(Hey everyone. This is a long post. I hope that you’ll take a moment and read it all the way to the end.)

To answer my own question, yep, it’s been five years!  I have a few more gray hairs now, my locs are long again, and I’ve lost some weight.  My fashion sense has gotten somewhat better, and so has my photography.

Many of you may not know this, but I have been photographing and blogging full-time since 2010.  Before that, I enjoyed a 20-year career in the non-profit sector as a grant writer, contract manager, and later, an administrator of a community health innovation grants program. I decided to leave that career behind, simply, because I wanted to live a creative, independent life, with the freedom to contribute my voice and insights to a number of issues that were of personal importance to me.

Fortunately, I was mentored by a number of wonderful people along the way and gained so many strong skills sets that helped me make a pretty smooth transition. Of course there have been bumps and bruises along the way and I’ve learned (and continue to learn) quite a few lessons, but nothing good ever comes easy.

For the rest of the year, I’m going to be celebrating my five-year anniversary as an independent photographer, blogger and community advocate. I’m really excited about this because I can’t believe that I made it to this point.  Let me run down a list of what I’ve managed to accomplish during this time:

First, I’ve launched and maintained several blogs, including this one, my flagship blog, Photography Without the Pretense.   I consider this blog to be my home base, while the other ones, listed below, are project-based blogs.  They include:

I am very proud of my blogging portfolio and find blogging to be very challenging but rewarding work, and an excellent conduit for sharing my vision and the direction in which my photography work is taking with a diverse cross-section of readers.

Next, I’ve built a pretty substantial resume of creative work. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out before now, I invite you to. Some of the projects I’m especially proud of have been commissioned by well-respected Philadelphia-based organizations like The Painted Bride Art Center, Next City and Germantown United, CDC.

Also, I am also especially proud of the fact that I’ve had three solo shows: Two here in Philadelphia (The Other Germantown at iMPeRFeCT Gallery, Portraits of Brewerytown at the Storefront for Urban Innovation, and This is My Home: Photographs from 2011-2014 at the Oak Park Public Library and Oak Park Village Hall).

Connecting with people is vitally important in this business.  Showing my work and being an advocate in the community facilitates the face-to-face interactions, but in this day and age, social media matters.  To that end, let me share how I’ve grown in this area:

  • I have over 2,000 followers on Twitter;
  • I’ve gained over 600 fans on my PWTP FB page and 700 followers on my personal FB page;
  • I’ve accrued over 300 followers on Instagram;
  • And, I’ve developed a following of over 400 people, including more than 200 who are photography enthusiasts, on Google+ (both my personal and PWTP G+ pages). My G+ pages have attracted over half a million views.

I’ve done all of this by myself. I have no staff, no assistants, or interns. How the heck do I do that, you ask?  Well, coffee, and long, sleepless nights.

Of course, the work has been primarily accomplished by me, but financed by the generosity of friends and supporters along the way.   To augment that, I take on freelance photography assignments and event engagements, along with the occasional grants or organizational consulting gig. I also sell prints of my work and license digital images.  Oh yeah!! Remember that one time I jumped on the crowdfunding bandwagon? Yes! So many of you stepped up and because of you, I exceeded my initial fundraising target.  It was a great learning experience and I hope to incorporate crowdfunding into my overall revenue generating strategy again in the future.

The truth is, I’ve been so grateful that all of these strategies have sustained me…and when the going gets real tough, I am not above hustling to take odd jobs like the work I do at a local medical college and the events support work that I do ever so often with a local marketing and events firm.  However, I don’t want to continue hustling if I can help it…I want to devote the bulk of my time and talents to building a sustainable photography practice and using my talents to contribute to the ongoing conversation about how we can come together to empower ourselves to build true community.  I’m a strong believer that art can facilitate important conversations about race, class and the decisions we make about how we intend to live together (or apart).

I have received so many positive affirmations that I have been on the right track. Again, it hasn’t been easy, but it has been extremely fulfilling and rewarding work. With that said, I am so thankful that I have been able to make it to five years. But I want what I’ve built to be around for another five or ten or twenty years, so here’s what I’m working on, going forward:

  • I bought the domain TieshkaSmith.com and plan to consolidate my web and social media presence under one umbrella.   No more searching all over the web to link to my portfolio, my blogs or my social media.  I am in search of the right web design partner…I have a few leads, but if you know of someone with experience working with photographers, send them my way. My goal is to launch by the end of the year.
  • I plan to secure the assistance of a graphic design and branding expert to create a logo, etc., for new business cards and other collateral materials, like a banner, letterhead, notecards, calendars, posters, etc.  Again, my goal is to rollout my branding strategy by the end of this year.  
  • I intend to streamline my business practices for more efficiency, accountability and transparency, so I can get more bang out of every buck I get.
  • I’ve been working with the same DSLR since 2010 and I would love to upgrade my equipment to a full-frame camera, and send my Nikon D5000 in to be serviced and repaired if necessary.
  • I also want to upgrade my computer equipment and photography editing software so that I’m creating beautiful images. Beautiful images are the basis of my practice.
  • I’m also interested in purchasing a commercial grade printer for making limited-edition color and monochrome prints.
  • I’m in talks with a couple in Old City that will lead to me having regular access to their photography studio. This will enable me to really grow in the area of providing quality headshots and portraits,  while increasing my capacity to be more creative in my social documentary work.  I’ll be sharing more about this collaboration later as things develop.
  • I joined PhillyCam this year and I plan to take some classes on how to produce videos, just so I have that capability when potential partners ask. Again, I want to be able to grow this line of business.
  • I am working on plans, in partnership with Deep Blu Womyn Company and others, to develop and launch an Artists as Advocates program. I would like to get more independent artists (like myself) trained and developed to advocate more effectively alongside established arts and culture organizations for the funding and support that we all desperately need to sustain the vibrant arts and culture sector in Greater Philadelphia. More about this later this year.
  • Also, I hope to begin a program of working with Northwest Philadelphia-based artist/entrepreneurs and arts and culture organizations who are in need of capacity building services and training for their grant writing/contract management activities.
  • Finally, and most importantly, I plan to make some measurable strides in securing a live/work location of my own. I want to remain in Germantown and I want something that I can transition into with relative ease (not that I’m above investing a bit of sweat equity).

So, with all of this said, I am asking for your support.

I believe in striking while the iron is hot. I want to leverage any institutional support I may receive (keeping my fingers crossed, as I have a number of pending requests) with any financial support from those of you with whom I’ve developed a personal and/or working relationship.

Whatever you can do to assist me during the next 12 months would be greatly appreciated. and I am committed to giving each and every one of you a return on your investment, no matter how big or small.

Here’s how you can help:

  • First, read closely about how you can support my work with your donation via my PayPal link.  You have the option to earmark how you’d like your dollars used/directed. Options include but are not limited to general support, photography and office equipment purchases, local and out of town travel, professional membership fees, fellowship and grant application fees, vendor and tabling fees, expenses like that. I am here if you’re interested in brainstorming with me to come up with something special.
  • Refer me to friends, family and others who need photography services, like headshots, portraits and events. Have camera, will travel!!!
  • Put in a good word with organizations and others you’re associated with who have the means to commission me for longer-term social justice and community-based projects like the ones I’ve completed at the Painted Bride and Next City.
  • Create meaningful bartering opportunities. Talk to me fellow artists!
  • Purchase custom-made prints, notecards, calendars, posters and exclusive-use licenses of my work. Don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you like one of my images and want to have it printed and framed for your home or office, or give something special to someone you care about as a gift. Or you can reach out to discuss how you incorporate digital images into your next book or web-based project.
  • Follow my social media and feel free to engage with my content. The more people who engage, the better.
  • Keep sending me words of encouragement and appreciation. It feels good to know that people connect with what I’m trying to do.
  • I also like food. Cookies, cake, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gift certificates to local restaurants, help with groceries, all of that goes a long way.  I’m serious.

Congratulations! You made it to the end!!  I want to thank you for taking the time to read through this entire post.  I hope that I didn’t bore you…and hopefully what I wrote has made enough of an impression on you to compel you to act.

To wrap up, I hope that if we haven’t had a chance to personally connect over the past five years despite our virtual relationship, that we do so going forward. I love meeting people in person whom I’ve connected with online. To those of you whom I know both online and off, I am grateful to you for our relationship and I hope that we’ll have opportunities to deepen and reinforce our connection over time.  Either way, it is my hope that, when I write my next five-year update in 2020, you’ll be right here beside me to celebrate. Thank you and I hope to see you around the way!!

Peace and many many many blessings to you and yours,

Tieshka Smith

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