Generator – Ep. 004 – Sissela Johansson: From Imposter Syndrome to Authenticity

In this episode, I speaks with Sissela Johansson, a portrait photographer located in Monroe, CT, and she explains the benefits of authenticity in her business, reinventing herself, setting boundaries with clients, and the pitfalls of social media.

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Video Version

Transcript of Generator Ep. 007 - "Manifesting Your Dream Business"

Matt Stagliano 0:00
Well, you found it. Welcome to episode four of generator. This week. My guest is Sissela Johansson. She is a portrait photographer out of Monroe, Connecticut. And I first found out about Sissela and her work. During her episode of the portrait system podcast a few years back, I reached out to her because I realized that our stories were very similar. And I just wanted to tell her what a great job she did. We became quick friends. And fast forward a few months, she winds up taking some of the best portraits of me that I’ve ever had taken. We’re great friends, I really enjoy listening to her. And I know you will, as well. In this episode, we dig into a little bit more of the mental side of creativity, impostor syndrome and vulnerability and social media trolls were all over the place. But I think what you’ll find is that Sissela is incredibly down to earth. She really is someone that is the real deal authenticity through and through, and I know you’re going to enjoy this episode. So without further delay, let’s get on with the show.

I am excited to have you here. Because I think the last time that we tried to do this, everything just went awry. Right. We had backdrops falling over, we had cats jumping on things, lightning strikes, cameras falling, it was just a comedy of errors. So I’m glad to be able to have you back. How are you doing?

Sissela Johansson 1:54
Doing? Okay, slow beginning of the year, um, but otherwise doing okay. For the most part? Yeah, it’s one of those. I don’t know, if you get this and the beginning of the year, especially it’s like this kind of sludge. Like, there isn’t like, there isn’t the it’s my slow season right now. And hopefully, things pick up soon, but and it always does. It always does. But the fear is the same every single year. And so every year around this time I get very

Matt Stagliano 2:30
for those of us that don’t know you for the listener out there. Give me a break down real quick about your business where you’re located, where people can find you. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. Okay.

Sissela Johansson 2:45
I’m sissala. I’m a portrait photographer located in Monroe, Connecticut. I do a lot of travel in my photography. So right now I photograph all over New England. And hopefully, that will expand to further around the country and maybe hopefully, kinda already down the line worldwide as well.

Matt Stagliano 3:06
While people are listening, if they want to look at your stuff, and your website, what’s your website?

Sissela Johansson 3:10

Matt Stagliano 3:19
Cool. And it’s at portraits by sissala on like Instagram and Facebook and stuff.

Sissela Johansson 3:25
On Instagram. Yes. On Facebook. It’s photography by Cisco. I have an existential crisis that’s been going on for the past like five years. Um, so yeah. Yeah. names I actually really would like to be sly Johansson photography, but also name stick. And I’ve been photography vices left for a while now.

Matt Stagliano 3:50
How long have you been shooting? I don’t even know that. I don’t even know how long have you been shooting? You don’t? Oh my god.

Sissela Johansson 3:58
I have been shooting for well around 14 years. Wow. Oh my god.

Matt Stagliano 4:03
How does that feel?

Sissela Johansson 4:04
It feels pretty cool. But I don’t always believe it. I started early in my 20s and understanding the fact that it’s been that long of a journey is kind of hard to comprehend.

Matt Stagliano 4:20
Do you find that you change the way that you have done your photography in 14 years not only the style but just the creative process

Sissela Johansson 4:32
the creative process pretty much the same which is honestly like this is gonna get old personal you know those photographers that are very like organized and have a shoot list and have like sketches made out and all those wonderful things. I’m not it never have been. So I guess once upon a time it started out with me having an idea and then finding a model to work with and then made that happen because it started out being very fashion inspired in my work with beauty and far I still am, it just turned more portrait II just basically out of necessity. I had this idea that I couldn’t be a fashion photographer and I kind of didn’t want to. That’s a brutal, brutal industry I’ve heard. And I’ve been a little I also models. So I know one little bit about the fashion world, and I didn’t want to be on that side of it. I kind of developed portraiture as my my thing. But I’m very much the type of photographer who speak with the person. And then things start developing. And sometimes I’m, I’m sitting and I have ideas that are pretty, like the more set in stone, they are usually the worst ghosts. So I have these ideas. And I experienced sitting with these and when it just wasn’t going to do and the more like, cling on to them and wanting them to happen, the worst goes and so I have learned to release control. And just kind of go with the flow and pivot. Those are like, one of the reasons why I don’t fall flat on my face all the time. But I still do.

Matt Stagliano 6:12
How does it feel? Right? So we all fail all the time? How do you approach failure? Does it frustrate you does it create stress? Do you learn from it? How do you mask it in the moment? Like where are you with failure?

Sissela Johansson 6:24
So it’s actually a great so I had a session that didn’t go according to plan. And I mean, my client was great and wonderful and beautiful and sweet. And she’s great. But I felt so subpar. That wasn’t even funny. And in that moment, I was changing between frantically trying to figure it out between I got this It’s okay. And masking that I’m I’m I don’t I stressed and don’t know actually what to do. But those are among the rarities fortunately, usually when things like that happen, I’m just very communicative. I’m saying, hey, you know what, I have a little bit of a funny day. My brain is not cooperating and what I’m what I thought would work is not working. So give me a moment as I’m figuring out my shit. And people are usually very, very responsive to that they appreciate the honesty as long as it doesn’t keep going in the wrong direction. So I feel a lot of shame, I feel a lot of pressure. And this net, I get very, for anyone who knows me knows that I get very like, high pitched chatty when I get nervous. Oftentimes, fortunately, it comes across. I’ve heard as confidence that I’m like,

Matt Stagliano 7:46
little do they know.

Sissela Johansson 7:48
Little did they know. So I guess I just take it from time to time and I cut myself some slack. Good. I’m pretty good at cutting myself some slack. I caught myself a little too much slack, sometimes.

Matt Stagliano 8:00
You start in Denmark, right? You started shooting in Denmark? Or did you start shooting in the US? Denmark, Denmark? So did you find that when you move to the states now that was how long were you in Denmark shooting before you came to the States? For five years? Four or five years? Okay. So you’ve been here? 10 years 10? Ish. There, abouts eight, eight, okay, around up to 10. So you’ve been here a year. But it seems like you really exploded over the past couple of years in terms of your work in terms of your style, and notoriety and voice and clients? And was there some shift that happened? You know, did you did something shift in you to start creating differently or more authentically, or in this editorial style that you have? You know, did you get to a point where you were bored with what you were doing that you just wanted something different? Did you discover a new style that you wanted to emulate? How did you progress as you moved from what you were doing earlier in your career to what you’re doing now, which is stunning work. I mean, I know that when I’m looking at stuff online, I can recognize your work like that. And there’s only a handful of people that really stand out like that to me. And it’s very easy to spot your work because you’ve got this slightly desaturated, gritty editorial style, you know, high detail, lots of story. And there’s also this warmth to it, this connection, this authenticity. And so if you look at your earlier work, did you have that at the beginning, or is it something that developed over time?

Sissela Johansson 9:47
I really liked my early style. Way back when I started out where I was in my early 20s and was a little grittier and had a little more courage to do things that were a little Weird. And then I moved here, back then my style has started to emerge. My portrait style my some of my more documentary style of work that I do, had already starting to happen. And what happened back then things going really well with what’s happening now. But then I came here, and I moved to a very affluent area. And I opened up my business. And now I had this idea that I was supposed to be doing a certain thing. I saw my work morphing into what was common. And I did that for a good long while and my clients liked it actually, they loved it. And I absolutely hated it.

Matt Stagliano 10:56
What was it about it that you hated?

Sissela Johansson 10:59
It Felts? glossy and fake? Like, the amount of editing there was so stiff and waxy Am I wrong? And I can look at it sometimes day and there’s some of it that I can be like, Oh my God, that’s beautiful. There’s still work that I did produce back then that I still love bla bla bla bla bla bla. But my client work. I couldn’t stand it. And I actually have clients now that sometimes pull out that work because they’re from back then. And I go like, Yes, I did that. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m happy you love it. But it represent a time in my life where I was lost. I didn’t know who I was. And I didn’t know what my photography was. And I was trying to fit in into a new country, a new area that was so far out of anything that I’d ever known. And I’ve always been wanting to stand out. I have always chosen to stand out. I started out as being just standing out as a kid. And then I started choosing it. Being the weird kid. And coming here, I suddenly had this idea that now I need to fit in and I had to be this kind of Stepford wife thing. And I wanted to talk to the rich and famous and I wanted to do that thing with the glamour and the chatty da and the Lottie da and you it, I love when other people do it, don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. I hate it for myself, right. And there are ways that I’m more glamour, extravagance into my work sometimes. But it happens rarely, that that was an interesting time in my life. And it very much was a reflection of what was going on. And my marriage and my my loneliness and my lack of identity. And at some point, I said, Enough is enough. And I started to create work that I liked. And this was back in 2018 1919. Started in 18, I started a project about women with silver hair. But I started it a little too late. And then COVID happened kind of thing. So I didn’t finish it. But I got me some really beautiful images. And more importantly, because I did that personal project, I began to see a new style of light emerge, a new voice emerge. And I really liked what I was seeing, and I was pouring down my editing. And I was really trying to just make the skin look natural and beautiful without it just being

Matt Stagliano 14:01
did you find that as you started to do that, that your client base changed? In what way?

Sissela Johansson 14:09
It’s been a slow process. And frankly, it’s an ongoing process. I went when I started changing my style. More, it was half, half, consciously, half unconsciously. I also started changing. I don’t know which one came first. But that was when my life kind of unraveled and slowly just started going downhill. And for a couple of years. My life was in crazy upheaval. And I didn’t produce a lot of consistent work and I’m still like it was at that point, still trying to kind of figure it out. I was just really just trying to function. And as my style was changing. I was realizing that I hadn’t been authentic in my work. And that was the problem. I hadn’t come from me, I’d come from an idea of who I thought I was supposed to be. And then tied into my personal life as well, how I presented myself how I dressed, how I acted, how I met people, and I was wearing this mask that I absolutely hated. I’ve tossed out the majority of my clothes from back then. Because when I look at them, I’m like, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, this is not me. So I morphed into me, and there was the breaking point of my divorce. Going to like being separated, going to Sweden, where my parents live, staying there for four and a half months, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to go. Next. I knew that life as I knew it was falling apart. And I didn’t know what to do at that point with earning money and where to live, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have a place to live, I didn’t have anything. I had given up everything. I just had my business. So I was deciding whether or not I need to stay in Sweden or come back here. And I decided to give the whole American thing another chance. And I came back and I stayed with friends. And I call like clawed my way back to a sense of normalcy. And that’s when a lot of the images that you see now, where my style is fully emerging. I started dressing the way I wanted to and buying the boots that I wanted, which are weird, wonderful boots that I love, I started wearing skirts and colors and just being unapologetically me again. And showing up at networking events as me and being like, Okay, if you don’t like this, then we’re probably not a good match, because I’m not going to modify myself anymore to fit into this idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. And I have long ago realized and recognize that I cannot modify myself like that I modified myself for so long. And it was literally driving me nuts. Like I was not healthy. Mentally. My style is very, very intricately interlaced with my personal life. How do I connect with people? So as I have been reemerging, rediscovering myself so, I have also read a spin rediscovering my style. And I think I’ve been told many, many years that my style is recognizable even before this hash shift happened. But now I’m like, beginning to believe it. Now I’m beginning to be Okay, fair enough. Thank you. Now I’m beginning to liking their praise and not feeling like it’s utter BS. Because that’s, that’s, I’m actually becoming proud of what I do. And I’m still I still have times where I’m like, What the heck was this, but for the most part, I when I see that, and when I see myself fall into conformity, and like this level of just reproducing, like a conveyor belt factory thing. I’m like, Okay, wait, no, you, you gotta get out of my system. And, like, okay, how can I challenge myself, even with cards,

Matt Stagliano 18:27
it’s amazing to hear how the second that you discovered, authenticity, your own authenticity, that, along with that came big truckload of self value of just starting to really love who you are, love what you do, the clients that you shoot, the style that you create? And like you said, it was unapologetic. How do your clients react to that? Right? Because I know that when clients come to me, and there’s this expectation, even though we’ve spent a lot of time getting to know each other, and connecting and really building a relationship before we ever shoot, are you doing a really good job of educating them of, hey, this is who I am, take it or leave it? Where do you where do you find that out with your clients? Because it seems to be that that you can tell that they’re incredibly comfortable with you? Do you find that you have to educate people with that or are comfortable people just gravitating towards you?

Sissela Johansson 19:28
My best clients are the clients that come to me who are like, do your thing. I want you to do your thing. I love those. Those are my favorites. But I do have clients that are like, I want this, this and this and this and it’s gonna look like this, this and this and like, Are you sure I’m the right photographer for you? It rarely happens. But there are times where I have conversations like this is what you can expect of me. I’m not going to produce this thing that you think you want. Like it’s not why you come to me. Like I am not going to love doing that. and it’s going to show my most important thing is about connection, connecting on a deep personal level with my clients. And that starts right now starts with a consultation. Usually I have discovery calls, but I’ve hired someone to take my discovery calls, she takes the majority of them, I still have a few, I just got off one where we, instead of talking about photo shoots, we talked about everything else. And it’s awesome. And I can’t wait to photograph her. Because she’s awesome. The biggest thing in my work that you can see when you look at my work, is the fact that I take my time to get to know my client, I get I take my time to hold space for them, to listen to them to be all babbling and weird to them. They see me Rand on things, and they talk their ear off and what everything having every session have in common is that we connect, I don’t have a box that my clients that I plug my clients into, I make a box around each of my client fitted to their specific needs. And I think that’s what comes through because they know that and they see it and they hear it. My client today earlier, had a session, hugged me and cried. That happens rarely, but it happens. But that was because I was holding space for her. And I think that’s the most important thing when you stop trying to be a business person. And you start being a human, first and foremost, and meeting people as a human, that’s when you’re going to see your images change and that connection really come out. If you don’t have that connection doesn’t matter if you have a pretty picture. Like it can be pretty picture. But connection is what drives curiosity and impact and emotion. And frankly, I shoot right there behind me. I live in a small studio apartment. And by the time people come here, it’s like they’re coming into a friend’s house. Like, I don’t have a pretty studio or fancy lights. I don’t have a huge team. I sometimes quite often traveled to my clients as well. So they’re in their house. I think I just let humans be humans.

Matt Stagliano 22:26
You know, that’s the conversation that we’ve had quite a bit over the years about connection and about the the shift away from the trendy stuff, the shift away from, you know, the glamour, right. And I think we both started in very similar ways. And very quickly realized, like, Okay, this is how you shoot a certain style of portraiture. But that’s the foundation. Now let me take that lump of clay and craft it into what I do. And, you know, a lot of that for me as well. And it sounds like it happened for you, too, is stripping away a lot of stuff. I don’t need this, I don’t need this, I don’t need this. And you know, one of the things that I’ve always gotten from you, too is this desire to be real at every turn. And it’s not about selling the most photos, or the most expensive albums or anything like that, or trying to impress, right, whether that’s trying to impress your client trying to impress other photographers trying to impress your family or your ex husband or whatever, right? It seems to be that you’re very comfortable in the space that you are. And because you stay in that place of service, and because you know who you are, and you are authentic, and that you have that self value that the business grows, that the money comes and it’s not chasing it, it just flows directly to you because of the space that you hold and where you sit with yourself. Does that sound about right? I mean, now that you’ve you’ve found really how comfortable you are with yourself, does that translate to the business in that way? It

Sissela Johansson 24:13
does, I will say again, is not I found the switch right now things just come flowing. That’s not how it works. Because I still have to remind myself to stay authentic and stop chasing and all that stuff. Right now I don’t have enough clients and it’s bothering me, but I will probably have enough clients down the line and I’ll be fine for the rest of the year. But it’s not some magical switch. Right? Things didn’t just start working. It’s continuous. Like when you talked about how seeing my work blowing up over the last couple of years. I’m like, did it though but I don’t see that because I sit in it and I sit in the throat and like I work through it everyday and all that stuff. So I don’t see it like that. And I think one of the dangers today especially is when we, because I see others where oh my god, their work, I’ve just blown up and I see it everywhere. And it’s amazing. And I’m like hearing my hearing my work being speak to spoken about that way. I’m like, I wonder how that person that I considered like that is feeling. We all pretty

Matt Stagliano 25:23
much feel the same. I’m not I’m not including myself in that, like, my work is gonna. So what I’m what I mean is, I think as creators of anything, right? So in the, my previous life, right, doing the corporate acquisitions, and working in that world, I was often with CEOs and executive level, folks, right, because we’d buy a company, and then I’d be in there and negotiating with them and doing all this work. And I find that regardless of your station in life, whether you are working serving scones at the coffee shop, whether you are running a multibillion dollar company, we all generally have the same insecurities. We all have the shame, we all have the guilt, we all have the avoidance, we all have the little things that we grew up with that got ingrained in us when we were young, right. And it’s this lifelong battle, some of us are better at masking it than others, some of us can heal from it, some of us can’t. But there’s this constant work on ourselves. Right. And I think, as I’ve gotten to know you over the years, and as we’ve had these conversations, it does keep coming back to this personal growth. Hearing you now talking about, you know, things are slow, I’m a little bit stressed out. But I see an ease in you that I haven’t seen in years, right when, when we first start when we first met, and I only contacted you because I heard your podcast on the portrait system. And I wanted to reach out and I wanted to get in touch with you and find out more about your story. But from that point, when we started talking, insecurities were a little bit deeper, like you’re much more at ease now. So over the past couple of years, right? It might not feel it. Because like you’re saying like, you know, if you don’t look back enough, you don’t really realize how far you’ve come, right? Because you’re in the moment all the time and you’re thinking about it all the time. Do you feel the difference that I’m seeing in you? Or are you just getting really, really good at masking it?

Sissela Johansson 27:36
I’m a master Master. So that’s always fun. Oh my god, I remember the imposter. The feeling of being an imposter. And

Matt Stagliano 27:48
I feel better for 30 this afternoon. Yeah, I get it.

Sissela Johansson 27:51
I still feel it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m working against it. But I’m still feeling it. But I do. I do remember where I was. And yeah, in the past year and a half, something have changed. I think a lot of it is giving less of a fuck. And regularity. Getting consistent in my business. I’m not talking about working consistently on it. But getting more clients and things like that hiring someone to do my calls has been really nice. I don’t know if she books more than I do. But she does provide me with a ton of ease in my brain, hiring a retoucher all these things that that my brain feels good and mushy even when things aren’t going the way I wanted to having the peace of mind to say okay, I don’t like bookkeeping. I don’t like doing this type of reset retouching and I don’t like doing discovery calls. Okay, fine. What does my brain look like when I don’t have these on my plate. And that feels really good and fuzzy. And then other things come up as they always will. But I definitely I definitely feel more confident and I definitely feel more comfortable in myself. And I think as I have settled into my new life because 2121 was the year where I didn’t know whether or not I could sustain myself. There were so many unknowns and insecurities. Also 21 was the year I got my first car ever. It was the year that I moved into my apartment. It was the year where I stepped off the ledge and realized that I have wings and that my business could carry me and not only could it carry me but he could also give me a pretty comfortable lifestyle depending on like if I didn’t want like a huge plate place to live and the newest gear and yeah, it 21 was a crazy year in so many ways. And I was still a fledgling trying to figure out this. Yeah, that was where I’d rediscovered my style. It was where I I started being unapologetic. It was the spark of what now is becoming an ease of who I am liking who I see liking the work that I produce, and beginning to listen to the people who tell me that my work is really awesome. Even saying that it’s hard. Do you believe it? I believe that I am a good photographer. And that’s the extent of it. But I am moving. I’m moving the scale to. No, I’m not. I can’t say that. I don’t I don’t I don’t feel like I’m a great photographer. Not yet.

Matt Stagliano 30:42
Why is that? Like, I’m we talked about impostor syndrome all the time, right? And we also know that over the years, right, if you look back, you’re not the same photographer that you were, that you have learned an insane amount. And you also paint, and you also sketch and you also do a lot of other things, right? You make clothes and you model right. You’re creative in so many different areas. Why do you feel like you’re not a good photographer?

Sissela Johansson 31:19
Great. Is greatness Great? Is Peter Lindbergh. Great is is the greats, you know, the people that I look up to? Those are great. And I don’t, I don’t feel like I could possibly put myself up anywhere near the greats. Is that great?

Matt Stagliano 31:40
Do you feel you need to be great?

Sissela Johansson 31:42
Yeah, I want to be great. You want I want to be up there. I just don’t think I’m there yet.

Matt Stagliano 31:51
Okay. So you have to take you know, the steps you have to take to get from here to there.

Sissela Johansson 31:56
I am aware of them. Not nearly enough. It’s it’s becoming, I’m becoming aware. And part of it is allowing myself to be critiqued for me, Facebook, and Facebook, photography groups, Instagram and whatnot have been a great place to go when you’re when you get when you want to boost. And I mean, just because I don’t always believe it doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. I love hearing people’s reaction to my work, it lifts me up and people, people talking about my work in a way that I’m like, oh my god, I can’t believe that they see that. Wow, that’s so fucking cool. It’s the best doesn’t mean that I don’t necessarily feel it in my deep in my bones. But going on Facebook, I am at a level where I rarely do get any constructive criticism. Even when I asked for it, I know that I need to start figuring out which peers, I need to gravitate towards to grow. Because I think a big part of what I need to do is putting myself out there in a way that I haven’t done before. And I’m not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how to who to go to. I’m not sure which avenue to follow. And I am insanely terrified of being called out. And I’m insanely terrified of what it means to be successful.

Matt Stagliano 33:41
But you’ve identified those things, right. So you’ve identified your hang ups, right, your blocks, you know what they are? Oh, yeah.

Sissela Johansson 33:48
Oh, yeah. They they will let me know on a daily basis.

Matt Stagliano 33:52
What tools do you have? How do you approach that? Like, how do you approach it in a healthy way to keep yourself from going batshit? Right,

Sissela Johansson 34:02
in a healthy way, like a tank?

Matt Stagliano 34:07
Yeah, but like, you know, we all have tools and techniques for me. I know that when I’m feeling a lot of that, it’s generally because I haven’t torn myself away from the computer and actually seen sunlight. I haven’t used my body differently. I haven’t been around friends, I haven’t done any of those things that make me feel good. And instead, I just kind of circle the drain, I spiral and spiral and spiral. And all I do is compare myself and then the imposter syndrome comes in and I search for affirmation and all these different places and I just want somebody to tell me, I’m good. And I realized that that’s so destructive for me. So the ways that I deal with that are meditation, right? Sometimes it’s wine let’s not let’s not lie, but there’s meditation. There’s going outside, right? Literally hugging a tree like getting out in nature in a forest, being around friends that inspire you, right reaching out having a good phone call, sitting down and just laughing about something, I’ve got things like that, that just need to ground me and make me feel I am 1000 miles away from my business, I’m 1000 miles away from my problems. And that brings me back to a certain center. So that when I do sit my butt back down in this seat, and I start staring at the monitor, I’m in a different mindset. What tools do you use to kind of, you know, level out, maybe stay in that creative spot, or at least not give up on being creative.

Sissela Johansson 35:48
I think a lot, which is not always a good thing. I do sometimes journal. I get these weird bouts of creative energy that I then channel for a week or two. And then I burn out.

Matt Stagliano 36:03
What is the last time you had one of those creative bursts and what came out of it, I

Sissela Johansson 36:06
have times where I have a huge amount of ideas. And then I think about them think about think about and write down plan and plan and plan, plan them. And then when it comes to execution, the ball drops. But I’m becoming better. And that’s some of the things that are beginning to appear in my work like going to a Arethusa farms and photographing the cheesemakers there or going to a meet brewery up in the monde or photographing a boat builder like next one on my list is a Piper, someone who plays the bagpipes. So there’s those things that I am becoming better and better at executing on but I don’t, I have a lot of tools, I don’t always use them. I don’t get out enough, I am on a first name basis with the spiders in my corner. I, I sometimes see too much of my four walls. And when you live in a studio apartment, holy crap is small. I don’t mind living small, but I’m just saying you get a little tired of staring at the same mold because there’s nothing new happening. I don’t I’m not very inspired by the area that I live in. So taking a walk in a residential area is like, sometimes I find a cafe. And I sit down and I do something else there I draw or sometimes I work sometimes my most creative have been when I’ve removed myself from the situation of this. Or I go on a call with people call friends family at home, things like that.

Matt Stagliano 37:51
And you travel, you travel back to Denmark quite a bit, right? Yeah. Do you find yourself behaving differently there than you do here? I don’t mean like, you know, you’re going out and suddenly doing you know, shots at a bar somewhere. But like, what’s, what’s your what’s different about going home versus being in Connecticut? Besides the obvious geographic differences, but do you find that there’s a different comfort? Do you find that there’s a spark of creativity in you that comes out? That doesn’t show up when you’re in the in the States?

Sissela Johansson 38:27
Actually, yes. Just as you said that I could feel my shoulders release. And I was like, yeah, it takes time to get old friends. And I have my oldest friends there. And my humor is different in Danish, because language. I know. Everywhere I can find my way everywhere. It’s very different.

Matt Stagliano 38:55
So now I know that when you’re in Denmark, one of your favorite things to do is go to the like the Viking villages, right and I don’t want to call them renaissance fairs because I know that’s not it. And I know it’s reenactment, but it’s it’s more than that. It’s more than that. It’s a some of these folks make it a lifestyle, do they not?

Sissela Johansson 39:16
Back in Denmark and in Sweden, I do Viking reenactment. It is yearly gatherings different places in the world and well yeah, the world but mainly the country. Scandinavia, Northern Europe, where festivals and markets are being held. People show up with tents and furniture and came out. And there’s a huge level of historically historical accuracy. People try to like we communicate with archaeologists and historians and things like that figure out how did they most likely be dress things like that everything is hand sewn. Textiles are texts styles you had back then? Stuff like that. And it’s freaking awesome. It’s a lifestyle. Yes, there’s there’s definitely, I’m at my happiest when I’m there. I smile, and I laugh and I breathe. That’s actually yeah, I’ve the best way I can describe describe it is that I breathe. I’m outside, I am under the Scandinavian sky, the light is so different there. And it’s so inspiring. Like, Scandinavian light is so beautiful. The sun is different, goes down at 11 and doesn’t come in summer, summer. And then it’s only kind of like dark for a little bit. And then the birds start chirping at like three, and you see the sunrise. And it’s awesome. So yes, I do that. And I live in breed. That’s when I’m there. And I haven’t had a chance to do it for the past a lot for the past eight years. And that’s been really hard.

Matt Stagliano 41:04
Now, I did see, you went back last year. And I did see some of the work that you produced. And it seemed like the other participants were excited that you were there that you were able to create this stuff for them. Did you get that feeling? And and were people excited to see you come back with your camera? Or were they just kind of like we don’t give a shit about the camera, you’re here. We’ve got sissala back, like,

Sissela Johansson 41:35
how did the last one actually I have people running towards me and hugging me. That’s great. But also, they do like my camera, what they don’t like is that I take forever to finish, I still have images that I haven’t edited from from the markets, I am very slow when it comes to personal stuff. Because when I like when I know I’m not producing work for clients, I need a break. And so my break is not going back on my computer and editing, my break is going on my iPad sketching, or sewing or hanging out with friends,

Matt Stagliano 42:09
there’s a fine line for those of us that are creative, that work at home that have you know, solo owned businesses, right, it becomes everything, we find our identity in that. And we love what we do. So it doesn’t necessarily always feel like work. But we have to maintain some level of discipline and stay focused. Right? So how do you how do you do that? Do you? Are you a time blocker? Are you just someone that that knows intuitively, when things need to get done? Do you have a workflow? I don’t want to necessarily get into the nitty gritty of all of it. But what are some of the things that that you do to stay focused,

Sissela Johansson 42:48
I schedule out which days I shoot on. So Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m or shoot days. And I experiment with different types of configurations for that. I want roughly five sessions a month, which means that there are some some weeks that I shoot two times a week and some that I shoot one and I always make sure that I don’t shoot two weeks, two times because I know that’s my limitation, I will not be able to function. So as long as I am consistently book booked, I am able to pretty consistently get the editing done and do all those things. My weekends. I try not to work but I do sometimes because things have to happen. But I’m very, I have clear boundaries around my work, personal life balance a lot in like, I’m very enmeshed with my clients. But I am I need that like space of I don’t take calls after certain time. I don’t shoot on weekends. And I try to at least have one day during the weekend that is not working. And if I feel like there’s a day I don’t, I’m not able to work then I allow myself not to work.

Matt Stagliano 44:11
Do you feel balanced? No.

Sissela Johansson 44:16
But I the reason why I’m not feeling bad and I can feel balance. I am not feeling it at the moment because there’s not enough of the work. And then I have to do the things that I don’t like to do in my business. Like Well, thanks social media. I’m so tired. I’m tired of social media in general. So having to be on there and being being active and doing those things are not always easy.

Matt Stagliano 44:42
Huge point of contention with me, right? Yeah. And we’ve had this conversation about

Sissela Johansson 44:48
conversation. You mean random rants?

Matt Stagliano 44:50
Yes rants, sometimes they’re maniacal, but it’s about the forced content creation to stay relevant.

Sissela Johansson 44:59
Bheema Look at me, I am here all the time. And I’m awesome. Google, I’m like, Can we not do that?

Matt Stagliano 45:07
I don’t see a lot of plumbers doing that. And they still get business. I don’t see, you know, a lot of landscape. Architects doing that. Right? It tends to be those of us in the creative fields, the photographers, videographers, musicians, right? It’s kind of like dance monkey, we was just

Sissela Johansson 45:31
that word was just sorry if I’m very loud right now. But seriously, I was just thinking, dang dance monkey, when you said that. I’m like, I’m tired of being a freaking dancing monkey. You can’t just press the button and I’ll dance. I’m not a freaking monkey.

Matt Stagliano 45:47
So what’s your approach? Like? Do you feel caught between having to create that stuff to keep up? Are you creating it? Because you want to? Are you creating it for your clients education? What’s your like, kind of approach towards the whole social media thing? Right, I go on spurts. I’ll I’ll post four or five days in a row. And I’m just kind of like, I love this momentum. And you see all these likes, and you get all this good feeling. And then I just stop. And I’m not consistent. And you know, there is no growth. And it doesn’t bother me. I don’t lose sleep over it. Right? I’m not trying to monetize making reels and lip synching and dancing and doing stuff. I am not 12 anymore. And decidedly not 12. I mean, I mean, oh, I know, I’m very youthful. I understand

Sissela Johansson 46:47
how old I was in 99. But yeah,

Matt Stagliano 46:50
I don’t even want to start doing math. But the point being, like, there’s been this uptick of, you have to create content all the time to stay relevant. At what point? Do we realize that one, it’s not sustainable? If that’s not your full time job being a content creator, right, which is really what you have to be. We just happen to create content as part of our jobs, by way of taking photos of people, or like you do you make YouTube videos as well, you teach you do all this stuff, right? So just by nature of what we do we create content. But I certainly don’t feel the need to put everything that I do out there. I certainly don’t feel beholden to an audience to say every single day, I’m irrelevant. I’m irrelevant. I’m irrelevant. What’s What’s your take on that? Right? Do you feel like you lose out as a business? Because you’re not doing that? Does it matter? Do you give a shit?

Sissela Johansson 48:02
I give it should, because a lot of my clients come from Instagram, I have, with various degrees of success managed to stay pretty consistent on social media over the past many years, I use a scheduling app. But quite often, like I have a long period of months where I’m good at being consistent. And my posts go out every day, except for weekends now. And then I dropped the ball on my scheduling, either because I don’t feel like I have anything to say, or because I feel like I’m burned out. When that happens when that glass empty. I just let it go. And that’s a fairly new thing. I think I think that confidence and thing you talked about that you seeing in me over the past few years, is letting go of a lot of stuff.

Matt Stagliano 48:53
I happen to be Doom scrolling the other night, as you do, sitting in bed, wondering why I can’t go to sleep as I’m looking at this little blue screen in total darkness and moving my thumb. There’s this one marketing channel that I follow. And she happened to say, and I give her credit, if I could remember what it was. But it’s just one of those things that you subscribe to. And she had said that the relationship that you have with your audience, just speak to that, like if you have a 300 person mailing list, just speak to those 300 people don’t worry about the rest of the world. Everything that you do should be focused on it being your private audience, your private group. So rather than thinking wow, I’ve got to make something that has to go viral. That will bring me all sorts of likes and followers and customers and you know, all of that focusing on a much much smaller group and talking to them and their needs and discussing what they need is a much more authentic quick way to go. When you’re posting, I noticed that you also write great stories along with your editorial content. I mean, you give these gorgeous essays about the people that you photograph and and what they do for a living and how they are as people it comes across. very real, very authentic. But we also you and I both have our down days, I tend to wear my heart on a sleeve. People see the good and the bad all the time. Do you ever talk to your audience? Or do you find that they respond differently? If you do come from that place? Of Yeah, I’m not perfect. Yeah, my brain is going nuts. Right. Now, you said earlier that you had that one client that was very accepting of that? Have you tried that with a wider audience in your content.

Sissela Johansson 50:52
So not just my content, most of my clients are incredibly accepting of my which is great. It’s been very wonderful. It allows for a lot of flexibility. When it comes to content creation, I try to come from that place. And usually when I don’t want to create don’t want to plan out content, is when I’m burned out, then I’m like, I don’t want to talk at all. I’m done screaming into a void. That’s how it feels sometimes. And yes, I do tell people that I tell, like I tell the story of how I’m tired or how it’s been a tough winter or whatnot. I don’t think I have any recent ones that are like that. But I tend to show up like that. It’s it’s the people that I want, as my clients are people who value authenticity, they value creativity and the value of the fact that I’m a human. I have over the years beaten myself up a lot about not being structured and being good at being structured and why can’t I just fucking stay consistent? And why can’t I just do the thing? Whatever the thing is, if I could, I would probably be much bigger than I am today. Like, I would probably have a studio because at that point, I’m like, Okay, enough, enough people coming in and out here. But I feel like, if you want to attract people who are understanding of that side of yourself, you need to be able to show up like that. Say, Hey, you know, what, can we reschedule because I’m not at my best right now. I’m not fatigued, I’m my brain is in a fog, I am not my best self, I’m not going to be able to show up as my best self. I want to be able to serve show up for you. Because you deserve that. It is respectful to show up fully in this, I would find it hard to show up fully. So Let’s reschedule. People actually appreciate that ship. And it’s awesome. I haven’t I haven’t had I haven’t gotten any bad clap back from it. Like I have, the people that I attract. My clients are like that. They they’re like if you’re not feeling like let’s just reschedule. And there are probably mentors out there talking about how that’s a bad idea. But I will argue that if you’re not able to show up as yourself, fully 100% for your client, because that’s what they bring to serve, then you’re not going to be at your best, you’re not going to perform your best, you’re not going to create the best images. And yes, of course, I have times where like I have a session and I’m not feeling great in the morning. But I’ll make it happen because there are certain levels of importance to certain events, but showing up and being honest and open and vulnerable. That has been the best, biggest thing for me to be able to be a good business person. And I won’t actually say that I’m a good business person. I’m an okay business person. But I run a business. And it’s the same as me.

Matt Stagliano 54:07
Now I’m going to, I’m going to step back to earlier in the conversation where you’d made mention about criticism online. As you put more out there more of yourself, your real self. Invariably, we open ourselves up to criticism, and invariably given the nature of the internet. People are going to be assholes, right? They are going to find that thing. You know that’s inconsequential, but from whatever lens they’re looking through, whatever you did triggered them in some way. And they find that they have to find fault with you. How do you deal with the inevitable criticism, right? Because I’d love to say that everything that I’ve ever put out has been nothing but big thumbs up, and ain’t the case. And one of my other huge YouTube channels, every video that I put out, is just criticism down the line. And it’s rarely about me, it’s the product or its, you know, the way that things look or feel when I do it for myself, and people criticize me. I get real weird about it. I know, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m not gonna lose sleep over it. But that’s not to say that I don’t internalize it to some degree. And I have to go through and be like, alright, photo troll 4327 on F stoppers said, you know, how do you deal with criticism in a healthy way?

Sissela Johansson 55:45
Well, okay, first of all depends on the criticism because criticism can be constructive and come from a proper place. Understand that that’s different, and those ideal with with politeness and gratefulness, that they’re actually taking the time to teach me stuff. Great, wonderful, love that. Trolls, I have been blessed with not having a lot of them. So when they do show up in my life, I rant a little bit with people that I like, and trust and scream a little bit like and they didn’t always me, and then sometimes it ends up me writing a blog post about it. In my past, so I mentioned model I had, I posted a picture of me underwear on my modeling page many years ago. But there was a woman there who sent me a private message, I think it was saying something along the lines of see there’s a reason why I remembered because they stick she said that no one would want to see a woman of my size out there. Like, just peg it away. Like my fat was ugly. It was hard because putting yourself out there and putting your body out there as part of a self acceptance thing, by the way. And then having this random woman from the left, say, You’re ugly, your buddies are gay, and like, it affected me to a great deal. And I wrote a post about it. And I posted another picture of me not where I tried to take that energy that it provides this. Fuck you energy. I love that energy. It’s a fun energy, the anger the resignation, the This is not fair. This is in jest. I like taking that and creating cool things with it. And I’ve written many blog posts, especially on body image that came from that place of just fury, and needing to release that into somewhere. And so that that’s what I tried to do with those, but I haven’t, like, every time I see a comment, I have my YouTube channel I haven’t posted in a while. But sometimes I still get comments on one of my videos, because apparently it was a good video. And sometimes I see a negative comment, or a stupid comment. Like there’s someone who commented on that they needed more visual content in my video, and it was like, says who? But it annoyed me, I get annoyed with those type of trolls like it’s like, okay,

Matt Stagliano 58:37
they took the time to type that in hit send.

Sissela Johansson 58:41
It’s like the worst waste of time. Like, why? Why is that relevant? I’m gonna, you’re coming into my space. So deal with it. Those create a sense of annoyance in me, it’s like I get very agitated in those situations, but I usually release them after a little bit. And it’s like, Okay, go on to the next. But I don’t remember. The last time someone told me my work was shit.

Matt Stagliano 59:11
That doesn’t surprise me at all. What’s next? Right? So you are like so many artists. I know great artists that I know that have this really intense period and then plateau a little bit and then a really intense period and then plateau a little bit, right. We all do it. What’s next for you? Do you feel like you’re in an upward swing? Do you feel like you’re in a plateau? Do you see yourself in any one of those directions right now?

Sissela Johansson 59:43
I’m not at a plateau. I’m at an upward swing. I’m seeing constant change in my work. I have been going like this for a while. And the plateaus have only been very small because then I gotten annoyed because I saw complacency and thinks like this. Let’s get rid of that.

Matt Stagliano 1:00:02
I’m gonna stop you there just for a quick second, I’ll come back, I’ll come back to the plateaus. But the complacency? How do you recognize that?

Sissela Johansson 1:00:11
Every single image should look the same despite? Or when I have a hard time telling one client apart from the other. Oh, is that it? Yeah, yeah, when I lose the personal touch, that’s complacency, when I don’t give as much of a fuck for my client. That’s complacency, and I hate it. Because then I’m not at my best, I don’t show up as my best, I don’t create my best. And that’s not okay. That is not what my clients are paying me for. So when I recognize that I’m creating good pictures, but didn’t I see that same thing? In the other thing? And Oh, am I going through this routine of this is the how are you going to do now? And this is what you’re going to do now? And then you’re gonna post like this. I’m like, Nananananana. Okay, time to get uncomfortable? How can we get uncomfortable. And that involves forcing my brain to think in a different pattern. And this is where I mentioned, I’m a tank, I’m very forceful with my brain. It’s how I came here, initially. I recognize a problem. And my solution is usually to blast through it. Because that feels less painful.

Matt Stagliano 1:01:24
So you mentioned in there too, right? You see similar stuff from client to client. And that annoys you. And I remember, I think we had a conversation, God, musters long time ago, we were talking about business, and we had mentioned the need to be an artist versus a business person, right?

Sissela Johansson 1:01:47
Only podcast now. Is that what you’re saying?

Matt Stagliano 1:01:48
Right? Yeah, so I’m gonna see if we can condense this down a little bit. You and I are very similar, I want to give my clients something they haven’t seen before. Invariably, I also need to make money with my clients. And I need to create consistent work. And so you have a product that you produce, it feels sticky in my brain to not make that product absolutely different every single time. But I know many photographers that have a reliable, repeatable product, right? They don’t worry about changing everything to fit the client, they just know that this works, this will produce a certain amount of income, and I can do it with my eyes closed, I’m very good at that. It’s like being a technician. Right? So there is a part of that, that we have to do. If you want to remain in business, how do you balance being an artist versus the technician,

Sissela Johansson 1:02:49
I’m not a very good technical photographer, I kind of create what I feel like. But I do have my go to Setup, I have my my and this is, frankly, part of my processes for syndrome because I’m like, feel like I’m a little bit of a one trick pony. So so I’m like, Yeah, I know this light under this light. But like much more than that. And things get a little different. I know that I have to do a certain base level of work, when I have a client, I know that I have to, to create images that they’re going to want to buy, and they’re going to want to love. That’s like my minimal success rate. But then I also want to create images that make them cry, or make them feel seen or make them feel powerful. And that’s when creativity comes in. That is where I like hold on for a second. Take this thing and wrap it around you and make a turban or let’s take this chainmail hood and put it on your face or head and let’s see what happens then. And usually that’s where magic happens. So in in that space of free movement of just no expectations are set, we have our baseline, I know they’re gonna love the rest. Then allow free play. communicated I communicate a lot to my clients. Like you know what, I’m going a little bit off on a tangent right here because I’m really inspired by this. They love it. It’s the truth first of all, like, but also suddenly they’re excited about what I’m creating for them. It’s like they feel like they’re part of the process of me grabbing one thing and tossing it over them and they see things seeing the final image just click and they look at it and like that’s the coolest thing. That is That is why I create having people see themselves that way and and that is something that happens that creativity happens when you allow yourself to step out of your box and just be tear up the plan and just be in it, listen and feel and have your baseline that you know, you can always turn back to, and then adjust from there. That is, that’s powerful. Like that’s really powerful. And that’s where some of my best work happened.

Matt Stagliano 1:05:22
Have you always done that? Yeah,

Sissela Johansson 1:05:24
I started out that way. The rains, the structure happened later. I’m not a very structured person. So yeah, no, I, the fleet free space, the free flow came first.

Matt Stagliano 1:05:43
I’m trying to figure out how to land this plane. Right? I’m trying to figure out because I could easily stay here for another hour and a half, continue to talk to you. But I want to land this plane in a thoughtful way. And I’m gonna ask you a question. I’ve been asking a lot of people lately, not necessarily on the podcast, but just in general, just in life. And it’s a big one. But I want you to take a second to think about it and try to boil it down. What do you want?

Sissela Johansson 1:06:14
I want to be a world champion. At what? When my mom died when I was my little story, my mom told me when I was a kid, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, I wanted to be a world champion. I don’t like what I just want to be world champion. I think the now the philosophy behind it is, I want to excel. I want to live a charmed life. I’m already living a charmed life, frankly. But I want joy, and exuberance and vitality and growth. I want to keep on growing, I want to become a better photographer. I want to be a great photographer. I want to be an amazing photographer. I want to be all those things and more. And I’m not afraid of saying that like just getting there. That’s the hard part.

Matt Stagliano 1:07:17
What does Joy look like to you?

Sissela Johansson 1:07:19
It’s the reason why I chuckled is because it’s fun to me, Joy is a cup of steaming coffee in a sudden beam of sunlight. I find a lot of joy in small moments, in shared spaces in connectivity. invulnerability, I’m feeling a little bit of joy right now. Just thinking about it. Joy is this beautiful thing that doesn’t have to be created like it doesn’t have to be controlled. It It happens when you don’t look for it. It happens in the small moments. And if you don’t watch out, you’re gonna miss it. And I want to live a life where I expose myself to the most possible options of joy. So yeah, you might find me sitting here in my apartment for too long. But I also challenge myself in other ways, then I go on adventure and meet people and travel to places and see things and find joy, their joy is in creation, and creativity, and in love. And I think the biggest thing in my work is that I love people like that. Yeah, they annoy the crap out of me, but I love people, like humans, I love humans. I love my clients. And I can always honestly say that in that moment. I love that person in front of me. allowing myself to feel that amount of love is pretty cool.

Matt Stagliano 1:09:06
Loving it. I’m loving. You sit in that in for a moment. So as you’re one of my favorite people on the planet, I think, you know, we came together at the right time in life at the right moment. You know, we were kind of on very similar trajectories and in our philosophies and what we do, but I know I love watching you create stories. I think you’re one of the better storytellers out there. Just through photography. I think your approach and your ability to connect with people is second to none. And for me to be able to watch your ascent through the industry, with your business growth, with all the things on your plate becoming a US citizen traveling all over the world. I still think you’re a secret agent, but watching You’re watching this growth, especially with the authenticity that you have has been really inspiring. And I know that there’s a lot of people out there with eyes on you that are feeling the same things that I do. So I just wanted to say thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing yourself so openly. And I can’t wait to the time that we wind up in the same place at the same time and can take portraits again, because that was one of my one of my favorite times ever. Soon. To WPI. We will. I think we’ll we’ll see each other in Vegas. Thank you so much for being here. Have a great night and I can’t wait to see you soon.

Sissela Johansson 1:10:39
Looking forward to it.


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Generator Ep. 024- Caron Shahrestani: Building a Values Based Business with Video

Episode Overview

Join us as we explore the worlds of video marketing, social change, and self-discovery with the insightful Caron Shahrestani. Caron shares her journey from journalism to videography, her experiences confronting cultural inequities, and her mission to empower others through video and coaching. This episode tackles a range of important topics, including the shifting social landscape, women’s leadership, and the power of storytelling for impact.

Guest Profile

Caron Shahrestani is a videographer, coach, and founder of Caron Modern Media. Based in Silicon Valley, she helps businesses navigate the evolving video landscape with compelling storytelling and authentic marketing strategies. Corona is passionate about breaking down societal barriers and fostering a more inclusive and equitable world.

Website: Explore Caron’s work and offerings at
Schedule a Strategy Call: Book a complimentary call with Caron at

Generator Ep. 014 – Jonny Edward: Intention and Connection through Education

In this episode, Maine photographer Matt Stagliano speaks with Jonny Edward, a commercial and portrait photographer, as well a top-tier educator based in Denver, Colorado.

Jonny recently hosted his unique workshop, Artistic Alchemy, where he teaches students his entire creative process from interactions with models, to lighting and shooting, to final retouching and delivery.

“Jonny and I had gone out to dinner in Denver a few days prior to the workshop and when we got back to his studio I setup a quick recording just to capture the conversation. This is as real as it gets, audio glitches and all.

In this conversation we talk about trends in the photography education space, intentionality, connection with clients, and so much more.”

For more on Jonny Edward’s photography and educational courses, please visit

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