National Geographic published photographer, TEDx speaker and global roamer Adam Schluter is launching his book “The World I See” at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’ Alene on November 30. Here’s how he got over his fear of photographing strangers.
Not long ago Adam Schluter, an award-winning, National Geographic published photographer, decided to put landscape and travel photography behind him and focus on trying to use a camera to connect with people. In the past year he’s been to over 19 countries and just walked up to strangers to ask them for their photograph. During the process, his life was changed. So much so he’s given a TEDx talk about the experience, been featured on national television and has now created a book, which he’s launching next week.
The launch is happening at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene on November 30 from 7-9pm during which he’ll share some of his most powerful moments from the project. We caught up with him to ask some questions about his book, his adoptive home in Idaho and how he got over the fear of approaching strangers in strange lands. Below is the interview.
Congratulations on the upcoming book launch, Adam. The Art Spirit Gallery is a great spot for it. Where are you originally from and why launch in Coeur d’Alene?
I am originally from St. Louis, born and raised there, and I went to Mizzou (the University of Missouri). As a travel photographer, a few years ago, I was sponsored to travel all of the United States, Canada and Mexico to find the best place to live. I spent 10 months on the road, driving over 22,000 miles, and stopped the day I got to Coeur d’ Alene. There was a lot of reasons I loved it so much but, above and beyond, the biggest reason was the people here. I saw such a beautiful and kind community, full of people that loved to support the people that lived here. Especially with art. I saw downtown full of galleries, all with such a unique feeling, and knew this was the place to start my home. It’s been four years and I’ve never second-guessed that decision for a moment. I also remember walking through the galleries downtown and dreaming of the day when I would be up on the walls there. Especially at the Art Spirit gallery downtown. And now that dreams coming true.
Sponsored to travel North America to photograph it? Sweet gig! Who sponsored you?
Eureka! Tents sponsored me for the North America trip. I travelled the entire Pacific Coast Highway, from the southern tip of the Baja to Alaska, to find the best place to live out of all three countries. After six months of never leaving the PCH, I stopped at a friend’s house in Seattle and he told me I had to go to Glacier National Park. He didn’t give me a chance to refuse and told me I could come back to the PCH after I saw it. On my way to Glacier, I stopped in Coeur d’ Alene and fell in love. So I picked that as my favourite and bought a house here.
How’d you get into photography?
I got into photography because I just love to travel. I used to take trips around the world while growing up and would take pictures to show others the beauty I was seeing. The more I did it, the better I got at it and then I met a random stranger, Kara Proehl, who inspired me to buy a professional camera, because she said I could probably find a way to fund my travelling habit if I had an actual camera. So I bought one, practiced on it all the time and learned everything I know about photography from that first camera, which was a Nikon d7000 incidentally.
Tell us about “The World I See” project.
A little while after first moving here, I went through a difficult breakup with a girl I loved very much. I felt very alone, having just moved to a new city where I didn’t know many people yet. After a few months of this, I couldn’t do it any longer and, rather than just sitting inside of my head and feeling alone, I decided to do something that scared me more than anything else: hop on a plane, go to another country and just start walking up to strangers and saying “Hello.”
That’s a scary thing.
I’ve never been so scared in my life. But I knew I had to do this to prove to myself that I was only alone inside my head. That the whole world would love to get to know you. But first, you have to say hello to them. I did this project to bring awareness to the loneliness that so many people feel these days, and inspire people to put away their cell phones and start interacting and saying hello to each other again.
How many countries did you visit?
This project started in Coeur d’ Alene and I ended up going to 19 countries in 12 months. In that time I took over 1,000 portraits and enjoyed innumerable conversations in the process. Every day was difficult for me but this project completely changed my life, and has started making a difference all around the world.
How is the project making a difference around the world?
After the TEDx talk, we all went around Spokane to celebrate. I ran into these two girls (with a group of about 10 around them) who said “That’s Adam!” and I said “Hey!” They said “We were at your TEDx talk and decided to go out and do the same thing. We just started walking around and saying hello to people, and inviting them to dinner. We just met ALL of these people just walking around and saying hello to strangers, and we’re all headed to dinner now!” Ever since this project took a worldwide stage, I get letters and notes from people all over the world telling me, “Because I watched how you do this, I started saying hello to the grocery clerk now every single time. She knows me on a first time basis and now and I’ve got to share in her life and hear about her family! It makes her smile every time I ask.” And I had another gentleman tell me “Watching you talk about what you did inspired me to reach out to my father for the first time in 10 years. We never knew how to talk but, I decided to just listen to him, instead of talk at all. Because I listened with respect, he opened up to me in a way we’ve never been able to, and it’s completely salvaged our entire relationship.” I have a million stories like that but the overall reason is, it’s inspired people to interact with the world around them now. To actively engage with people that they’re around every day. And to listen, more than they talk, and use that as a way to connect with people they love and care about. It’s starting a ripple effect to hopefully start to bring this world closer together.