Natalie Allen is a full time editorial photographer, writer, hiker, yoga teacher and all-around dream boat. She travels the world creating work that is both whimsical and journalistic.
Natalie embodies what we at Gurl Crushes admire the most - she's a woman who pursues anything she is passionate about. So, go ahead and sit right back and let her tell you a story.
You’ve been on some wild adventures. From Belize, to the Himalayas to Zambia. What trip has been the ultimate “oh my god I can’t believe I’m here” one yet?
The biggest "oh my god" I've went through recently was my life-changing time hiking through the African "hills" as the locals call it. A renowned fossil collector, Steve, from the UK brought me through an 8-mile trek through the Savana grasslands -- far away from any stitch of civilization or closed off National Park. This place embraced "wild" with full fledged glory.
Little to my knowledge did I ever expect Steven is also a world-renowned fossil collector and science writer. He held exquisite satires of old time canoe trips down the dangerous nile river and proclaimed his near-death experience when a crocodile nearly eat his entire boat. He told stories of crooks in the fossil world and all about how “community is everything in the paleontology universe”. Hours and hours ran by on this dirt trail while his voice continue to strongly linger.
This exhausting, yet beautiful hike, ran 6 miles up and down the fabulous landscapes of Mfuwe. We ran into lethal black mambas, aggressive elephants, a herd of buffalo, leopards, and feeding giraffes. Wildlife is equally breathtaking as they are terrifying when face to face in the hands of Mother Nature. Of course the only photo I had taken during this insanely dangerous expedition was a mediocre selfie on the bank of a dry waterfall. I had been panting and breathing so heavily, I thought my lungs would burst through my burnt ribcage. A salty ridge-line of sweat now boils between the brim of my hat and cold skin — very sweaty, very happy. My heart needs a break from the mad thumps it had made earlier in response to seeing a herd of buffalo stomp pass us in the dense savanna. The animals behavior in the wild game reserve beamed with such clear, stark contrast in comparison to those in the National Park. Many of the lions, giraffes, and elephants in these parts of the South Lunagwa wilderness are not used to seeing humans; if they are — they’re poachers. Mothers steer clear for their young and will do anything to protect their matriarchal community.
Such a crazy time.
How do you find a personal 'in' into the countries you travel to? Do you plan extensively on who to meet and who to speak to when you're abroad in a new country, or do those connections happen more naturally?
Rarely do I have a concrete plan when I make big travel plans, it's a very "go with the flow" type of situation. Most of the brilliant connections I've made have happened organically over the the years, too. A majority of the friends I've made within the photography business either live in Arizona for visit my home-state and wish to grab coffee for a short meet-up. In turn, when I hit up places like Utah, Oregon, or California I then call up some pals I've met once before and we maybe do hike in our free time. And, of course, we keep in contact through our social media platforms. I'm great friends with my models, as well. I've developed a wonderful pool of trustworthy and compassion human beings over the years and I couldn't be any more grateful!
However, meeting people in other countries happen much differently. As in India and Belize, I worked closely with NGO's that invited a group of creatives / individuals to the country and we often room or work with one another. I've met a handful of really incredible people that came from all over the U.S this way. Meeting my tent-mate in India and group of gals I worked with at the Youth Empowerment center in Belize are still some of my fondest memories. I will always encourage others to gain experiences like this and meet people from a variety of different backgrounds, not just your "industry."
The photo essay you created focusing on growing up with your father is something we think a lot of women can relate to. Growing up feeling like you’re poor - it’s got to be hard to take risks and travel. Did you find it hard to justify living the life you do at first?
Every. Single. Day. My dad continues to work 12 hard hours a day while I travel the world taking pictures -- just doesn't feel right sometimes. We photographers are so jaded by our privileges. Yes, I work extremely hard to make what I do a reality, but I have to remind myself to quit being selfish and remain humble. Many of my friends have to schedule a vacation six months in advance just to assure they'll get the time off. I applaud my friends and family for how hard they work. My father, my boyfriend, my best friend who works overnight shifts at the hospital. They're all fucking rockstars.
What's an image from your work/travel that still sticks in your head?
1.) My photograph of the children from Zambia.
2.) Two of my gal pals sitting atop the freezing grounds of White Sands National Park giggling towards one another.
3.) My boyfriend, Reyce, and our buddy, Blake, sipping on a cold PBR at the summit of Four Peaks.
4.) Children of Belize wading in the ocean waters of Snake Caye Island.
5.) A man of the Supai tribe riding his horse throughout the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
6.) Monks practicing for their debate class outside a Monastery in the high Indian Himalaya.
What would you say is your ultimate bucket list country to visit?
The hardest question known to man! There are so many places I wish to travel to. Although, I will say that Patagonia and the adventurous regions of South America have been on my mind for many, many years. I'm a backcountry nerd, I like to stray away fro the crowds as much as possible. Although Patagonia has been a hot-spot for rock junkies and hiking rockstars, my boyfriend and I have been in love with the idea of taking a month of do some trekking out there of our own. One day soon. All in good time. :)
How did you get paid to do what you want to do with your photography? What was that career path like?
The path of a freelance photographer ain't easy. Our industry is overly saturated with persons of all ages waiting to get their hands on the next "big" camera in hopes of living the trendy nomadic lifestyle. It's a lot of hard work and upkeep. We are not only responsible for cliental delivery, but a number of other grueling tasks that often require 60+ hours of work a week at times. Literally. Scheduling, emails, contracts, editing, marketing, writing, applying, rejections, acceptions, mood-boards, contacting models, bookkeeping, receipts, etc. Think of a busy office with 10 employees all doing separate jobs at a time -- well, your average photographers are most likely doing ALL of those things for their own business at once. It can be quite mentally exhausting and overwhelming.
In five years time, where do you hope to see yourself?
I generally like to stick to the present moment as thinking ahead to the future perpetuates my anxiety (lol). But for the sake of the question, I'll provide an answer in list format. By the time I'm 27, I would like:
1.) Gain more gardening / farming experience.
2.) Create a photo book.
3.) Have finally backpacked Yosemite.
4.) Get another dachshund to mend my broken heart from my last one's passing.
5.) Be unapologetically happy with my partner, Reyce, whether we are married by this time or not.
6.) Move out of Arizona.
One of the many reasons we love your writing is that it admits less perfection than a lot of blogs. What inspires you to write?
What a sweet thing to say, thank you! I try to be as vulnerable and honest as I possibly can through my writing, which I believe is a huge reason why I practice this craft in the first place. It's an entirely different form of expression than photography. I'm predominately known for journaling personal narratives and short-term essays on topics that matter most to me. My grammar and spelling could certainly use a face-life from time to time -- and I'm quite contrary to a poet -- but there's something therapeutic about speaking from the heart to an engaged audience. I'm personally more attached to artists and writers who glow in irrevocable self-confidence in the absence of censorship. Give me the raw and dirty.
What's an average day for you like?
Every day is SUPER different than the next, which always keeps things fun! However, I must maintain some type of routine throughout the weekdays to keep me sane. I enjoy waking up at 6:30 to hit the gym, take a long bath, get ready for the day, answer some emails, edit photos, continue with errands in the middle of day, and shoots during the beautiful golden hour. Weekends are my play time — if I’m not traveling then it’s road trips, hikes, nightclubs, and/or sunbathing near the salt river.
If you could give advice to women following in your footsteps, what would it be?
Oh boy. I've got a lot of flaws. Don't follow someones's footsteps simply by what you see online, there's a whole other side of the story we're embarrassed to tell. My advice to my fellow ladies would to be to follow your OWN footsteps in your personal walk of life; create a path designed for your unique happiness and goals. You're stronger and more independent than what society wishes, own it. Always be kind, give your hate to no one, and stand your damn ground. Don't sway.
You're an inspiration to many women online, who do you gather YOUR inspiration from? Do you have any gurl crushes yourself?
I've got a lot of girl crushes, man. Check out these stunning female powerhouses (in no particular order):
1.) Ally Walsh (@allymwalsh)
2.) Bekah Stewart (@awelltraveledwoman)
3.) Hannah Henderson (@hannahmas)
4.) Bri Lamkin (@brilamkin)
5.) Nuria Val (@frecklesnur)
6.) Molly Steele (@moristeele)
7.) Mindy Manis (@monobbq)
8.) Yumma Al-Arashi (@yummaaa)
9.) Maya Angelou; her writing keeps me sane.
10.) My grandmother for her unforgiving ability to effortlessly stay goofy and meditated.