until some trolled it and put their own photos in there. My first one was “Pizza Portraitz” which was spelled #P-I-Z-Z-A and then Portraitz, except with a Z at the end, so it was a unique hashtag because Pizza Portraits, there are a couple of posts. They were like six posts of people eating pizza under that, so I wanted to make it unique so it was only my photos. This series was literally just I had this pizza costume. I had this pizza costume from Halloween a couple of years ago, and I love pizza. It’s a fun object to work with, so I had people wear this pizza costume at different places and took portraits of them. It was just very silly stuff, but I got-
Kara Goldin: In the pizza costume?
Jeremy Cohen: In the pizza costume.
Kara Goldin: I’ve got to check this out.
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah. Then, the next project that I did after that was called emoji portraits, #emojiportraits. This was more of an interactive project, which I didn’t plan from the beginning, where I made this hashtag, and then people started creating their own work to add to this project, which I thought was pretty cool. This was when I just took portraits, and I used Photoshop to incorporate emojis in the portraits. This was when it was like the ogee emojis, so first generation. It was the basic emojis, so there wasn’t much to work with like we have now. For example, the star emojis or different hand emojis, I would just layer it on top of photos and it was cool. People tended to enjoy it, I think, and made their own versions of it too, which was the best part about the project. From there is when I got the attention of this agency called 24/7 Laundry Service. They were looking creators. They were doing a project with Beats by Dre. It was this video series that they were working with different creators to make short, 15 second videos of filming a camera going from ear-to-ear and looping three times in three different settings. I guess through those projects they thought I could have an interesting idea for this video, even though never did video at the time. This was my first-ever photo gig with Beats by Dre, which I was super-nervous.
Kara Goldin: That’s huge.
Jeremy Cohen: Yeah, which I was super-nervous with at the time. I couldn’t really believe it. I almost said no because I had a trip planned to go snowboarding with my friends to Utah and it was during this campaign, but then I knew I couldn’t say no. This was too big of an opportunity. It was the easy thing to say. I almost wanted to say no because I was scared to do it, even though it was an amazing opportunity. I said yes, and I had to do it in Utah, an unfamiliar place for me at the time. I just did this video. I used a GoPro. I’m trying to even remember it now. It was three different takes. One was while I was snowboarding down a hill. I did the camera ear-to-ear. Then I did one in a hot tub, and then the third take, it wasn’t even me, it was of a snowman. I really liked it, they really liked it, and from there we started working together.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: Then the snow ball kept rolling from that snowman.
Kara Goldin: Obviously, Beats by Dre is super-cool. If you’re a CMO or brand manager that is thinking about, “How do I actually make my brand cool?” I always think that having sort of this social media angle and really having kind of an influencer strategy is something that a lot of people are thinking about today. How do you think brands, what types of brands do influencers and creators really want to work with? At what point is it just not making sense for other brands, for example, that you look at that are just too in the rails that you really wouldn’t be interested in doing something? Obviously, I don’t think Beats by Dre is one of those because I think that they’ve been out of the box, really grown to be a brand that takes risks, for example. I’d love to hear sort of your perspective on it too.
Jeremy Cohen: First of all, I love to work with brands that I love myself. I think it’s a win-win for both sides. I think it’s always good to work with a brand that you actually love. One brand that I would love to work with that I never have would be-
Kara Goldin: Besides Hint, right?
Jeremy Cohen: Besides Hint. Also, by the way, I do love Hint, so, naturally, I wanted to do this podcast.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s great.
Jeremy Cohen: Don’t like sugar. Sorry, I’m addicted to sugar, like mostly chocolate, so for me it’s easy to not have a sugar intake, or not have sugar on a daily via beverages. It’s just easier to drink water or seltzer.
Kara Goldin: Then you can have your chocolate.
Jeremy Cohen: It’s so nice to have something with a little flavor that doesn’t even have any sugar or anything. It’s great for me.
Kara Goldin: That’s what we do.
Jeremy Cohen: Living in Brooklyn, going in the deli, it’s amazing. I don’t even know if amazing is the word. It’s awful how you go to the drink section, and every drink in the section is packed with sugar, packed, like, 40 grams of sugar.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Jeremy Cohen: Every drink, even the juices that are advertised as healthy have all this sugar in it. I think it’s great that we have an option now that is water, but also has some flavor and tastes delicious and is health for you, and also has a good podcast.
Kara Goldin: I love it, yeah.
Jeremy Cohen: What was the question again? I’m talking-
Kara Goldin: Just about influencers and sort of how you, ultimately, pick brands and what do you look for in a brand.
Jeremy Cohen: Right now one of my dream clients would be Nike. Knowing a brand story, I think, is very helpful. Right now I’m reading this book called “Shoe Dog”. It’s a memoir of Phil Knight. You’ve read it?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, it’s a great book.
Jeremy Cohen: Just reading this book and learning this guy’s story just makes me want to work with this brand or be a part of it, help tell its story. I also learn about a lot of different brand stories through this other podcast. It’s an NPR podcast called “How I built this”. I get emotional listening to some of these stories, just listening how people get started from the ground up creating this huge business that we’re so familiar with today, and just seeing all the obstacles that they overcome. It’s incredible. For example, Patagonia was one of the ones, just amazing story, would love to work with, as well as like Whole Foods. I don’t know if I’d ever work on a photo shoot with Whole Foods. I can’t really see that, but it would be cool to. What’s the one that I love the most? I can’t think of it right now. I really want to mention this one.
Kara Goldin: These are all like disruptors, right?
Jeremy Cohen: These are all-
Kara Goldin: These are all people that are really doing something that is purposeful, which has a back story to your point, and you can really tell that story.
Jeremy Cohen: Right, purposeful, and also just taking a huge risk and just flipping the whole script, and just making something so obvious. Oh, yeah, Airbnb is the one I’m thinking of. He failed so many times, but now it’s something that I use today and I love using.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, I love Airbnb too. It’s great.
Jeremy Cohen: It makes it so much easier for traveling, and also it connects people. I love it when people create something that brings people closer together.
Kara Goldin: I think photos connect people too, right?
Jeremy Cohen: Oh, yeah. That’s why I love photography. I’m mainly a people person, and I kind of just use photography as a tool to meet more people and just connect with more people.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Very, very cool. Besides like the brands that you’re really hoping to work with, what do you think the next five years are like? Obviously, you’re taking off this afternoon to do a big photo shoot in Europe. You were just sharing. You’re going to go explore. I think you should go take the pictures of people every single day, and that’d be really fun in all these different cities.
Jeremy Cohen: I’m really excited for that.
Kara Goldin: I’m very, very excited to watch that and follow what’s going on with your travels. What else, what do you think the world is like for Jeremy over the next, I don’t know, three to five years?
Jeremy Cohen: Wow. I don’t think of this too much, but as long as I don’t get too comfortable and keep pushing myself to try new things, whether it’s not even necessarily photography. Like right now, I’m actually trying to get more into video. The gear I have, my camera, they’re totally capable of making amazing videos. I’m not that confident in it, but I know I want to do it. Lately I’ve been going out of my comfort zone and making more work in motion. Who knows? Maybe in three years I might be more of a videographer more than a photographer, or maybe I’ll be doing something totally different. Last night I couldn’t sleep that well, so I started writing lyrics to a song.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: I don’t know, just kept my brain a little fresh trying something different. Maybe I’ll record it. I don’t know, we’ll see.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. I think that the idea of you just being open to what’s going to come, and storytelling I think is really the core aspect of that, which is-
Jeremy Cohen: Totally. I think that’s the one factor that I don’t want to change because storytelling is something I genuinely love to do, and I like to think I’m really good at. No matter what medium I’m telling stories with, that’s what I want to be doing.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Jeremy Cohen: Maybe on a bigger scale in three to five years.
Kara Goldin: That’s super-great. I’m excited to keep following you and see where Jeremy Cohen will take us. What’s the best way for people to find you and see what you’re up to?
Jeremy Cohen: You can find me on Instagram @jermcohen, that’s J-E-R-M C-O-H-E-N. On YouTube I think it’s YouTube.com/jermcohen. I just started making videos. I have two videos so far, more coming. They’re not as good as my photography, but I just got to keep getting better. That’s what it’s about.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Very, very cool. Well, thanks so much, Jeremy.
Jeremy Cohen: Thank you for having me.
Kara Goldin: We really appreciate it. All right, cool.
Jeremy Cohen: Thanks so much.
Kara Goldin: Cool