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Passion Projects: Portraits of Men on the Modern Trail

Behind the scenes

We love that moment when passion and work intersect on The Modern Trail.

Inspired by making discoveries and finding new paths, photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis sought out portrait subjects who carved their own space in their fields.

She captured nine subjects in their studios, classrooms and warehouses to photograph them in their element. Below, we’ve showcased four of these men, each modeling the Chestnut Quartz Collection.

On her inspiration behind the project, Shaniqwa said, “Each of the nine subjects have taken non-traditional routes to get to where they are today. In my opinion, that takes a lot of ambition, style, patience, and dedication. I photographed them at work, in their own offices and the results are these intimate and thought-provoking images that shed light on daily routine.”

Below, the portraits reveal the self-expression, individual style, modern workplaces and the visionary men who occupy them. 


The Artist

Philadelphia  -  Thom Lessner  -  @thomlessner


If careers are in fact made by blazing trails, can you take us down an abbreviated version of yours? In other words, how did you get to where you are today?

Since I was young I loved to make things by myself, play sports and skateboard. Slowly sports felt too organized and skateboarding took over—that independence and creativity gave me the drive to start making music.

I was just playing in punk bands with friends and then I fell in love with painting. I never wanted to go to school, so I’d hang out with art school pals and learn from them, and figured out my own way to make things. Eventually I moved to Philly and have been blessed to find a community here to work for or with and always have fun things to do.

Do you work to live, live to work or a combination of the two?

I usually find my most peace when I’m in the zone completely focused on what I’m working on.


What about your work brings you the most pleasure?

I think just knowing whatever I’m making never existed before I made it. When I come off and if I feel proud of it, there’s always a short moment of total bliss.

What about your work brings you the most pain?

I’ve learned to be less concerned of always being bigger or newer or whatever. I’ve hopefully let go of a lot of that. I feel more grounded like, “This is what I do, it’s working, and it’s me.” I can have bad days getting stuck or overwhelmed but I know I’m still on the right path and I’ll get through.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I started a new band that I feel so great about. And last night I saw my 13-year-old niece’s modern dance recital. It was very good.

What music are you currently listening to to get into work mode?

Been on a non-stop LeVert ‘Casanova’ kick for awhile.

What one item of clothing represents your personal style?

I don’t know if it counts as clothing but I have a sterling silver necklace charm with a boxer dog in sunglasses flexing huge muscles. I think that pretty much sums me up.


The Woodworker

(and Welder, Upholster & Rental Company Owner)

Philadelphia  -  Jason Hoak  -  @maggpiebuilds


If careers are in fact made by blazing trails, can you take us down an abbreviated version of yours? In other words, how did you get to where you are today?

My fiancé and I started collecting vintage furniture five years ago. When the collection grew, we needed to figure out a way to turn it into a business. That’s where Maggpie Rentals was born.

In the wedding rental industry, you need a large quantity of the same things such as table, bars, so out of necessity I took it upon myself to learn the trade of wood working, welding and upholstering to design and produce my own furniture.

Do you work to live, live to work or a combination of the two?

Lately, it’s been a combination of both. When we first started it was work, work, work all the time but I’ve learned to take a step back now and then to clear my head and smell the roses a little. It’s really helped my creative process a lot.


What about your work brings you the most pleasure?

Just being able to use my mind and hands every day to create things brings me a lot of pleasure. I love to be immersed in thought and my work allows me to do that daily.

What about your work brings you the most pain?

The business part—numbers, logistics, etc. Boring!

What’s inspiring you right now?

I’m always inspired by the craftsmanship of the past, when people took pride in their work, didn’t over look the fine details, and stood behind their product with no excuses.


What music are you currently listening to to get into work mode?

I’m a big Drake fan.

What one item of clothing represents your personal style?

I’ve always got a fitted hat on, always repping my team, always repping my city.


The Restaurateur

New York  -  Carlos Quirarte  -  @cqsmileny


If careers are in fact made by blazing trails, can you take us down an abbreviated version of yours? In other words, how did you get to where you are today?

I believe success is a combination of two things: opportunity and preparation. NYC is full of opportunity and luckily enough, I was prepared for it.

Do you work to live, live to work or a combination of the two?

At the moment I’m doing both after living to work for way too long. Currently on the path to work to live.


What about your work brings you the most pleasure?

Creating an experience for people that makes them happy.

What about your work brings you the most pain?

Honestly, if I complained I’m not sure anyone would listen. It’s pretty painless, I love what I do.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done, work-wise?

The Smile was my and my partner, Matt Kliegman’s, first restaurant. Not screwing that up was the hardest thing. It truly was the blind leading the blind.


What’s inspiring you right now?

The people that are around me.

What music are you currently listening to to get into work mode?

Lots of late 80’s and 90’s hip hop.


The Tattoo Artist

Los Angeles  -  Michael Burns  -  @mr_instaburns


If careers are in fact made by blazing trails, can you take us down an abbreviated version of yours? In other words, how did you get to where you are today?

I believe that my path started my first year out of high school when I enrolled in the local community college and started taking basic art classes. After enrolling in art school a few years later I furthered my art education and became more and more into tattoos.

During school I was getting tattooed frequently and finally worked my way into getting a very informal apprenticeship. Slowly learning by watching co-workers tattoo and also by watching other artists tattoo me.


From then on I’ve been honing the craft and my style. It’s been a wild ride but I would say I got here by keeping my head down and working hard.

Do you work to live, live to work or a combination of the two?

It’s a combination of both. If I’m on vacation and not in the shop for a bit, all I can think about is work and I start to get antsy. At the same time if all I’m doing is working everyday I tend to get burnt out, and I really need a break.

What about your work brings you the most pleasure?

The thing that brings me most pleasure is doing a tattoo for someone that is really important to them. Seeing a customer walk out so happy with something they will have for life is pretty awesome.


What about your work brings you the most pain?

It could be the client that I have to deal with or even a more literal pain being my back after a 6-hour rib piece.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I have been really inspired by the mountains lately and try to get out in nature as much as possible.

What music are you currently listening to to get into work mode?

It all depends on the day but I would say my go-to music selections would be The Grateful Dead, Tame Impala, Charles Mingus, High on Fire, John Holt, The Allman Brothers and the list goes on. Hippy to heavy, I’m all over the board.

What one item of clothing represents your personal style?

A pocket tee.


Want to learn about more inspirational artists, craftsman, musicians and creatives on the Modern Trail? Check out our past and present MarkerMakers, like musician Jamie N Commons and photographer Benjamin Holtrop