When not working on Urban Exodus, Alissa runs a boutique creative agency, photography studio and co-teaches landscape photography workshops around the U.S. with her husband Jacob Bond Hessler. We're thrilled to have her joining us in Santa Fe this summer with The Contemporary Landscape, July 26-31.
Here, in a self-interview, she shares photographs from the project, along with a little about her background and her own Urban Exodus:
I met my boyfriend (now husband) literally the day he signed the closing papers on the farmhouse in Maine that we now call home. I met him at a bar during an art magazine launch party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was living in Seattle, working for the smartphone giant, HTC, running their global product launches. I came to NYC that week to launch a new phone and BONUS! I also met my soulmate. Five months of long distance was all I could handle. In late February of 2011, I packed up my life and moved across the country to Maine. It is worth mentioning that I had never been to Maine before meeting my husband and moved there after only four visits. I have always been bold, but it was a really big leap of faith.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later? At first the worst part was leaving my friends, successful career and family (I have 5 siblings and all of them live on the West Coast). The challenges that came later were seemingly endless. Losing my sense of self, as I soon realized I measured my worth and value by my career accomplishments. Finding any sort of gainful employment. Owning and maintaining an old farmhouse. Adjusting to the East Coast/New Englander cultural norms - the East and West Coast are really very different. Having to YouTube and Google everything from pruning trees to patching plaster walls to natural black fly repellent. Not being able to walk anywhere. Feeling like I was missing all of the social, intellectual and cultural deliciousness that Seattle had to offer. What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations? I was surprised at how foreign living in the country felt to me, even though I technically grew up in the country (the redwood forests of Northern California). I was alarmed at how interested everyone in town was with the new young people, there was no anonymity, I literally had five people come up and say that they knew me from seeing photos of me on my mother-in-law's Facebook. Several years in though, it has surprised me how comfortable I feel here now. I love spending quiet afternoons weeding the vegetable garden or mowing the lawn. I love swimming in the lake by our house and taking our little boat out on the ocean to explore the many islands off the coast. I love silently gliding through the woods on cross country skis in the winter. Although the winter is still a little too cold, dark, snowy and long for this California girl, I do love the contrast of the changing seasons.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Hardest...I would have to say is the very LONG winter. It is about 6 months of trees without leaves or color. The last few months of "winter" (ie: April/early May) can feel very depressing. The things I miss most about living in a city are walking everywhere, great museums, watching live music, ethnic cuisine and my friends I left behind.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
I would love to somehow figure out how to do a couple of months in warmer urban environments every winter but honestly I don't think I would want to move back to a city full time. Three days in NYC is about all I can handle now; before the noise, filth and intensity starts to wear on me.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
The space one has to create and be creative, both physically and mentally.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
1. Get your ducks in a row. I wish I would've considered my career options before leaving the city. The people I have met who were able to keep their city jobs and work remotely are living the dream. It is difficult to make city wages in the country unless you go that route. It is difficult to secure a remote position after you have already moved to the country, as all of your former colleagues/friends will think you are just drinking lemonade and taking long walks in the woods now and aren't as capable or available as you were in the city.
2. The country isn't cheap. If you are moving to a place that is cold in the winter, heating bills can be outrageous.
3. My last piece of advice is really get to know the community you are considering. No two small towns are the same and it is important to put together a list of what is important to you in a small town (ie: restaurants, cultural offerings, schools, etc.) Also, think about your needs now and into the future. My needs when I first moved to Maine in my late twenties feel different from my needs now in my early thirties.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
1. Visit friends
2. Eat at all my favorite restaurants
3. Walk everywhere/visit museums/watch live music
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
I love connecting with people and inspiring others to create more. People are my main source of inspiration but nature, specifically the ocean, is a close second. I also owe a lot of my creative development and confidence to my husband. I studied photography and art when I was younger but because my professional career had me managing photographers, designers, etc. I lost my confidence in my own artistic abilities. His support, enthusiasm and love has helped me find my voice again.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
I have chilled out a lot. I have always been a work-horse and very type-A. The country has taught me that good things take time - from cooking to growing your own food to starting a business. In the city it was easy to do things quickly and see immediate results. I am finally appreciating the journey just as much as the end result.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
My husband wakes me up with coffee in bed (yes, I am totally spoiled). I spend the morning answering emails and working on projects. I usually go to the gym in the middle of the day to avoid the rush. Depending on the time of year, we try to do something outside before it gets dark. In the winter it is cross country skiing or snowshoeing. In the summer it is swimming in the lake, gardening, kayaking or adventuring in our boat. In the Spring it is usually yardwork, gardening or hiking. In the Fall it is hiking, foraging for mushrooms and raking leaves. Our days in the country aren't typical and that is what I love about them and hate about them. In the city I was in the office by 8am and left around 6pm. When I came home, I could usually leave work at the door. In the country I really have to stop myself from working all the time (looking at the clock, it is 9pm while I answer these questions).
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
I would've never started Urban Exodus or built my own business had I stayed in Seattle. I always managed creative people for work and didn't have the time, energy or drive to invest in my own creative pursuits outside of work. My second winter in Maine I decided that every morning I would draw for one hour before starting work. That exercise improved my artistic abilities drastically and now I feel confident calling myself an "artist," which I never would have associated myself with prior to moving.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
In the summer I could sit in my vegetable garden all day. It is filled with butterflies and the occasional hummingbird. I also love our home and creative studio. We renovated an old 1877 barn on our property and that is where we run our business and photography workshops now. It is a light-filled magic place with so much space to work on lots of projects all at once.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
People often think that living in the country is easy. It is actually a lot of hard (but rewarding) work. Living in a small community can be amazing if it is the right community for you. I landed in a wonderful community and feel very lucky to be here but had I landed somewhere else it could have been a very different story.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
I would love to turn Urban Exodus into a coffee table book so people can live with these beautiful stories and images in their own home. My husband and I are also going to continue teaching photography, this July we are teaching at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. We are also planning on growing our family sometime in the near future. There is never a dull moment here in the country.
To see more photographs from Urban Exodus, visit Alissa Morris-Hessler's website, Urbanexodus.com