Paul is a Czech photographer-animal-traveler-backpacker-living-off-the-grid who takes pictures & tell stories for a living. Here is some of his own.
How did it all started?
Ok, little bit of context about me: I’m 23 and I was born and raised in Czech Republic which we say is in “middle Europe” but in fact, I see us more of a “the most western part of eastern Europe” you know, former soviet union.
This, may not seem important but it kinda is to get to the core of who I am, so bare with me please.
And due to this sad history of our little country, we’re not raised with this “of course you can do great things” attitude, oh no, we’re raised with this “go fit into box and don’t cause trouble” approach, go to school, find a job take a mortgage and shut up. Maybe it’s the same for every middle class in every country, but I’m from Czech Republic so that’s the only upbringing I really know.
And you know, I never really came in peace with this vision of life, so at 18 years old I said “fuck it” and I dropped from secondary school (I left it because I actually love to educate myself and I really feel the thirst for knowledge) and started to hustle my way through life: I already had a camera back and being a pro photographer was something I could imagine myself to be so I went for it. The pressure from outer world was brutal for 18 year old “kid", but I went through and still kicking (and fighting) ever since.
I started pretty much like everybody: I shot everything that brought money in: senior portraits, weddings, interiors, some food, some commercial things - the whole spiel. And I was decent at it I would say, I was always obsessed with language of light and I spent good couple of years to really craft my skills, I used Profoto heads from 1970s, old speedlite, kitchen fluorescent lights: I had plenty of fun with proving that you don’t need expensive fancy equipment to get somewhere with this craft. That’s something I still believe - photography industry is just full of shit these days in my opinion.
So, couple years went by and I bought a second-handed Fujifilm X100 in February of 2013, that was a big moment retrospectively, because till then, I was thinking about myself as a “studio” or “commercial” photographer and all of a sudden, there was this ballsy, stylish camera screaming “hey, get the fuck out of this studio and go get some life (and leave those huge strobes at home)!” which now of course is a well known effect, but you’d be surprised-back in 2013 there was pretty much no Fujifeed or X-Photographers or anything, the whole Fujifilm world was this mysterious something.
I saw some potential in that so I went right inside the rabbit hole (as I usually do) and fuelled with this lust for adventure I went for a trip with my best buddy: we hitchhiked from Czech Republic to Istanbul, which was basically like my first “real” contact with world outside my little country. I guess that saying how crazy adventure this whole thing was really is not necessary. Retrospectively looking, I must admit we had balls and we were mighty stupid: we hadn’t packed any sleeping gear, not even a proper amount of clothing so lot of times we just slept, well, somewhere on the street with our pants and hoodies on, like a proper hobos. fun times.
And for this Istanbul trip, I was like “hey, Zack Arias was there to test the new X100S, maybe I can get my hands on one as well” so I emailed a Czech branch of Fujifilm like, the most random email “hey, I’m this and this I really love the X100, what about we do something together?”. No response, of course. So I sent another one. and couple more. until I got like this, really tired “Oookay, let’s meet at friday” reply. (I guess persistence is a lesson here) and I actually did it. I got myself a camera lend for Istanbul trip. (my secret dream was that if I wreck it enough-they let me keep it) (which did not happen btw)
So we did the “Zack Arias tribute trip to Istanbul” and the most important thing that it taught me is to “use english on internet”. Which sounds maybe super, super obvious, but until then I was using my first language to communicate which I believe is a total dead end.
Couple months later, fuelled with all these new things I’ve learned, I spend crazy money and went to London to attend this Gulf Photo Plus event, where I met and took couple of Instax selfies with people from Fujifilm Middle East and all the main performed and they were my photographic heroes at the time. Super cool experience.
Around the same time, when I got back from my travels, I was so fucking desperate. I lived in Prague at the time and I felt like an animal in the cage. I was shooting some pointless commercial jobs and teaching workshops for Czech Fujifilm, but basically all the effort went blank and all the money went for a rent and surviving in big city, so after much thought I decided to quit and left what did not felt right. again.
Another couple months later, main Gulf Photo Plus event happening in Dubai was taking place and hooked from previous one, me and my best buddy decided to go there again, but to go all-in this time. “I have laptop that works anywhere, I have camera, light and something to shoot is everywhere and I know a little bit of english- Let’s go”. So we bought cheapest tickets to Dubai and just went and we do it our way, with lowest overhead and no planning at all. After couple of days being homeless in Dubai, we became friend with local indian photographer Preet who helped us to find 150$/month bedspace in room with 6 other guys from India and Pakistan. I was like the whitest motherfucker in the whole area which didn’t really bother me, because I had access and I could hangout with people around GPP. I could grab a beer with the most wonderful photographers from around the world, which was really cool.
And I got to get my first speaking gig for people from local Fujifilm, who remembered me from London. And finally, dream came true and I received brand new Fujifilm X-T1 as a gift back there. Like, holy shit, that was such a surreal moment for a young dude from poor family.
Couple months after this one, something important for this story happened: I convinced my girlfriend to join in this backpacking lifestyle. And after, well, quite a few reasoning she said yes. Which was a big deal because this “I’m studying at school and you’re traveling and doing all kinds of cool shit” lifestyle is doable for a while, but it is certainly not sustainable. And the way I’m wired is “what’s really the point of doing anything if you don’t have anyone to share it with?”
Then Photokina 2014 happened. And I was there speaking. Kind of a big deal for me then, I mean, I’m 21 and I got myself speaking at Photokina alongside like legends and veteran photographers. Maybe this will sound crazy and I don’t care, but afterwards I felt like “ok, I did it. This is what I’ve always wanted and now it’s done” (and the empty hole inside does feel a little smaller but it certainly did not went away) and I felt the need to evolve and to not settle in just this photographer shell I was in.
Because you know, photography was like my number one thing I was interested in to a certain point it was a biggest part of my identity and it started to feel a little, umm... like clothes that don’t fit that well anymore. And so what you do when you need to clear your head and hear your real voice? You go for solitude. For the kind of solitude you can only find in nature.
And along the way, I found out that being outdoors and enjoying that solitude is where me and my girl are the most happiest. So why not to take it as a main pillar of our newly crafted lifestyle?
I feel like it’s where I really belong, like that at the end of the day as a human being I’m just an animal.
Because well, I don’t know what about you, but I believe that pretty much everything important “career” wise is and will happen on the web. That’s where the most attention is; what we all do these days mostly is just starring into those fucking screens. And internet access is pretty much everywhere these days. And combined with easily accessible portable solar panels it feels almost like every adventurers dream.
So my (ours) current focus for the last well, almost two years is building this "sustainable expedition artistic couple ecosystem” where we basically travel somewhere and then operate basically as outside from civilisation as possible, using towns and cities along the way pretty much only for groceries; otherwise we carry everything we need for day-to-day operations on our backs. And I’m talking shelter, clothing kit, sleeping system, laptop, camera, hard drives, solar panels and a lot of batteries and other stuff to ensure this off the grid travel sustainability. And I can tell you that this “home is where you pitch it” approach is really, really working for us.
First of all, spending 24/7 with your life partner is (surprisingly) really healthy for a relationship, second: it’s just the easiest way how to to reduce your overhead while travel; I mean of course, some gear may not be cheapest, and other may not be really durable for everyday use but still, with low overhead and this level of self-sufficiency comes certain level of freedom and when you have nowhere else where you need to be you are much more present which, ultimately is something where artistic soul (or however you want to call it) thrives the most I think.
Well, that’s a great question. Like right now, I feel that I’m in this great state of life where I’m starting to get myself and my intentions a little better, but I’m still nobody, which is great at this point because I really have nothing to loose (I always joke that “what are you going to take away from me? my tent?) and I can try to push and explore the way I communicate and storytell, you know? Like, what’s going my contribution to the world be.
This last year and half I spent pretty much exclusively shooting just with iPhone to explore certain aspect of “iPhoneography” that I felt I want to learn; I feel like there’s more honesty in shooting with phone and also I’m a big fan of this “if I can, you can too” philosophy and I wanted to proof (well, probably mostly myself) that you can get a money making shots with your phone. (I think that it had maybe actually cost me my spot amongst those official Fujifilm X-Photographers which I actually think is kinda cool to be this... renegade photographer)
These days I make most of my money (and there isn’t a lot of them) by actually selling my photos (mostly through great agency Stocksy.com) and I enjoy how challenging and fair this whole process of shooting images that will bring food to the table is. You just can’t fuck around it,you need to get your hands dirty and go actually shoot something and then collect dollars and pennies. I see this whole microstock industry sort of like a fast-food of photography: It’s cheap, kinda gross and it’s everywhere and nice thing about Stocksy is that is more like a cool and hip bistro, so the food is little more expensive and little less demeaning. I recommend to readers to give it a shot and try to get there, if you’re like me and you already know that you’re not really that much up for working with greedy, blind-consumerism-supporting cunts from advertising agencies, this could be nice alternative. (but I have to admit, I have my fair share of those microstock photos we all laugh at/ignore)
And so,you know, I hustle my way through while trying to figure out everything along the way.
Going to himalayas and antarctica and build a log cabin in a woods and have a family are like the bigger beacons and we’ll see what’s in store along the way.
In about a month we’re leaving with my girl to traverse 900km from mediterranean sea to atlantic ocean through pyrenees mountains and aside from having a great adventure we want to try to raise some charity money, so preparing for that is what’s keeps me restless these days.
Anyways, In case anyone is still reading these ramblings and want to get in touch: my website is pavels.cz and I’m on Instagram under @paulschlemmer. Last couple of months I'm really trying to step up my instagram game in terms of how deep I try to share with people.
Samuel, thanks for having me and all the best wishes to you and your readers :)
Thank you so much Paul, I wish you the best for your next adventures.