Interview with Adam Schluter: Hello, From a Stranger.

August 24, 2022: Transcribed Zoom Interview

Natascha : Hello Readers,

My name is Natascha with Humboldt counties lifestyle blog, Little Lost Forest. Today I will be talking to Adam Schluter, producer, and photographer of Hello, From a Stranger.

Hi Adam.

Adam: Hey Natascha, thanks for having me.

Natascha: How are you feeling today?

Adam: I’m feeling- I’m feeling pretty good. Honestly, I think you saw I had open heart surgery like two months ago and I just had some weird ups and downs but it’s summertime, it’s wedding season, we’re filming the show, it’s Monday Night Dinners, I’ve just been pushing it too much. I think I’ve just been an introvert crashing, hard but other than that life’s good.

Natascha: You’re looking great and you’re spreading positive energy, you are much appreciated.

Adam: Thanks, Natascha.

Natascha: Where are you talking to us from?

Adam: I’m in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

Natascha: Cool. How’s the weather out there?

Adam: It’s magic, perfect. Like 85 sunny but in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho you have like three months of good weather, June, July, August. September, October are usually pretty nice. You never really know. But then you have literal six months of deep pure winter. There’s six hours of sunshine during the day. It’s brutal. This area is perfect.

Natascha: Do you stay in the area year round?

Adam: No, fuck, no. That’s why I photograph weddings during the summer. I make all my income for the whole year in those three months and then I have nine months off, so I like to spend like one month in the winter because, it’s very ideal like a hallmark town. Everything shuts down, you walk everywhere. It’s like ten feet of snow a month. It’s just gorgeous. But you know if I’m not working, and I don’t have routines in place it’s really easy to succumb to seasonal depression and my mental health stuff. So, it allows me that time to travel out into the world and focus on my project which gives me a lot of purpose.

Natascha: I can understand that we have a year around cloud coverage here in Eureka. Winters can be harsh.

Adam: What do you mean year around?

Natascha: We’re right there by the bay. Right there in Eureka, not in southern Humboldt or in Oregon but right where I’m at, clouds accumulated by the water and were stuck with it.

Adam: That’s tough.

Natascha: Can you tell my audience a little about Hello, From a Stranger?

Adam: Six years ago, I lived in Mexico and I wanted to move to a place with more opportunity. I was in a long-term relationship with a girl that I loved like crazy- with all my heart. I thought we were going to get married. So, we got sponsored by this outdoor company to travel the Pacific Coast highway from the southern tip of Mexico to Alaska and pick the best place to live out of the three countries. 22,000 miles, I spent ten months on the PCH, and I chose this town where I’m living now, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

We spent ten months together. Every day was bliss. We were on vacation, everything was cool. We were both travelers, so everything was cool. We were running from some demons. She was really running from some demons. She was getting over drugs and alcoholism, and a whole bunch of some darkness we were running from.

So, once we slowed down and we moved into this home that I’m in right now we literally had nothing, we only had enough money for the prorated first month’s rent and the deposit- we had nothing left for groceries, for food, we had no jobs, didn’t know anyone. But we made it work, got jobs, figured it out, obviously. Once we got more comfortable those demons came back and it pulled us apart. It came to a spot where I couldn’t do it anymore and we ended up breaking up. I was in a town where I didn’t know a single person and I was way far away from my family and friends, and I moved here with this girl that I thought I was going to marry and be with for the rest of my life and now she’s gone.

I was living in Mexico for three and a half years and I didn’t have a phone, so I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to make meaningful relationships without technology in America, especially. It’s easier in third world countries. I finally hit a wall. I was going into the first winter out here and I was suicidal. I was thinking about suicide, I was actually planning it. And one day, I really just didn’t want to do it to my family. So, one day I was just looking at a world map, just kind of dreaming, still very broke, not very much money. I was waiting tables at a restaurant, but I knew I was going to die if I stayed in this house stuck in my thoughts. I just said fuck it I’ll just do what scares me the most. If it confirms my fears that I’m alone and the worlds not there, then I can still commit suicide and give up but maybe it will wake me up and get me out of my head.

I booked the cheapest flight the furthest I could away, which was Copenhagen, Denmark and almost no money left, again. I was homeless in my late twenties. It never bothered me. I’ve always lived a very minimal life guy. I don’t mind being uncomfortable. I was like fuck I need to sleep somewhere, and I need transportation. The trains- the trains are all over Europe. There’s one company, Euro Rail, that does 95% of all trains in Europe. I just started hounding them to sponsor me for it, I didn’t have a big portfolio, it was just an idea, and we went down to Fort Bay to ask the group that sponsored part of the trip. Okay I can sleep on the trains; I can move around on the trains. From there my only plan was to find the beauty in the world and try to wake myself up creatively and do what scared me the most, which was to say hello to people and to interact with people. It’s easy as a photographer to be behind the camera and photograph stuff from a distance. I was trying to wake up. I was really trying to wake myself up. I knew I had to really challenge myself.

I’m an introvert. I’m terrified of rejection. So, I was like what is the scariest thing I can do? It’s like just go say hello to strangers and try to have conversations with them. That was the base of this whole thing. Now we’re twenty-one countries in thousands and thousands of strangers, been published three times by National Geographic, there’s a Ted Talk. There’s a book and we have a second book coming out on it this year. We started filming the show last year. We’ll have a show coming up here too. It’s still a work in progress. Mental health is not like one and done, alright I’ve solved this. No, I need to continue moving this project forward. It’s because give me a lot of purpose and it reminds me of the things I need to do for my own mental health and just keep trying.

Natascha: Your story gives me goosebumps. Congratulations on moving this project forward.

Adam: Thanks, Natascha.

Natascha: Of course. Out of all the creative outlets you could have pursued what influenced you to talk with strangers?

Adam: I think- A) I was incredibly alone. I felt incredibly alone but I was surrounded by people. It was like how the fuck does that make sense- I’m sorry, I guess you can take that out- I’m surrounded by people, I feel completely alone. We have social media and people around us, but there’s no in-person depth of those relationships, and that’s hard. It’s easy to send a text but it’s hard to sit with someone. It can be awkward sometimes. And ask for help, sometimes, and to give help when it is asked of you. They really need to learn this, because the technology, it doesn’t matter how many friends I have on that. It makes me feel worse. It makes me feel more alone. Because it’s not in person. The cool thing about this, I was actually so afraid, the first night I was throwing up in my room. I was deathly terrified. And there was no turning back. I didn’t have the money to go back. So, I put it all on the line and it saved my life, but I made up this script because I thought I better sound cool approaching strangers. I have to sound like I have this all thought out and put together. The script was on approaching and saying hello to strangers all over the world but only if I saw something beautiful and, in this moment, this is so beautiful would you mind if I took your photograph? That sounds aliquant and cool. but what I found was that when I approached these strangers you have a millisecond to earn their trust. You have to decide if they can trust me, if I’m trying to sell you something, see if I’m trying to get something from you and if you think that I’m bullshit then in that millisecond you’ll just walk away. You’ll never stop to talk to me. I found that script was dis-ingenuine. And so, through hundreds of rejections. I was getting rejected 90% plus when I was using the script. I just became more and more vulnerable. I was tired and beat down, I was still trying to figure this out. And the more vulnerable I became- you know I thought as a man it was dangerous to be vulnerable, weak to be vulnerable and foolish, obviously. The more vulnerable I became, everyone started trusting me and everyone started opening up to me. Strangers are crying on my shoulder five minutes after I said hello to them, it’s like what the fuck is going on. I didn’t have to do anything. I’m awkward and goofy. I don’t have the right thing to say, there’s moments when I don’t know what to say but like- it’s read as authentic and that’s all it takes.

Natascha: Cool. How do you choose your subjects? How do you decide that a moment is beautiful?

Adam: Honestly just pure curiosity. I love to pay attention to the world around me. There are absolutely no rules to it. It’s never forced, there’s days where I’m like I should get some stories today and I’ll go out and I just don’t find anything that inspires me that day but it’s just mostly I try to inspire people to put their phones down and notice the world around them and I feel that if people did that- come here [grabs cat]- I feel that if people do that and get off of the technology I think we’ll have a much more realistic, the actual beauty of the world around us, no fluff, no over optimism, reality by itself is pretty fucking beautiful. It’s pretty fucking special. And so, I just go out into the world, I’ll pay attention and I’ll see something that makes me curious. A lot of times it’s like a person reading a book in a park, it’s a person covered in tattoos, some of that sticks out. But I’ll say this, I never approach anybody that is staring at a phone.

Natascha: [laughs]

Adam: I don’t try to be cynical about that, it’s just really there’s nothing interesting about that and I already feel that your head is going to be completely busy if I say hello to you and it’s just not my deal. I prefer people that are doing something else.

Natascha: While abroad how did foreigners view you as an American?

Adam: Yeah, really cool question. The main reason above all why I wanted to do this internationally is that I wanted to do it in places where I didn’t speak the same language, I don’t look the same as the other people that are with me. I’m doing it all in countries that I have never been to. That I don’t know the customs, the rules, the cultures, and what I’m really trying to show above all, now, is the power of vulnerability and the crucial necessity of intuition. Those two things together are enough to open the entire world to help you navigate it.

I found me by being myself, being vulnerable and being curious, it’s also- people like to see curiosity because you can see that I’m excited about something I’m passionate about it. People open up to me with that. I’ve been in some of the most complicated situations in countries around the planet, like the Jamaican story, I did this for six weeks in Jamaica. I would always be the minority. I wanted to be the minority, as a white guy to be the minority- unlike in America where I’m not. I wanted to really stick out, I wanted to earn that respect and not be able to hide at all and that’s a great example of that. We never felt those differences. We never noticed it. We’re sitting there, we’re not talking about things that divide us, we’re not talking about things that are different, we’re not talking about politics or religion, we’re talking about life and humanity and emotions and relationships and stuff that as humans we all share. Whatever the differences are we never notice them because they really don’t matter, we’re talking about real human stuff and in those conversations we both feel very human together. I’ve always been welcomed. I have only had one bad situation ever out of thirty-eight countries I think I’ve been in throughout my life. This is all spontaneous traveling. I only have plans for the first two nights, to get established and then it’s up to me to meet the communities, interact with the world, leave my comfort zone, and let them lead me to where to go next. I am very very vulnerable in these spots. And they do have chances too but I’m intuitive and that’s crucial but I’m also, the world is a pretty damn good place, it really is.

Natascha: You must be pretty street smart as well.

Adam: It comes with experience.

Natascha: If you don’t talk about current affairs, religion, or politics, do you avoid these subjects or does it not come up, does it not cause people pain and other emotions when you approach them?  

Adam: I try not to set any rules to it. The problem is if we get into a political conversation accidently let’s say, I’m just very honest. I don’t know enough about politics to have a strong opinion about it and that’s by choice. Also, I’m not saying that everyone should be like that, that’s just how I am. I haven’t owned a TV in ten years. I haven’t watched the news in six months. I just blissfully go out into the world to go see the real story and see what it is for myself. I just don’t know a lot about it. If someone is- the problem with politics or religion- people have already made up their minds. They’ve already created their identities. They already know their speech, they know exactly-there’s no balance to that. Most of the time, like 95% of the time, there’s no doubts to those conversations. It’s I know this, and this is this, and that’s how it’s going to be. There’s nothing for me to learn from in that. I learn a little bit but there’s nothing for them to learn also. Those conversations aren’t very connected. If they do come up, I’ll stop it or I’ll let someone do a rant. If it just continues to not be balanced, I’ll just wish them a nice day and walk away.

Natascha: Are there any common topics or themes that arise in conversations?

Adam: No not at all, honestly. A very broad one, I love to talk about relationships. I love to talk about what inspires people, what they do outside of their jobs that give them inspiration or purpose. I love to talk about families, because I’m really trying to learn about those things. A lot of this is me being curious to help myself learn how to continue growing. I’ve never been married, I don’t have kids, I would love those things. I’ve been through some really tough relationships and I’m trying to learn from other people on how to make sense of that but it’s also a way for me to learn about myself too, in conversation. I’ll tell you this- the secret sauce to this is people know when I’m talking to them that my mind is totally clear. They know that I’m listening. They know that I am genuinely there, present in that conversation and that’s what allows people to open up to me so much because they know that I’m listening. If I had bullet point questions, oh yeah there’s that sound snippet – okay, next! They won’t tell you anything. And that’s fair, I shouldn’t. I’m not really listening. But I really am listening and there’s no format to the conversation and that’s why they go so deep.

Natascha: What are some fears or passions you’ve heard of?

Adam: That’s a great question. Passions are very individual and unique. I’ve just heard millions from juggling to painting to, I hear lots of music, to being a mom. Really beautiful stuff. I just love to hear all the stuff that people are passionate about because it inspires me to continue trying to find them myself. Fear is a lot more- there’s definitely a dread in the entire world right now of fear about life as we know it changing so dramatically so as a global humanity, as a global society, whatever you want to call it, were breaking apart. And so there’s a lot of loneliness that is felt all over the world, everywhere I go. There’s less in third world countries because those are really built on relationships because there’s poverty and poverty doesn’t have much besides the relationships. There’s deep, deep, deep understanding being communicated about technology creating a bit of a chaos that we don’t know what to do about. And the world’s very scared of that. What it’s doing to relationships to communication, friendships to love, and daring. The addiction, people don’t really know what it’s going to continue doing to us. It’s just taking us away from each other in person, so I think we’re going to see a lot of the damage that it causes.

Natascha: Thank you for sharing. Can we talk about your hardware for a second? What is your favorite camera and lens for portrait photography?

Adam: Great question. I always use only one lens ever, for my entire project and it is a Sigma R rig 50 ml 1.4 lens. I’m cheap and I travel light. I just mastered that lens. And I’ve always used ninety-nine cameras. I’ve had a Nikon, D7000, but this project has always been on the D750 and I moved it to the Nikon Z6 last year and it’s made my job incredibly easy. What’s so helpful about having the exact same camera and lens for the entire thing is- I’ve always seen the world in pictures. I’m cursed as a photographer, a lot of us are. I already see the exact picture. I don’t need to take out the camera, I don’t need to take out the lens, I don’t need to look through it. I know the lens so well, it’s like in my eyes so well that it saves me a lot of time and also, I already know exactly what the picture is going to be. If it is something real quick, like holy shit this is an amazing shot, I can get it in to take a picture in two seconds I can get the picture and then we can get into conversation. It helps me a lot.

Natascha: Nifty, cheap and trustworthy.

Adam: Yes.

Natascha: I know we’ve talked about this a bit but what is your stance on the social media dilemma?

Adam: I think that it’s the end of the absolute foundation of relationships that is absolutely critical to us being able to move forward. We’re already seeing it, I mean suicides of despair are down to the age of eight now. There’s eight-year old’s committing suicide. It is so heartbreaking.

An example of that is, I was photographing a wedding and there was this adorable girl, she was eight years old too. She had this little dress her mom gave her and we were all running around. And I said, Hey! Let me get this shoot, it is such a beautiful shot of you. I went to take the pictures and she says, no! Not this side of my face. I only like this side of my face. And I was like, you’re eight years old, where did you get it? She was like, my mom says it all the time. And I see it on TikTok all the time. Children are mimicking what they’re seeing.

I didn’t know when it got cool to be so self-critical. Somehow it got cool for people to feel ugly and talk about themselves poorly. If we don’t have self-confidence then- it’s not ego, it’s self-confidence. It’s like pride in the person that you are. You don’t have to have the best body or be the most beautiful person in the world. Just being okay with who you are. It takes some self-work and that’s a gift we should give ourselves and to the world around us but right now that’s just not the norm. The norm is self-criticism, self-deprecating, belittling ourselves. That’s a bit of cancer to other people around us because then other people around us are like hey that persons beautiful, then I’m ugly. They think they’re ugly then I have to be ugly. There’s no end to that.

So that all being said, with this insane addiction that didn’t exist a few years ago, where people wake up with their phones and they go to bed with their phones, everything in the present moment has been lost. And obviously, the less present we are, the more anxious we are, more depressed we are, the more chaotic we are, we’re not planning on the future, we’re not thinking about people that are right in front of us in that moment everything is expedient, everything needs to be fast. And the most important parts in life are not fast. Love is not fast; relationships are not fast. Like communication is not supposed to be fast. And now I feel like I need to jam in a thirty-minute scheduled time with my friends just to catch up on how life is. We can’t live like that; people are dying because of that and have been. It’s just getting worse and worse every day.

Natascha: Thank you. How do you suggest breaking down barriers within a community?

Adam: I think that’s an easy one, I mean A) barriers are obviously constructed on pride, again, whatever barriers have come in between connections has to come from us swallowing our pride first. And so, the only reason that I wouldn’t go out and try to connect with the community and the people around me is if I was being prideful. Like oh man if they reject me, I’m going to be hurt by it or I’m going to be mad about it, so we think about ourselves so much that we end up not doing what the world needs us to do. To help the world out also, so.

For me, breaking down those barriers is forming relationships and conversations that are vulnerable, authentic, but also not focusing on those things that divide us. I mean, because that is just too easy to do and those are based on identity. Not based on who that person actually is. A lot of people right now with social media, all the stimulus and technology, they don’t really know who they are, they don’t really give themselves the time to find out who they are. They latch on to an identity, this is who I am, this is how I think, this is what’s right, this is what’s wrong. Again, there’s no balance to that. Focus on what’s behind all of that. It’s like who are you really and what do you love? What scares you? What inspires you? And not just question, question, question, because that’s not balanced. It’s like telling them about you also, like really having a balanced conversation. It allows people to have this foundation of trust, that all those barriers just melt away.

Natascha: Good. How do you see conversations with strangers as a healing tool? How can a person overcome their own barriers and talk to a stranger?

Adam: Yup, well however to overcome your own barriers, it’s kind of related to the question before. But again, just try. Like that’s honestly all I can say. What do you have to lose other than your pride? Just try. Hey, I want to talk to that girl. Hi, my name’s Adam. How are you? Hi my name’s Natascha. Nice to meet you. Hey ya’- I’m really busy right now, I can’t really talk. Okay, no worries. And then you learn a little bit. Have a nice day, I just wanted to say hello.

Also, I’d say appear to people without expectations and without an agenda because people can feel an agenda, too. So that’s important, to have an open personality when you approach someone. I think the most healing part of conversations with strangers is this understanding that I saw you. Everybody sees you, and we know that everybody sees us. So rarely do people interact with the world around them that even though everyone sees us, we still feel alone. And so, here’s an idea, I saw you, I said hello to you, and I was vulnerable with you. It’s very scary to do but now I know that you see me. And now we’re going to have a real conversation and we’re both going to walk away from that feeling less alone and more connected to the world around us but also understanding that each and every day we can do that. It might be hard, it might not work, it might be awkward sometimes. But we can do that. So now we have that understanding, we’re back in our home or apartment or whatever and our mental health is having a bad day we know what to do about it. Now if we do it, that is up to us but we at least know something that we can do to help.

Natascha: Do… you believe in BigFoot?

Adam: Oh, that’s a cool question.

Natascha: We are big believers here in Humboldt County.

Adam: I was going to say no. But I’ll just say no because I don’t know enough about it. To not know definitively but know I haven’t researched and don’t know enough about it. I watched I’m All Gas No Breaks on the BigFoot rally, it was pretty revealing but I don’t know enough about it. Do you believe in BigFoot?

Natascha: Yeah, yeah. They are interstellar type of beings that can be- not necessary here all the time, kind of jumps through dimensions type deal. I have another Humboldt County question for you, any stories that relate to pot farms for marijuana enthusiasts.

Adam: Oh man, I can do a whole movie on my time there. I mean the whole thing was so wild. We lived in Clear Lake, but it was off the grid in the wild, this was like twelve years ago. It was like the wild west. Those people are recreational. It was like you can have ninety-nine plants with a doctor’s order, if you had one hundred it was a federal felony so like ninety-nine plants. There were no police because Fish and Game Conservation were the closest thing to police that we had. You’re on your own fucking island. Out in the middle of nowhere. Lots of money in the house, lots of weed plants in the house, you have guns in the house, it was wild. And, toward harvest time there’s like no protection, you know, there’s no regulation. Everyone would do these twelve-hour shifts and there’s people sleeping on patios with shotguns. There were these two sixteen-year-old kids that were out there, and they came out on four wheelers. Not on our farm but the neighboring farms, grabbed a bunch of plants and the people from the farm chased them down and the kids accidently drove off the cliff on the four wheelers and killed both of them. It’s the wild west. There’s a lot of- you probably want more of an optimistic story, but you know.

Natascha: That’s a common story unfortunately.

Adam: Yeah, it is. A lot of boredom really, so fucking boring. You’re trimming ten hours a day, and it was before cell phones were big. You get bored of it. Everybody’s on drugs, a lot of people are on drugs because of the boredom, and I never did drugs. I smoked pot and ate mushrooms. I love those two things, a lot. But I’ve never done hard drugs. And everyone’s on some real hardcore drugs. We had people overdosing. One of our closest friends, out there, OD’d and died. It’s just boredom. People really don’t know what the fuck to do. They’re really just sitting in the house together doing nothing at all. Every once in a while, there will be cool stuff. Like one of the owners of the farm who would never talk to us like the trimmers and the people in it, but he’d come in and he was this very ominous figure. He was nice. He’d go up to the kitchen and sterilize every single thing in the kitchen and nobody was ever allowed to go toward the kitchen. He would put on Grateful Dead, and he would stand there for like twelve hours and he’d just be silent. You know never say a word. We’re all feeling his presence. And then he would walk away without a word, and we’d never see him again. So, there’s just interesting characters.

Natascha: Yeah, yup. My zoom is cutting me short. It says I have three minutes remaining unless I upgrade to pro, which was unexpected. Can you just tell us what you plan on doing next?

Adam: In my personal life I am starting to date for the first time in my life. Really trying to figure out relationships. It’s kind of complicated for me, for the reasons that we talked about before. With my show, my project, we just sold forty percent of it to a major production studio and now we have a major team that is taking, really my team- which is just my director and my camera man, two close friends of mine, and were all merging forces. The next six weeks we are creating our new trailer and we’re taking that too market to sell the show. Which we expect it to sell. Hopefully in the next two to three months we’ll have the show sold and you guys will be able to see what it looks like.

But for my Monday Night Dinners, concept which I do in just Coeur D’Alene, I’m going to be taking it on the road this winter. The idea is to put me in a new city, new country, new place, anywhere in the world. I have two weeks to be there. I have to meet all the strangers but everyone that I meet, every stranger that I met and have a story, I’m going to invite them to have dinner on the end of that trip, two weeks down the line because I always wanted to leave the cities and countries more connected after I leave because, you know, I’m meeting these people and then I just leave. I want to put you all around a table together and I want you to meet each other too. Because of my time there, because of all of our time together, we’re just connecting the world, bringing it a little closer together with every place we visit. Hello, from a Stranger is merging with Monday Night Dinners and that would be the actual show. Some really cool stuff. I’m very excited for them.

Natascha: Alright Adam. Thank you so much for sharing with us. These are some beautiful projects you got going on that are very inspiring and feel good. Looking through your art makes me feel- good.

Adam: Thank you, I appreciate you looking at it and I appreciate this time I really do! It’s an honor and an opportunity. I just want to spread it and remind people that they can do this too. I actually need them to do it because I’m only one person and it’s a big world out there.   

Natascha: Thank you, readers, for checking in at Little Lost Forest. Please check out our IG @littlelostforestart. You can find Adam Schluter at hellofromastranger.com and purchase his book at hellofromastranger.com/orderthebook. 100% of all sales go back to the humanitarian mission.