Inside the Cold and Colorful World of Karen Jerzyk
Karen Jerzyk, a photographer based in Manchester, N.H., started taking photos to memorialize her experiences at concerts. This led to photo passes and a growing portfolio. Then, after seven years of music photography, a friend encouraged her to start taking portrait shots.
“I realized that was more what I wanted to do because I could have control of the environment and the image,” Jerzyk says, “whereas it’s way different going to a concert and just taking a picture of someone on stage playing.”
In 2011, Jerzyk’s father died unexpectedly at the age of 63, and during the subsequent period of mourning and reflection she found in photography a way to make sense of his death. Rather than withdrawing, the experience pushed Jerzyk to deepen the psychological content of her images. Her work, she says, became more “emotional” and about telling stories.
The sense of an existing narrative beyond the image is a critical element in making her photographs compelling. Much of her inspiration comes from movies, and directors such as Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and Wes Anderson. Beyond that, she admits she isn’t afraid to be inspired by other visual artists, as well, “because that gives me a level of what I can achieve. Not copying, but just like, wow, like I can do this with a camera? I had no clue.”
In preparation for my interview with Jerzyk, I browsed her website and Instagram page. At first glance, I noticed a recurring theme in her work: She focuses on solitary individuals set against striking and colorful, yet abandoned backgrounds.
Jerzyk became intrigued by remote locations because they make everything else in the image interesting. Some of her most recent work includes an astronaut posed in front of luminous and lonely backdrops. To enact such otherworldly scenes, Jerzyk purchased a real space suit on eBay.
“I wanted to make [the series] look very desolate,” she says, “but I wanted to almost have the feel as though an astronaut comes back 1,000 years from now and Earth has been evacuated. It’s almost like the astronaut is an alien.”
One might assume that the astronaut is a male, but Jerzyk says she mostly used female models in that shoot. She says she is increasingly incorporating more diversity and inclusivity in her work. “Can I do better? Definitely. But the astronaut, again, it’s like you don’t know if it’s male or female. You don’t know any of the background. So, anyone at any age, any race, gender … they can picture themselves in that.”
You can purchase Jerzyk’s prints at Hive & Forge, located at Mill No. 5 in Lowell — there is also a Salem, Mass., location. She feels honored and lucky to be able to make a living by selling her photos, even during a pandemic.
“I really appreciate everyone that buys prints. I don’t think it’ll ever get old; I do get excited about it. I mean, my self-esteem is usually pretty so-so [and] I’m always questioning myself, so the fact that someone would spend their hard-earned money on something I created really means a lot to me.”
Jerzyk dreams of one day shooting for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, but realizes that luck and getting the right person to notice your work plays a significant role. She also notes the difficulties of working in a male-dominated industry and not seeing a lot of the work she prefers in mainstream publications, but remains hopeful nonetheless. Still, she says, “It sounds cliche, but there really is no substitute for working hard and sacrificing.”
Jerzyk is hoping to publish a photo book in 2021. She has been asked often at events if she has a print collection of her work and has decided that now is the time. Until the book is released, you’ll have to browse her prints at Hive & Forge or visit her website, KarenJerzykPhoto.zenfolio.com.
Hive & Forge
Lowell and Salem, Mass.
“Barker House” is the debut novel of UMass Lowell professor and former corrections officer David Moloney. The book interweaves the lives of nine officers who work at the fictional Barker House prison in the nonfictional state of New Hampshire.
Moloney turns the smallest moments — a prisoner anxiously shaving his face during a standoff, a guard preparing to pitch at a police league softball game — into rich psychological portraits. The drama doesn’t come from riots or prison breaks. It’s in the daily struggle to find meaning in life under extraordinary circumstances.
“Barker House” sets itself apart from other imaginative works on this subject by its refusal to follow the standard Hollywood prison tropes. Divided into chapters with alternating central perspectives, we see this early on in a chapter called “Bubble Time.” The chapter’s title is a reference to the prison command center where O’Brien, a depressed alcoholic health nut, retreats when he wants to be alone with his thoughts. O’Brien’s partner, an older but incompetent officer named Menser, has lost the key to his handcuffs. And O’Brien, who often ends up playing mentor to his veteran colleague, has to help him find it.
Do they follow protocol and report the lost item, drawing the wrath of an ornery lieutenant? Do they undergo the humiliating and laborious practice of searching the cells and prisoners, hoping it will turn up? As O’Brien considers the possibilities, other matters press on him. Hitting the gym. Finding low-calorie beer with a high alcohol content. The horrors of prison hygiene. He even reveals a suppressed creative side as, now off-shift, drunk and still trying to relieve stress, he spontaneously begins drawing a portrait of his partner, feeling a surge of sympathy for Menser despite his incompetence.
I like the lost-key incident as it shows how Moloney can open up multiple literary possibilities with a single, simple act — the sort of act that may be overlooked by writers seduced by the desire to overstate and amplify. This ability is likely responsible for the praise that “Barker House” has received, and I add my voice to those impressed by the work of a young author whose skills suggest someone with a mature artistic vision.
North & South Ireland: Before Good Friday & The Celtic Tiger
Loom Press (2020)
“North & South Ireland” features a collection of images taken by photographer James Higgins in the early-to-mid ’80s. This was, as the subheading indicates, the period before the Celtic Tiger phenomenon, when the Republic of Ireland’s economic policies made it an enticing destination for corporations, and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which largely ended hostilities between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The book is a time capsule from a period of political violence and recession. Beautifully printed, the images suggest a frayed cultural scene. Both rural and urban landscapes seem rundown, with architecture unwashed, collapsed or covered with faded graffiti. But there are indications at the same time of simmering liveliness, if not vitality. Because of a 1969 law, artists in Ireland paid no tax on the sale of their work, discouraging sculptors and the like from leaving for other lands. We meet one, drinking tea and toiling at his craft. We also discover residual traces of the first wave of the punk rock movement, its anger, dissonance and hedonism an apt reflection of the milieu.
We are treated to snapshots revealing an array of crosscurrents: Catholicism, youth culture, mythology, superstition, craft, tradition, rebellion and commerce. Higgins’ range is wide, and he seems as adept at capturing ruined castles as chronicling impoverished-looking and wise-beyond-their-years children. And there are the moments of magic: the strong and penetrating glance of a girl on a North Ireland ferry, children pushing a younger sibling in a baby carriage, bus mechanics unselfconsciousnessly jostling each other while working.
The book is prefaced with a concise but useful foreword by the author/photographer, and there is an introduction by local author Stephen O’Connor that shouldn’t be overlooked. It tells of O’Connor’s chance encounter with Higgins and his wife in the fall of 1983. Since much of the ensuing work revolves around such moments — brief but profound glimpses into the lives of others during a journey — the O’Connor intro hints at the book’s themes while doing a good job of providing necessary context to help us perceive just how much is happening in the lives of the people we will go on to meet.
Organizational Change in an Urban Police Department: Innovating to Reform
Brenda J. Bond-Fortier
On the surface, it would seem that Brenda J. Bond-Fortier’s book, which focuses on the Lowell Police Department as a model for community policing, might only appeal to specialists. But despite its rather dry title, “Organizational Change in an Urban Police Department” provides a compelling look at a midsize police department as it negotiates social changes and searches for better ways to serve the community it protects.
Bond-Fortier, an associate professor of public administration at Suffolk University, began her involvement with the Lowell Police Department while an undergrad at UMass Lowell. She has an insider’s eye into its operations, yet retains an academic’s taste for data and objectivity. I would add that she has an unacademic flair for the selection of quotes, some of which would make for colorful dialogue in the hands of a playwright.
This book is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of Lowell, as its portrait of the LPD over the past half-century is exhaustive. But it isn’t just about the department. Many of the changes were called for and brought about by citizens, and in places the book is a record of community response to crime, safety and outreach models. As the book makes clear, law enforcement as a profession is a relatively recent development in human history, so we still may be working on a clear definition of its goals and methods. On top of that, recent technological shifts, notably cameras, have radically transformed how we assess the effectiveness of the various departments, agencies and agents. It’s interesting to consider that Lowell might serve as a model for how to proceed in the midst of a national discourse about police accountability problems. This book serves as a fascinating and detailed gateway to that debate.
Listen to interviews with several of the authors and publishers featured above on The 495 podcast. Click here for an episode guide. >>>
Exploring the world with emmy-award winning journalist, photographer and artist Jay Schadler at his Amesbury studio.
[Editor’s note: In 2011, we spoke with Jay Schadler at his now-closed Amesbury art studio. This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of mvm. It has been lightly edited to comply with current AP style guidelines.]
There has been no shortage of exotic adventures in Jay Schadler’s decorated career as a television journalist. The longtime ABC News correspondent has come face-to-face with Bengal tigers while riding an elephant. He has tracked koalas in Australia, and witnessed the opening of a tomb at the Great Pyramids. There has been a mountain bike trip through the rain forests of Belize, and hitchhiking expeditions of more than 13,000 miles across the U.S.
So it’s easy to see why Schadler — who lives in Dover, N.H., but previously was a resident of Plum Island for 15 years — grins with genuine satisfaction when he reminisces about where he got his start as a broadcaster. “It was literally a double-wide trailer with a turntable and a microphone way up in Oswego, N.Y., one of the coldest and snowiest places in America,” Schadler says with great pride. “I was doing an internship on Saturday afternoons as a Top 40 DJ. And, to be honest, I loved every minute of it.”
The stage for Schadler’s talents has gotten much larger than a low-watt radio station in the middle of nowhere. For three decades, he has contributed to the success of such shows as “Primetime,” “20/20,” “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.” But it was the rush that Schadler got while in front of a microphone in that tiny trailer in Oswego that helped fuel what has blossomed into an Emmy Award-winning career and a lifetime of thrilling escapades.
“It’s been a great ride,” says Schadler. “I’ve been very blessed. That’s for sure.”
As exhilarating as his days on network TV have been, Schadler is most at peace when he’s home with his wife, Jorden Cook, his dog, Toasty, and the numerous cats his wife brings home from the animal shelter in nearby Stratham, N.H., where she works as a volunteer. When he’s not at home, Schadler finds comfort inside the walls of his art studio in downtown Amesbury along the banks of the Powwow River. He spends so much time at the studio that he added a full bathroom and a bedroom for those late nights he doesn’t feel up to the 30-minute drive home.
“I love being home as much as I love being on the road, and the studio has become the perfect place for me to do what I like to do,” he says of his Water Street retreat, which was a drab office space back in 2005. “I knew it from the very first time I saw it that it could be something very special.”
Take two steps into the 5,000-square-foot studio on the top floor of a 19th century mill building and it becomes quite apparent that Schadler’s talents go well beyond TV journalist. Amid the wooden columns and high ceilings are thousands of images, designs and multidimensional collages that Schadler has produced. He has created everything from picturesque landscapes that look like something out of a far-reaching sci-fi motion picture, to still photographs that are as simple as a row of rolled up beach towels. His eye for detail is evident, as is his abstract view of the outdoors.
“What’s amazing to me is that Jay sees things most other people fail to recognize,” says Jorden, who grew up in Andover.
For example, Schadler, Jorden and Toasty take a pair of one-hour walks every day, when he’s not travelling, through the 500 acres of conservation land across from their house. Schadler, who says he carries his camera with him “24 hours a day,” will usually come home with numerous pictures from those walks, and when Jorden sees the results, she often wonders if she was actually with her husband at the time he was snapping away.
“I’m just amazed that we were right next to each other the whole time, yet he sees and captures something totally different,” says Jorden, whose father, Christopher Cook, was the director of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover for twenty years.
Schadler agrees that he definitely sees his surroundings much differently than most people.
“The thing is, I’m always looking for something,” he says with a rise in his voice. “Heck, there have been plenty of times when I’ve been on my way to Stop & Shop to pick up a few things and I end up on the side of the road for a half-hour taking pictures. You’ve got to grab things the instant you see them, because you may never the get the chance again.”
The results of those impromptu photo shoots are scattered all over Schadler’s studio. But he does more than simply print the photos and frame them. He spends countless hours adding — or removing colors — and transferring the photos to canvas.
“This is my passion; I don’t do this for the money,” he says as he points to a gorgeous canvas print of a sunset over Portsmouth harbor in New Hampshire. “I do this to pay the rent here. I do it because I love it. And I think the work I do here really, really benefits my work as a journalist.”
Schadler says his “real job” as a TV news reporter is, ironically, the “antithesis” of the work he produces at his studio.
“The great thing about TV is that it’s a collaborative piece of work, where the editors, writers and producers all come together to create something special,” explains Schadler, an energetic man with a lean build. “But the thing I like most about my art is it’s my own game. I get to tell a story using my own tools. I get out there with my own camera and then I shoot, compose, color and print the pieces all by myself. It’s a control freak’s wonderland.”
Schadler says his keen eye sometimes caused friction with his cameramen during his early days as a TV reporter.
“Here I was, this young reporter with no TV experience, telling a veteran cameraman of 20 years how to set up the shot and where he should stand,” Schadler says. “But I was confident in my ability to put it all together. I liked to use my sense of vision to get a news package exactly how it should be.”
Though Schadler is originally from the Midwest, he grew up on Lake Michigan and attended Michigan State University, he has been a Merrimack Valley local for nearly two decades. His comfortable camera presence and penchant for writing helped him work his way from Oswego to Dayton, Ohio, to Grand Rapids, Mich. to Minneapolis Minn.
“I was thrilled to be able to go out with a cameraman and then be able to put my words to the video,” says Schadler, who earned a master’s degree at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and a law degree at Syracuse University College of Law. “I was in heaven, and in many respects I still feel the same way today, 30 years later.”
In 1980, Schadler went to New York to interview with CBS News, which was tops in the nation for network news at the time. He was offered a job, but before accepting it, his boss at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, MN suggested he give their network, ABC, a crack at hiring him.
“When I interviewed with CBS, I met with guys in pinstripe suits and suspenders, and it felt like they were doing me this huge favor by offering me a job,” Schadler remembers. “At ABC, I interviewed with a man wearing one of those big wide plaid ties. He was an ordinary guy who I really, really liked. Even though ABC was the third out of three networks for news at the time, the people seemed hungrier. I sensed that they were coming on and going in a direction that I wanted to be a part of.”
Schadler’s hunch was dead on. ABC already had Barbara Walters in the fold, but it would go on to hire beckoning stars such as Diane Sawyer, Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson and Ted Koppel.
“We redefined the way broadcast news was done for the next 15 years,” Schadler says proudly.
Schadler played a key role in the rise of ABC news. In 1982, he was based in Atlanta and covered everything from the Mason-Dixon Line all the way to the tip of Chile. If an airplane went down in the Andes Mountains or a hurricane ripped into the Gulf Coast, Schadler and his camera crew were on the scene.
“I was using the same skills that I was using at the small affiliate stations, except now the resources given to me by the network allowed me to do more with it,” Schadler says.
In 1985, Schadler was in Boston putting together a five-part story called “Teenagers in America” for “World News Tonight” when he fell in love with New England. He and his first wife adopted a South Korean child, Kylee, who at 14 months was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder characterized by weakness of voluntary muscles. Instead of chasing stories away from home, Schadler decided he needed to be near his family more, and he wanted to settle in the Boston area.
So they bought a house in Grafton that was built on a farm in the 1800s. Schadler was hired at WCVB-TV, the local ABC affiliate in Boston, as a weekday reporter and weekend anchor, and he and his wife adopted a second child, Nate. But in 1989, the couple separated and divorced, and he suddenly felt a strong desire to live near the water again, just as he had growing up on Lake Michigan. He found the perfect spot on Plum Island.
“When you grow up on a big body of water, it’s like a magnet that keeps you coming back,” says Schadler, whose two children still live in the area. “Plum Island had everything I wanted. Whenever you go to an island — no matter how big or small — you always feel like you’re somehow leaving the craziness of the world behind. For an artist like myself, there really isn’t a better place.”
Around the same time that Schadler began living the island life, he also returned to network TV. Rick Kaplan, who was the executive producer of “Nightline” when Schadler was previously with ABC News, was creating a show called “Primetime Live,” and he wanted Schadler to be a part of it. Sawyer and Donaldson were the anchors, with Schadler, Judd Rose, Chris Wallace and Sylvia Chase the main reporters.
“It was very gratifying to go out and tell a story and then the very next day have everyone in the country talking about it,” Schadler says. “And, in essence, that’s what “Primetime” was all about.”
While with “Primetime,” Schadler came up with the idea for his ABC News Special called “Looking for America.” With a hand-held camera, Schadler hitchhiked more than 13,000 miles in three years, interviewing each gracious driver that volunteered to pick him up. In a special, one-hour edition of “Primetime” in 1997, Schadler chronicled his 10-day, 3,500-mile trip from Plum Island to Santa Monica.
“It changed my life as a journalist,” says Schadler, who had his stories from the road picked up in 2000 by the Bravo channel and aired as a weekly series called “TaleLights.” “I always thought that everybody had a story to tell, and this confirmed it for me.
“Because of what I saw during my time as a hitchhiker, I now have a very powerful faith in basic human goodness. I’m continually amazed at just how much good there is out there in the world.”
Though his tales from the road may have had the most impact on him as a journalist — and perhaps as a person — two other stories Schadler worked on landed him the ultimate hardware for his industry. Schadler’s first Emmy Award came in 2000 for “Outstanding Investigative Journalism,” for a “Primetime” story about fraudulent claims by veterans receiving medical benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. The second, in 2009 was for “Outstanding Feature for a News Magazine,” for a piece about children with Tourette’s syndrome.
The two handsome Emmy trophies sit on a bookshelf in Schadler’s studio but, amazingly, are almost lost among the other striking works of art in the room.
“I’m proud of them,” Schadler says casually. “But what I’m most proud of is that they were for two stories that couldn’t be more different from each other. I’ve been able to survive so long in this business because I like to do things outside the box. I made sure I didn’t pigeonhole myself as someone who could only handle one kind of story. I always wanted to be adaptable.”
Indeed, versatility is one of Jay Schadler’s strengths as a journalist, an artist and, as his wife explains, a person.
“He’s an amazing man,” says Jorden, who has been married to Schadler since 2000. “When you watch him work — no matter what he may be doing — he’s pretty intense. There’s just so much focus.”
“I miss him when he’s away, but I love when he returns,” she says. “The best part is to have him come home and just start telling stories. It’s a fascinating life. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Jay Schadler is currently available for engagements as a keynote speaker through his website: www.jayschadler.com