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My Path

Lesson 2 from: The Method to a Successful (and Fulfilling) Photography Career

Alex Strohl

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Lesson Info

2. My Path

Next Lesson: My Philosophies

Lesson Info

My Path

(slow music) I mean, when I moved here, I didn't really love it here. I actually just tolerated this whole environment. It's only after sort of coming back that I began to appreciate it and actually be aware of what, you know, this place actually is and means to me. Come in this village, just to walk around, I would drive my motorcycle through it. What I really liked, especially, you know, I wouldn't, didn't care much for the old stuff like old stones, because that was just, it felt normal to me. Now it feels amazing, but it felt normal back then. But I would just come up to the castle here, what's left of the castle, and shoot just photos there of the sunset just because you could see pretty much 360. And there's not a ton of places like this around here. That to me was the real draw is the views I could get from here. And now what I get is the sort of the magic of walking around this little streets where there's no one around. I think that's something that's lost. And that actually...

taught me about what I like, which is finding these little secret gems and taking them in. Spending time around here feels magic. I mean, we usually come a month or two every year in the summer usually. And in the summer it's really hot and you can't do anything 'cause it's just really too hot. And because of the C word, we actually couldn't come this summer. So we came in the winter, in the fall. And I've been sort of rediscovering this whole place because I can do anything, like you can go out and the temperature is nice. The landscape has been all orange for the past month and a half, which is, you know, for any photographer it's like nature porn. And it's just been good to be here because I could see my family again. You know, I realized this year that they're not getting any younger, right, my parents. So just being able to spend more time around them and sort of seeing how they live, being reminded of that has been awesome because I think there is a lot of, I take a lot of insights away from being here in France. I just sort of dig into my past and it sort of gives me new ideas and insights for new stories to tell just through this sort of process of looking back at, you know, what I used to see and what I see now. That, to me, is just eye opening to notice all the differences. I mean the first thing that I do when I, when I come here is actually just go to the, to the fromagerie, you know, the cheese broker. I don't know, you call it fromagerie in English, a cheese maker? Cheese maker. Yeah, I go to the cheese maker and I buy a bunch of cheese because I miss that a lot in the States. And, I mean, obviously France is the country of cheese. So once I've done that, I usually go out into the same path that I used to go as a kid. I just go for a good walk and try to see how my perception of things have changed. And every year it changes. So it always sort of gets deeper and richer. That's what I usually do. And there's things that I don't really do in Montana because, you know, I have a very fresh connection to the place. Although my dad studied there in, years ago, my personal connection is only, you know, five, six years old. So I don't have this baggage yet. And it's a beautiful thing to get to build that. But when I get here, I, and I think I live pretty differently. I live a little more slowly, I think. This region, you know, Fadesh, lives much more slowly than the U.S. I mean, I know Montana's not New York, but there is definitely less energy here to sort of get things done. And I used to fight it. Now I just embrace it. (gentle music) I grew up in Spain, near Madrid, actually outside of Madrid, near the Sierra, Sierra de Madrid, which is a big mountain range near the city. We stayed in Madrid from till I was 14. Yeah, pretty much 14 years. I mean, I think I've lived in Spain more than I've lived anywhere else. It's funny 'cause I feel more French. I wasn't like a very school oriented kid. I would just go 'cause I had to go. But I wasn't very, I wasn't very fond of doing things that seemed, you know, sort of useless, like learning about all these theories and mathematics, for example, that I've never applied to this date, you know? So that was, yeah, that was pretty boring to me. So I would just be in school. But I think I had a bit of a healthy disrespect for authority, you know? And I wanted just to be free. And I don't really, I didn't really get kicked out of school, but they just told my parents to not send me back the next year, which was a bit catastrophical, I think. So as a punishment, my parents and I moved back to France. I mean, for them it was the time they've always waited for, which was their retirement, they're gonna go back to France 'cause they're both French, they met in Spain and I was born there. But for me it was like I was losing all my sort of reference points. I was going, you know, 14 is a pretty delicate age. But it was my fault, right? No longer wanted in middle school there, so, yeah, we moved to France, middle of nowhere. My dad bought this property when he was 18. It's a forest in Aheldeshin which is a pretty remote department in France where not many people live and there's a lot of vegetation. It's not the most ideal place for a teenager. So, I mean, school was an hour away from the house, and obviously none of them was willing to drive me there. So, and I understand that. So I was, I was put in boarding school for, yeah, for all of the end of middle school and all high school. It was, I think it was a blessing and a curse. But when I would go back in the, just because at the same time you were living with all these people and they would sort of become your brothers. So there was a lot of good camaraderie. I had an awesome time. But it was also, sometimes you just, you know, wanted to go home for a little bit. So on the weekends when I would get to go home, there was nothing to do here. I mean, it's the woods, right? Like it's this sort of hill in the middle of hills with a lot of trees. And it's a beautiful area now in retrospect. But when I was a kid, I wasn't really into it. So I would, yeah, I didn't have much to do here on the weekends. I think everything changed when I was probably 16. I bought a motorcycle off a, or my dad bought me a motorcycle. Somebody bought me a motorcycle for maybe a birthday or something. It was like a small dirt bike, but I got this bike and that was the ultimate freedom machine. I could just go anywhere I wanted to. And having this sort of tool allowed me to go really explore this area. And not only, I think, explore it, but because it felt kind of empty to just go around on my dirt bike, this woods, like it felt kind of purposeless and I'm always like seeking some sort of purpose. So I would, I remember I would take my dad's, he had like an old Sony DSC camera with a 32-megabyte memory card, you know, so now it's, I'm sounding kind of old, but that was awesome back in the day. So, had this little Sony and I would just take it in my backpack and shoot a few digital photos of the area. And I would come back and throw them on the computer that I had, I built myself. So I was, yeah, I was kind of geeky I guess. But it was, at least it gave me a reason to go explore, and that felt really good. There was like this viaduct down here that I would ride to. There's a few of the viewpoints where you could see the Cévennes Mountains. Yeah, I would spend some time just going places and sitting there and looking. I think it was a bit of an unusual teenage time. They love peace, I think. They like to be just left alone, both of them. So that's why they decided to move here. My dad bought this, you know, when he was very young, and he wanted to retire in the middle of this forest, and all they see his family and that's it, gonna do his thing and take care of his forest. And the fact that they're both, I think pretty peace-seeking individuals really influenced me in a way that they were always looking for the most calm places, right? And we would go hiking. We would go hiking in Terral, I remember, for summer vacations. There was always, we would always go hiking in summer vacations. And when I was teenager, I thought it was super lame, right? But now I'm really thankful that they did that for me. I think in this area and what I got to do around here in retrospect felt pretty special because I could have just grown up in a city. Now I could just, I could just go anywhere. And I could, I had a lot of free time, I think. And, you know, would get here on Friday afternoon and then I'd have the whole weekend ahead of me and not much to do. My friends lived, you know, an hour away, an hour away, an hour away. So I was just left my own devices, no brother here or sister. So it was pretty boring. But I think that, in retrospect, that time to be bored really helped shape who I am because I had time to learn about myself and what I like, what I didn't like and what I, just do a bit of introspection, something you don't get to do until you're a bit older, I think, I did that as a teenager. And I was able to, yeah, just learn to observe the world, observe the light, 'cause there's not much else to do. The internet slowly arrived here. Like, you know, the first broadband, I remember it was like a blessing here. The first fast, fast internet back then arrived. And I, you know, built myself a computer and then I started playing around with it. And that's when I think the intersection of this forced outdoors experience combined with this interest for computers and cameras started to turn into something. We all, I think we all, I mean, all my buddies, we had all this cracked version of Photoshop, bless our hearts. Now we obviously all pay for Creative Cloud, which is a way better move. But back then for a 16-year-old kid, you know, I think it was 600, 700 euros for, you know, we couldn't couldn't realistically spend that on a software. And we all had cracked versions. But we, I just started downloading brushes off the Internet. I think that was a big thing. You could just do anything with brushes. People would turn a drawing or design into a brush and then you could just sort of apply it where you wanted to. So I remember making just designs like till late into the night, I was a night owl. Spend the whole night just making some random drawings. And I think I put some in a T-shirt. Yeah, I made a, there was a, I made a T-shirt brand called Get Funky. Don't ask me what the name came from. But I ended up putting these designs on T-shirts and selling them to people in school. And yeah, it was, they were pretty ugly, I think, in retrospect, but people bought them. After high school I went to design school in a town called Aix-en-Provence which is, was two hours from here. So same setup, you know, I'd have, I rented myself an apartment and just spend there the weeks and sometimes would come back in the weekends here. I went to design school, I think for lack of a better idea of what to do. I really didn't have a grand master plan of what my life was gonna be like. So I knew I was always into being creative and using either my hands or my head to create something, whether it's a drawing on Photoshop or drawing cartoons on paper. I was a pretty visual kid and, you know, design school sounded like something I could use more of. I think I got into the, I got into making websites somehow after Photoshop. There was a thing called Dreamweaver and you can make websites with it. So I just played with that and made some websites for some of my family members. And that led into design school in France. At that time, I think I was 19, 20 maybe, 19 and in design school. And I did my first year. It was awesome. Made a lot of good friends. But it felt pretty small to me, you know? At that age you just wanna see things. At least I wanted to see things I was desperate for. I had this grand travel like adventures. I would just go on a bus and go across Spain with it and hitchhike my way up to an island. I was just really excited to go places. So with very little means, I would end up going on to really cool trips. So I thought let's just go big this time and let me see something big. So the biggest country that I knew of was Canada. So I kind of presented the idea to my family and they supported it. So I ended up going to Canada to continue my studies. But that's for another time. I've already talked about that a lot in podcasts or interviews. You can probably found that if you don't know already about it. I think what really is important in showing you, you know, where I'm from and what these surroundings are, is the fact that I believe we should all revisit, you know, where we're from, what our past is to learn a bit more about ourselves. I think that has taught me a lot on who I am and what makes my vision of the world and what my values are. Because by interacting here with my old friends and family members, I can see what the values are. And that gives me new ideas, insights on sort of what stories to go tell as a photographer. So I think revisiting our past can be very formative and shaping us our vision. That's why I wanna show you, you know, what this place is to me and what it means to me like this old stone houses and how they feel so different now, but that just felt normal back then. And the proximity to nature that's here. That's all these things I took for granted. But now I'm so thankful to revisit. Well, he didn't, he never mentioned he didn't have any intention for a special job or a special profession. Well, he just was living and he didn't manifest any desire to be a doctor, to be a lawyer, or to be whatsoever. All what he liked was visual communication. In his adolescence, and it was when he was in the, in the French design in Augna, he was around what 14, 14, 15? And he was designing pictures, paintings, and designs, colored designs on T-shirts. And he was selling these T-shirts all throughout these, the design, through his, his friends, his buddies at the time, the family, et cetera. And he was making a business out of it. When he was finishing the design and he was, he passed his baccalaureate. I told him, "Listen, my son, "you will spend very likely more than 50 years of your life "in your job. "So the most important thing for you in life "will be to have an activity, "to have a job that fascinates you "and that, for which you will become passionate. "So this time you will be happy all your life "because you will do something that will please you so much "that you will wake up in the morning, jump out "just to realize your dreams and your job." So that I remember also very well. Pierre was even early, very young, he was a rebel. He was absolutely against any form of discipline. He couldn't stand discipline, orders, instructions. And he was a rebel in that sense. So I told him after I punished him several times because he was not doing exactly what I wanted him to do. And I told him one day, a little bit angry, I told him, "Listen, Pierre, discipline you must learn "because in life you will always have someone above you. "And if you want to succeed, "you'd have to abide and obey at least a little bit. "But discipline is important. "You must learn discipline." And he didn't follow that advice because what he got out of this, he said, "Well, I won't stand any boss. "I won't work for a company or for the state. "I will work for myself. "And I will be a freelance." That's the deduction he did from the advice to learn discipline. He said, "No, I won't learn discipline." And he didn't. But he succeeded. So he was right. Pierre. Pierre was the new name of my grandfather. My grandfather. That is his great-grandfather. And I loved him. So in remembrance, in souvenir of my grandfather, I gave him as the first name Pierre, and the second name, Alexander. (woman speaking in French) The composed name, Pierre Alexander. When he finished university in Quebec, I told him maybe you want to go to a PhD in visual communication journey. He graduated with a bachelor or, yes, it was a bachelor or a master? Bachelor. A master. So I told him if you want to go to a PhD. He said, "No, no, no, that's enough. "I'm ready. "I'm ready, I feel ready." So I said, "Okay." So he stopped going further in his studies. And he started working for himself as a freelance. And the turning point was just after he came back from Quebec, Microsoft wanted to buy a picture he took of Andrea, his wife, diving in my pool for $30,000, a picture. For the right of using that picture for two years exclusively. So I couldn't believe it. I said, "Well, that's impossible." And he himself, I said, "$30,000 for a simple picture?" I say, "Unbelievable." So that, I believe, was the turning point because he realized there was gold there. So, and the second one probably which confirm this first turning point was when he was contracted by the Canadian Tourism Office for promoting the Yukon. And he organized a 10-days trip in the Yukon with two or three other photographers, much, much, already famous. And the whole team, they went to Yukon for 10 days and they were paid by the Spanish, the Canadian Tourism Office. And I think that also was a turning point because he realized this Yukon trip was the first time Instagram was used to promote a tourism place. (woman speaking in French) Tourism destination. So that marked him also. These two with Microsoft and this Yukon, I think. Then he said, "Okay, I." That marked the path he was going to follow. Essentially at school. At school he had great difficulty in, to withstand and support the discipline of college and school. Adventurism and curiosity for everything. A deep taste for risk. Our first exercise. So the goal of this one is that you learn, you take a look into your upbringing to sort of learn what made you. I think that will allow you to extract how your backgrounds shape your vision, and what is that, you know, because we're all unique. So the goal of this exercise is really for you to find what your singularity is as a person. We all have different upbringings, so we don't spend enough time reflecting on that and thinking about that. So what I want you to do is to bring this uniqueness to your photography life. So let's just break it down. The best way I found, well first, the best way I found to learn more about my past at least, has been looking at this, all this photo albums as a kid, because I can see what we did, what life was like. And I can already understand more about what I was into just by seeing this thing. So it reinforces me in my choices. So if you have access to the, you know, these albums, ask your mom or your grandma, whoever's got the albums, ask them and just take a look at them. Just take them for an afternoon. If they're far away, have them send you photos of them. Just dig in. And well, then second, if you can go to these places of your childhood, you know, if you're not across, you know, the other side of the world, I would really encourage you to go. Because you're gonna see it with fresh eyes now, and there's gonna be the smells, the views, the people, the sounds, all that is gonna bring you back. And at least to me, it inspires me to tell, you know, to just go make new work. So if you can do that on top of the albums, also try to go revisit, you know, sort of the path of your childhood. And then once you've done that, you know, once you've spent this time studying, just distill that into a notebook or a computer note about, you know, just write about what you did. Who did you spend time with? What do your parents did with you? Just to tell it, this is what we did. And then you'll move on to the next step. You're gonna likely get a bunch of disjointed notes. You know, like, "Oh, I spent time in the woods "or my parents took me to the county fair. "And I remember loving the county fair." Whatever the answers are, no, just take a good look and see if these things are still in your life. Like, do you still go to the woods or do you still go to the county fair? Maybe you don't. But maybe that also means that you're not pursuing in your photography things that really matter to you. The goal of this is not for you to sort of take a trip down memory lane and feel all warm and cozy. It's more that you tactically extract what made your childhood and you as a kid to use to fuel creative ideas, right? So by learning that you went, you love to go to the county fair, for example, we break that down, maybe ask yourself why. Because maybe it meant that you like going to the county fair because your friends were there or because you like the rides, you like adrenaline, or maybe you like the food there. Maybe you like being with your family. Whatever that is, just reflect on is that still in my life? Am I still doing that? And if it's not, ask yourself if you miss that. Because if you miss it, there is, to me, some tension there. And that tension will give you the energy to pursue a project around that. Okay, so after doing all this distilling, which means that you take this information, you wrote down and you try to reflect on why you like these things. So it might take you a day. It might take you a week, a month. What matters is that you understand why you like going to the county fair, for example. Did you like going because your friends were there? Did you like going there because, you know, like I said, the adrenaline? Whatever that is, you'll end up with some points of things that you loved. And these points are what are gonna fuel this project I'm gonna challenge you with. So let's say that you love going to the country fair because your friends were there. Cool. Well, ask yourself why again. It's like is spending time with your friends essential to you? Do you love really spending time with people? Okay, then there's gotta be something there because maybe you believe that, you know, happiness needs to be shared, for example. So can that fuel a photo series that means something to you? Perhaps you can go and take photos of your friends. And perhaps you can build a set around your family. This is just an example. But whatever your answer is, the goal is that you dig in on why. And that is all entirely based on your childhood memories. By coming up with a project that is closer to you, to things that matter to you, or that made you, you'll have the perseverance to keep pushing and to actually finish that project. So the entire goal of this exercise is that you build a set around some bits of your childhood that matter to you. And you have to go through this introspective time, just processing this information of your childhood to build the set. So whatever the answers are, you just have to make sure that this set means something to you and you feel interested and excited to do it so you can actually finish it. Could be 5 photos, 10 photos. Just build it around what really matters to you and stick it in childhood.

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Ratings and Reviews

Janelle Dransfield

A helpful combination of mindful and technical! I loved all aspects of the lessons Alex taught in this workshop! They were well thought out, specific, and easy to follow. Each category had numbered lists of steps, followed by more specific descriptions of them. The lesson about the art of negotiation, as well as the one out in the field with his dad were both full of really helpful first hand knowledge. (Also, side note: loved how his dad did NOT care about the production hahaha. Just a man about his business. A perfect example of someone you document and direct when you can!) The only reason I didn't give this five stars was because of the uncut interview episode with another photographer about how to find motivation. It was the longest episode, but there wasn't a lot of content there, and the video was really drawn out considering how much was actually being said. Maybe if the person being interviewed had been given an idea of the questions before hand, or if all the dead space had been edited out in-between, it would have felt like a little bit less of a filler? That being said, I really enjoyed this course overall and got a lot out of it! Well priced, and I would definitely buy again.

Oswaldo Martinez

Phenomenal guide to find YOUR reasons to be better This might be my favorite workshop from Alex. He shares amazing insights and provides frameworks to help you understand the why behind what you do, and plenty of valuable advice into how you can improve or find your own motivations. Loved this one.

Tommaso Novi

Absolutely amazing. You can see the works these community put in this course, is simply amazing and incredible. Inspiring is the right word!

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