Ep. 029 – Jessica Malone: You Are So Much More Than Your Identity

In this episode, Maine portrait photographer Matt Stagliano talks with Jessica Malone, a boudoir and fine art photographer in Ohio. Jessica has created a successful portrait business in a very small town and she helps empower her clients by exploring self-discovery, healing and creativity with them. In addition to her work, Jessica has also been creating a series of photographs based on the Tarot and inviting her clients to be the subjects of each "card."

Audio Version

Video Version

Full Transcript of Generator Ep. 027 - "The Recap of WPPI 2024"

Matt Stagliano 0:00
Welcome back, it’s so good to see here. Years ago, I met Jessica Malone. And I instantly knew we were going to be great friends. Jessica is a portrait photographer in Ohio and her approach to boudoir, self portraits and fine art really sets her work apart, there’s something about her that makes you instantly comfortable, and it’s her power to connect that allows her business to thrive. Over the years, as we’ve gotten to know each other better, I’m amazed at how similar our stories are, from our backgrounds, to our locations to how we make decisions every day. You know, working in a small town of about 1000 people, it’s hard to find other photographers that can really relate to having a studio in such a rural area. But Jessica and I hit it off because she’s from a small town in Ohio that parallels exactly where I am here in Maine, with the farms in the rural culture and the challenges that only people here can face. So in this conversation, we talk about the luxury business in a small town, we talk about her tarot card project and what she’s created around that. And the idea of identity and how we relate it to our business. At every turn. I felt like I was talking to someone I had known my entire life. And I know she’s going to make you feel the same way. So let’s get started with episode 29 of generator which I’m calling you are so much more than your identity with my guest, Jessica Malone.

How was your return from Wppi?

Jessica Malone 1:50
It was good. It’s I feel like there’s always that post conference, I want to call it a lag or like, you know, it’s like this recovery processing period. So there was definitely that to kind of take it in. But it was good. I always, every time I get to see all my people and be around, you know that community it just, you know, kind of gives you a little boost. So it was good, tiring. But in the best way. You

Matt Stagliano 2:13
know, I find that time works differently in Las Vegas than it does in the rest of the universe. Where you start out, you arrive on Saturday or Sunday. And you’re like, I’ve got the whole week ahead of me. I’ve got so much time here. And then the next thing you know, you’re like I’m checking out, I have no idea where the week went. I can’t find most of my socks. I have no money left. And I’m dehydrated. What happened in the past couple of days. But I feel like that’s it every year. One of the funny parts I remember from this year was just meeting up with you and walking across the street to get supplies that we didn’t have to buy at the hotel. And I think that little conversation we had between the hotel and Walgreens and then back was one of the best conversations of the week. Were real it was thank you for being Oh,

Jessica Malone 3:06
thank you and yeah, thank you it was it was one of the best conversations just because I felt like we got to actually be present. And you know, it can step in wit like it’s great. It’s an inspiring place to be but I think definitely a little side conversations and the little side meetings are like where it happens. That was the most I actually saw Vegas was that little trick. Walgreens with you I’m the worst Vegas visitor ever.

Matt Stagliano 3:30
You know, like I said, I’m glad we got a chance to kind of link up there we never get a chance to at least I never get a chance to leave my tiny little town and you’re in a very similar place and I’m going to pronounce it wrong.

Jessica Malone 3:42
Gollop Allah said Gallipolis calculus.

Matt Stagliano 3:46
I can’t say it like a native.

Jessica Malone 3:48
I don’t say like a native if I was a native, I would call it gala police and get that extra little booziness on the end, but I don’t I call it God bless. So they know I’m an import immediately. But I don’t think anybody pronounces it correctly. So don’t feel bad. You’re

Matt Stagliano 4:03
technically Ohio, but you’re basically West Virginia. Right? Yes.

Jessica Malone 4:06
I can see West Virginia from my house. Yeah, we’re right on the river. It’s really cool. It’s very beautiful. I felt like West Virginia is an underrated place. A lot of people I don’t know if a lot of people traveled there but it’s it’s really beautiful. And people are actually very, very nice. It’s not like the stereotypes I think you get in some places. You know, like I’ve lived in a holler before not a hollow holler. There’s a difference. I you know, I can’t really judge because it’s all kind of the same area down here. But it really is an underrated place. I believe with

Matt Stagliano 4:36
it being a small town. I know you and I have talked for a lot of years about the fact that we have kind of a similar place that we live and we do similar things with studios and photography and how hard it can be in a small town. Now, over the past week here in my 1000 person town. We have a chamber of commerce and both the executive director Dirt and her second in command word let go this week, circumstances are of all very nefarious and no one really knows the right story. So it’s all very hush hush. And in a small town like that should last about another 48 hours. And then everybody will know everybody’s business. Without a Chamber of Commerce in a small town like this. Businesses are kind of left on their own to do whatever it is that they do without a whole lot of guidance. What do you find? In your area? Do businesses come together as their Chamber of Commerce? Like? How does your studio do what you do in a small town and succeed? Do you need the help of others? Or do you basically do it all yourself and hope for the best?

Jessica Malone 5:41
So that’s a great question, because that’s something that’s actually been on my mind a lot lately, as should I be getting more involved with groups like the chamber, we do have one here, I don’t think they’re very active, like they exist. And they help out in some areas, and in some industries, that I think maybe are more long standing, you know, your insurance agencies, real real estate, some things like that, but it’s not something that I think I’ve really collaborated with. I mean, you know, we don’t have a lot of groups like that. And I think that’s something that is maybe more unique to small areas are that, you know, we don’t have as many networking opportunities. Maybe some areas are different, I don’t know. But you you are describing that similar to mine, I mean, they exist, but we’ve had kind of scandals like that in the past as well. And you’re right. It’s it’s kind of hush hush, and then it just kind of blows up and everyone knows about it, and then they get over it. But I think that we could work together more I have partnered with some businesses in the past, but I feel sometimes kind of like I’m, I’m like the soul little like they exist in one world in one kind of business. And I exist in another and I don’t need that by industry, I maybe need that more a bit of mindset.

Matt Stagliano 6:59
In small areas, like where you and I live, there’s typically one photo studio, one hardware store, there’s only so many places to go for specific services, whereas in a big city, you have huge choices. So for us here, where I am in Maine, you have really one of any individual type of business, the good and bad part of that is, you know who the hardware store is, you know who you are is right? But at the same time you fall into this trap of well, I’m the only one therefore people should know I exist. Why am I not getting any customers? That’s so true. Yeah. But marketing is marketing, right? You’ve got to do it no matter where you are. A lot of places rely on chambers to do that. I think we find in the smaller places that it’s left to our own devices to whether we succeed or fail, and we can’t depend on on anybody else.

Jessica Malone 7:55
I feel like smaller, less populated areas are a little bit behind on maybe that some of the trends obviously, I know, Columbus actually has like, you know, Cincinnati is got a great art scene too. But Columbus is like the art place, right? And they have like these creative spaces like and they have the CCA D there. So they have like the art schools, and they have shared common spaces, like you can go and share a studio with 10 other artists. And so they have a lot of communities like that. And I just don’t think that we’ve caught up with that. And just like you said, we have that like well, there’s the photographer like that box is checked, like that need is filled. So sometimes it like serves as almost like a block in your mind. Like why should I do this because that person already exists, or they already have the studios front, a lot of the businesses that the Chamber serves, at least in my area, I don’t want to like generalize every I know we’re all different, all places are different. But I think it’s the businesses that they cater to, because they’re so traditional, like we’re not like a nine to five type of people, right? We don’t go in and like punch the ticket like work at our office and then go home five days a week and I know that that mindset or business mentality or business philosophy, however you want to look at it like the anti hustle and like it’s more of like how creatives operate in general, not just photographers, I think other areas are catching on to that and providing more structure and more opportunities for those to exist. Whereas like our chambers or like if you’re not wearing a suit and tie if you don’t have an office if you’re not in you know, accounting insurance, real estate, like the typical professions, right, but I think there’s like an old school and kind of a new school in many ways. And the traditional networking areas such as the chamber, maybe even a BNI or so we don’t have a BNI here are the best for me. Let

Matt Stagliano 9:43
me back out a little bit and just talk about the mindset which you had mentioned before, there is this strange set of emotions that goes along with being a photographer in any level of city there is This internal competition that you feel against all the other photographers out there, there’s this constant comparison that you’re making between your work in theirs between your pricing in theirs between your clients. And there’s, it takes a lot of fortitude to kind of look past all of that ego, and really just focus on what it is that you want to do. I’ve noticed that with your art, specifically, over the past many years that I’ve seen you always following what it is that you want to do, rather than falling into trends. As I look at your site, there’s boudoir and 40 over 40 and the Tarot series and all the other fine art work that you do. Do you feel like this is reflective of just you and following your passions? Or do you feel like you have to create all those things? To get the widest base of customers?

Jessica Malone 10:58
No, that’s a good, that’s a really good question. And I think I fluctuate in there. Because one, I sometimes I feel like I’ve tested out, because like with the 40, over 40 When I first started that campaign, I was like, Oh, I don’t know, I had all these, like fears and blocks, like I couldn’t do something like this, or would people see the value in it? So I tested it out. And even when I wasn’t sure of myself most times that like, you know, we have moments of doubt, right. But the response I was getting for people, and it was sometimes they were even telling me like my clients, you know, when they would when they would talk about the shoot or their experience, they were telling me things that I didn’t see myself, you know, or that like I thought maybe I could do but I wasn’t sure if I was doing for them just like holding space, or giving them this way of seeing themselves differently if they needed that. And just just like all like the deeper things, not just a pretty picture, right? Like the, the deeper side of that. And their response back was so like, Oh, yes, I they they do feel seen. And they do feel that and they feel more beautiful and powerful and confident all the things. And then so it was like, Ah, yes, that’s for me, and I’d go with it. But like, I’ll be honest, something like branding, like, that’s something I feel like I offer because I have to have that base. And I don’t know if it’s something that I don’t actually love, or is it something I haven’t found my way in that field yet because like there’s the field, but then there’s your way of doing it too, like we’ve seen with, you know, like the whole revolution and the boudoir industry and some of these great speakers and instructors we have there that are just totally changing. You know what boudoir looks like now versus 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. I think branding is the only one I’m offering fit. I feel like I have to that I feel a little odd and I don’t sell a lot of it. Maybe it’s because I feel at odds with it. I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve burned myself out several times like I’ve been a photographer for over a decade now. Like I was shooting burned for the first half not really just doing it as a pure side hustle not really carried to like improve my business or do things the right way or even improved myself as an artist. So because of that, like burnout, finding myself again, burnout, you know, that cycle a few times I’ve learned that like it’s kind of a waste of time. Like if you’re not, you either have to turn it into something that’s yours or like just let it go. So with the tariff series my way of doing boudoir that’s that’s something Yeah, the tariff series was something I was kind of nervous about, honestly, cuz I didn’t know how it would be received but we’re having a lot of fun with it. And it’s people are really liking it to to be a part of it. But for

Matt Stagliano 13:34
those that that don’t know about it the Tarot series is a mix of campaign and personal project. I I’m trying to understand how you’re doing because I remember when you first announced that you were going to be doing the Tarot series, and I was super stoked about this because I know how creative that you can get and your love for the Tarot and just everything that goes into it creatively. Then incorporating all your different clients into it getting paid for it. Tell me how this whole thing came about.

Jessica Malone 14:06
Yeah, so that’s been really interesting because yeah, it is like a part campaign. It is part like just a fine art project. And then we’re producing a deck at the end. And we’re doing it is very, like creative conceptual type of project, like just the nature of it, but I’m doing it with real clients, not people who are professional models, or a lot of the cases they’re just like, they’re kind of interested in tarot, like they’ve always heard about it, but now they’re like kind of getting into it. So it’s, it’s, it’s fun, but it’s been a great learning experience. How it’s been done has kind of like, evolved over the project, because yeah, I’ve just never done anything like that before. Like when we run other campaigns, you know, we do like, okay, you can pick your images. But a lot of times with this work, they can’t see that final, you know, products that’s going to be done because there might be some some Photoshop, you know, and it’s hard for them to see what I’m envisioning for it. So that right there has been a processing Getting people in. But it’s definitely a blend of like our traditional campaigns like how we might run them with like a fine art project.

Matt Stagliano 15:06
Now, do you do a reading and choose their cards? And that’s what they get? Or are they coming in knowing what they want? Or do you have a pre picked a, you’re going to be, you know, this card, these three cards, like, how does how does that work? How do you personalize it for each individual,

Jessica Malone 15:24
a little bit of all of that. So if I allow people to pick one, if they have one request, like one that they’re really drawn to, they are allowed to request that if it’s not been taken yet. So once a card has been done, it’s taken out of the deck for this particular project. Now, I do allow, if somebody really wanted to do one that’s already been done, of course, I’m going to style that and they can buy that print, and we can turn that into art or something. But as far as being part of the Fishel project, some people don’t have a preference. So we do the universe decides, everyone has to do three looks just because I’m bad at math, and I’ve divided it by three. And if you don’t do three, it will throw the whole thing off. I know, you know, I need like 27 people I have, everybody does three cards, and it’s going to work out evenly. So there’s that. And then sometimes I have people like in mind that there is a few people that I’ve asked to do it, and I’ve invited just because I’ve thought they would play a really good, you know, they’ve got that energy, or they’ve just got that look. So it’s been a little of all the above, but I’ve never picked all three cards for somebody like I might be like, Okay, you’re going to be a good, you’d make a good devil like so let’s draw the other two to see what the other two would be like. So most people know, I thought everybody would want to pick most people have wanted me to draw for them. Which that’s been interesting, too, because I might get someone like, you know, my 65 year old local nutritionists draw something that’s like, you know, a little more crazy. So that’s been it’s been a fun challenge. But yeah, that’s how we’ve been doing it. We draw them. If they have something they really are drawn to and resonate with, then I let them pick but mostly it’s been universe. Besides, what’s

Matt Stagliano 17:03
what’s been the most challenging so far? Which one did you not expect to be like, blow you away the way that it did? Like we’re just everything came together is there been one standout moment in what you’ve shot so far?

Jessica Malone 17:16
So I did like the tower card, the tower was pretty cool. I actually, Eddie though, if there’s more than one person in the card, you have to play all the characters. So you have to be all the people in the car do you don’t bring someone else with you to do it. So the tower are two individuals falling falling from a tower that’s on fire. And so we actually shot all the components here, like the brick of the tower is actually this brick you see behind me only on the outside of the building. And so that one was really cool. My 10 OF PENTACLES card turned out really well because I actually created the Pentacles out of embroidery hoops and we put them all in and that was one I was like, because the actual card is like an old man, looking at a garden of like kids and dogs playing and I’m like so some things I can do like it kind of stick to this traditional theme and some things it’s like idol, I have to just do my own thing on this one. But the hardest, the hardest one so far is explained the World card because it’s a naked woman floating in the sky with like a race and then there’s all of this stuff. So that one was probably the most challenging so far.

Matt Stagliano 18:23
Now you’re going to have a deck at the end of this. Is there going to be a magazine? Are there going to be posters? Is there a book tour planned like

Jessica Malone 18:30
books? Okay, so the deck for sure. We will have the book is going to be in two different styles, while three if you count the digital format, because most traditionally, tarot cards, tarot decks come with a little instructional booklet or like the little meanings book. And I’m not going to do that just because I don’t want to lots of reasons I don’t want to when you get the deck we’ll have the plan is to have like a QR code on there that you can scan and that will take you to the PDF version because I want like all the artwork to be as prominent as possible. The PDF will also be available like if you wanted to upgrade and buy like the coffee table art book or something like that. There’s there’s several components to it. I’m including a magazine version for all the participants who are in it. So they get a slightly upgraded version of the book, but not like if they want the coffee table book. So yes, there is a book. The meanings are stuff that I’ve written. I’ve actually I didn’t mean for it to go this far. It’s just kind of like snowballed over the past couple years but before I started the project, how I actually got started was my own Tarot journals. So in the morning, one of my morning daily rituals is I’ll pull three cards and you know I have different sources that you find meanings from like all kinds of books, YouTube channels, Tik Tok people, and like you just find people that you kind of vibe with. So I had done this for a few years. and pretty consistently, and I have all of my books, which is really cool to go back. And you can kind of see these patterns. Because you can go through like, phases like months at a time and never draw certain cards, and you’ll just see the same cards repeating and repeating and repeating. And then you can tell when something’s happened, because then you’ll get a whole new pattern. And I mean, you’ve been looked back and you don’t see it as it’s happening, you can only really see it hindsight, which is so fascinating. And I would kind of like, listen to this person on YouTube, where I’d be like, really into this book for a few months. So like the meanings and and I would never, I’d be listening. So I’d have to like kind of copy in my own words, right. And I thought, oh my gosh, I’ll put this in a document like actually transcribe. So I started going through my journals and putting it all in a Google Doc, just because it made it easier for myself, because now I kind of liked my own meanings better than the people that I was listening to this. They are just like little cherry picked and bass for my own experience. So that’s the book that’s gonna go with it. So that’s why I was like, Oh, well, I really, I could see this kind of being a book on the Tarot and how to interpret it. And so why not kind of make my own imagery to go with it? And then why not get paid to do it? So that’s just kind of how it evolved. Really,

Matt Stagliano 21:14
I love I love this project, how far through it, are you percentage wise, you’re halfway done, are you

Jessica Malone 21:21
I’m about halfway done. I’m so like, the evolution, I was talking about how we offer it like as a business, like from the business side of things, like evolved, and I kind of go through my phases where I feel okay, I’ve got it like this is going to work. And then I’ll just do like, you know, blitz marketing again. And that’s all you see is like the terror project, and then I’ll feel like I’ll run into like maybe some kinks or something that I need to fix. And then I just kind of like not market it as much. So I’m hoping it’ll gain more momentum. And so we can just get it finished and get it done and just see it and move on. You know,

Matt Stagliano 21:56
yeah, I can’t wait for that day, I know, there’s probably going to be some level of bittersweet love and hate on that last shutter click where you’re where you know, this is the last card that you’re shooting, and that the project is coming to an end. But it’s got to feel amazing to have all of this, this huge body of work behind you. In addition to everything else that you’re shooting, it’s going to be just such an amazing day, I can’t wait to see this book.

Jessica Malone 22:18
It’s definitely a roller coaster, it’s something I’m sure you that as an artist, like we, you kind of go through that period of like you love your work for like five seconds, and then like you tear it apart. And I knew this going into it because I feel like we do that when it’s more personal to us. We’re even harder on ourselves. So that’s definitely something I’ve went through like I go and you know, it doesn’t matter what anybody else tells you, you look at it, and you just start like picking things apart. And I almost kind of I knew that going into this project. And my goal was like, just finish it no matter how much you doubt yourself or like, you know, oh, that could be better or whatever. Like you’re just going to finish it. So yes, but like when you said like the shutter click that last one. It’s almost like every single shoot, like, okay, you’ve got all your material, you better have gotten something good. You know, you just did a lot of work to produce this. So yeah, no pressure,

Matt Stagliano 23:08
there’s zero pressure. And it really I mean, the thing at the end of the day, right, we can always rip apart what it is that we’re shooting or freak out that every single shoot that I do, whether it’s personal branding, whether it’s fine art, whether it’s commercial, whatever it is, at the end, I’m always like, Oh my God, I didn’t get a fucking thing. Like, I’m, I am not a photographer, I should give them their money back right now before I even look at the images because I just know, I didn’t get anything. And then I started looking through them. I’m like, You know what, these ain’t half bad. Maybe I can make a career out of this.

Jessica Malone 23:40
I’m glad is not the only one. It’s Yes, it’s like the cycle. But I mean, there’s got to be like some comfort in that though. At least there is for me, because when I start feeling it, and I’m gonna say well, I’ll do rol reveals with people and I’m like, Oh, my God, like this is like, I’m nervous. But I don’t want to let him know that obviously. But and then every time it’s like, all these are really good. I’m not bad,

Matt Stagliano 24:02
either. This is it. Like I’m not the piece of trash that I thought I was when I woke up this morning and cried in the shower. You mentioned something a few minutes ago blitz marketing, and I want to because, again, I see so much of myself and it is in what it is that you’re doing. And when you said blitz marketing, I’m like, Oh, I know exactly what that is. And it hurts to even think about because I will come up with a brand new idea. start chasing dopamine and get all in on it. I’ll market the hell out of it for a week. And then for no real reason. I just stopped marketing it. And then I try to pick it up months later. And it does the same thing again I get super jazzed about it. And then I let it fall and this happens for literally everything that I do. Is this something that you struggle with in terms of marketing, social media content creation your case? campaigns running your business? Like, do you struggle with that? Or does that come naturally for you? No,

Jessica Malone 25:05
I absolutely struggle with that. Like, you know, and I wonder, like, I didn’t think about this until we were just having this conversation really, but like how we were just talking about the cycle of like, just the shooting process with a client, like, you know, okay, I got them in the books and like, you shoot them, and it’s like, all this is gonna suck. And then you’re like, oh, no, it was actually really good. I did. Yeah. I think that’s kind of what I do in that marketing. Like, I start off with the idea, like you said, get really excited about it, you mark the hell out of it. And then it’s like, it’s kind of that moment where you’re showing you’re pulling your card out to put in your computer to look at it like, oh, is this a bad idea? Like, did I just waste a whole bunch of time and energy? And so then that’s kind of when you fall off that marketing horse? And you don’t you know what I mean? Because very rarely do you get like people like, freaking out over your offer with just like, a few days of that week of marketing, like your first week of marketing? I mean, sometimes, yeah. But like, a lot of times, no, it takes that a little bit of consistency for people to see your stuff and to care. So yes, I definitely do that. I’ve I think one of the things I’m very guilty of it, I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It can be a great way to handle this is you know, there’s that like ad it’s a meme about add people which I am ad hacking, you are as well, a lot of us are, if you have multiple projects, you can procrastinate or project a by working on Project B, and then you can procrastinate on Project B by working on C. So like I’ve noticed I kind of do that with my campaigns or with my offering like a market to cero. And then I’m like, Oh no, no, they’re like, oh, boudoir that’s the one I’m excited about. And then I’ll market that. And I just procrastinate on the one by marketing the other. It’s kind of been helpful.

Matt Stagliano 26:48
Well, have you ever did you ever do the wealth dynamics test? Surprisingly,

Jessica Malone 26:53
it’s like the only one I don’t think I’ve taken maybe, or maybe

Matt Stagliano 26:57
maybe not. So for those of you out there that don’t know, the wealth dynamics is just another personality test mainly centered around your connection to money, and how you create and what you do and you know the type of energy that you present. So for me, I’m a mechanic’s star, something l star mechanic. Basically what it means long story short, is I like to create the ideas, I’d like to get them going, I can see the whole playing field, but I don’t like to see anything to completion, I just want to create the idea handed off to somebody and go, I just create, create, create, create create, your personality seems similar to mine insofar as you’d like to come up with all these ideas, the the follow through to execution might fall apart, every now and again, my creativity, and my output is far outpacing my ability to keep up with it. So I keep coming up with ideas and creating things and courses and videos and podcasts and photography, ideas and campaigns and all of that. And I get them going and I get super excited. I start marketing and do all the you know coming soon, big announcement, newsletters and all that. And then it just kind of falls flat. So I’ve been thinking more and more about outsourcing hiring a PR agency or marketing agency or something along those lines. Have you ever done anything like

Jessica Malone 28:23
that? That’s you’re just like, kind of reading? You’re reading into my situation here way too accurately? Yes, no, I agree. And I’m very much like that I wrote down wealth dynamics, because I need to take that I’m all about personality tests. I love it. And I just had a meeting, I have had a couple of meetings over the past couple of weeks, with different companies that do VA is and hire, you know, outsource the VA work. And I’ve done that in the past because I’m where that there are some things that are just, I would be much more efficient if somebody else took care of it. That was a process in itself, like what do you give the people? What do you have to have control of yourself as a creative, you know, all of those things. So I am looking back into that with you know, more clarity this time, but definitely, I’m somebody who needs. So I think a lot of these personality tests, if you if you really look into them, they’re can be very accurate. And if you’ve taken multiple ones, they kind of say the same thing just in a different way. They just have a different set of labels to go with it adds one of the things back when I was in education. One of the things that we did was I would personality test my class to see like how they learned and I would tailor my class to the dominant type, right? And so during that I discovered that I’m z y x person, not necessarily and I think you just described the same thing. What makes us brilliant is we can have these ideas and we can see like where the possibility and then we could see where they could end up like how excited but you know, like the ABC might be great And the XYZ might be great, but that LMNOP like we get lost in those steps. And if we just had somebody for me anyway, like to bridge, just that middle part within getting like, what does that middle part look like for you is, is I think the trick but yes, I’m very much like that. And without sourcing I know I need I’m trying to balance it with keeping it lean, like I don’t want I don’t think I want as huge team, I think I want to keep it to where I can be nimble, like with my ideas and pivot when I want to. But yes, you know, some kind of agents, some something in there would be very helpful, I’m

Matt Stagliano 30:39
telling you, and this gets me thinking, I’m like, maybe I’m sitting on the million dollar idea right there, Matt, and I just start creating this photography marketing agency, right, and I’ve seen a couple out there, and I just keep sitting back going, maybe this is the calling. But again, this is the problem that I have come up with an idea of fill a gap, create the company, start the LLC, get it going and then be like, ooh, shiny new thing over here. I’m kind of like you, I have a very hard time giving up the control. And I know that that is something that a lot of people struggle with, especially as you start to grow and scale, then you just don’t want to give up the control because no one can do it as good as you do it. Right. And I found this when when I was managing and it’s not dissimilar from teaching really just managing people. And how good are you at doing that? I know, for me, I’m a great leader, I’m a great inspire, I tend to micromanage because I love the details, and I like being in it. But I recognize that in myself. And it’s difficult for me to hire a VA or someone to outsource because I want to spend so much time explaining to them how I want things done. And you’re probably already bored listening to me when they’re like Yeah, dude, I got it like 20 minutes ago.

Jessica Malone 31:54
That’s the other thing. Like that’s, that’s an excellent point to like, in the time it takes me to get them on the same page as me. And what where we’re going with this? Could I have done this myself? And you know how? Just because I don’t, you know, it’s those tasks that it’s like I can do but I don’t necessarily like to be where they burned me out are the ones that I feel like I struggle with most like accounting or something like that, yes, no, I’m not even trying to do that stuff myself. I can’t get rid of that fast enough, just because it’s like it stresses me out. But like a video editing my I changed my philosophy on a social media marketer, somebody that you know, trying to speak like you that’s that’s kind of, and especially if you’re going in the avenues of speaking and educating people. That’s that’s kind of the hurdle I’m at now to getting the right person in the right place. And is this actually time efficient?

Matt Stagliano 32:47
And I think there’s, there’s a lot that goes into it. I think there’s the are they a good fit personality wise? Are they a good fit for my company? Are they efficient? What are the things that you’re looking for in does this person fill that role, a lot of times they night might not be us. But they might have absolutely all the skills that are needed to fill that job. And we just have to divorce ourselves of the commitment to whatever that task was, and let them grow with it and let them take it to, you know, a different height. You’d mentioned a minute ago to that you were in education. I forgot you have like dual masters, right? You have master’s in education, humanities, photography, farming, chickens, like

Jessica Malone 33:31
I actually don’t have a degree in photography. Like one of my first electives I took back in 2000 to 2003. Something like that was darkroom photography. But then at the end of college, it was it was between photography or folk dance, that was what was going to hold me up from graduating. And so I took photography and didn’t take it too seriously. And then people just, I was photographing like flowers and dogs and people were like, shoot my wedding. And I’m like, that does not make sense. Your wedding is kind of important. Let me talk you out of it. But like, you know, and that’s just kind of out. And after about a year of that I was like, Oh, this photography thing is a thing. I’m making money, maybe I should go learn to be a photographer. And that’s what I went out and saw like what real photography was? Yeah, this is another thing I think with a small town. And you can tell me this your experience, but like, it’s very easy to be the big fish in a small pond. It doesn’t take much for the for your people around you to be like, Oh, you’re so good at this, you know, you can slap a filter on. And they’re like, gonna say you’re amazing. And that’s kind of how it was like, it just my head got big about like, oh, I have a good photographer and like, I want to educate myself and my self confidence just plummeted. And it was interesting because I started out like selling at a much higher price. And then like two years into it, I was like, You know what, from like, $500 to $50 Just because there was a direct direct reflection of like, how I felt about my talent and capabilities. But yeah, photography was just kind of like that side hustle while I got my real my quote unquote real job. That’s why I collected it was the recession. So it was like I had my bachelor’s in a useless field, I have like a bachelor’s in communication. I was like, you know, I’m in this small area, like, what am I going to do is the recession, so just like, oh, just go keep getting more expensive papers, and maybe one day, it’ll work out for you. And that’s where I was actually. So my, my last round of graduate school, I was going to teach college full time, that was the goal. And everything was set up, and I even had professors retiring that I could, you know, was in line to take their job. A few weeks before I graduated, they changed the law that you had to have a terminal degree in your specific field. So now to teach speech, 101, I needed a PhD, and not a master’s degree at a community college. Right, let’s have to teach freshmen successful time, I would need a PhD. So the school was like, hey, just start a PhD program, like go pick, they’re like those picks up it easy go pick creativity, you can get a PhD and creativity PS. And they’re like, we’ll treat you like you’re full time, you just have, you know, so many years to complete this PhD. And that was right around the time I was, you know, a few years into, like, super ice, the, you know, educational platform. And I was I was seeing everybody like, you know, in it, having all the success and doing the things and I thought if I go down the PhD, if I go back into that, like I knew how time consuming it was going to be that I might never do this, I wouldn’t have time. And so I was like, Well, if I fail at the studio thing, then, you know, academia, I guess, will always be there. I’ll just go back. But let’s try this first. But yeah, so that’s, that was the first time I really took it seriously, when it was just like I was in that moment. Like I was getting ready to teach full time, and really commit myself to that. I’m so

Matt Stagliano 36:50
glad I did. And you’ve been doing this full time, how long now? This will be my sixth year. Yeah, I’m in the same boat with portraits. This is my sixth year shooting portraits. I started photography around the same time 2010. And it’s crazy to me that it’s only been, you know, five, almost six years since I opened the studio. And how much time is covered between then and now. And to go back to your earlier question about the small town big ego, right? 100%, once people started seeing a different type of photography, then it was just like, My head went like this, like this. And it’s very humbling when you go outside your little world, and you realize that you’re not even a big fish in a little pond, you’re in a serving spoon. And that’s about that’s about it. I know, every single year, no matter how good I feel I am whenever I go to a portrait masters or WPI. I see that next level. And I’m like, There’s a long way to go. And it’s that yeah, of the ego check that I think we all need. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your work and loving what you do. But there’s always people that are better. And I guarantee you 99% of the people that are better, you’re never going to see on the wall at a competition because they’re just out doing their thing. making beautiful art. This

Jessica Malone 38:20
is such a good thing. A good topic. I love this. Because what you’re saying is so true. And I think there’s a lot of freedom. When you realize that these people like in your mind, you’re creating these pedestals like yes, it could be obvious and everyone around she was agreeing that their work is fantastic and maybe better than yours. But isn’t really that competition, right? Like your clients aren’t looking at you like, oh, well, you’re not this guy, or you’re not this girl doing this. That’s all in your head. And those people that you have placed on those pedestals aren’t going around like oh, well, she sucks. Yeah, know, why do you even pick it because somebody who’s made at that point, you’re right, they’re not even cared. They’re working on themselves, like they’ve got their blinders on. They’re not giving a shit about you. And what you think they’re just creating and bettering their, you know what, they’re just doing their thing. And I think there’s a lot of freedom when you realize that but that’s, I feel like every time you level up in anything, and you just see that like next mountain like you think you’re climbing to the top and like that’s all it is. But then once you’re at the top, you see the next mountain that’s even bigger than that one. And now there’s like this whole valley in between you get through to do it’s a whole Yeah, and but that’s that’s just the cycle, you know, but I also think it’s important like we win, like you were talking about, like, you know, you take the pictures the your neighbors figure out that you have an eye for pictures where they tell you you’re amazing, and then you realize you’re not amazing and go through that whole thing. So we’re about on the same timeline six years I bet you could like, I like to think that six years ago me that I would look Up to the person I am that, you know, and like the level my artwork has improved, just in the past six years. Like, I’m still one of those people, even though that that goal has now been moved, you know, and I see that next mountain, I gotta climb, I still have to like remind myself, like, six years ago, you would have freaked out, if you were doing the stuff that you’re doing today. I couldn’t

Matt Stagliano 40:23
agree with that more, right. And we forget that all the time we forget, I know, when I’m looking for something to post on social. A lot of times, I used to have this really hard carved in stone rule that on my Instagram feed, you will never see a repeated picture. Because I know some people you know, they recycle photos and whatnot, different captions are in the same caption. And I had this source of pride, I’m never going to repeat a picture on Instagram, because everybody that goes to my feed is going to scroll for days and look at every single picture and realize that they’re all different and just hold me in such high regard. And no one ever did any of that. But I also gave up on that a long time ago. By saying that perfect. What am I going for perfection for? I found it was to impress other photographers so that I could get accepted into their tribe and be considered an actual photographer, rather than focusing on the clients that were just kind of like, wow, this is better than my Uncle Harry could have done it. Let me pay you for this service and focusing on nothing but clients, right? Instead, I was trying to focus on me and the ego and all that sort of stuff. I think Sue, actually set a grade, same mountain different altitude, right? Sat, same mountain different view, right, basically, is you never stop climbing. But your view might be a little bit different from every, every place. So when I do look back, I look at the work. And there is a lot of empathy for where I was. And I do have to remind myself and say, Yeah, I could not have imagined in five years, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Are you like me insofar as every five to seven years, I’m gonna blow up my entire life and start over. Oh

Jessica Malone 42:12
my gosh, man, we’re like the same person.

Matt Stagliano 42:17
So I know I’m bumping right up against that that seven year wall, man. Yes.

Jessica Malone 42:21
I think that’s just kind of natural. In this place. We live in a universe that we live in, there is something especially like that seven year, a Sariah. I had this conversation and we were talking about year five, you know, everyone talks about your five and business 579. These are all like huge numbers that we see. Like if that metaphysical sensor to spirituality sense. But it’s so true. I wonder if we feel it more or if it’s more applicable to us, because we are creatives. And we and just by nature, we are kind of in tune with something a little bit different. Like, you know, we’re just we just do things different. We think differently, like they can see this like this is you know, nobody’s disputing this. And so I think because of that difference, maybe we’re a little bit more in tune with things. The last portrait masters, the one in September, Sue’s talk was about like you don’t have to burn you like you build it. You don’t have to destroy it. And I was just crying through the whole thing of my friend who referred Kelly, she’s she’s there. She’s a photographer. And we’ve had a lot of close talks about this. And she’s just looking at me because this was our whole Voxer conversation for a year because that’s what I did. This was my last year for me. Last year was probably one of the not the best year I had in business. It wasn’t the worst. But probably since I’ve opened my studio, it was very difficult because I was in that like, burn it to the ground mentality. And I was I was giving my power away. I was giving this out. I mean, it was just, I was in a really weird mindset. And I just I so I had the conversation with Sariah. And she was like, Yeah, my fifth year was hard, too. And I’ve talked to other artists, and then now you’re saying this. So this has got to be just a thing. But hopefully we don’t have to burn it down.

Matt Stagliano 44:07
I think for me, what I find is every five or seven years, I realized that I’ve I’ve mastered whatever it is that I’ve set my mind to. Now I’m bored. And my brain needs a new challenge every five or seven years, there’s something that happens and I realize if I look back at all of that, I just get to a certain point of mastery or comfort or familiarity with whatever it is that I’m doing. And I need to continue to challenge myself rather than getting better at that one thing. I just want to do something new. So hey, you know like this has been great. I’ve learned how to do all the electrical in my house. Now I’m going to learn to play the guitar. And now that I’ve learned to play the guitar, be awesome. I’m going to get into lowering flatbed trucks and I’m going to bring those you know to me like hit strong, random and weird, but these are the things that I get, I get wrapped up in. And it keeps things interesting. I suppose

Jessica Malone 45:05
that’s what I was gonna say it keeps things interesting. I don’t know how I don’t know how to exist any other way. Like, I would be, you know, and I spent many years like kind of not really liking that about myself, like, if you could just focus and if you could just stick to this abacus I feel like that’s a lot of the traditional feedback we might get up until recently, I do think a lot, you know, over the past 10 years, at least from the people I’ve experienced, or maybe I’ve just now got on a vibe, I don’t know. But like, it used to seem like, Okay, this is the way to do it, you have to focus down, you have to have this one thing, you know, stick with it, whatever. And now it’s just like, but do we really have to do that? Who wrote this rule? Like, can I challenge this, right? And that’s actually been something it’s been like a mantra or affirmation, or everyone you want to call it like, I’m working on changing this belief that I can make money, good money, at whatever I’m having fun with. So don’t pigeonhole me into like, I’m just the photographer. And and it’s, nobody’s doing this to me, I’m doing it to myself, right? No one’s coming up to me, like, you can’t do this. Because you’re darker. You know, it’s just me. So I think it comes to this root of, you know, when we were growing up, like you people, probably I’m assuming if you were this artistic little Matt, but bouncing around, like, you know, can’t sit still, maybe you’re into this, that you’re into this, somebody has probably came along and told you that this is the wrong way to do it. And even though we’re not hearing it continuously, now, that belief is still hardwired, if you’ve heard that, as a kid growing up, like I guarantee you that’s belief is still somewhere in your system, and you’re at odds with it. So that’s been something just because I’m aware of it, you know, it’s not like I wake up every day, like, Oh, I’m changed, I’m cured. Like, it’s definitely a process changing something. Especially that ingrained. You totally

Matt Stagliano 46:53
and and as you’re saying that I can hear it in the voices of the people that said it to me right in trying to label you with an identity, people want an easy box to put you in. And societally we are, like you said ingrained to have that one title that one identity. So it’s very easy for us to say in our tribe, I am the photographer, I am the hardware store owner, I am the tarot card reader, I am this thing. And what I’ve loved about watching you over the past couple of years has been all of these different sides of you bubbling up alongside the photographer, watching these different sides of your life grow, in addition to your photography, business, has got to feel really good to see this all kind of coming together and doing what it is that you love. And that what you’re stimulated by. Do you feel more at ease now than you did five years ago?

Jessica Malone 47:56
Yes. And no, you know, as you were talking, it made me wonder. You’re talking about the label and, you know, society or some people want to maybe just stick us in this box. I wonder if sometimes we are at least like I do that to myself, we’re talking about that roller coaster of marketing, new ideas are jumping on that. And if you kind of dig down deep that point where you stall out, when I find myself doing it, I try to look now like, Am I just really excited by this other thing? Or is there a fear or some kind of block here that I’ve run into? That’s making me look for the other shiny objects, so I don’t have to address that particular block at the time, right? So we find it like safe safety for us to like, whenever I go to write like a Tarot book, or you know, I’m gonna go speak about this or whatever. And then I have that impostor syndrome, which I know everybody faces. And it makes me want to shrink back to all That’s right. I’m just a photographer. I’m safe here in my little photographer box, because it’s comfortable. And I know I can be successful here, right? Because I’ve already proved it. So when you see like these other areas kind of becoming, becoming more public with or putting them out there. It’s what you’re seeing is really, I think, maybe me adopting more of that belief of like, I can have fun. Like, I have no plan for the gardening, it would be cool. If it’s a book, it’d be cool. Like, can we make gardening coaching a thing? I don’t know where this is going, I’m just trying to have fun and just believe that I can make great money doing whatever it is. I tried to deconstruct like, how I became a photographer and all this stuff. When I first got people’s attention. I never had to go out I didn’t make a decision wanted to be a photographer. Now the next thing go find the clients and go to this. I just photographed things that made me happy. I was breaking every rule because I didn’t know the rules. You know, and what I came out with was a style that made it distinguishable from all the other photographers at the time. And I never had to mark it at the beginning. I didn’t have to mark it. I got my brain in it like, oh, how do we make money doing this? Like, I’d already been making money. But once I started trying to it that became it more difficult, right? So I think there’s a pressure there. So that’s what I’m trying to do now. Like, I got started by just having fun. What other things can I start by just having fun. But I do think that sometimes we shrink back because that label is comfortable for us as well. Because it is scary becoming doing different things or letting people know you’re into more than one genre or, or thing like, you’re like lowering truck beds or whatever, you know, like, why is that so scary?

Matt Stagliano 50:35
I hear myself talking to clients all the time about personal branding, and let’s bring you out and all the different sides of you. Let’s bring that out in these images. So you can have them for whatever side of your personality. But if you’re going to take pictures of me, I only have one personality. I am photographer guy, right? You know what I mean? When I don’t just turn it around and put it on myself? Oh, photographer, podcaster, musician, crafter gardener, like home renovation guy, like all these different passions of mine. Make me a much wider personality than just a podcast, you’re just a photographer. And it’s really hard sometimes for us to embrace our own stuff for us to believe our own bullshit, if you will, can basically be right, yeah, there are different sides to us. And we need to create that more cohesive, personal brand for ourselves. Because if we are going to be trapped in making content all the time, I want that on my resume somewhere. Right? So I think what we’re both finding is that when we get a chance to just sit in the moment and have fun, that we find peace that we find happiness. And the question for me is, why am I not finding that in everything that I’m doing? Sue calls it being in alignment. If we’re in alignment with what we want, and we know what we want, then the how we get there doesn’t really matter. We just have to focus on that what that we want. So I know for me, I get caught up in the how all the time. It’s great. I’m going to be financially free. I’m going to be in love. I’m going to have this I’m going to have that. How do I do that? I don’t know. Fuck, I’m never gonna get there. Let’s shut it all down. Let me learn. Right. Right. So yeah, I think just the the act of slowing down feeling what feels good to us? Does this make me happy? Does it not? I’ve got to go through it, to experience it and to make a judgement for myself. I love that you’re doing all these different things. If we can figure out a way to build a more comprehensive identity with all of those, then perhaps you and I would feel a bit less frantic. There’s more to people’s personalities, including ourselves that we have to d label and just accept as is. Well, I

Jessica Malone 53:00
think it’s funny that it’s almost like we’re, you know, staying away from being labeled in a box. But at the same time, it’s like you’re almost looking for that new box that accurately describes you that you can feel safe in. So it’s like, you know, not trying to call you out because I’m the same way. And I’m just like realizing this through our conversation. That it’s like, oh, we’re like against these labels. But if we only had that label that I described us, you’d be okay. But it’s no, I am too. I like you saying that. I’m like, oh my god, I do that, you know, it just so happened. So like, you know, we’re but so but would we even if if somebody could magically bestow like this accurate word that we’re like, yes. This is how long before we could try to try to destroy that box. Right, right. Yeah, it would just be like, what, six years from now, like, we’ll be having our crash, like, go ahead and mark it on the calendar.

Matt Stagliano 53:55
I sit here often. And I think about the direction that life is going, I say, you know, where is the next five years going? Where’s the next seven years going? What am I going to get bored of now? And am I making the right moves? Not to the point that I’m increasing my own anxiety? Like, I’ve got to make the right moves every day. But am I just kind of walking towards what it is that I want? Or is this you know, binging these eight shows on Netflix for the next week of my life? Is that getting me closer to the goals that I want now, but it’s making me feel real good right now. So I’m trying to find that balance between complete checkout and complete frantic activity. And somewhere in between those two has to lie, happiness and peace. Well, yeah,

Jessica Malone 54:38
I mean, you gotta have that balance. You know, work hard, play hard. Like if you’re exuding that much energy for your brain creating things like if you want to binge some Netflix like I don’t think there’s any harm in that. If you’re binging Netflix to avoid something all the time, maybe you know, but there’s nothing wrong with that balance. But I do think about like, putting out courses in Different things of walking in that area. And I know what I’ve done is, is cool. And I would love to, you know, give other people that experience or, you know, educate in there. And and so I try to deconstruct that. And actually I, you know, with our, my oldest my bonus kids, she’s 26. And she’s kind of going through this, like, I can see her she’s in this whole, like, Oh, what am I gonna do with my life? Who am I, in all the things. And I recognize that as I was around the age I was when I started kind of taking photography more seriously. So I do try to deconstruct this. And you were just saying, like, what am I walking towards? And I don’t know, if someone would have told me when I was 23. And if you would have told me at 20, like, you’re going to be professional, creative, a working artist, something I would have liked laughed in your face, that would have never been, if you would have asked me to name 100 different things that I could grow up to be, that would have not made the top 100. Okay, like, I know, if you would have told me the steps, then I would have been like, that’s overwhelming, and I can’t do it. And I just kind of like meandered my way in and whatever. I was having fun. Like, I just kind of followed that, you know, and it’s probably terrible. It’s one of my courses and out. Yeah, like, just have fun. You’ll it’ll work out. That’s it. Right that that should work out. Just have fun.

Matt Stagliano 56:15
Well, I can, you know, I could tell you, I thought much the same thing that putting together the courses and creating the materials, that that would that that would fulfill that part of me that teacher pardon me, that guy that mentor. And having put it all together, and getting it all done, starting to market things, putting it out there. I don’t know how in love with it. I am. I think I’ve been in love with the idea of it. But I don’t know if I’m in love with the idea of everything that comes after it. Right? So the education, the coursework, the materials I love creating. And again, we’re back to that creation and execution thing. Love creating it. At the same time. I’m like, Could I be putting my energy somewhere else not to avoid doing the coursework? But if it’s not lighting me up to 100%? Every time I go to do it, should I really be investing my time there? And these are the questions that I wrestle with all the time. Am I avoiding it? Because it doesn’t light me up? Am I avoiding it? Because it’s hard, and my ego can’t take it. There’s their self sabotage lurking in the back, because you might actually succeed at this. There’s so many different angles that I try to look at. And they’re all valid to their own degree. Which one is right? I don’t know. And so all I try to do is is keep checking in does this feel good? Does this feel right? Am I when I think about doing it? Am I dreading it more than I am excited about it? Right? If I’ve got a photo shoot on Friday, am I stoked that I have a photo shoot on Friday? Or am I like, Fuck, I gotta clean the studio. Now I gotta get things, you know, like, energy that you’re going into it with? Why are you even doing the thing? This is what happens to me all the time. I’m constantly looking at how I’m feeling in the moment. So that I know if I’m on course or not if I’m aligned or not?

Jessica Malone 58:16
Well, I mean, if you think about it, like that is kind of a full time, that’s a lot of energy to constantly be scanning for, you know, and I’m not saying it’s not worthwhile, it’s totally worthwhile, like your life kind of depends on it. Because if you’re not looking for it, then you know, instead of finding out that you’re not in love with course creation now before you’ve invested six or seven years into it like that might be that’s what I I think maybe holds me back from some things because it’s like, do I want to relax? This is a bad idea a decade from now. We’re like, a week from now, right? That takes a considerable amount of energy, I think to constantly be to have that awareness like am I walking in alignment? Does this feel good? How? How does this really feel? To me,

Matt Stagliano 59:03
it takes a lot of caffeine, and a lot of a lot of introspection. And you know, it’s really not that bad. I don’t want to I don’t want to hyperbolized it and basically make it sound like I just sit in a small white room and I’m constantly about my feelings. It’s more whenever I feel that little bit of resistance, I try to question myself, well, we just

Jessica Malone 59:25
know like as creatives and has been doing this, for as long as we’ve been doing it and we and I’m sure you’ve talked to so many, like other people, you know other creatives doing all different things. I feel like us being in that energy and having it lightened up is even more important than maybe some other industries might be. I mean, I would argue that it’s important for everyone just as a human to live your life. But like this is our livelihood and our life. It’s like our work and our play. It’s just who we are. And I think that’s that’s something that is unique to Are you any kind of working creative professional creative is like you are. Your business is you

Matt Stagliano 1:00:06
what’s next for you? Where can people find you and the Tarot series and all of that? Where should people start looking for you online?

Jessica Malone 1:00:13
So I’m on Instagram and Facebook, Jessica Malone portrait both pages on my website. Just one portrait you brought up I do have the gardening channel, it’s all on Instagram. It’s not your grandma’s garden Loki shout out to all the grandmas that ever taught me to garden. So and then the Tarik series I on my website on on those platforms as well. I have been toying with the idea of unveiling an Instagram just solely for Tarot. So, if that happens, I’ll share that with you but just one portrait Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok. That’s mainly where I’m at.

Matt Stagliano 1:00:54
Thank you so much for being here. I’m psyched. We finally got a chance to do this. I know we’ve been talking about this a long time. But yeah, loved love, love, love having you on and I know, I’m going to write it down. Now. We’re going to schedule something in March of 2029. And see it five years, we’ve completely changed our course. Or if we’re still doing same thing that we’re doing, this

Jessica Malone 1:01:18
will be interesting. We’re just that would have been like a five year reoccurring thing like Okay, check in what have we what do we want to burn down now?

Matt Stagliano 1:01:24
That’s much more accurate. Jessica, thank you so much for that.

Jessica Malone 1:01:28
Thank you so much for having me.

Matt Stagliano 1:01:30
This was fun. I’ll talk to you soon.

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