Category Inspirational

2023: A Year On My Feet

Lone Hiker on rocky cliff
Quoddy Head State Park, Maine. Photo by Max Fitzgerald

Last year, I set a personal goal to walk or hike 2023 miles. It was a last-minute decision, sparked by a desire to shape up before a five-day backpacking trip in Iceland. I didn’t want to be the guy holding everyone back. Despite the cold and snow, I was consistently clocking 5-6 miles daily by mid-February. My routine involved pitch-dark stumbles through our nearby woods, causing my wife concern for my sanity but keeping me on track even as many other goals slipped away.

The journey taught me several lessons. First, success often hinges on factors being within our control. Unlike some of my other goals last year, choosing to go hiking was entirely up to me. Second, embracing an identity rather than just a goal makes success more likely. I wasn’t just trying to hike; I was a hiker.

Flexibility was my third lesson. Breaking up walks into smaller segments allowed me to meet daily targets without being rigid. It didn’t have to be perfect, just done. The fourth lesson hit home as I saw others around me battle health issues. Staying healthy became a powerful motivator, pushing me forward even on tough days.

By year’s end, I logged 2356 miles – equivalent to 90 marathons or the distance from Portland, Maine, to Reykjavik, Iceland – underscoring my final lesson: the cumulative power of small, consistent actions. Not every day felt significant, but every step counted.

As 2024 rolls in, I’m ready for new challenges. Iceland, here I come.

Down East Maine forest


Brick by Brick

Seattle Shadows
© Brian Fitzgerald

Sometimes random events converge, seemingly by accident, and reveal a greater truth.

This week I jumped on a plane and flew some 3,000 miles to visit an ailing uncle—my father’s brother—at his home on Vashon Island near Seattle.  Along with my brother and two of my sisters, we spent time with him, sharing family stories, filling in gaps in our collective memories and laughing, a lot.  It was an impromptu visit, borne of a desire to connect with those who matter to me at a time of my choosing and not pulled by the usual forces of union and demise: marriage and death.  I didn’t even tell my friends living in the state because I wanted—needed—to focus on some family relationships long neglected. 

We, and I, had a great time. On the return flight, I came across a quote by New Zealander and writer Frank W. Boreham: “We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us.”  My trip made even more sense then.  

It’s a beautiful thought that our daily decisions—like that which led to me being on this very plane—are the very things that, over time, make us who we are. It’s easy to imagine that with each small decision, we are choosing to build our future selves, much like a building is built.  One brick at a time.

Cut it Out: When Less is More


Maine Cops
Pete Herring, District Game Warden with the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, © Brian Fitzgerald


My default mode seems set to Acquire: Get more gear, more software, more skills, new stuff. But more isn’t better. It’s often a trap. Over time, the act of acquiring can become the goal itself.

That’s why the skill of subtraction is so important.

Subtractive lighting is critical in portrait photography. Blanket a subject with light, and then step by step, remove or block light to reveal shadow, shape and negative space. Stop when things get interesting. Light makes images possible, but shadow is what gives images definition, mood and impact.

The same concept applies elsewhere in life. Pruning makes plants stronger. Editing is critical for impactful writing. Decluttering homes make it easier to live in them. Cutting away the old and extraneous gives space for other things to grow.

Adding new things to life is fun and essential, but so is regular culling. I try to carve out time regularly, ideally at least twice a year, to evaluate and to subtract things that no longer work for me or are preventing progress on meaningful work. Embrace the process of subtraction by regularly and systematically clearing out the overgrowth in your life. You might be surprised by the things you learn and discover along the way.



Bridging the Gap

© Brian Fitzgerald

In the classic “South Park” episode featuring the Underpants Gnomes, a straightforward but fundamentally flawed business plan is unveiled: Phase 1, collect underpants.  Phase 3, reap the profits. This presentation humorously omits a crucial element — Phase 2.

Aspiring artists watching YouTube might hear similar-sounding plans: “Step one, buy this camera; watch this course. Step 3, get clients,  fame, and financial freedom.”   So simple, anyone can do it.  

So why don’t they?

As with the gnomes’ plan, several vital steps are missing.  True success as a creative requires identifying and filling these gaps.

For creatives, learning doesn’t follow a neat linear path — mastering one skill thoroughly before progressing to the next. It’s a more chaotic, but rewarding, journey: gain a foundational understanding, move forward, stumble, recognize a gap in knowledge or skill, then return to deepen your understanding. It is an ongoing cycle of growth where mistakes aren’t setbacks but signals, guiding you toward the gaps begging for attention.

The goal isn’t to avoid errors; it’s to engage actively and learn from them. It’s about embracing a dynamic learning process where missteps aren’t failures but opportunities to go deeper.

If you think you’ve addressed the gap but issues persist, you’ve dealt with a surface-level gap but not the true, core gap at the root of your problems. In other words, maybe the issue isn’t that the gnomes don’t know how to make stolen underpants profitable. Maybe the real gap is their decision to venture into the underpants business in the first place.

Gaps are the elusive Phase 2 on the path to genuine, sustainable success as a creative. Look for the gaps and let them lead you in the right direction.



From Cartoons to Glass: A Creative Maine Journey


Maine Glassblower David Jacobson
David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

David Jacobson was a freshman majoring in telecommunications at Kent State University in Ohio when he happened upon an outdoor glassblowing demonstration. “I knew at that moment that was something I needed to do,” he said.

It took a few years—and a few colleges—but Jacobson did end up studying for an MFA in glassblowing. He also became a professional editorial cartoonist for a Gannett newspaper in New York, where he is from, spending his career cartooning for various publications and with a full-time syndicated cartoon with United Media. Still, he found himself taking more glassblowing classes on the side. “Things were going well there. Yet it turned out that my cartooning supported my glass habit,” said Jacobson.

By 2003, Jacobson’s glass art was selling in galleries. He relocated to Montville, Maine that same year and did what Mainers do: cobbled together an income,  by running a glass studio and a house-painting business.

Maine Glassblower David Jacobson
David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

He rebuilt his 200-year-old barn into a glass studio. “There was a lot of hard work, a lot of doubt, and a lot of moments thinking, ‘I’m the biggest idiot in the world.’ But the passion was always there and fortunately, the talent was always there too. I just kept meeting the right people and kept saying yes.”

Saying yes is what led Jacobson to co-found a studio with artist Carmi Katsir as part of the Waterfall Arts in Belfast. They built out the studio using much of Jacobson’s equipment from his old studio, adapting it to run off of vegetable oil and electricity—one of just a handful in the US. Now, Jacobson produces his own work and, together with Katsir and others, teaches hot glass classes to the public and to Belfast high school students.

David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald


David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

Of the studio, owned by Waterfall Arts, Jacobson says that he’s grateful. “It allows me to do work that makes me the happiest I’ve ever been.”

As a creative business owner, Jacobson was used to being a lone wolf but is excited by the community aspect of the Waterfall Arts Glassworks. “One of the greatest assets of glassblowing is that it is community-oriented. People are trained to work with someone. So to come into this community situation is thrilling. It’s affected my work in that it’s given me great enthusiasm to try new things,” Jacobson said.

“It’s beyond any kind of vision that I ever had.”

David Jacobson, Belfast, Maine ©Brian Fitzgerald



Find out more about the Waterfall Arts Glassworks or to sign up for a class at the only public-access glassblowing studio in Maine. 

Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.

Triumph Over Trauma: Isaac’s Journey


Male Cancer Survivor
Isaac, testicular cancer survivor. © Brian Fitzgerald


A recurring theme in my work has been narrating the stories of those who battle adversity, survive and even thrive despite the trauma or disease they’ve encountered. This piece is part of an ongoing series featuring men who bear the physical scars of their trauma.

Isaac, a native of Auburn, Maine, recalls experiencing a persistent dull ache in his lower abdomen during his teenage years and early twenties. As he attempted, yet failed, to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail at 20, the discomfort continued. But he kept his pain hidden. “In my childhood, if you weren’t seen, you weren’t getting beaten,” he said. “So you never voiced any concerns.”

At 22, Isaac received a diagnosis of testicular cancer, a disease often affecting younger and middle-aged men. The prospects for recovery can be favorable if the cancer is detected early.

The following years were a blur of chemotherapy sessions, numerous surgeries, including a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection in Boston requiring an incision along his entire abdomen. His weight plummeted from 180 to 110 pounds, his body branded with two feet of surgical scars. Faced with an uncertain future, the 23-year-old grappled with the harsh reality of potential permanent disability.

But for Isaac, resigning to such a fate wasn’t an option. “I could have been milking the system like some people, but what kind of life is that? There are people who legitimately can’t care for themselves, but I’m too stubborn,” he said. Instead he returned to school to became a certified nursing assistant, a role he maintained for the next eight years.

A decade after his initial attempt, Isaac made his way back to the Appalachian Trail. This time, he embarked on his journey from Maine, and after eight months of backtracking, pausing, and restarting, he finally completed the hike.

“Things have happened to me that I didn’t choose,” he reflected, “but I tried to find my own way.”

First, Give Value

Dairy farmer with cow and son
© Brian Fitzgerald


I was raised by Irish Catholics, which might explain why I have a deep-seated belief that anything good in my life must be accompanied by an equal-or-greater amount of suffering.

Not a great belief, as beliefs go.  But here’s one that I’ve found is completely true: if you want to receive  good value or get good results—satisfying assignments, great clients, a good paycheck—then you have to first give great value.

What does ‘value’ mean?  It means doing your best to be remarkable in your work, your attitude, your professionalism. It means that before you offer help, you ask how you can help.  It often means giving more value than others expect.  For photographers, it means going that extra mile on a shoot: looking for an extra angle, taking creative risks and pushing for something different once you’ve satisfied your client’s stated needs.  Sometimes you’ll end up with images that surprise you and delight your client.

If you consistently do this and have the attitude of giving more than you are getting, you’ll find—like I have—that you get an amazing amount of value in return.

It starts with you.

The Decisive Portrait Moment

Maine Deputy


Photography is all about light, of course—the literal meaning of the word in Greek is ‘drawing with light’.  Without light, there can be no photography.

But what makes photography remarkable and powerful is something else. While video and film are all about the story—how all the individual parts contribute to the narrative, the still image is all about moment.

Of the thousands of images you’ve seen or created in your lifetime, what makes the relatively few images stand out as special?

I’d bet it’s that these images capture a fleeting, authentic, remarkable moment. Moments can be a shared interaction between mother and daughter; they can be a simple expression in the eyes or on the lips. A moment can be a gesture, but it can also be a ray of sunlight hitting the perfect spot. It’s a person caught in mid-leap over a puddle, ala Bresson. It’s that peak moment of joy, of anguish, or of maximum exertion during a sporting event.

It can be hard to define in words what a photographic moment is, but you undoubtedly know it when you see it. Moments can be momentous or quiet and subtle. The impact of a true visual moment, however, is immediate and profound. It connects with the viewer and pulls them in.

If you want your images to be remembered, be attuned to what photography great Henri Cartier-Bresson termed the ‘Decisive Moment’. Don’t take photos: capture moments.









Fighting Cancer with a Warrior Spirit

Trevor Maxwell
Trevor Maxwell, founder of Man Up to Cancer.  Cape Elizabeth, ME.
© Brian Fitzgerald.

Mostly we experience all three in succession—phases, rather than permanent states. That certainly seems to be true of my friend Trevor Maxwell, the founder of Man Up to Cancer, a support network to connect men dealing with the disease.

I’ve known Trevor since we both worked as journalists at the Portland Press Herald, now officially a Long Time Ago. At different points in time and independent of each other we both ended up leaving the paper, and our journalism careers, deciding to strike out on our own—me as a commercial photographer; Trevor as a communications and media consultant.

He discovered, like me, that with age comes inevitable physical changes and health challenges. Unlike me, he was faced with a true monster—a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis in 2018 at the age of 41.

As he related later, the diagnosis hit him hard, with depression so strong on top of the physical sickness that confined him to bed on most days. Eventually, he made a promise to his family that he would get the help he needed to regain his mental and physical health.

Trevor Maxwell
© Brian Fitzgerald

Two years later—and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, no less, Trevor launched Man Up To Cancer, along with a podcast that continues to grow and support men who, like Trevor, once felt isolated and alone in their struggle. The company’s howling wolf logo and tagline, “Open Heart, Warrior Spirit” speaks to Trevor’s approach, somewhat unique among cancer support groups that tend to be softer, more feminine and involve pink ribbons.

Clearly, Trevor has decisively moved into a phase of purposeful action, even as he continues treatment for his own cancer. 

I photographed Trevor this summer near the grand oak tree that has stood on his family’s Cape Elizabeth property for decades (check out the moving, beautiful tribute created by Roger McCord). I’m inspired by seeing how far Trevor has come and how he’s made it his mission to help others using his own unique talents and voice.

In normal times that would be something special. In 2020, it seems downright heroic.


Read more about Man Up to Cancer or  subscribe to the Man Up to Cancer podcast.


Enjoy it While it Lasts

Lake Kayak

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re already in mid-August and those of us in Maine know that means cooler days are not far away.

This summer of the pandemic has been strangely busy.   Busy,  primarily, because the work of a commercial photographer doesn’t just stop when things get slow; but also because I’ve been taking advantage of more time to start creative projects, edit my work and learn some new skills.  

Taking control of my own creativity, and reassessing the direction and trajectory of my business and my creative efforts, has been an unexpected benefit of these past few months.  

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting some new images, along with updates on a brand-new portfolio of work that I’m pretty excited about sharing. In the meantime, as summer winds down I’m enjoying getting out and doing what I love—kayaking, hiking, and spending time with my family.

So here’s to using well the summer we have left to us, and being ready to create meaningful work when we all return.