After nearly a decade of 12- to 14-hour days and no vacations, the unwelcomed knock of cancer rapped at Alyssa Rosenheck’s door. Within the forced moment of stillness and recovery, that “there has to be more to life” thought took hold in this go-getter’s mind. Alyssa reallocated her gumption and spark away from ego and money and toward creativity, community and art. A self-taught novice photographer, she burst through the door of what she describes as an antiquated boys’ club of interior and architectural photography and started shaking things up. Now with more than 900 features and a new book coming out this week, Alyssa is fueling a movement: The New Southern. Meet our newest FACE of the South, Alyssa Rosenheck.
Tell us about your early career and how you arrived in the South.
I really ended up here by default to be very transparent. I played college tennis at a small school outside of Nashville and then decided to move into Nashville to have some variance. At first, I wanted to go to medical school. So I did a pre-med, post-Bach program at Vanderbilt, and I just wasn’t happy. The financial loans and student loans — they’re intimidating. So instead of being a quarter of a million dollars in debt, I started working. In my 20s and early 30s, I was motivated by structure and financial safety. I was fiercely independent. I began at a boutique developer, where I wore many different hats, but there wasn’t room for growth. It was putting coffee and newspapers on desks while I was sitting behind thick glass doors and under a really thick glass ceiling. I wanted to expand my entrepreneurial wings, so I moved to big corporate and worked for 3M. It was an incredible experience that taught me so much, and I walked away with a mini MBA there and moved all around the country for them. I then took a hard left into medical device sales and did that for six years without a vacation. It was highly competitive, and I was always trying to reach those arbitrary levels of success. Long story short, the corporate world brought me to the South.
How did you get started as a photographer?
In the latter part of those six years in medical device sales, I took an opportunity in Chicago. Still just grinding it out, working 12- to 14-hour days, I was just miserable, thinking there had to be more to life. My now-husband [who’s a doctor] diagnosed me with cancer my second year in Chicago. It’s really after my diagnosis with cancer that I started my creative journey. That was the first time I stopped and evaluated what I wanted my life to be. I was so driven by fear and structure and financial stability and all of these things. This was the first time I was like, Okay, I have all these things now, now what?
So I picked up a camera and followed those internal heartstrings. It was my healing catharsis through cancer, and I organically and intuitively just started shooting my condo I had renovated. It was a moving meditation, and it wasn’t technical. It was about bringing something to life in color and understanding light and being inspired by light. I think life is always speaking to us. I wasn’t listening when I was in the corporate grind. I listened when I had cancer. When you start listening, the world opens up for you. A friend’s sister needed a photographer, so I intuitively went in and started styling the space before I shot it. And then I was like, What next? I really want synergy here.
This was seven years ago and being an untrained, self-taught interior and architectural photographer allowed for innovation and growth. Nobody at the time was doing what I was doing. I entered a pretty antiquated field with a circuit of men who were only shooting for print. My corporate background gave me a high-level footprint of what was going on with the economy. I knew how industrial manufacturing was being hit. And I also knew how healthcare was starting to be hit. And I just knew it was going to trickle down to editorial and advertising. So instead of focusing on print seven years ago, I focused only on the digital landscape for my clients.
How did your new book, The New Southern, come about?
When I moved to the South as a young, independent Jewish woman, I didn’t feel like I belonged here. I felt different culturally with how I was reared. It wasn’t until I found my creativity that I found my community. I find creativity is such a common denominator of connection. The New Southern ultimately is about community. It’s anyone’s story who has had to rely on humility and heart to make something from nothing. It’s a progressive movement grounded in cultural change and unity and acceptance and love and creative prosperity in a region of the country that has had a really contentious, culpable past. Unfortunately or fortunately — whatever meaning we want to derive from it — this past can still be felt very intensely currently in our country. So, I’m highlighting our similarities and expressing the importance of honoring our differences. It’s about understanding our heritage and other people’s heritage and ancestries, and supporting those who are exploring life within the four walls of their home with more creativity, imagination, and cultural awareness and acceptance. It’s such an important story to tell.
I want people to look within these pages and feel an immediate sense of community and acceptance. I did this through 30 interviews highlighting creative entrepreneurs with old and new ties to the South. Chefs and makers and authors and designers and artists and activists who are using their stories and voices to further communities around them. And my images are a lighter conduit into deeper messaging around racism and gender equality and social justice, and how creativity can honor and tell the truth about the world while still bringing people together. You can pick up this book and it will inspire the four walls of your home. Or you can pick up this book and you can challenge old beliefs within the way you were reared. Or you can pick up this book and it will inspire your creative soul. There are so many different facets to it. There’s really nothing out there like this.
If you could shoot one person’s home or one place, who/what would it be and why?
One place and one person that are very synergistic to one another. I would love to shoot Amangiri in Southern Utah. It sits on 600 acres, and it is just such a stunning facility that really honors the mystery and magic of those mountains. Also, Axel Vervoordt. His architecture and design truly celebrates and honors joy, simplicity and going back to basics. My love language as an artist are clean lines and simple geometries, and both Amangiri and Axel Vervoordt really speak that same language.
What is the best advice you’ve received and from whom?
I probably get 500 opinions a day from my team, from social media, from everybody in my life. And I like to dish advice, too. I don’t love unsolicited advice, and there is a lot of noise and feedback that comes with living a creative life. I’m intentional about creating stillness each day and listening to my instincts to make sure they’re coming from a place of love instead of fear or ego. When it comes from a place of love, it’s only going to connect you further to your community and to the things that you need to be doing in your life.
Besides faith, family, and friends, name three things you couldn’t live without.
Our puppy, Meyer Lemon, my camera and a journal.
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us, Alyssa, and for these fabulous photos. Make sure you snag a copy of Alyssa’s book, out September 22. Also, Alyssa will be chatting with StyleBlueprint founder Liza Graves via Zoom on Friday, September 25, about The New Southern.