Take 10: Dean Alexander snaps Oprah, models; treasures these 10 items

For The Baltimore Sun
A 1920s fishbowl stand. A baby alligator lamp. Just a few items fashion photographer Dean Alexander treasures.

Take 10 is a series of occasional features on prominent local residents and the possessions dear to them.

It took Dean Alexander 12 years to figure out his career — the first 12 years of his life.

At the time, he was living and going to school at Andrews Air Force base, where his father worked as Command Chief of the Air National Guard.

"In seventh grade there were interest classes for last period of the day. I took photography. Right then and there — literally, I'm 12 — I knew I'd be a photographer. I went home. My father had built us a toy room under the basement steps. I emptied that toy room out and made it a darkroom at 12," Alexander says with a laugh.

That passion has never left the Roland Park resident, now 52. He's become a fashion photographer who has shot the likes of Oprah, Richard Branson and Claudia Schiffer. However, photography has hardly been his only fascination. He just learned to attach to it to many other interests.

"Like, airplanes. At one point, I thought, 'I'll be an aerial photographer.' Then I was a ski instructor, and I thought, 'I'll be a skiing photographer.' Then I just really clicked into travel," he says.

That also happened early. Living at Andrews, Alexander says, he came into contact with kids who had lived all over the world. His best friend had been born in Spain and had lived in Germany. So the two took off for Germany after 11th grade to work on a castle restoration project.

That was the first of many summers spent traveling around the world, always with camera in hand.

Combining interests is what brought Alexander to the Baltimore area. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County offered a visual arts program that covered still and motion photography, as well as design and aesthetic approaches.

Early on, he worked by day as the in-house photographer for a D.C.-based ad agency, at night as the party/society photographer for The Baltimore Sun.

"I'd been doing it three weeks, and realized the mayor, the governor — they all know my name. It was like, wow, so amazing," he says.

But his urge to travel had never disappeared. By the early '90s, it was time to move on.

Alexander maintains a studio in Federal Hill but indulges his wanderlust — often with wife Donna Schaefer, a graphic designer, and daughter Chloe, 12, in tow. They roam for play and for work, whether that's magazines like Marie Claire and Elle or corporations such as IBM, Nike and Under Armour.

Alexander has been earning recognition, racking up more than 150 international prizes for his still photos. His cinematography has brought him awards at fashion film festivals around the world, as well as an Emmy.

His secret to success?

"You need to do your own thing. No one does your own thing better than you. Yes, there's a technical aspect to it. But your interest in it far exceeds anything else. Because things are going to go wrong, and they're not going to be precise. But your passion and your perseverance will carry you through."

For more of Alexander's story, look to 10 objects he treasures.

 

His passport

No explanation needed.

Baby alligator lamp

"This alligator lamp from the 1920s is just so quirky." It has its original wiring, so they don't plug it in. They're afraid it would immediately go up in flames.

Christopher Schafer Clothier jacket

He wore the jacket, custom made by local tailor Christopher Schafer Clothier, at the Milan Fashion Film Festival, where he ran into Kean Etro, creative director of Etro Man collections. "Amazing people in the fashion industry were there, like the editor of Italian Vogue. Kean Etro and I were just chatting for a long time at the after-party. And he just stopped and said what a great jacket it was. I thought, 'Go, Baltimore!'"

SodaStream

Recommended by film editor David Grossbach. "[He] went on and on and on and on about how great this SodaStream was when he first got it and how I had to get it. He was so excited about it. It was really good; it was so fresh. For Christmas, that's what I got, and that's our go-to now. It's a funny thing to geek out about."

Palladium boots

He owns some 15 pairs. "If I'm wearing shoes, I'm wearing some sort of high-top Palladium boots. Period. I love the basic style of them and their comfort level. They're a work boot that are kind of fashion-y. I don't mind having a ton in black because I have my really clean, dressy ones, all the way down to my really, really worn ones."

LaCie portable hard drive

He always carries at least one. "I'm on the road all the time. All the files for photos and videos are so large; they're just not going to fit on a laptop."

 

Warby Parker glasses

He owns several. "The nice thing about these prescription [glasses] is that they're cheap enough that you can get several different styles. You can almost have one for [every] mood or dress. They're a different way to roll with things."

1920s-era fishbowl stand

A Baltimore antiques store find. "It's just such a quirky thing. It's so cool. I've had it for a long time. It was one of the first things I thought of when you asked for my 10 favorite things."

'Kerplunk' by Karl Connolly

The Baltimore painter is a friend. "He grew up in Ireland. When he would walk through town with his dad, they'd pass a smokestack. He'd ask his dad, 'What's the smokestack for?' His dad would say, 'That's where people drop marbles down and wait for them to go kerplunk.' That's why the painting is named 'Kerplunk.' He romanticized the whole thing."

Fashion magazine collection

They often inspire his own fashion shoots. "I love, love, love fashion magazines, so much so that when I go traveling, I pick them up all over the world. I pay extra luggage fees coming home. I love especially obscure magazines."

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