Jacob and Alissa Hessler are a husband-and-wife creative team who run a boutique creative studio in the wilds of coastal Maine while teaching modern landscape photography around the United States. Jacob is a contemporary fine-art landscape and activist photographer and Alissa is an environmental portraitist and photojournalist. B&H recently talked to the pair to get their thoughts on building a creative community.
Jacob and Alissa recently left Seattle and New York City for small-town scenic Maine; living only a few miles from Maine Media Workshops headquarters. They both “feel incredibly lucky to have a group of working artists to collaborate and socialize with.” For the past two years, they have been touring the U.S. and shooting Alissa’s Urban Exodus project and, for the past three years, they have been actively teaching their workshops.
Their outreach has been building an evolving community of passionate collaborators. “We have built a wonderful community of first-time farmers, homesteaders, artists, and musicians, not bound by geographic constraints. Teaching photography workshops the last three years has helped build an international community of photography experts and hobbyists of all different ages and walks of life. It goes without saying—we feel incredibly fortunate to be able to work, laugh, and interact with people from all over the world.”
How do they make it all work?
1. Keep a balance between personal projects and work. “Our biggest obstacle is staying on track and being able to make a living in this competitive industry. We are constantly hustling to create personal work and find new project work that keeps us inspired and keeps our bills paid. There is no down time for small business owners, we can’t rest on our laurels, but we also need to make sure that we allocate time to be creative for ourselves beyond the pressing needs of client work,” they say.
2. The energy of learning sustains the effort. “Teaching has been a transformative experience and we are constantly inspired by our students. We are now at a point where we have had students take our course over and over again—seeing their work evolve is so rewarding,” says Jacob.
3. Do what you love. “On a personal level, we feel lucky that we get to do what we love for work and that we get to work together. There are still long and hard days, but the satisfaction that comes with building your own business is worth every bad day.”
4. Don’t let winter slow you down. “The winter is our most creative time. The winters in Maine are cold, dark, and long, but they also have the most incredible light and the fewest distractions. We try to spend a lot of our winter working on our personal projects.”
Last winter Alissa finished designing her Urban Exodus project and Jacob finished his show “Off Season.” This winter, Jacob is working on finishing a book collaboration with the inaugural poet Richard Blanco and two new bodies of work, one exploring industrial agriculture in America and one exploring rising sea levels. Alissa is continuing working on her Urban Exodus project and developing new curriculum for some winter exploration workshops.
5. Stay organized. “We love lists. Each New Year we sit down and write out what we’ve accomplished that year and what we strive to accomplish in the coming year. It is a perfect time to reflect on what is working for you and what you need to change or work harder at. It is also good to look back at the previous year and see if there are things that never were completed and get to work on those immediately.”
6. Define your brand. “A brand is an interesting thing—sometimes they are fabricated and other times they are more organic. We never try to be something that we aren’t. We are two tall, goofy, kind, and compassionate people. We care about the people we work with and teach. We don’t take on project work that we don’t believe in. We get invested in our students and continue to follow and support them through their photographic journeys. Our brand aesthetic is clean, classic, and uncluttered; we don’t really follow trends and try to always maintain our singular voice in our work.”
7. Inspiration in teamwork. Alissa says, “Jacob is constantly a source of inspiration but, beyond that, the people whom I get to photograph and interview for Urban Exodus and the students who we teach at our workshops.” And Jacob says, “I’m inspired by the opportunity to work in collaboration with one of my favorite contemporary poets, Richard Blanco, and I continue to draw inspiration from the ever-changing landscape, our students, and my wife.”