Today on my 42nd birthday, I celebrate my mother

I am 42 years old today. I never celebrated my birthday growing up and it has been only in the last few years that I have paused to acknowledge that it’s a way for those you love to celebrate the love they have for you.

I woke up today feeling very emotional. 42 years ago my mother brought me into this world. If you know her, you would describe her as fun, crazy, dramatic, sentimental and fiercely loving.

My mum had a very tough life growing up and she also survived breast cancer with a double mastectomy in the last several years‎. On February 16 of this year she suffered a massive stroke. She wasn’t found in that “ideal” 4 hour window to get her to the hospital to hopefully prevent long term damage to her brain. Melissa and I were in the US at the time when we got the phone call from my brothers. We immediately raced to the airport but we were told that by the time we land in Melbourne, she may have already passed away. It was the worst 14 hours of my life. I didn’t know whether she would be dead or alive by the time we landed. The good news is that she was still alive, the bad news is that as with most stroke victims, people are left with half their body paralyzed and with incoherent speech. I can’t tell you the sadness I felt seeing someone so close to me looking so helpless. My body literally ran out of tears that day as I suspect will happen again by the time I finish writing this post.

All our family have taken care of her in our own different ways over the years. When we are in Melbourne, Melissa and I used to visit her at least once a week and spend half a day eating, drinking, playing cards and laughing until it hurt. My mother lived for love. She wanted nothing more than time with her family. When Melissa and I would leave for the US, we would send her on a trip to be with our extended family in Greece.

Melissa and I made the impossible decision to return to the US to attend WPPI this year. We were told that she needed as much rest as possible and there was nothing more we could personally do in the early stages after the stroke. It would also be a much needed distraction. With all our responsibilities at WPPI, although we were smiling on the outside, we were dying on the inside. We returned to Australia immediately afterwards and spent quality time with her. We all very hopeful that she would recover her mobility and speech but it wasn’t looking good. It has now almost been 4 months since her stroke and there still has been very little improvement.

You may have noticed that I have been very quiet on social media for the last few months until about 2 weeks ago or so. How could I share my life with the world when I was only feeling pain and helplessness? I didn’t want to admit to myself that the state she is in now maybe as good as it gets. I’ve surpassed the initial shock of her stroke. I’ve surpassed that feeling of helplessness (at least I thought I did), and it was time to accept that she may always have half her body paralyzed and not be able to communicate for the rest of her life. About 2 weeks ago when we returned from a European trip, I felt refreshed and ready to accept the things I cannot change and to do what I love to do and that is make a difference in other people’s lives. In times of hardship, I find comfort in focusing on others rather than reveling in my own misery.

I woke up this morning with tears in my eyes. My birthday made me think of my mum. I don’t think I’ll ever swallow the pill to accept my mother’s predicament. All I can do is find comfort that I have no regrets. I treated her like a queen and spent quality time with her. I gave her everything she needed. Our whole family has. Although our family is extremely close, this tragedy has made us even closer.

Why share this publicly? Call it therapy. Although there is always hope, I’d rather accept what’s happened to her and have a pleasant surprise than let hope kill a little piece of my heart each day. Saying it out loud may help me. It may not. Either way, today, on my birthday, I celebrate my mother.

I have been in this industry for over 22 years and although I love it, I can’t stand the negativity and the constant pursuit for people to be “famous,” the jealousy and the misguided stepping on others to do anything to be successful. What does success really mean to you? For those starting out your journey in this industry and to the seasoned veterans, your success is right in front of you. Your health, family, friends and the time you spend with them should be what your version of success is. We spend our time as photographers immortalizing moments for other families at the expense of our own. Use what you do for a living to influence people in a positive way whilst fiercely protecting what your version of success is. Popularity, money, awards, notoriety etc. come and go. What remains constant is family. Self love and self respect is the key to loving and respecting others.

I know many of you have actually lost your parents and/or gone through a lot worse than me. I appreciate that. I totally empathize with you. I hope we find comfort in each other.

How important is photography? This photo was one of the last photos I took of my mum before her stroke. After spending hours with her every week she would smile and wave goodbye and you would know that she would spend the entire week looking forward to the next time she would see you and cook for you.

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If I have influenced you in a small or large way over the years and you want to give me a gift, organize a time to have your family photographed. Cherish your family as you are already successful.

Thank you for sharing my birthday.

Life moves forward.

With a heavy heart,
Jerry

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7 thoughts on “Today on my 42nd birthday, I celebrate my mother

  1. Dear Jerry,
    I only learned of you yesterday, since then I’ve watched “Posing Everyone!”, as well as all of your movies on your website. I want to thank you for all that you so graciously share, it’s so helpful. I can only hope that the wedding I’m shooting this Sunday will benefit from your assistance.
    Then tonight I found your blog and it’s your Birthday! I truly feel like it’s my birthday with all that I’ve received from you. The timing is uncanny.
    I’m very sorry to hear about your mother’s condition. I can only imagine the joy you have brought her, throughout her life. It’s obvious that she’s a very special Mom to have raised such a special son. I understand her too, I’ve always told my children that the only gift I want is time, hugs & kisses from them.
    Your talent is amazing and again… thank you for sharing your joy & wisdom.

  2. Deat Jerry,
    I do not have those cruel experiences watching your parents or children suffering that you and others have.
    But I have to tell you here that you really touched me. I wish you and your family all the best. I hope you find joy and love at your birthday. Congratulations !

  3. Happy birthday Jerry,

    Sad but very profound story you share us here. Full of wisdom too.
    We are fortunate to have you and Melissa as mentors, not only as photographers but also in the real life.
    Yes you largely influenced us and Yes, we’re going to organize this birthday gift you asked.

    Thansk for all Jerry.

    From Madagascar

  4. Jerry,

    What a moving and thought provoking tribute to your mother, I was so sorry to hear of her condition. Please continue to talk to her when you visit – there has been research that indicates that people still can know what’s going on around them even though they cannot respond to you.

    Thank you for sharing your inner most thoughts, it just goes to show what a caring individual you are. What more could any Mum ask for than to have a family like yours? I’m sure that she is very proud of you and your siblings for being such great and appreciative family to her. I know that we’re all very, very proud of you! Please know that you remain in our thoughts and prayers daily, with special ones going out to your precious Mum.

    Happy Birthday & Hugs to you……

  5. Hi Jerry,

    Happy (belated) birthday! What a moving story and insight in your personal life. Sorry to hear your mom is going through these tough times (and you along with her). Keep up the hope and keep doing what you are doing. She might not be able to verbally express it, but she still enjoys your company. That will never change.

    I hope she will get better in time. Big hugs to you (and Melissa).

    Valentin

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Positivity vs. Negativity

As a prelude to the following post, the following statement is not about me personally but an observation I have witnessed over the years…

I don’t know about you but I often get disheartened at all the negativity in our industry. I see too many people dismiss successful people as lucky or undeserving of their success. Maybe it helps justify their own insecurities or shortcomings. Why not learn from these people? You don’t have to worship them. Simply understand what they have done to achieve their level of success in whatever form it looks like. We don’t know what people have gone through to achieve their version of success and what adversities or sacrifices they have had to overcome.

I recommend you don’t equate popularity with success. Rather than trying to be the flavor of the month, plan for longevity. I’ve always said that you should be kind to people on the way up as you might meet them on the way down. Rather than expend your energy on your fears, insecurities and negativity, focus on your dreams and relentlessly pursue what your version of success is. If you base your success based on the success of others then you will never be happy. All anyone can ask of you is to simply be the best you can be. True success is knowing who you are and surrounding yourself with positive people who love you for exactly who you are.

You can be negative and mighty behind your keyboard or you can contribute to someone else’s success by a few simple positive words. Try to see the good in people rather than leaning towards thinking that everyone has an ulterior motive. We all make mistakes but we all have something to offer.

Negativity is exhausting. Positivity is a gift that everyone can give and benefit from. If neither suits you, silence can be golden.

You, your creativity and your business will thrive if you channel all that energy into what you want out of life. The question is, what do you want? You have a choice…

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10 thoughts on “Positivity vs. Negativity

  1. I’m so glad I just read your words of wisdom, Jerry, thank you! I’m in my first year of portrait photography and attending WPPI Vegas in February – AND taking one of your classes. Can’t wait. The Omega reflector looks incredible – thank you for that too.

  2. Very well said Jerry. I have encountered a lot of negativity in life, not just in photography, and my experience is that it comes from insecurity. The best thing you can do as a person is take a good long look at yourself and accept yourself, including your flaws. Then decide what you want in life, what is important to you, and go after it. Once you’ve done that you won’t feel threatened by other people, because you know that you are on your own path: the right path.

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My WPPI 2014 Experience

Just wanted to give you an update about my 2014 WPPI experience this year and share my joy — especially with my family in Australia who often wonder what Melissa and I have been up to. As the new directors of the WPPI competition, Melissa Ghionis and I along with the WPPI team, have spent months preparing for the competition and we were excited to see our efforts come to life as we prepared our judges, chairmen and print handlers for the weekend’s competition. Saturday morning arrived and we were so proud to see the competition being run like a well oiled machine. There was a 27% increase in entries this year. Thanks to Jason Groupp, Lauren Wendle and the genius behind the software, Brad Kuhns, we saw everyone embrace the changes. As good as it was, we already know how to make it even better. By the time our competition commitments finished it was time for my “What Would Jerry do?” presentation on Saturday night. Thanks to our very own DJ, Chris Saraiva, Nikon and Westcott the night was a huge success with people dancing, learning and having fun for a perfect energetic start to a great convention. I chose people from the audience and photographed them while was I tethered to the projector so everyone could see every click of my camera. There was standing room only and the energy was electric.

Day 2 of judging was even smoother than Saturday. The crowds in the rooms were bigger as we finished judging all the categories. The last major award was decided by 9pm as Melissa and I finished the first phase of our experience.

Thanks to our amazing team including: Nelly Arruda, Chris Saraiva, Ryan Schembri, Rocco Ancora, Tanya Wilson, Tabitha and Miguel Clarke, Henry Aarvold, Marco and Liz Henry, Lisa and Devon, our Ice Light and Picpockets: World’s Best Photographs booths were set up in no time. The Ice Light was a favorite among attendees as was the Ice Pack which was showcased and sold at the show for the very first time.

I was all set to present my brand new platform program on Tuesday morning. 45 minutes before I was set to present, my Keynote crashed and deleted itself from my computer. A disaster for any presenter. Luckily I backed it up, restored it, jumped in the shower and arrived to a full house. I apologized for being a few minutes late and began my presentation. A day earlier at the tradeshow, a deaf man came up to me and talked to me through his interpreter. He thanked me for creating Picpockets for the iphone as he now can show his clients what he wants them to do and how to pose for him. He said it has changed his life and now is looking forward to a fruitful career despite his hearing impairment. It was a true highlight of the convention for me. I invited him to my platform class on Tuesday morning and welcomed his interpreters on stage so he could not only understand my presentation on Cropping, Composition and Creativity but see the images on screen and see and feel my energy. Let’s just say that I had a ball with the interpreter and found out to communicate some colorful words. I ended my presentation by showing a unique album I produced. The album received the highest score for the single photographer album category but ended up coming 3rd overall. By the end of the album slideshow, the audience erupted in applause and gave me a standing ovation. I had to hold back my tears. I have received standing ovations before when I end with some powerful words but never for simply sharing my work.

At the end of the tradeshow, Melissa and I filled in for Anie Zanazanian (who couldn’t make it) to present a master class on marketing.

By the end of day 2 of the trade show I proudly spoke at the Nikon booth a couple of times and Westcott as well.

We woke up early for Melissa’s master class in the morning on “Fearless Sales.” She presented an incredible program and made a difference to everyone in that room. She looked incredible too btw!

As the last day of the trade show was drawing near, I was putting the finishing touches to the awards night script as I was co-hosting it with none other than one of my best friends, Roberto Valenzuela.

After 2 months of dieting, I lost 10 kilos/22 pounds to fit into my wedding jacket for the awards night. One of the highlights of the night was to see Melissa also in her wedding dress. Wow, she looked even more beautiful than the day she wore it!

We finally started the awards night and Roberto and I had a ball as our natural chemistry as best friends was obvious and we presented people with their trophies. Many of my friends won awards that night including countless Australians! I was proud to win second place (behind Ryan Schembri) in the inaugural In Camera Artistry category. Even before the winners were announced the crowd erupted in applause in their support of a category that celebrates in camera craft.

Overall I received second place in the In Camera Artistry category, 3rd place in Wedding – Single photographer Album category, 12 silver awards, 5 silver distinction awards and 3 gold awards.

Another memorable moment was when I was presented with my Grandmaster of WPPI trophy by Melissa. There was a standing ovation for over a minute and it is a minute that I will remember for the rest of my life. The love and respect that I received from the audience was powerful. I asked members of the audience to stand if I had hugged them during the convention. Over half the audience stood up! In my speech I thanked Melissa and our relationship for being my true success. I went on to acknowledge the negativity and hate in our industry and how we all have a choice. “I choose to remain positive and I choose to love,” I said. Some of the last words I uttered on stage was “WPPI is back!” It truly is. If you missed the experience I sincerely hope to see you next year. To Jason Group, Lauren Wendle, Jacqueline Tobin, Moneer, Jessica, Jodi, Brad, Hillary and the entire WPPI staff…to your and our success! A huge thanks to my team (mentioned above) for your commitment and execution. Your friendship means the world to Melissa and I.

It was a pleasure to meet people for the very first time and to cultivate relationships for those we have met before.

Easily the most tiring but best week of our life. xxoo

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A perfect movie for the new year and some thoughts I want to share for 2014….

You have to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty! I have seen it twice in over a week. It’s one of my favorite movies ever! Great story and premise. The cast is perfect and there is a great balance of humor, drama, action and it has an ending that doesn’t disappoint. There is something in it for everyone but you will appreciate it even more as a photographer. Apart from the amazing photography in it, there many things that resonated with me.

We spend our lives immortalizing moments for others and often at the expense of our own. I encourage you to use what you do for a living to create a life for yourself rather than be robbed of it. I understand that we are all at different stages of our career and sometimes we have to work our butts off to just survive let alone thrive. But the problem is that as photographers we don’t know where to draw the line. I encourage you to turn off the computer by 6pm every weeknight. If you are not shooting a wedding on the weekend, don’t touch the computer. Enjoy your life with your loved ones. That email can wait. That job can wait. Don’t worry, they’ll be there in the morning. Use your photography to create and protect your happiness.

Another thing that the movie reminded me of is that how many people try to preserve a moment that didn’t even exist. How many times have you been to an amazing place like the Eiffel Tower for example and no sooner than people get to it, they are taking out their iphones to preserve the moment that didn’t even exist rather than soaking it in.

I remember presenting a workshop in Rome a couple of years ago. I timed being at the Colosseum at sunset. The burnt orange light was kissing the Colosseum. After creating a few shots, the body language of my students was suggesting “Where do we go now?” Over half the class had never been to Rome, let alone seen the Colosseum. I asked everyone to put their cameras down and soak it in. The play of light in the following 15 minutes or so was breathtaking. I will never forget that moment. Half the class were in tears by the time we left our vantage point.

Melissa and I were at a Harry Connick Junior concert and Harry actually stopped his performance to ask a fan to stop filming. She thought he was joking. Harry said, “I’m right here, enjoy me now.” How many times do we try to show the rest of the world “how great our life is” when we are not truly soaking in every moment. A quote from Sean Penn’s character that I enjoyed is “beauty doesn’t ask for attention.” I won’t spoil it for you but there is another quote you will enjoy from him as well about being in the moment.

Ultimately anyone’s job will take time away from their families but if we are paid to immortalize moments for others at the expense of our own that has to be worth something. Yes, we all start somewhere and to this day I do many personal shoots for free. But if someone is commissioning you to create some photographs, then that is a different story. When charging a client, ask yourself, “What will make feel ok to leave my own family to immortalize moments for other families?” When people don’t pay anything or next to nothing, they don’t respect or value you or your service. Work hard at your craft and your business. You ultimately get the clients you deserve.

I believe true happiness starts with knowing who you are and being with people you love and who love you unconditionally. No judgment, no negativity. Once your basic necessities are met, it doesn’t take a lot of money to live happily. Most circumstances are beyond our control but I believe happiness is a choice. Time, love, health, family and friends are the most important things in life. I live an extraordinary life with Melissa Ghionis but we treasure the simple things the most. The thing is, we know it. We appreciate and are thankful for everything. We take nothing for granted. We work hard to protect and preserve our happiness. Melissa Ghionis and I wish you the same clarity and happiness for the 2014 and beyond. To your success!

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2011 Recap, one year anniversary and our wedding video

What an amazing year 2011 was! Melissa I had the pleasure of photographing over twenty weddings around Australia, USA, New Zealand and a gorgeous wedding in Greece. The year started with two memorable workshops in Los Angeles with all the registration fees going to the charity that Melissa and I started, the Soul Society We will be sharing details of how those funds, including other generous donations, will be distributed soon! Melissa and I presented a further nine workshops across the USA and Australia and also presented a seminar in Mexico. I had the privilege of lecturing in Japan a couple of years ago with the incredible Sandy Puc. Before I knew it, I had committed to a 33 city tour across the US on a bus. Yes, that’s right. Melissa and I, Sandy and her team and several sponsors lived on a bus and presented to thousands of photographers which was certainly a highlight of 2011 and an amazing life experience that we will be reminiscing about for years to come. February 2011 marked my 8th year in a row attending WPPI where I was thrilled to win my 7th International Wedding Album of the Year Award in 9 years among other accolades. I presented a seminar to over 3000 people in the Grand Garden Arena at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – the very stage where I saw Bon Jovi perform the previous year! I also finally won the only wedding photography award that eluded me after years of trying which was the AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year! Speaking of Awards, I was also honoured to be awarded Diamond photographer of the Year by PPA for the fourth year in a row.

Although 2011 was filled with some great experiences, it will always be remembered as the year I married my soul mate and best friend, Melissa. I cannot begin to express how madly I am in love with her. When I was escorting her down the aisle, I’ve never felt so much raw emotion in my life as I did in those moments. I thought my love for her on our wedding day was at its peak. After one year of marriage, my love deepens with every day that passes. We laugh all day, every day. We are in sync with each other and we have a true partnership in all that we do. She has taught me what true love is and what unconditional love is all about. I wish you the same joy. Everyone deserves happiness!

Without further ado, I am thrilled to present you our wedding video which was created by the incredible Matthew Scott of MTS Films. Believe it or not, he was the only film maker on the day. If you are interested, he also presents workshops to aspiring film makers around the world. Thank you Matt for an amazing film! And a huge thanks to our photographers, Ryan Schembri, George Fragopoulos, Luke and David Edmonson and my nephew Zane Ghionis. Special thanks to Jesh de Rox for writing and performing the song “Shivers” in our honour.

I begin 2012 as a resident of the USA with Melissa and we are set to spend 3-4 months in Australia and 8 months of the year in the US and abroad. 2012 marks the launch of the Ice Light, a continuous LED light source that I designed and which was created by Westcott. Click here for more info and to purchase. After four years of sustaining my educational web site, I am also pleased to announce that the Ice Society version 2 will be released early February. It will be iPhone and iPad friendly and have several more features and a more sexy and user friendly interface. We have several weddings, workshops and speaking engagements all over the world scheduled for this year and many exciting projects due for release in 2012.

I am sorry I have not updated my blog as frequently as I would have liked. My wife and my clients are my number one priority. That being said, I will attempt to update my blog at least every 2 weeks with all new work and several exciting announcements. As of today, I will be updating the “photo of the day,” everyday as the title suggests. Hope to see you, shoot you, teach you, have fun with you, sing karaoke with you, hug you, make friends with you and spoon with you soon! Yes, in that order!

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