On the evening I met with her, local photographer Alexa Arnold was getting ready to head to a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Thoughtful and meticulous about her preparations, and putting final touches on a client project, she was looking forward to the time to really reflect on her life and work.
Not everyone would be able to do a silent meditation retreat. But this is just one example of how important contemplation and spiritual awareness are to Alexa’s life. And it shines in everything she does. From capturing people’s special moments through her business, Alexa Janell Photography, to leading efforts increase awareness of veganism, everything she does is with heart.
Alexa grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and then moved to Virginia, where she met her husband Steve. The couple made their way out West a couple of years ago and pretty quickly called Tacoma home. They were drawn to the sense of community here – the combination of the unique spirit of Tacoma, its proximity to green spaces, and the many arts and cultural resources that make it a great place to live. Known to many around town as a kind and caring couple, it seems like a natural fit that Alexa now turns her gentle nature and creative touch to taking portraits of people.
She had always enjoyed photography, and someone gifted her a camera several years ago. She had been putting together a blog and capturing life around the Northwest, enjoying being behind the camera’s eye. Indeed, her nature photos are serene and infused with a Zen sense of contemplation and awe at the natural world. About a year ago, she decided to professionalize her work. Her first gig was photographing a friend’s mountaintop wedding, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I am a natural light photographer,” says Alexa. “My photo shoots take place at outdoor locations such as a park or in the city. I also do at home, lifestyle shoots.”
She had been working for a while at Viva, the vegan restaurant in Proctor. She shifted to working part-time supporting a local family she knows and focusing on really getting her photography business going. Over the past year, she has done shoots from family gatherings to maternity photos to high school graduation pictures. She also has done commercial work featuring small businesses. She puts immense care and thought into making sure photos are just right for customers.
Her philosophy is to make the experience of being photographed fun and affirming for everyone involved. She strikes a balance between capturing people in natural moments and the more formal posed photos that customers often request. She also makes sure everyone feels comfortable, especially family members who have not had their photo taken a lot. She says, “I want everyone to enjoy the experience of being photographed…I’m just another friend with a camera.”
A unique aspect of Alexa Janell Photography is that Alexa takes care to make sure her entire business and all the art she produces are entirely vegan and as sustainable as possible. For example, she prints photos to striking effect on matte paper, as glossy paper is made with gelatin, an animal byproduct. “I want my customers to have a safe space to enjoy their art,” she says.
She creates large art prints and photo albums for customers. “In this digital age, I really want my customers to have tangible pieces of art…photos hanging on their wall or albums to flip through,” she notes.
Alexa is active in the Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation. This has been an integral part of the community she and Steve have built here. Through the church, she started facilitating a Monday night meditation group (open to all), which she has done with dedication for the past three years. She also participates in the Facebook group Tacoma Vegans, which is how she got active in the local vegan movement.
When she’s not busy working or volunteering, Alexa enjoys spending time with Steve, going on day trips to Seattle and Portland, getting outdoors, and spending quiet time at home with her dog, River.
Alexa has been a regular volunteer at Cupid’s Landing, the budding nonprofit rescue for farmed animals. She has also volunteered at Heartwood Haven animal sanctuary, where she once photographed 20 chickens! Whether her subjects are human, animals or landscapes, Alexa offers her compassionate eye to capture the unique spirit of each being and moment in time.
What’s next for this local artist? In the new year, she hopes to take on some big creative projects, including a photo art project documenting people expressing their inner goddesses. She also will be interviewing and photo-documenting local vegan families – inspired by the Humans of New York site, she wants to share an in-depth experience of people’s stories of why they became vegan, how it’s impacted their lives, and how they live. And of course, she will continue capturing portraits of both special occasions and everyday moments.
You can always expect to see something new and creative from Alexa. With each creative project she’s taken on, her dreams grow, and she plans to keep broadening her horizons. “Ideas come to me and stick. They won’t leave me alone until I make them happen,” she says with a smile. Indeed, she looks forward to telling ever more stories with photos.