One day I was walking through Market Square with my camera gear and a woman in a pink polka-dot dress came up to me and said with out any hesitation, reservation or insecurity "Hi, are you Jessica Tezak? I love your instagram." I had never felt more famous (and also haven't felt that famous since).

Holly invited me to my first brunch, took my portrait and I thought "Wow, what a cool new friend." Since then, she has introduced me to (almost) every friend I have; a support system that feels extra important since my family lives far away. What amazes me about Holly though, is that this experience is not unique to me. She just has a way of bringing people together.

Holly once went to a funeral for someone she had never met before, but respected. She throws herself a birthday party every year, usually with a food theme; pizza party; tacos and breakfast for dinner (even though this last one was cancelled unfortunately, but we karaoked instead). One time, she told me that I was in her top ten favorite friends and meant it as a compliment, because she has so many friends. When she started getting lonely at the gym, she created the Knoxville Walking Club on a whim. But people showed up and its actually really fun to walk around town with a bunch of strangers! Who would have known?  

It is hard to find people that can push you, inspire you, and also just let you be yourself and Holly has always been that kind of friend for me and I'm assuming a lot of other people. So hey, Holly! Thanks for being you. 

If you want to see some of Holly's genuine, heart felt photography check out her work at







Farm life, home life, and being out in the world. 

Walking around, talking to people

I have started walking around, again, with no intention other than being in the world and seeing who is around to talk to. It has been a while since this was a regular practice and I have to say, wow. I had forgotten what it was like to not have an agenda, I didn't realize until today as I was laying in my bed and couldn't stop thinking about it. That is why photography is so exciting. 

I remember when I was 19, I had just started photojournalism courses, and one day I was feeling pretty down. I was sitting on my couch in my first real apartment, I think I was crying for no reason in particular, and I thought "Well, I should probably do something." So I went to this rally because some of the faculty at SIU had gone on strike and I took a bunch of photos. All this time it hadn't totally clicked, for me, why doing that was able to make me feel so much better.  It is the mind set that taking photos puts me in. By walking around without a purpose and allowing myself to take note of my surroundings, just let things happen and really pay attention, I'm reminded about all of the small things that make being alive exciting. Just the act of having a spontaneous conversation with a stranger can change the course of your day. It might not change your life, but it could change your attitude, which feels like a good start. If nothing else, it made me appreciate that even though I might be in a bad mood, the world continues to turn and eventually the bad mood will be over. I am not trying to be overly simplistic or optimistic, I know some problems can't be solved by taking a walk, and that photography can be used as a much more powerful and less selfish tool. However, it is comforting to remember that it is also a pretty great way to change your perspective. 

Recently I found out a 28-year-old photographer passed away. I started looking at his photos and came across this quote by him and it hit me in the gut. 

“Photography is like a religious practice, because it’s largely about opening yourself up to the flow of life. If you aren’t out there with an agenda, things come to you.”  

I feel a little bit lame writing this, like some photographers may be like, "well, duh," but this is where I'm at! I don't really know where photography will take me, but I am grateful that it will always be a way to re-connect with the world. 

P.s. I have developed a deep love affair with karaoke, the only downside is that every time I go, I come home smelling like an ashtray. 


Women's March 2018

The Knoxville Women's March was a great time, again, besides the white supremacist group that showed up and spread their general unhappiness with everyone. I didn't photograph them, people like that want attention, and not giving them what they want feels like a small victory.  

I was walking home from the march with a few friends and I brought up how weird it was that some of the white supremacists brought their kids along. Then one of my friends made a point that kids are manipulated on both sides and that a lot of parents use their children to get their political messages across. Which you know is better if you are expressing a message of love for all people, but still feels a little manipulative to do to a someone that isn't quite ready to grasp the situation. I thought back to earlier in the day when a woman was trying to get her daughter to yell, "Kill the patriarchy!", which is a fine message, but the kid didn't want to, she just wanted to yell nonsense and be silly and that is probably all that should be asked of her. 


Holidays 2017

Care of the Earth Community Farm: October

October is gone. Where did it go? As the seasons change, the summer plants die, winter lettuces emerge, and the corn is harvested on the farm I cannot help, but notice the changes I feel in myself. Me and my co-worker Anna Laura were talking the other day as we were cleaning up the fields (taking out the drip line ((plastic hoses that we lay down the rows. They have small slits in them that allow water to seep into the soil when we haven't had rain)) removing plastic ((helps control weeds)) about how just one month ago the field looked completely different. It almost looked like a jungle. Mature winter squash had been harvested and the plants that grew them were left with their vines like living/dying ropes crawling in every direction. Now, as we ripped up the drip line and dug in the dirt to try to get all of the plastic up it was just a field full of dirt. Good dirt though. It provided us with a whole lot of beautiful winter squash (more varieties than I can even remember, but Ayote is my favorite) and now it will get seeded with a cover crop (I think rye and vetch to fix nitrogen in the soil. I am not totally confident in writing about the science behind this yet, so I will leave it at that). The soil needs time to build itself back up to be ready to support another crop next season. As the weather gets colder I am excited to write more and enjoy/explore the things that I have learned from this year of my life. I guess those lessons can be my winter squash, hopefully they store well. 


I went to Carbondale this weekend to see some old, familiar faces. To me, Southern Illinois is a hidden gem. A place that is so easily over looked, but the beauty of it always gets me a little fired up. The landscape rolls and I like the way the breeze feels, which sounds so dreamy when I type it, but it is true. 

Along with landscapes here are some people that I love too. 

Care of the Earth: September

This month on the farm was exciting. Megan gave birth to baby Eila, who is so much fun to have around even now as a tiny baby. 

The day she was born Anna Laura and I were planting a fall vegetable, it might have been spinach or kohlrabi I can't remember. Megan had a home birth so there was definitely an excitement in the air about if it was really going to happen and whether it would be a boy or a girl.

Anyway, so we are planting and Lalo comes out on the porch and yells something to us, asking what we are planting, kind of pretending to check up on us. We answer and get back to our business, as Lalo slowly turns to grab the door to go back inside. He pauses, and all of a sudden turns around, throws his arms up in a victory stance and yells, "It's a girl!!!!". It was so funny, he didn't want to just come out and tell us, but in the end he couldn't contain his excitement. 

Later that afternoon he was back in the field planting with us. Which, when I tell people they are kind of blown away, like, "doesn't he take a break?" The answer is no, because he can't! That is just how it works. The baby was born, they welcomed her to the world, but there was still the days work that had to be done. Pretty wild. 

Weekend in the Woods

I hiked to LeConte Lodge this weekend to see some friends and spend some time in the woods. Whenever I take a day or two to go out to the Smoky's I am blown away by how much I benefit from spending time moving my body, smelling the fir trees, seeing the way the light plays on the leaves and hearing running water. I got so excited I put my whole head in one of the streams. After working at the lodge I understand nature's role in our mental health. Man, it is just so good. Here are a bunch of vertical photos (I guess that is just how I was seeing things) and a couple of horizontal ones too. 


I got to see Matt who was on crew with me last year at the lodge. Actually he was the cook and I was the assistant cook. He still works there, so sometimes I go to see him and the new crew because when you live with someone for eight months in the woods they take up a big place in your heart. In general though, the mountain just calms me and slows me down so going there gives me a lot of energy. Matt and I bonded pretty hard over the joys and struggles of learning how to cook for big groups of people who are also your friend/co-workers (it is a unique job). He is one of the strongest, kindest people I know and I am so glad that I get to see him still. 

Care of the Earth

I have been working at Care of the Earth Community farm for about six months now. I have a lot of photos to edit still, but honestly I haven't taken as many as I would have liked. This summer was a little chaotic, in dealing with the end of a relationship, moving, getting settled, all while doing manual labor sort of left my creative energy a little bit depleted. In a different phase of life I may have beat myself up for this and felt like I failed, but in taking that time to take care of myself I feel re-invigorated. 

This is a little cheesy, but sometimes, when I am working, I look around at all of the plants and take notice of how they have grown. I think about the work that it took to get them from seed to harvest and I know that doing that work has helped me grow in all sorts of ways too. I am beyond grateful to have the unlikely opportunity to be working here and to have the chance to begin to understand what it takes to run an organic vegetable farm.  I am excited to continue to share more photos from this past season (and season to come!) to show the incredible dedication that Megan and Lalo (the owners of Care of the Earth/my bosses/mentors/friends) put forth to nurture life on the farm. Let me tell you, it is a job that never ends. 



Anna Laura, my co-worker and basically therapist. 


Lalo harvesting lettuce early in the morning. 


Shea Shea, 4, Megan and Lalo's son. 


Ashlyn, former fellow intern, I miss her, but its ok we are still friends. 


Megan and Shea Shea being very cute. 


More pics to come! 


On Saturday I went to what was supposed to be a rally led by white supremacist group Confederate 28 regarding a petition to tear down a Confederate monument in the Fort Sanders neighborhood in Knoxville. It ended up being mostly counter protesters (people who wanted to the monument gone) but the city did their best to prepare for whatever happened. The opposing groups were divided by 17th Street, which was shut down. Cops with clubs stood in the middle facing each side walk where people were gathered. People who attended had to go through security to make sure no one brought in any weapons. 

It was cool to see people standing up for each other, but events like this are always complicated. We were lucky that it was relatively peaceful. That being said, there were a lot of passionate people there and for the most part it made me happy to live in Knoxville. 

It feels amazing to be shooting more and paying attention to people and talking to strangers again. Even though the circumstances in the case kind of suck. 



The Drunken Donut

I went to the Drunken Donut (the Joliet Bakery) the other night with my brother Kenny and his friend Jordan. It is a combination deli/bakery/liquor store/bar.  It had been a while since I had gone there, probably about three years ago when my dad's old band used to play there occasionally. 

I had so much fun taking photos of the new crowd that the bar has now. Everyone was having a great time and the atmosphere is freaking beautiful.

Being at home

Back in the North

Before I dig into this post...

Divine Urban Expressions is still trying to raise money for a van and could really use some help! Read about all of the effort Felecia Outsey puts into making the group possible and donate by clicking the link below! Thank you! 

Here are some of my favorite pictures I took while working at the News Sentinel. I had the chance to cover a lot of really fun things, but I gravitate towards quieter moments.

Right now I am living at my parents house in Joliet, Illinois while I save some money before starting a new job in March at Mount LeConte Lodge in the Smoky Mountains. In the mean time I will be freelancing, cranking out blog posts and taking a bunch of pictures of my family and friends with my new camera that I am very proud of and excited about. 

A few things I learned in 2015

  • Always have rain gear.
  • Uncertainty about the future is ok. 
  • Being 24 feels old; it is not. 
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Portraits & Thanksgiving

I've been trying to make a point to take more pictures of my friends. Here are some portraits of them and also some of people that I don't really know. 


This week was Thanksgiving. I didn't get to spend it with my family, but I got to hang out with new friends. At the risk of sounding sappy, it made me realize how much fun I am having right now.  Ugh. It was so great. We made and ate a ton of food, played an almost equal amount of Settlers of Catan and went bowling. Love them, love all of it, good times. 


Fall is so magical, I can hardly handle it. I am trying to document all of the beauty, while being present so I don't just see the everything through my lens and not with my own eyes. It's a balance that I am still trying to figure out. Either way I am having so much fun right now. 

New project: Divine Urban Expressions

Ok, I am really excited about this post. 

About a month and a half ago I was on an assignment at a cancer survivor celebration at a church in Knoxville. Included in the ceremony was a dance routine by a group called Divine Urban Expressions. It was bunch of kids ranging from about 6-18 and the women who lead the group dancing SUPER PASSIONATELY. I was really taken aback by the age range and just how into it everyone was. So I caught up with Felicia Outsey, the founder of the group, and asked her what they were all about. 

Felecia said she started the group a few years ago to give kids she knew a creative outlet. She said a lot of them come from stressful home lives and she thought it was important that they have a way to express themselves. They started practicing at her home and in local parks, and other kids in the neighborhoods would see, and wanted to join too. So now there are about 30 kids in the group. Not everybody makes it to every practice, but whoever can Felecia picks up from wherever they are on her own dime. One day I went with her to make the rounds and we made three stops for one dancer. After she picks everybody up she leads the practices with the help of a few other adults, but also the kids take control too and discuss their ideas and help each other out. I should also mention she is doing this while having five kids of her own. 

I am so happy to be working on this project. The kids have a ton of fun dancing, but the best part is watching them learn from and teach each other. Older high school boys teach the younger boys who need help and you can just see in their faces how much it means to them. Felecia's son Ray Ray leads some of the dances and gives directions to kids almost twice his age. They work so hard; they practice when it is pitch black outside. 

It is not everyday that you meet somebody so selfless. Felecia's phone is constantly ringing off the hook. I asked her if she ever gets time to herself and how she manages doing all of this. She just said it makes her feel good and that when she was young somebody did the same thing for her. 

I plan to work on the story for as long as I can, but the goal is to raise money for the group to get  a van and hopefully be able to afford a space to practice in the winter. When the story runs I am hoping to figure out some kind of Go Fund Me account so people who want to help the group out can. Until then, keep it in the back of your mind and maybe when the time comes donate because it would be so cool. 

Ok, I still have a lot of work to do, but here are some of my favorite pictures so far! 

Carbondale and cryotherapy

Last weekend I visited Carbondale, Ill. to see some friends. It was fun to take photos just because. I actually really miss the Midwest sometimes. One of the highlights of the weekend was getting to see the Woodbox Gang for the first time. I had heard a lot about them, but never had the chance to see one of their shows when I lived in town. The energy of crowd reflected how much the band cared about their music and the people/town they were performing for. It was awesome. When I go to a show on my own time I like to put the camera down and just enjoy the music, but I included a couple of photos that I took just to remember how much fun I had. 

On sharing.


My son Jackson and my brother Kenny pose in a battle stance at my home in Joliet, Ill. September 12, 2015.



I've never posted anything very personal on any website that I've had. I could say that it is supposed to be a professional site, but more so I think revealing yourself is scary.

Tonight I was going through old hard drives, and I kept running into old photos that don't seem like that long ago, but change creeps up on you slowly. It is easy to get wrapped up in shooting daily assignments. However, seeing images just a few years old, from when I first started  taking photos, reminded me why I was drawn to photography in the first place. Life changes really fast and I love being able to see and remember. 

The photo above is one of my favorites; we were celebrating Jackson's sixth birthday with my family and Jackson's family. To clarify, when Jackson was born I gave him up for an open-adoption. He has two amazing parents and the three coolest siblings. They blow my mind.  I usually avoid sharing personal matters publicly, but I'm really proud to know Jackson and I would hate for him to grow up thinking that I didn't want other people to know he exists. Through him I have grown and have gotten to see my family open up in a way I didn't know was possible. The relationship between adoptive families and birth mothers takes time, but now I feel like I have two families and that rocks. 

This picture represents that for me. Along with Jackson being really obsessed with my brother and saying things like "Uncle Kenny, will you have a sword fight with me?". 

Anyways, here are some old photos I found that make me happy. 

A little bit of September.