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2017 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

 New Yorkers march in protest of President Donald J. Trump's inauguration at the NYC Women's March.

2017 is almost over—what a year, huh? As a country we learned some hard truths about ourselves, but we also learned that we're more resilient than we thought. I think that might apply to me individually as well.

Over the years, at the suggestion of just about every self-help lifehack and prodicutvity blog in existence, I have made many half-hearted attempts at developing a daily journaling habit, but it never seems to stick. But when I look back at my photography, I realize that this has been my form of journaling all along—it's my one daily habit that happens virtually unconsciously, and that I have the itch to do almost no matter what. So ths collection of images is like a look back at my journal over the past year.

With that in mind, for this year's recap, I decided that rather than restrict myself to a specific number of images for the year, or picking a certain number of images per month, I thought I'd just go back and try to pick out the broader themes in my life that materialized through my photography.

Trump's America

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump and his ridiculous politics dominated this year. I'm not shy about saying I loathe the guy from the depths of my being. Because of that, and the renewed sense of civic duty that I know many of us felt as a result of his election, there was no question about whether I would attend the Women's March in January. The experience was  reassuring and helped me to realize that, after having felt let down by a good portion of this country, there were others that were not going to be apathetic, and would fight every day against the indecency of Donald Trump's presidency.

Prospect Park

I feel so fortunate to have Prospect Park as my front yard. When I'm stressed, or need a workout, or want to move slowly for a long time (as the Primal folks would say), the park is my go-to spot.

The Oculus

This didn't happen on purpose, but as I looked back over my photos from this year, I realized that I really spent a lot of time wandering around the Oculus at the World Trade Center. Some people really hate this building (and the fact that from the inside, it kind of feels like you got swallowed by a whale, and it cost billions of dollars), but I really love this space, and find myself compelled to try and take a unique photograph of it every time I'm there.

Everyday Surroundings

Although I try to shoot every day, I have my moments when I don't feel particularly motivated, especially when I'm caught in the day-to-day grind of going to work and coming back home for an extended, uninterrupted period.

I try to pull myself out of that by switching up my commute; by taking a longer route to or from work; by going out for a walk at lunch, even if I brown-bagged it. During those times, I make a point of consciously looking for the light, shapes, colors and designs that surround me. I guess this year, I had a thing for silhouettes and dramatic lighting.

Night

I've always loved night photography. It takes a little more effort, forces you to slow down, and is definitely helped by better gear (wider apertures, sensors that are more light-sensitive). But there results are always so worth it. I didn't do as much of it this year as I could have, but going over some of my night photos from this year made me remember how much I enjoy it.

Being Active

As far as being active and moving a lot, this was a good year. I lost around 14 pounds in April with my second round of the Whole 30 plan. I realized that I do really well with sticking to a workout when I sign up for something, like the Nike+ Run Club or Nike Training Club's coaching plans. Aside from that, for a good part of the spring, I developed a routine of going to karate twice a week, and had lots of fun getting beat up by Dante in sparring class. I also spent a lot of time on my bike, commuting to and from work a total of 38 times, (roughly 266 miles). My wife Stephanie and I even decided that we wanted to start doing more outdoors activities together, so we started with an easy hike at Franny Reese State Park this fall.

I'll admit that I got a bit lazy later in the year, and have been in full-on hibernation mode for the last few weeks, especially since it got dramatically colder here in New York. I even ended up gaining back some of the weight I had lost, but I'm ready to get back to it for 2018.

Wedding Photography

I went way outside my photography comfort zone this year. A friend approached me about shooting her wedding, and even though it gave me the jitters almost immediately, I decided to say yes. I was nervous for weeks leading up to the wedding, and had all sorts of doubts about my ability to do justice to Amanda and Alex's special day, but I had an amazing time doing it. I ended up feeling challenged, but also energized and creative in all sorts of new ways. The lesson for me was, it's true what they say: get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Music and Culture

Concert photography is one of my favorite things to do. Aside from my usual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, I managed to go to a couple of events this year, including the Afropunk Battle of the Bands in Williamsburg and 2 Chainz' performance closing Advertising Week in New York. I also decided to challenge myself to document the West Indian American Day Children's Parade, which is one of the more "low-key" events surrounding the main Parade on Labor Day. We also went up to the New York Botanical Garden's incredible Chilhuly Nights exhibit.

Friends and Family

Some of my favorite pictures this year (most years, for obvious reasons) were of the people close to me. Some of the highlights: we celebrated my father-in-law's 70th birthday at a gorgeous Airbnb rental up in Maine; I photographed my aunt Rose and cousin Claudia, along with her adorable new daughter Danai; I spent time with my cool, funny niece Alexandra; celebrated my sister Sarah's birthday; and I took advantage of a short trip to San Francisco for Afrotech, to reconnect with one of my life-long friends and his family. Finally, I capped off the year with a trip to Virginia to see my mom for her birthday.

2017 certainly had its moments. Politics and the moment we're having as a nation, as well as my own insecurities about myself and my professional growth were probably the most stressful things for me this year. But I think I learned a lot, and got to spend time with the people I care about the most. I don't really do the New Year's resolution thing, but I'm looking forward to continuing to work on myself as a person and as a photographer; and to nurture my relationships with my wife and friends and our families.

Here's to growth, health, and positivity for 2018.

I’m Friends With Some of My Favorite Photographers by Simon Abrams

Ask any photographer who they’re influenced by, or who their favorite photographers are, and chances are pretty good that they’ll list some of the titans of the genre: Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus. Makes total sense; there’s a reason these photographers are seen as the epitome of the form.

Typically, people lavish praise on their favorite artists when they’re dead (just to be clear, Bruce Davidson is not dead). I decided that I want to acknowledge some of my favorite photographers, who are not only living, but who I also have the good fortune to know personally, even if only as acquaintances. I’m not trying to be too effusive or fawning here; just stating out loud to some photographers I respect greatly that I’m a fan.

Also, I was thinking about the way we consume photography today. Because of the sheer volume of photography being created, it has inevitably become a really thoughtless exercise in swiping and double-tapping to show surface-level appreciation for an image, so I’m doing this as an exercise in forcing myself to slow down and articulate why I consider these photographers some of my favorites.

Clay Enos

@gal_gadot is THE #WonderWoman

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

Website | Twitter | IG

If you’ve seen a poster for a superhero movie in the last 5-10 years, there’s a strong possibility that Clay Enos shot it. But that’s not all he does. I met Clay when we both worked at AOL’s internal media group way back in the early 2000s. I first fell in love with his work through his Street Studio project: a brutally simple idea, consisting of a white backdrop on a street corner, and an invitation to passersby to pose for a photo. That’s it. This project is inspired by the work of Richard Avedon, one of Clay’s favorite photographers. The project initially started in the five boroughs of New York City, but Clay eventually brought it across the country and the world. Taken as a whole, it connects the viewer instantly, and intimately to a huge cross-section of humans. One of the reasons I love this project so much, is because of my own shyness and inability to approach strangers on the street, much less connect with them the way Clay does.

Other things you should know about Clay: he's one of the least gear-obsessed photographers I've ever met. He once rode a Vespa from New York City to Vancouver, and then to Central America, documenting the state of sustainable food production along the way. And When not working as a still photographer on the set of a major film, he spends much of his time photographing and sharing the stories of coffee farmers in places like Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Guatemala.

 

Scott Witt

@migos at @lollapalooza day 1 // #leica #concertphotography

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Kyan. Rocking. Everything. // #leica #makeportraits #kids

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Website | Twitter | IG

When I think of Scott’s work, I think of impeccable technical execution coexisting with a kind of loose, artistic spontaneity that shouldn’t be possible. Scott’s also a perfectionist, and has impossibly high standards (whether we’re talking about his mixologist tendencies, or his love of Spanish jamón, or his preference of camera gear), and it’s clear that this also applies to his photography. He works relentlessly towards honing his craft. Aside from the high profile stuff he shoots at events like the iTunes Festival (some of which you’ve seen without realizing it, if you’re an Apple Music user), some of my favorite of his work is the spontaneous moments he captures in the streets of various cities late at night, and, of course, the fantastic images he makes with his family.

 

Lev Kuperman

Website | Facebook | IG

I worked with Lev when he was still working a 9-to-5 in the world of advertising, and I’ll always remember the day he came over and announced that he was quitting to go and be a wedding photographer. The idea of doing something like that still strikes fear deep into my core (I have some issues I need to work out), but I was really happy for him, and it has certainly worked out in his favor. His work stands out in a crowded field of me-too wedding photographers, whose work all seems based on the same playbook (and the same batch of Photoshop filters). It’s clear from his work that he connects intimately with the people he photographs; that he’s genuinely invested in helping them make lasting memories of one of the most important days of their lives. I really hate the generic, watered-down meaning the word “curate” has taken on in our modern usage, but Lev really does curate everything that’s included in (and excluded from) each frame he shoots — the framing, the shadows, the light — everything there is totally intentional.

These are a few of my favorite contemporary photographers that I also call friends (I picked three, but there are many more.) Who are some of yours? Go beyond double-tapping or liking, and let them know you dig their work.

2016 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

 The crowd reacts to the Roots' performance during Advertising Week at Webster Hall.

The crowd reacts to the Roots' performance during Advertising Week at Webster Hall.

2016 was a remarkable year, to say the very least. Not only on a national and global level, with events like Trump's unprecedented election victory, Russian hacks, and the Syrian war, but it was remarkable for me personally.

My wife was diagnosed with cancer late last year, so much of the early part of this year was dedicated to her recovery. Happily, she's healthy and cancer-free now, and she'll just have to be vigilant about getting checkups regularly to make sure she stays that way.

Aside from that, we took quite a few trips this year—some smaller trips to visit family and friends in Concord, New Hampshire and Atlanta; and some bigger trips like the one we took to China to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We also did an epic 9-day road trip through Upstate New York and Niagara falls with our nieces Gigi and Leila. It was a great way to experience New York (although I still have much of the state to see), as well as a fun way to spend time with our nieces as they grow into young ladies.

Overall, I'd say it was a good year for me. Professionally, I think I need to get really introspective and answer some questions about where my career development should be headed. As a photographer, I think I need to continue to push myself to make better images, and to keep working to refine my creative voice.

I had fun looking back over the past year while making my selects for this post, and in spite of the challenges that we face with Trump's administration, I feel optimistic about the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

Year in Review by Simon Abrams

I decided to do my own Year in Review - one that I think is a little more personal than the one that the Facebook algorithm generated for me - by selecting 24 images (two for each month) that represent my 2014.

I started off the year with a teaching gig at Miami Ad School's Brooklyn outpost, which gave me a good excuse to roam around DUMBO with my then-new Fuji X100S. In February, I went on an absolutely fantastic trip to Morocco with my wife. This trip was one of the highlights of the year for me (another great opportunity to road-test my new camera), and I can't believe it's already been almost a year.

I spent Memorial Day with my family at my sister's place in Virgina. It was right around that time that I noticed a funny, squishy bump on my elbow that turned out to be bursitis. It eventually led to me needing surgery, and being stuck in a pretty gnarly brace for a total of five weeks this summer.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, which, to my chagrin, moved to Williamsburg this year. It was co-headlined by Jay Electronica and Raekwon, and featured a very special guest named Jay-Z.

In the fall, a group of us rented a place upstate via Airbnb, and went ziplining at Hunter Mountain to celebrate my good friend's 40th birthday. I was also lucky enough to take not one, but two trips to California -- one for the ADCOLOR conference, and one to reunite with my two closest friends from high school.

Overall it's been a good year, and it has ended with some promising developments (more on those later) which should start 2015 off on a strong note.

With that said, here are 24 images that recap my 2014.

Shodan by Simon Abrams

 With Shihan Alfred DiGrazia after the Black Belt Test

With Shihan Alfred DiGrazia after the Black Belt Test

Well, it's done. Those weeks of anxiety are over, the black belt test has come and gone, and I did it. And it was absolutely the hardest thing I've ever done. The physical aspect was grueling and unimaginably hard - I don't think I've ever sprinted, kicked, punched, burpeed, or done so many push-ups in my life. I have no idea if it's possible, but I think I might have sprained my diaphragm, I was gasping for air so hard. But the hardest part — by far — was not quitting. 20 minutes in, every part of my body was screaming for me to just sit down on the mat and stop. My head was spinning, I was panting for air, everything hurt like hell, it took all of my concentration to keep my balance and not fall over during kicking drills and kata… Every time Shihan said run, I wanted to flop down on the mat and tap out. During the kumite, I got knocked over (I tripped or lost my balance — really, I swear!) and lying there, even just for a few seconds, felt so damn good. But I got up.

Now, in retrospect, I'm kind of sad I didn't look stronger, and I couldn't have been more impressive in my fights. By the end I was just flailing and getting hit. But I know that's just the vain part of me thinking that. The whole point was for me to be utterly beyond running on empty by the time the fights came around, and that my real test was whether I'd quit or keep going.

I'm really proud that I didn't quit. I have a pretty strong competitive drive sometimes, especially against myself. But I couldn't have done it without the constant encouragement of Shihan Al, Sensei Allison, my fellow classmates, and the presence of both my former* senseis Brian and Edwin, and my wife Stephanie.

People have been asking me what's next. I'm going to keep training - I want to refine my technique, improve my form and my stamina, and maybe even start teaching. And I want to improve my fighting. I still get a little freaked out when sparring, so I need to be more relaxed and comfortable with that. The next level of black belt is a long road and many years away, though - I'm nowhere near being ready to even think about that at this point.

Most importantly, though, I want to remember exactly how every minute of that test felt, so I can remind myself that when things get hard, and my brain is yelling at me to give up, I can overcome that need to quit and that I can do anything I decide I want to do.

*Brian and Edwin will always be my teachers, so "former" probably isn't the right word - it's just that I don't currently train with them on a regular basis.

The Hardest Thing I Will Have Done by Simon Abrams

  Brown belt (2nd kyu) test. March 2012

Brown belt (2nd kyu) test. March 2012

Just over six years of martial arts training will culminate one week from today, when I will be testing for my black belt (shodan) at Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center.

When I was a kid I wanted to take karate lessons, but I never bothered to ask my dad about it - I just assumed he'd say no (looking back, I honestly don't know why I assumed that). I happened to mention that childhood desire off-handedly to my boss one day, and in a case of pure coincidence (aka serendipity), her husband had just opened a karate school in Brooklyn. He gave me one free class (it was a slow day, so it was just me and him), and from then, I've been hooked.

You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan I still whip your ass, you thirty-six in a karate class You Tae-bo ho, tryna work it out, you tryna get brolic Ask me if I'm tryna kick knowledge - Nas, Ether

There's a recurring joke in our culture about grown men taking karate classes - I don't really get it. It's such a good workout, no matter how old you are, and beats hanging around waiting for some gym rat to get finished with the dumbells. Plus, you learn some usable self-defence skills. I won't claim to be the toughest guy in the world, but at least I know I can get punched - hard - and it won't shock me into paralysis. I'll hit back.

Back to my black belt test: I'm terrified. I keep having little minor panic attacks about every possible aspect of the test. Will I get enough sleep? What should I eat beforehand? I hope I don't get a nervous stomach and have to run to the bathroom before the test. Will I be able to make it through the conditioning portion of the test? What about the fights (kumite)? There are black belts coming in from at least two other states to help with my test. I will have to fight all of them, multiple times, over the three-hour duration of the test.

  Newly-minted Brown belt, March 2012

Newly-minted Brown belt, March 2012

The reality of it is I know my teacher, Shihan Alfred, wouldn't even have me test if he didn't think I was ready. The noise I'm hearing in my brain is just that - noise. And a big part of what we learn in karate is how to face our challenges, and to have faith in ourselves and our abilities. In fact, it's all right there in our dojo kun (mantra):

  Shihan Alfred DiGrazia

Shihan Alfred DiGrazia

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

That quote comes from the great philosopher Winnie the Pooh.

I'll check in again in a week or so to record my post-test thoughts. By then, if all goes well, I'll be sporting the black belt, and will have completed the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life.