“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, John Lennon.
Alanna Allen, a SoHi graduate, Class of 2004, today works as a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) intensive needs specialist. She earned her BA in Anthropology from the University of Alaska Anchorage. “After I graduated college I moved back to Soldotna and worked several different jobs until I got hired by the Kenai School District in 2011 to work in the Special Education program. Although Special Education has nothing to do with my degree I am very passionate about my job, the kids I work with and advocating for individuals with special needs,” Allen told the Dispatch in an interview about the new business she has recently launched called “Free Spirit Photography.” So how does an Anthropologist working in the Intensive Needs Room back at her Alma Mater in Soldotna become a talented photographer?
“My dad gave me a Hewlett Packard digital camera right before I went off to college. At the time I was super excited to have a digital camera but the camera was horrible. It was very bulky, the screen was very tiny and I was a real amateur. Then a year ago my now husband purchased a Canon camera for himself and his hunting trips. I decided to borrow his camera and see how it worked. At first I gave up, but I slowly began taking it with me places and reading online about the different settings and how to properly use them. My husband and I were married on July 13, 2013 on a gorgeous sunny day by the Kenai River.
I began to use photo taking as a stress reliever. It definitely helped and gave me extra time to go out and practice taking pictures. However, life happened in August when as a result of a chronic shoulder/back pain my doctor ordered an MRI of my brain, after consulting with a specialist in Seattle, it was determined that the mass appearing in my brain was an AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation. Not cancerous but because of the area of the brain surgery was not an option and it is in, it was decided to do Gamma Knife Radiation. I had so much love and support from everyone around me, but it was stressful. In between visits to Seattle I kept my mind busy and occupied by trying to be as normal as possible and taking photos. I think in my husband’s words I became a little addicted. It really kept me occupied and helped to get my mind off of the whole situation. The whole ordeal proved to be some of the worst moments in my life. I was fatigued, my head was very sensitive from the apparatus they screwed into my skull and my hair began to fall out in chunks where the radiation went into my head. I had to take 3 weeks off from work to recover and I had plenty of time to lay in bed and look over photos I had taken the last few months and share them on the Facebook. I was surprised with the enthusiasm and interest I received from my photos and even people I didn’t know were liking my page and pictures. I had never really thought about selling them before but was encouraged to join an online page called Fine Art America. I was amazed when I learned that people were starting to purchase my work. Alright I was jumping up and down with joy. One of the photos purchased was a photo of Marydale Avenue in Soldotna with Mount Redoubt in the background that photo has now been shared all around the world. Such a neat feeling. I never really appreciated my little town growing up but now that I have a greater appreciation for life I want to capture as much beauty as I can,” she said. Alanna Allen’s work is available for framing, cards and cell phone covers through her Facebook page AKfreespiritphotography. While she awaits the results of her treatment she says she will continue to capture the beauty of each day in this place we call home.