Amy Seder is a photographer, filmmaker, blogger, full-time traveller, business-owner and self-proclaimed professional fun-haver. Amy is our #WCW because she is a go-getter: seeing the world, and documenting it all.
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
Professionally, my story is somewhat straight forward - I knew at age 15 that I wanted to be a photographer. I had saved up for a year to buy a tiny little digital camera, and started taking film classes at the community college and digital classes at my high school. I decided then that I was going to move to New York and be a fashion photographer. I never even considered a back-up plan. For college, I attended the (now-closed, unfortunately) Brooks Institute of Photography, blew through the program as quick as I could, then graduated and moved to NYC right before turning 21. I realized, shortly after I moved, that I had reached the end of my plan and had
absolutely no idea what I was doing or how to make a career. I really struggled for a few years, trying to figure out how to work and where in the industry I belonged. I interned, freelanced for any work I could find, worked at a photo agency, even contemplating leaving the city altogether. I eventually found my way into being a photo producer. Along the way, I realized that, after 10 years, fashion was not what I really loved anymore, which was a really hard realization after working towards this goal for so many years. I kept trying new things to try to find that passion again. I took graphic design classes at Parsons, I tried to learn new languages, I attended a very serious acting conservatory and, ultimately, I tried to move into higher level producing jobs. Even if it wasn't my true passion, it was a job that I was good at and, sometimes, enjoyed.
I finally found my place when I started traveling. In 2013, I started dating my partner, Brandon, and from the very beginning we started going on trips together - taking any weekend or day off we could find to get out of the city and go somewhere new. That's when I started taking photos again. I had been wanting to start working
with video for years, and when we went on a trip to Hawaii, we started playing with making a video, with no real plan. I just brought my camera everywhere and passed it between the two of us. After coming home, I was addicted to editing it. I couldn’t stop. I’d come home from work, sit down and suddenly it would be 2AM, my legs numb from having them wrapped up under me for hours. I was starting from the bottom, knowing hardly anything about video, but I was hooked. (Our first video here)
Brandon and I both came to the realization that we were living through our weeks just to get to the weekend, living through each month waiting for our next chance to go somewhere, anywhere else. The decision was so instant, so simple, and so unwavering: we would leave our comfortable lives here in Brooklyn, and see the world. Not in these two week spurts between months of day-in, day-out monotony, but for as long as we could.
Our business sprang from that goal, but how could we travel and be sustainable? As we spent a year and a half throwing ourselves into film, learning, saving money, and putting our plans together; and then we started getting actual jobs, and slowly the idea of starting the business made the most sense. We left NYC six months ago now, and have spent most of that time on the road - Hawaii, a whole South East Asia tour, California (our new home base), back to New York, and then, we've been shooting a campaign across the Maldives and Sri Lanka for the last two months. This year is already shaping up to be so much bigger than we ever thought would be imaginable at this stage!
Personally, I am actually amazed with myself to be where I am now. I struggled with my weight severely, and was overweight for many years; and, while I lost that weight a number of years ago, a lifetime struggle with eating disorders is something that I think will always be with me. I still have to make the same choices to keep up a healthy lifestyle every day that I did to lose the weight, and living my life on camera makes it very difficult not to compare myself to everyone else (who all tend to be professional models, and all of about 20 years old.) I had also spent most of my life drowning in the fear and anxiety of a phobia. Every plane, and bus, and boat ride was an exercise in panic attacks. I wanted to travel, but it was so incredibly overwhelming that I never really tried. This irrational phobia that controlled so much of my life is difficult to describe. I’ve never found a comprehensive way to explain the breadth of effect it’s had on my thoughts and my life, every day. I attempted to explain it many years ago in this essay published on Thought Catalog. But years of therapy and forcing myself outside of my comfort levels finally pushed me to a place where I had climbed on top of my anxiety. I still get nervous, I still panic sometimes, but I no longer let it control what I can and can’t do with my life – a simple decision that took 15 years to make. I'm very proud of how far I have come, but I am unapologetic about being a work in progress. Not everything is always easy for me, and these struggles are still a part of my life in a big way, but I choose to not let them limit my life anymore.
2. What motivates you?
There's a quote that always felt so truthful, and also so heartbreaking, to me. “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer. I used to feel like this constantly. Like I had wasted so much of my time struggling, and fighting anxiety and depression and self-loathing that I was missing everything. I do feel like I missed out on so much in the years in my younger 20s, as I was figuring out how to exist as myself, which is a huge part of my motivation now. I want to make up for that time (so much so that I have a tendency to never sit still - something that drives Brandon crazy), and I have. I'm motivated to live as boldly and as fully as I possibly can.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
As a young child, my hero was always Lucille Ball. I realized later in my life that I was raised in a very feminist way. I was given a lot of independence, my parents did not restrict me from anything, nor did I ever feel inferior for being a girl. I have always looked up to strong women who break barriers.
4. What's your future plan? Your goals?
Our future plans are constantly changing! But, our focus is to keeping bringing the film side of the business to higher levels, work on bigger projects with bigger crews, and get some people besides ourselves in front of our camera. I also want to start working on some short documentary projects about causes that I care about. I want to tell stories about women's equality, about abortion rights, about beauty in different cultures, about eating disorders and what it truly feels like to grow up as a woman in this world. I want to not only make beautiful pictures (and that is still a big part of my goals, my background in fashion is a big contributor to our aesthetic), but to also create projects that are meaningful and contribute something valuable and provoking to the world. Personally, I want to keep traveling to all corners of the world - Eastern Europe, deeper into Africa, the tiniest Islands in the South Pacific, and experience it all.
5. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Make yourself uncomfortable. Nothing has created bigger changes in my life than pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Things as small as going to the party you're invited to where you don't know anyone, pushing yourself harder and longer on a run, reaching out to someone you're scared to, asking for a raise; nothing happens in a place of comfort. The only way I have fought through my phobia was bit by bit, exposing myself to situations I didn't want to and didn't think I was ready for. (I still have to make myself do this, I recently went Whale Watching in Sri Lanka, even though I was absolutely terrified - and I survived!)
6. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
With everything that is happening in the US politically right now, I feel so overwhelmed with causes that I care about, and people and institutions that need standing up for; but women's rights has been something I have cared about deeply my entire life. I remember being five or six years old and telling everyone that I was a feminist. I didn't really know what that meant, I just knew that there was no way I shouldn't be in charge just because I was a girl (I may have been a bit bossy... or "showed leadership skills".) As I've mentioned, there are a lot of film and photo projects I have in mind that I hope I can start working on later this year. Things like street harassment, rape culture, institutionalized sexism, inter-sectionalism, sexism in healthcare, the pressure to be perfect and that your only value as a woman is being young and beautiful- all things that I want to contribute to the conversation about. I’m just trying to find the right project to start with.
7. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
The first thing that comes to mind is spending the night in the Sahara desert. But, also on top of the list would be skydiving, and seeing one of our photos on a Billboard. Here's a list of our top moments from last year, I can't actually believe we did all of this in a single year: http://www.awaylands.com/travel/top-14-travel-moments-2016/
What I also consider my coolest, most valuable accomplishment would be finding really amazing friendships. It’s having people in my life that I love, and that love me, and that I can call on, and will be there for. Another big struggle when I moved to New York was knowing practically no one, and, over the years, I found such amazing people and grew these friendships that mean the world to me - something I do not, for a single day, take for granted. I have a group of girlfriends that have been with me through everything for the past six or seven years now. A lot of us have moved away from New York, but at least a couple of times a year (right now thanks to a steady stream of weddings) we manage to all get together. And yes, there is always wine, and crying, and proclamations of how amazing everyone is. I did not have female friendships this strong before, and it is something that I treasure dearly.
Also, the day we got our official business papers was one of the most satisfying moments of my life (so much bigger than getting a marriage license, to me.)
8. Anything we haven't asked that you'd like to talk about
The only other thing that I would want to tell reader's would be: never think that you are too old, too late, or too far gone to live your dreams or have the life you want, as long as you are willing to work for it. For so many years I was resigned to thinking that I was going to be overweight forever, phobic forever, that those were just the cards that I would have to live with. But you can create the life you want. It doesn't come for free, or easily, you have to make choices to keep moving towards it every day, even when you don't want to. I think back to who I was a few years ago, and honestly can't believe the life that I am living now, the experiences that I have had and the chance I've built with my partner to create a career that we really, truly love.
Here are links to our work: