This month, we spoke to member Jack Cohen. Jack works in venture capital and is also a professional photographer. We talked about his work in both industries and the ways they intersect.
Tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to the venture capital world.
I graduated from Colby College in 2015 and joined Blue Apron. I always had an entrepreneurial side to me, so joining a startup right out of college felt really appealing. I ran their social media, content, and community for 2 years, and grew the Blue Apron social community from 75,000 fans to over 2 million.
When FirstMark reached out to me, I was intrigued. I had always been interested in venture capital, but I wasn’t sure it would be the right fit. From the outside looking in, venture capital seemed strictly focused on number crunching and data mining, and I wasn’t deeply passionate about spending my days analyzing data. But I realized that while data is a critical part of any venture capital firm, there was a larger opportunity to flex my entrepreneurial thought into action.
The work I do at FirstMark is on the Platform team, which is responsible for the firm’s portfolio and community-facing initiatives. We create a set of additional tools and post-investment support to ensure the portfolio’s continued success. FirstMark differs from other firms as we take a very active approach of connecting founders with experts and getting into the trenches with entrepreneurs.
I find that at the core of venture capital, what drives success is being curious about other industries, and with that I see many parallels to photography.
That’s really interesting. How does your venture capital work support and intersect with your photography?
I think the two industries are very interconnected, and venture capital and photography have been a nice marriage of my two curiosities.
I started photographing at about 9 or 10, and a major influence on me was my family’s photography collection of my childhood. As I would look at the breadth and depth of the photos my parents were taking of me and my sister growing up, I realized that photography was the medium I wanted to use to explore the world around me.
The way I view photography is by looking at iconic scenes, streets, or landmarks and asking myself, “what is the perspective change that I can implement that breathes new life into this same scene?” I find that my curiosity, persistence in finding a way to make a shot work, and different perspective all translate into and speak to my work in VC.
I love that you’ve been photographing since 9 or 10. When did you begin to focus on photography more seriously?
I started to professionalize my photography work towards the end of my college career. I only took two academic courses in photography, so most of my learning has come from workshops and learning from within the photography community. In the last 5-6 years since I’ve been in New York, the photography community has become continually more inclusive and expansive. As more people look for resources to self teach, there’s a whole rank of new photographers coming into greater prominence. Willem Verbeeck has been a great inspiration for me.
There is so much happening. I find that despite the pandemic, there are more ways than ever to explore New York through photography. That gives me hope.
Your artistic side doesn’t just extend to photography. I know that last year you wrote for Medium for one hundred days, straight. Tell me a little more about that.
My grandmother sent me an article about Fotografiska and we went to the museum together, as it’s a bit of a ritual for us to explore new cultural scenes together. The moment I walked in it felt like home, and I had to become a member. I loved the energy of the museum and that it did not just feature famous photographers, but those that were up and coming and lesser known within the industry. I love how as you navigate through the museum you’re nudged through very different works of wide-ranging photographers, which may not seem connected, but have more to do with one another than you thought at first glance. I think I went through the first set of exhibitions close to a dozen times.
Was there any exhibition that particularly resonated with you?
I was floored by Tawny Chatmon’s portraits. The way she featured strong Black women and their children so regally was incredibly impactful and powerful, and I loved the tactical nature of the portraits through the gold overlay.
I also loved the work of Helene Schmitz. I have traveled to Iceland (which is like Hawaii for photographers!), and I loved how Schmitz captured the landscape in a very different way through exposing the scars caused by manufacturing. As humans we can be very myopic, and her work was a powerful and clear message that something needs to change.
We’ll be hosting a Member Spotlight every month and would love to hear from you. Please contact us at email@example.com to be featured.