Stephen Martin grew up as a “city boy” in Dallas. Although he enjoyed family trips to Colorado, he didn’t think of himself as particularly close to nature.
He is now a professional photographer from Colorado Springs best known for his photos of the state’s outdoor recreational scene. It was metamorphosed by moving to Colorado, where he could enjoy the natural wonders all day – and by a puppy named Ollie.
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Ollie was just 9 years old, but he was a puppy when Martin got him during his freshman year at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he was studying exercise science. Martin had just left the military and was looking for a four-legged friend to help him settle in.
Around the same time, Martin was tackling his first fourteen, Mount Harvard. He didn’t take Ollie for this hike; he didn’t know if the mutt was ready for such a journey. After the hike, Martin wasn’t sure whether he was ready himself.
“I hated it,” he says. “It was hard.”
But he was also addicted. He and Ollie began roaming the mountains on less strenuous adventures. Martin’s Instagram account, which records these adventures, attracted a remarkable following – and laid the foundation for a new career path. Today, Martin owns Explore With Media, a creative media company that offers Martin’s photography, videography and design skills. his website describes him as a “photographer, designer and dog father”.
Martin, 35, is also a finalist for the Mayor’s Young Leader Awards, due out this month; the awards honor “young professionals – ages 40 or younger – who have made a significant positive impact in Colorado Springs.”
He was nominated for the prize from Yemi Mobolade, who was himself a winner when the prizes were first awarded in January 2015. Mobolade, now the city’s small business development administrator, has known Martin since he was an early client at Wild Goose Meeting House, which Mobolade co-founded.
“He really embodies the spirit of awards,” says Mobolade. “What makes him so perfect is that his profession and his creative actions, his way of doing things, tie in directly with what I call city blooming. He’s always telling stories about initiatives and organizations that promote the city. “
A winding career path
Mobolade is amazed at what he jokingly calls Martin’s “nine lives” – which means his varied career, which spanned everything from security service agent at NATO in Brussels, Belgium, to barista, to media manager at OutThere Colorado, to that creative storyteller that he is today.
Martin joined the army at the age of 19. Unsure of his future plans, he met a recruiter “who said everything correctly. Three weeks later I was in basic training.”
His years of service included time in Iraq and his stint in Texas before his final years in Brussels. Upon leaving the service, he came to Colorado Springs, where he had family friends, to graduate from UCCS with a degree in health science. He graduated and has worked in this field a number of times – for example, he was an intern in the Air Force Academy’s Human Performance Laboratory. But his adventures with Ollie sparked a creative interest that led him to start Explore With Media – as a part-time job in 2015 and full-time a few years later.
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He has had no formal photography training; his first camera was one of an Air Force cadet. But, he says, he had mentors – “people I looked up to and influenced by”.
Likewise, he had no experience in running a company.
“I would talk to some of my friends who were in the industry – what is your bill, how are you submitting an offer? … NATO in Europe is doing these great diplomatic missions. Filing embassy papers and permits were very similar concepts. ”
His Instagram account led pet companies to ask him for photos and content. “Then one company said, ‘We love doggie stuff, but could you shoot the company?'” He also got opportunities at a few restaurants and began building a customer base of local businesses. In addition to his outdoor leisure work, his food photography has attracted attention.
However, he has not completely forgotten “the dog stuff”; he was the photographer for the Colorado Springs Police Department’s K-9 calendar for 2021 and soon in 2022. The 2021 calendar received a Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Award from the National Association of Government Communicators. The awards recognize outstanding achievements in communication at various levels of government. The K-9 calendar won first place in the calendar category, with the jury praising the photography.
Video meets chord
Video is a growing part of his business. Design Rangers, a local agency, hired Martin as a photographer and videographer for their GRIT campaign, a partnership with several Colorado Springs institutions whose mission was to share and advance the community’s resilience to the pandemic.
“This particular project needed someone behind the camera who understood that we were asking people to dig deep into their emotions, talk about their mental health and how COVID affected them, their friends and family and their community,” Jenny Schell, Design Rangers co-founder, said in an email. Martin, she said, was a perfect fit for the role.
Martin said he did little marketing; Most of its businesses are word of mouth. Schell said she knew Martin through his work for Visit Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Region Attractions.
“But it was his work on the small business thank you video,” she said, “that got us to get in touch. We knew he was standing up for our community – just the kind of person we needed for this very important community. “Campaign.”
The thank you video was the brainchild of Brandon DelGrosso, owner of Switchback Coffee Roasters; It was released during the height of the pandemic and thanked the community for helping small businesses struggling to survive. Martin shot and produced the video with over 30 companies. It was adopted by municipal institutions and shared on social media.
“It’s very moving,” says Mobolade, who can be seen in the video.
Martin plans to deepen his stake in the community; he dreams of opening a downtown studio that will serve as a community hub for freelancers like him. He’d also like to expand further out of Colorado Springs and Denver, “maybe he’ll do some high-quality commercial agencies.”
For the time being, Explore With Media will remain a one-man – well, one-man, one dog – business. Ollie remains Martin’s buddy and hiking partner.
“He still loves it,” says Martin. “He’s still a puppy at heart.”
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