By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Knoxville native Paul Hassell might have the perfect job. He combines his love of photography, his passion for nature, and his feature writing skills in a not quite two-year old company named ALIVE Photo and a slightly older one named Light Finds Inc.
“Everyone in my industry thinks I’m way out of the box,” he says. Yet, the concept behind the two complementary companies began years ago.
“I first met God and then met the camera when I was 10 years old,” Hassell said, adding that he started his first business about five years later. In 2002, he launched a photography business that involved not only selling his own work but teaching others how to creatively capture what they were seeing in nature.
In 2012, Hassell founded Light Finds Inc. and launched ALIVE Photo in 2015 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The former includes a photo gallery in Sequoyah Square as well as a myriad of other offerings including tours, workshops and personalized instruction; the latter is a vibrant and ever-changing website that is a resource for aspiring photographers.
Perhaps the words that best describe Hassell’s philosophy are captured in ALIVE Photo’s tagline: “Photography awakens us to the experience of being alive.” After talking with the star-up’s Founder, you clearly understand that it is not simply a clever slogan, but rather a philosophy that is based on his personal faith and his desire to inspire others.
The common feature for both undertakings is helping people see and be able to capture the natural beauty of the world.
“A lot of people teach photography,” Hassell says. “I teach art.”
His 10-year old photography company morphed into Light Finds Inc. in 2012, and the name further underscores the Founder’s philosophy.
“We believe photography is more about receiving light than it is capturing images,” Hassell says. “Light transforms our way of seeing. It results in transformed lives, rebirthed dreams, and renewed hope for the road ahead.”
The business includes everything from an online store featuring more than 400 striking outdoor photos that individuals can order to a series of tours, workshops and classes offered throughout the year. There are two workshops planned this year in the Great Smoky Mountains and several photo tours to places like Chile, Iceland, and Hawaii.
Hassell says ALIVE Photo came about after he spent 18 months doing Skype interviews with 40 to 50 of the best outdoor photographers in the world. Those existing interviews have been curated and are presented on the ALIVE Photo webpage as a learning and inspiration tool for individuals. New videos are constantly being added. The site also includes a self-paced series of training modules that are available at subscription prices of $19.97 monthly or $197 annually.
“These are the top outdoor photographers in the world who are sharing their secrets,” Hassell says, adding the approach is to provide online instruction, get students out to try what they were just taught, and then share their experience with others.
“The average client is 66 years old and has a brand new camera,” Hassell explains.
During our interview, he made a point of the importance of embracing both art and business.
“It’s not the art of business versus the business of art,” he explains. “You have to embrace both.”
As far as the future, Hassell told us he was fine-tuning a third idea and also working with his wife on the concept for a children’s cartoon book focused on national parks.
Nature and the power of light that captures its beauty are clearly an inspiration to this entrepreneur.