Twelve months, 19 countries, 1,000 photos.
Local photographer Adam Schluter’s ongoing project “The World I See” has taken him on a journey worldwide just to ask, “How are you?” – and mean it.
“No one’s doing that anymore,” said Schluter.
Craving connection and tired of “losing to cell phones” during social interactions, the young photographer decided to set off on a train ride through Europe about a year ago, leaving his cell phone behind.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll go around the world. I’ll just get candid pictures of people and show them the way I see them,” he said. “And that was the whole premise.”
Schluter moved to Coeur d’Alene three years ago and found himself alone. Far from family and friends, the St. Louis native struggled to feel connected, despite his increasing use of, and dependence on, technology.
“I remember I would just reach out to people on social media and calling and texting,” Schluter recalls. “And it just made it worse…I found myself feeling more depressed.”
Lunches with friends were little better, thanks to constant cellular interruptions.
Frustrated and seeking more, he decided on a whim to take a 55-day trip through Europe, using his photography as a way to connect with people.
Schluter estimates he spent an average of 18 hours each day, walking as much as 20 miles to search for moments and people to photograph.
“I’d jump off the train, the train would leave, I’d have no idea where I was… and then I would have to ask people in these new places for help.”
Sometimes those strangers – now friends – would invite him to coffee or even to stay in their homes.
“I got to share my life with them and that was making me feel more connected to the world around me.”
The resulting images were found, rather than staged. While Schluter sometimes requested a smile or a slight change in position, he primarily captured these “beautiful moments” as he saw them.
That’s not to say connection always came easily.
Despite his outgoing persona, Schluter is a self-described introvert.
He said at first he was scared and tended to rush those early encounters, leaving shortly after taking a photo. It wasn’t until a meaningful moment with a refugee in Milan, Italy that he learned to put the camera away and just talk.
‘No one’s ever asked to take my picture before,’ he recalls the refugee saying.
Schluter said that’s when he realized how much bigger the project is.
“After that, for the rest of this trip and the rest of this project I would always take the picture, show them, and then I’d put the camera away and just try to have a conversation.”
This vulnerability, he said, was life-changing – and good for his rejection rate.
“It’s very, very rare now that people say ‘no,’” he says. “I never knew what I was doing and people felt that (vulnerability) so they opened up to me,” he explained.
He’s still in touch with some of the people he met along the way. In order to receive a copy of their photos, his connections (he prefers not to call people mere subjects) had to email Schluter. This encouraged many to stay in touch.
Schluter continues to limit the role technology plays in his life. He checks his email twice a day at most and has learned to let go of whatever he might be missing in between. Both cell phone and camera were notably absent during our interview – not an easy feat for a photographer.
You can preorder Schluter’s book “The World I See”” featuring previously unpublished photos and stories from this project at Hellofromastranger.com. The site also features photographs, reviews, and personal writings.