What is the most important ingredient in any proper adventure? A good, reliable adventure buddy. This is universal. And the theme of a new film photo zine collection by Alex Strohl, the famed French photographer long rooted in Whitefish, Montana. If you caught our insightful 2020 interview with Strohl, you know a love for hard-earned adventure is in his DNA. As is a distaste for doing things conventionally. And well, in a world where our tech overlords are jamming digital video down our throats from every angle, self-funding a limited-edition print zine shot entirely on 35mm film is pretty damn counter intuitive for someone largely responsible for establishing the modern outdoor photography aesthetic.
With Adventure Buddies, Strohl is in his element, out in the wild with good friends, photographing both behind-the-scenes moments and those that make millions want to get outside and explore more themselves. Only this time, the world’s biggest brands aren’t paying him to do it—it’s just for fun. Just for him. And well, now, for you and me, too.
Adventure Buddies Vol 1 documents a 500-mile bikepacking trip across Montana with Strohl's frequent companion and collaborator Isaac Johnston. Throughout the 180-page zine, we see 250 previously unseen photos by Strohl alongside insights on friendship and adventure, shared both in English and French.
A couple weeks back we caught up with Strohl on the phone to talk film photography, why he’s making zines, and what being a good adventure buddy really means. Read on for a condensed version of that spirited conversation. Then go grab a copy for a bit of morning coffee inspo. It’s a fun one. And there’s more to come.
Alright, Adventure Buddies. Give us the rundown.
So, it's going to be a franchise. Adventure Buddies is just the name of the collection. There's three more coming this year. I like having little side things going on, to keep it interesting.
Yeah, of course. Why relax?
Haha. Touché. Why relax. Yeah, exactly. I think this will be fun, because it allows me to do all these things—they were adventures and trips that I had planned and then I shot them all on film and never shared anything over the last few years. I'm sitting on all these negatives that I've been slowly looking at, making wire frames, putting them in order. And it's just very fulfilling to see them come out.
I'm not doing too many copies—2,000 of the first—just so it's special.
What camera setup are you using for these projects?
I shot most of the trips with a Canon Elan 7, which is a $150 film camera. You know, it's just nothing fancy. It’s no Mamiya 7ii. That, and a 28mm Canon lens that’s like $100. I just didn't want to be worried about it. I could bash it in my bike bag or my backpack. It’s so small, you could have it in your pocket.
You're well known for helping define the aesthetic of modern outdoor photography, which is very digital. Why switch gears and go analog with film and zines for these adventures?
It came from a minimal equipment perspective. I don't want to think about the gear. I'll just take this [camera] and roll with it. Especially in film, the camera doesn't matter—it’s just a box. You've got to make sure it feels good in your hands and that it has fast enough shutter speed to support the more shallow depth of field you want in bright daylight, you know? So 1/4,000 is good for me. That's the Elan.
And a zine is the opposite of serious. We had fun in design, and the tone of it is just not serious or pretentious. That's what film is to me, 35-mil fun. There's no tripod or medium format camera.
"That's the way I see the world—very colorful, exciting, saturated."
If the camera doesn't matter with film, what does?
The glass. The glass matters. And with film, you edit as you shoot. You’re doing the curation as you shoot. Not after, you know. When I publish the zines, 90% of the photos [I shot] go into the zine. Right? It's not like digital where it's like 10%, because I shoot way more for no need.
And obviously, you get to express yourself through film choices. Like I shot all of these zines with Ektar 100, which is not the most subtle film you can buy.
That's the way I see the world—a very colorful, exciting, saturated way. So I think Ektar could represent the mood I have on these trips. But I mean, I didn't take it too seriously. There's a couple Portras and whatnot to match the conditions, too. I had Portra 800 if it's darker, for example. But again, I don't want to be precious about it because it's just film and they're just zines.
Are all of the Adventure Buddies trips human-powered?
Yep. That's the rule, what it’s all about. The British call it “by fair means.” And I think that really sums it up for me. It's, I'm being fair with the topography and the landscape and the weather, you know, we're on the same playing field. If I'm in a car and it's raining, we're not on the same playing field.
So I want be immersed in the environment, by fair means. And I think the only way to do that is by biking or walking or in a kayak, whatever human-powered tool you choose.
Adventure Buddies Vol 1 documents a 500-mile bike ride across rural Montana. Share a memorable moment from the trip.
First day we saw a wolf. Then we saw moose. I don't think we saw any bears, funny enough. We were not looking at it in the perspective of danger. It's more like, it's cool. We're seeing animals—we're in Montana. It's part of it.
And Isaac was getting a flat almost every day. It was like a running joke. We would set off in the morning, ride one mile, and flat. He was just running tires that were not as aggressive as they should be for him. He's tall, he’s a big boy. On the uphills I’d pass him. And then the downhills, he’d pass me. And on the straight, we’d ride together. That was the rhythm of our days.
Friendship is the theme of the collection. Have any moments of epiphany or understanding of friendship come to you through these trips?
The idea for Adventure Buddies is to be an aspirational tool for people to find their adventure buddy. That's really the goal of it, is to sell you on the idea of having reliable adventure buddies. Or one, whatever. Girl, guy, doesn't matter. Just somebody who's always ready to tackle a random idea. That for me is the best adventure buddy, best friend. Someone who can start with, “what if?” Who's down to try and who can be okay with the decisions you've made.
For the across Montana trip, we didn't make a proper itinerary. There wasn't a GPS we were following. Every morning we would look at the map and be like, here, there, here, there. And then we take turns. And some days we'd be like, you know what? We don't need to climb another 2,000 feet today, let’s do a shortcut today. So [that approach] kind of gets you off this, like, train program where you have to follow what you planned. And it's more spontaneous.
So that's what, for me, friendship is. It’s somebody who's down to tackle these things and then you grow together. Tackle these moments of uncertainty. Out in harm's way. That's what adventure is supposed to be—you don't create harm's way, but you put yourself in it, extensively. Haha.
Some days it's not fun. Right? And you just carry on and you know that if you're having a bad day, you can rely on each other. It's good to rely on each other for these things.
What can you share about what’s next in the Adventure Buddies collection?
This is volume one, “Road to Friendship” across Montana. The three others are going to come out as a pack in September. It'll be Washington State, lookout roulette. Flathead walk—walking across the Flathead Indian Reservation. And third is Iceland—which actually wasn't with Isaac—the entire East Fjords by sailboat and by bike with Ben Hardman and Chris Burkhard and our friend Steve Booker.
Adventure Buddies Vol 1 is available now for $20