“People often ask me how I find adventure—I think they’re missing the point. Life is not a tutorial,” says photographer Alex Strohl.
That Alaska is Alex’s favourite place to photograph comes as no surprise: The landscape is vast and disparate, a composition of never-ending blues. For him, the visual contrast of ocean and mountain, combined with the weather extremes, provide the perfect canvas for photographic exploration. His latest work, Alive in Alaska is a short film that documents this wilderness and the side of freelance life that is usually left off screen—the car-rides, the campsites, and the conversations.
Alex is a man of movement, a modern nomad who has spent much of his life on the road. “Immediately after high school I left France to pursue university in Quebec, having heard of the intense seasons and endless boreal forests. North America was this romantic place that I had heard of in my father’s stories and in the books I loved.” This youthful romanticism seems to inform his approach to landscape photography; sharp outlines of mountains bleed into the softness of pine forests, and white-blue icebergs cut through the darkness of the ocean beneath them. There is a human quietness to his images that tempers their natural drama, granting them a veracity that modern media has caused many photographers to cast aside.
“A couple of years ago I realised that in trying to capture these perfect scenes—in the perfect location at the perfect time—that I was trying too hard.”
Where others seek to transform nature’s imperfections through their lens, Alex is more concerned with authenticity. He speaks candidly of how detrimental this quest for perfection can be: “A couple of years ago I realised that in trying to capture these perfect scenes—in the perfect location at the perfect time—that I was trying too hard”. This realisation was something of a catalyst for Alex, and from it came a new style of working that has its basis in meditation and the writings of Lao Tsu, a 6th century Chinese Philosopher whose work Tao Te Ching he listens to daily: “In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
In a world where we’re buying coloring books in bulk to build our own mindfulness, Alive in Alaska vividly illustrates a different way of being present. For Alex, his most compelling work comes from moments he has experienced, not just witnessed. “At some points I wasn’t enjoying where I was, I wasn’t aware of what was happening around me, because I was thinking about the next place we were going to go, or the next trip. So I decided to fix it.” While Alex admits that this is still a work in progress, he finds that in moving slowly, he experiences more.
For Alex and his partner Andrea, home and the road are no longer interchangeable: “A few years ago, constantly moving and experiencing new places was how I felt most alive. After spending so much time in motion, that nomadic nature made us feel like we were witnessing places without experiencing them, never investing enough time to become familiar with different pace and custom. After spending a winter in Ennis, Montana we decided to set up home base in Whitefish. It really helped me learn to appreciate the smaller details and the reward of finding hidden gems.” If you don’t spend time in a place, Alex explains, you miss the details.
Searching for those details inspired his latest trip to Alaska, “The first was in early winter with a light coating of snow and an incredible sense of desolation. I hadn’t gone more than a few hours from Anchorage and was amazed by the diversity and sheer size of everything.” His second visit was spent at a remote backcountry lodge, in the white-out heart of winter. “These experiences were so totally different”, he continues, “but really increased my desire to spend some significant time here, and to explore this world further.” A summer road-trip along the famed Alcan Highway with Andrea, and his friends the Johnstons, seemed the perfect way to experience another side of Alaska.
Alive in Alaska moves beyond the road, taking us to cerulean pools that sit atop glaciers, over mountains and through dark bodies of water as we drift beside whales breaching. Alex has masterfully captured the spirit of this wild place, in every natural detail.