Interview Series: Molly Steele

Gutsy, confident, and full of life, it doesn’t take long to recognize that LA-based, traveling photographer, Molly Steele, is truly a force to be reckoned with. Her fiery spirit and sharp eye are just a couple reasons why we thought we ought to pick her brain.

Q&A

LF: Hello, Molly! We’re so excited to get a chance to chat with you! First off, who are you? What do you do, and what do you plan on doing?

MS: I’m a photographer. Currently 26 years old, working my way to 100. I left school as a botany major to spend the rest of the year being available to myself. After working full time for a decade and putting myself through school, I wanted a break so that my mind may be clear to move through the next steps in my life. What that means or looks like, I won’t know until it happens. 

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LF: Based on your Instagram feed, it looks like you’ve been traveling quite a bit. Where have you been and what has been your favorite recent travel experience?

MS: My most active travels have been locally throughout the state of California. This year, however, I traveled throughout the south with friend and photographer Kevin Russ, up the western coastline on a solo trip, to the outback in Australia with The Adventure Handbook, on a sailboat around Catalina, and I’m currently in an old school house in upstate New York. There are so many small trips that I haven’t listed. I like to keep moving. 

LF: We’re curious – what are those little forts that you’ve been building in the wilderness?

MS: Twice in my life I have felt notably inspired, and both occurred in the last month. A few nights before Halloween, I cried in bed looking at old photo archives and thinking about all the things I wanted to be doing. Kevin and I decided to spend Halloween in the burned area in Angeles Crest collecting fallen trees to build a fort with in the creek bed. The experience drove us to do a 3-fort series that weekend, each in a different forest. Kevin and I work similarly, so the designs for each fort came together over the course of a few hours working quietly in each environment. The second day was a deeply meditative experience for me. We hiked through light snow and rain to an Aspen grove I’d been wanting to visit for years. Handling the rotting wood and detritus under the snow really did something for me. I have spent the year journaling somewhat regularly, but this was a particular day that I’ve yet to find the words to write about.

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LF: You have a wonderfully creative eye. How did you get into photography?

MS: Photography started out as my medium of sharing. Until this past summer, I almost exclusively travelled alone. Traveling with others severely compromises the way I move and work. I started shooting photos as a way to share the visual aspect of my travels, in addition to documenting my botanical studies when I was a student.

LF: It looks as if you dabble with modeling as well (no surprise there). Do you prefer to be behind the camera or in front of it? 

MS: I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful photographers that build a pleasant environment to work in. Generally, I absolutely hate being in front of the camera even though I modeled for the better part of the last 8-10 years. Being behind the lens now feels right.

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LF: What drives you? What inspires you?

MS: I’m still figuring that out. Solitude is my most notable inspiration. Being alone and available to notice intimate details in the environment, while craving company and activity. Loneliness is really powerful.

LF: What things do you bring with you on all of your expeditions?

MS: Obviously as a photographer, I’m always bringing multiple cameras and film. As for my usual packing routine, I like to prepare to be both versions of myself. That means bringing my messy, rugged outdoor clothes that I can get muddy in, as well as a few outfits for going out in the city. Adventure must’s include a headlamp, waterproof iPhone case, coupla knives, comfortable backpack for carrying a lot of weight (water and cameras, mostly) and a good cooking setup.

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LF: Best advice you’ve ever been given?

MS: My friend Luke is always reminding me to do keep doing something if it’s making me happy. When I’m not happy anymore, it’s over. I’ve applied this to pretty much everything over the course of the last year.

LF: How fast do you live?

MS: I think I might actually live very slowly. I just do what I want.

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