Redefining Leadership: Q&A with Visual Journalist Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

I was so happy to be introduced to Stephanie Ewens through my good friend Katie McDonald, bnourished CEO/Founder (you can check out a Q&A Katie and I had about leadership recently here). As two Rhode Island transplants—me from New York and Steph from California—I knew we would have much in common!

Within two minutes of meeting, we played the Rhode Island one-degree of connection game, realizing that not only did we both know Katie, but that Steph’s husband worked with one of my good friends who I met through Nexus. A small world in the Ocean State, indeed.

We sat down at a Seven Stars Bakery—an iconic RI staple even for these state newbies—to chat about entrepreneurship, leadership and confidence building. Take a look…

You started your own photography business in 2005; what was your reason for starting your own company?

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I was working as a staff photographer for a Rhode Island newspaper, the Providence Business News (PBN), and I was meeting so many people who needed a photographer, and I realized I could make a business out of it. Shooting for PBN was such a wonderful opportunity because it not only introduced me to so many notable and up-and-coming individuals in the state, but it also helped me get to know the geography as a California transplant! Working at PBN was just such a great jumping off point for starting my own business, and I really felt I could make a life for myself as a business owner.

When I first started my business, I used to shoot everything,  but now I specify in telling the stories of people through portraiture and documentary photography. I have also recently added a new component to my portfolio called Red Carpet Rebellion, in partnership with Amy Walsh. Amy meets with entrepreneurs and business owners for six weeks and helps them figure out their visual story, which then culminates with a photo shoot with me. We have clients who fly in from out of state who are at a point where their career trajectory requires a new story to be told. I love the collaboration part of the work and it’s something I am so excited about.

That does sound amazing! Did you always know you would end up in photography?

I actually went to Santa Clara University and got my degree in Economics! I took a photojournalism class at San Francisco State and I thought, “Oh! This is what I am supposed to do!” I literally got goosebumps during each class and I thought, “This is it.” For me, I get so much out of capturing something that will never happen again. One of my strengths is connecting with people, making them feel comfortable in front of the camera and then creating an image that might make them feel differently, positively, more confident about themselves. That’s one of my favorite parts about my career.

You are California born and raised… how did you end up in the Ocean State?

I grew up in Santa Maria on the central coast of California and am a true Californian at heart. I go with the flow, I love the sun, I love the beach. I met my husband, Damian Ewens, in college and he grew up here. We moved to Rhode Island in 2003. To be honest, it was a bit of a culture shock at first, but now I love it because it is such a community and the connections are so personal. There’s the joke that it is is three degrees of separation between everyone in Rhode Island but it might even be smaller!

I also feel that Rhode Island is a state to start your own business. It’s so easy to connect to folks and find your community of people and if you are creating value, people will uncover you.

Once you moved here and made the decision to start your own business, what was one of the first lessons you learned about entrepreneurship?

You have to juggle a lot of balls at once and if you want to make it happen you really have to go at it. No one will do it for you; you have to really push for it. There were those moments in which I felt I was going to throw in the towel—those break down moments where you ask, “What am I doing? Am I meant to do this?” But then you find your way back to your original purpose. I have found that if you are passionate about your craft, then that will carry you through.

What has been one of your proudest moments in your business so far?

For me, it’s always important to make someone feel comfortable in front of the camera; that’s what keeps me coming back. Along with my other work, this year, I am going to focus on portraits of confidence. I’ll be working with new and existing clients who are looking to capture their stories of confidence.

Personally, I went through my own confidence experience last year where I found my voice and built my confidence more than I ever have. The experience is transforming my business in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I’m really looking forward to helping individuals spread their own message of confidence.

What an amazing campaign to launch! Through this campaign, and the work you currently do, you likely meet with so many different types of leaders. Have your thoughts/beliefs about leadership evolved through your work?

What’s unique about photography is that it strips away title and hierarchy and we are left with the human as the center of the shot. We all have leadership within us, and a story to tell, but sometimes it takes some of us longer to realize it. Especially with portraiture, I can help people focus on their unique talents and strengths and what they want to convey, whether they are are leading a business or finding the leader within themselves.

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

It comes from one of my mentors and dear friend, Bill Gallery, who is an amazing photographer. He said, “Tell people what you do, and tell them what you don’t do”, which for me translates to “Only do what you love, and don’t do what doesn’t move you.”

To check out Stephanie's work, click here to visit her website.

Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as VP of Marketing for Trilix. Carrie is a 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” honoree and a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.