“In many ways, my favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet. You have this wonderful, innocent curiosity about places you haven’t visited. Nothing is quite like setting foot somewhere for the first time; it is an intense, beautiful feeling.”
A deep sense of nostalgia and longing for the outdoors has not only inspired Alex Strohl; it has cemented his sole aspiration: to travel the world as an adventure photographer, sharing his love for nature and wildlife and capture it all through the lens of a camera.
Growing up the son of a forest engineer in Spain, then France, Alex, who was born in Madrid, felt a connection to nature and its preservation from a young age, his days regularly spent hiking and exploring the Sierra de Madrid mountain range and finding himself drawn to the water. Even his choice of where to go to college was determined by nature, selecting Quebec City for its vast lakes and opportunities for exploring the outdoors.
His travels have also led him to find inspiration in people, in the everyday moments that characterize cultures and customs around the world – from France to Montana, where he now lives. Not unlike his childhood self, Alex spends his time exploring and feeding his curiosity in the name of visual storytelling. He spends a majority of his time on the road – whether hiking or driving through remote areas of the world – with his wife, Andrea Dabene, also a photographer. Alex prefers moodier environments and unique weather, as they help him build a distinct narrative, he explains.
His keen eye for capturing nature, wildlife, cultures and the interconnectedness of the three has established him as a notable photographer and content strategist with more than 1.2 million Instagram followers and author of Alternative Living, released in May. Additionally, Alex is the co-founder of Stay and Wander, an agency dedicated to helping brands strategize and execute digital and social media campaigns. He has worked on international commercial campaigns for Land Rover, Coach, Canon and Travel Alberta, just to name a few.
So what keeps this nature-loving, wanderlusting photographer motivated? I interviewed Alex this spring to get a glimpse into his creative process and vision and left feeling instilled with a desire to explore more of the great outdoors myself.
You’ve mentioned that your love for the outdoors, particularly water, and your affinity for the color blue, for example, was birthed in childhood – how else did your childhood experiences spark your curiosity in the world?
Hiking with my parents in the Sierra de Madrid, the mountain range near my childhood home, ingrained this passion from very early on. It was so close and so accessible that it felt like our backyard. Also, seeing my dad constantly on the road, traveling the world and exploring new places had a huge impact, inspiring me to follow in those footsteps. When I was growing up, home was just a place to sleep and eat; the bike played a big part in my life, constantly riding through the forests and pestering friends looking for a new adventure. It was the little things that cultivated this love of the outdoors, cooking on the beach, building tree forts, fishing and swimming in the lake at the base of the mountains; it was always a place of tremendous peace and excitement. That passion never really went away.
How does this curiosity influence your photography work?
I really feel the same way as I did then, doing things to satisfy this curiosity – whatever it is: shooting, doing outdoor activities, even researching for the next trip. My mind never really left the mountains. Today, living in Montana, we found many of the same things I grew accustomed to as a child in Spain. Now, being so close to the Rockies in Whitefish makes it feel like home.
You’re a magnificent visual storyteller. What makes a great story? What makes a great storyteller?
A good story is one worth sharing with your closest friends; to me, that is a prerequisite for sharing it with the world. When you can find that sort of honesty in your story, people with similar interests will gravitate towards it. It is important to abstract yourself out of the photos, to capture images that the audience can relate to and connect with, ideally, so that they can imagine themselves in the photo. Another thing is not limiting yourself by what you find beautiful or important in order to tell a broader story and capture the more subtle details. If you can do that effectively, and then reintroduce your creative bias during the editing process, you’ll avoid missing opportunities as they present themselves. It is so important to work with clients who trust you with full creative control, who allow you to shape and create a narrative for them.
What’s your favorite place to travel to? Why? Which has been the most intriguing subject?
This question comes up a lot, and the more I travel, the more it evolves. In many ways, my favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet. You have this wonderful, innocent curiosity about places you haven’t visited. Nothing is quite like setting foot somewhere for the first time; it is an intense, beautiful feeling. The favorite subject is tough. Anything that connects you intimately to someone’s lifestyle is of particular interest to me. Following cowboys in Montana last winter is a great example of this; getting to watch and capture this very American, very different way of life was surreal. It really changed how I think about storytelling.
What do you love most about living in Montana?
What is most surprising about Montana is that you find these small towns that are very modern and sophisticated. In Whitefish, you can find everything you need from a community, but on a smaller scale, one which also allows for a profound connection to nature. Being so close to the wilderness reminds me of my childhood and is very calming. Living somewhere with so few people, you observe totally different priorities; things are slower, worries are different. I love that about it.
Do you have a favorite image? What is it? Why?
The cover of my book – a hut being built on the shore of the Lofoten Islands. It was a very stormy night, and I was on my way back to camp when I noticed it near the water. It was after dusk and all happened very spontaneously. The lights to the cabin were on because the owner was inside working on it. Because of that, the shot couldn’t ever be recreated; it was decidedly unique, and in hindsight, was really a metaphor for the entire project.
To learn more about ‘Alternative Living,’ Alex’s latest book visit alexstrohl.com.