When I first laid eyes on Alex’s photos my heart skipped a beat. The colors, the light, the larger than life feeling and the rich stories hidden in the eyes of his models make you feel that you are about to enter a new world. It may seem surreal – the opening of a fairytale, but it is actually reality seen through Alex’s lenses.
I knew I had to invite him right away to be part of the lifestyle magazine. It was a delight to find a warm and generous spirit, who has so many fascinating stories to share. Alex moved from USA to Asia in 2010 to continue his studies in life sciences. It was there where he discovered the passion for photography…
I truly believe that beauty can be found in anything or anybody and that all you need is a little bit of imagination. I’m perhaps most impressed with beauty that’s somewhat undefined – things, people, places that shine regardless of whether or not anybody notices.Alexander Stephan
When did your photography journey begin?
Alex: Originally hailing from the east coast of the US, I moved to Singapore in 2010 to continue studies in life and climate change science. As a semi-professional painter in my free time, I found still needing a form of creative expression, so I began to get into photography.
Being so centrally located within Asia, travel photography became a natural conduit for this due to the ease of travel. Between 2010 and 2011 I visited 25 countries and, in that time, developed a decent enough portfolio to be accepted as an apprentice to a former National Geographic photographer and to also have an exhibition at The Arts House, one of Singapore’s most prestigious arts venues.
Following these successes, I decided to transition from a career in science to a career in photography, specializing primarily in travel and portraiture. Since then, I’ve had the privilege and honor to travel all over the world while capturing people and stories that paint a vivid portrait of humanity. Through my boutique creative agency, Vivid Visuals, we handle everything from high end hospitality assignments to proper photo journalism.
How many countries have you visited so far and which was the most fascinating one?
Alex: Working in travel, tourism and photography, I’m fortunate to be on the road a LOT! Because I have always looked at travel more as an experience than an accomplishment, to be completely honest, I’ve lost count of the exact number – somewhere around 40.
What I’m more proud of, though, is the depth of knowledge and experience of countries I’ve been to. Having spent nearly a decade overseas, I can count numerous places as a “home away from home”.
Each country is fascinating in its own right. For beaches? Philippines or Indonesia. Culture? Myanmar, India or Ethiopia. Mountains? Nepal hands down. City life? Singapore or Bangkok. This world has SO much to offer…
When you recognize the beauty in things that are beautiful that nobody has noticed before, they shine like nothing else.Alexander Stephan
Who is the most inspirational person you have met on your travels?
Alex: I once met a lady in Camiguin Island, Philippines, who had set up a school and educational program to teach locals of the island the value of sustainable tourism. Rather than destroying and exploiting the thriving coral reefs of the area for short-term gain, she taught them to protect the reefs and to monetize their inherent value for tourism.
In just a few short years she had quadrupled the population of giant clams in the area and was making huge headway in reversing the alarming trend of coral reef degradation of the area. Because I was actively involved at the time in projects related to her cause, we talked at great length about her goals and aspirations. When I asked what I could do to help, she simply wanted books that she could use to teach from.
At the time, I was working with the Marine Science Department of National University of Singapore and was lucky to be able to secure a very generous donation from the university to provide them with hundreds of books. Camiguin Island has now gone from a little-known gem to a thriving, ethically-operated tourism hotspot in the south of Philippines, which I am very proud to have played a small part in.
What I’m more proud of, though, is the depth of knowledge and experience of countries I’ve been to. Having spent nearly a decade overseas, I can count numerous places as a “home away from home”.Alexander Stephan
What place inspired you the most?
Alex: In terms of places that just fill your soul, it’s really hard to beat Nepal. The vistas, the fascinating people, the clean air… it’s all just so magnificent.
What is beautiful for you and how would you define beauty?
Alex: For starters, I truly believe that beauty can be found in anything or anybody and that all you need is a little bit of imagination. I’m perhaps most impressed with beauty that’s somewhat undefined – things, people, places that shine regardless of whether or not anybody notices.
When you recognize the beauty in things that are beautiful that nobody has noticed before, they shine like nothing else. Hard to explain really, but it’s something I genuinely am always on the lookout for..
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your travels?
Alex: Probably the most horrific travel experience of my life was being naive enough to think that I could travel on a budget “as locals do” in India my first time going there. When posed with the option of a $2 overnight ticket or a $20 one, I scoffed at the idea of paying more and chose the cheapest possible option. BIG mistake!
When the train pulled into the station, it was literally packed like a livestock trailer with absolutely ZERO room even for standing inside. I ended up literally hanging outside the open door with a 40 pound pack on my shoulder for about 10 hours before my willpower gave out and I decided to bribe the trainmaster into letting me sleep in front of a putrid bathroom further up in the train. I’m a pretty hardy guy but, needless to say, I never skimped out on train tickets in India after that!
What is the craziest or most exciting thing you’ve ever done for a great photo or an amazing shot in a video?
Alex: Back when I first started getting into travel photography, I climbed down a 500 ft cliff in Spain with no ropes or anything in order to get photos of Ronda‘s famous bridge from below. To this day I have no idea how I managed!
Then there was a time a friend of mine became lost in a flooded rainforest while searching for an indigenous tribe in the Tres Fronteras or Triple Frontier region between Colombia, Peru and Brazil…one of the Amazon‘s most remote areas. We were chin deep in water crocodile and piranha-infested just as the sun was going down, and HOURS from anything when a member of the tribe found (and saved!) us. That could have ended VERY badly!
What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Alex: Impromptu trip to Kalimantan, the remote Indonesian side of Borneo to visit one of the last places on earth where truly wild orangutans still roam.
If you could have a superpower, what would that be?
Alex: I’d choose to be omnicient! With knowledge, anything is possible!
If you could time travel, where would you go and when?
Alex: Tough one! Probably not what most people would have in mind, but I think I’d visit Ethiopia to see the dawn of our species. As a trained biologist, evolution is dear to my heart and to be there right at the start of it all for our species would be truly fascinating.
What is still on your bucket list and what are you excited about this year?
Alex: I have a very long list! 🙂 I scratched a big one off this list already this year – Ethiopia. Very high on my list is Mongolia and Kazakhstan for a chance to photograph the last eagle hunters. I would also love to visit the exotic far east of Indonesia in Raja Ampat, West Papua and Papua New Guinea. For mountains and hiking, Patagonia probably tops my list. There are just sooo many places in this world left to experience. I’m hoping I can scratch at least one of these places off my list before this time next year!