The Picture of Success
Alexander’s Photography celebrates 30 years of capturing memories
By Melissa James, York County Contributor
Alexander was also finding fulfillment in his personal life, after marrying his true love, Olga, in 1982. They had two children, Arina, now 39, and Cary, 37. But they decided that they wanted a better life for their young family, with more opportunities than were available in Moscow. So they began pursuing their dream of moving to the United States.
“We had an interview at the Moscow embassy, and once they approved our application, they began looking for a sponsor for us. We were very lucky that the Jewish Community Center of the Virginia Peninsula in Newport News offered to be our sponsor. So, we didn’t choose this area, it chose us,” said Alexander. “We came straight here and fell in love with the area right away. It was so beautiful, with the trees and the water everywhere. We never even thought about looking anywhere else.”
He did, however, have a new challenge: finding a job. Alexander immediately began scanning the Daily Press classified ads for openings. A month later, in December 1990, a managerial position at the Formal Master’s Photography Studio in York County came open, and he applied right away.
“The former owner, John Minter, was retiring and planned to leave the business—which included formalwear rentals, photography and dry cleaning—to his son, Johnny Minter,” Alexander recalled. “Johnny wasn’t a photographer though, so he needed to hire someone to run that part, while he focused on the rest.”
“From the first moment The Minters and I met, we clicked immediately,” Alexander said. “He hired me for the position, and we became close friends. I still have John’s original photography equipment that I use and is very special to me.” Being in a new country with no friends or family, the Alexander family found a strong support system with the Minters.
“John’s wife Lois was like a mother to me, since I lost mine at a young age, until the day she died this past January,” Alexander recalled. “John and Lois were such wonderful and kind people. They helped us settle in here and make it feel more like home.”
Two years later, Alexander approached Johnny Minter about purchasing the photography part of the business to make it his own. His offer was accepted, and on July 1, 1992, Alexander’s Photography was born.
Alexander continued to grow his business in the Formal Master’s space until a larger space became available in a strip center nearby on Dare Road. The new spot allowed him to expand his studio and his clientele. Alexander began taking on commercial clients and learning new styles, techniques, equipment and technologies to stay relevant in an ever-changing and more competitive industry. He remained in the space on Dare Road for 17 years, until moving to his current location at Riverwalk Landing in Historic Yorktown in October 2012—a move he said was his best yet.
“Moving my studio to Riverwalk Landing was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Alexander exclaimed. “I am so happy here and very proud of what I’ve built. Not only do I enjoy the business and my work, but now I wake up in the morning and I cannot wait to get back to the studio every day.
Alexander said that he had always liked the historic area, recalling how his kids grew up playing on the battlefields, and that much of his photography work took place at the waterfront even before Riverwalk Landing existed. So, it was a natural fit for his studio’s new home.
“I always loved shooting here. The scenery, the water, it is just so beautiful,” Alexander said. “Now I’m here every day. I just step out of the studio, and I’m in a place I love. All my clients that followed me enjoy it too.”
Alexander credits the County’s Department of Economic & Tourism Development with helping him through the challenges associated with moving from his old space into the new waterfront studio.
“Melissa Davidson was the first County staff person I spoke to about the space. She was so helpful and responsive, and I could tell she genuinely wanted to help my business succeed,” Alexander said. “Next I spoke to Jim Noel, who immediately visited my former studio space and helped me work through some challenges I was having with my landlord, so that I could move into the new space at Riverwalk Landing.”
Since that time, Alexander has continued to work with County staff in the departments of Economic & Tourism Development and Public Works, and ascribes the success of Riverwalk Landing to their hard work and dedication. He noted that the County’s assistance programs helped his business survive the pandemic, and that Kristi Olsen’s efforts to market the area have helped to grow his business many times over.
"Alexander is extremely talented and dedicated—someone I admire both professionally and personally," said Olsen. "He always makes himself available for events and opportunities to promote York County any way he can. It's a pleasure to work with someone so community-minded."
Of course, his faithful clients also helped keep him afloat. Alexander noted that he’s been working for several of his business clients—including Hampton University, Riverside Health System and the National Center for State Courts—for 25 years or more. Many of his non-commercial clients have stuck with him over time too. Alexander has gotten to photograph several generations within many local families, which he said brings him great joy.
“Photography keeps me mentally and physically on my toes and is different each day,” Alexander said. “Every person that walks through the door is different, and I never know what to expect, how they will want to be portrayed or what story they are trying to tell. I am constantly on the move and in new locations. It’s fun and very rewarding.” As his business has grown, Alexander began to love it for another reason: the relationships.
“I am honored that my clients trust me with the most valuable possession they have: their face. And with some of their most important life events. I respect that very much,” Alexander said. “My business is built on relationships, which are built on trust. I have become close friends with so many wonderful clients over the years. I am very loyal to my customers, as they are to me.”
What keeps them coming back time and time again?
“I am reliable! Of course, you must have skills to be successful in this business, but the most important thing is that if I say I will be there, I am there.” Alexander said. “I also truly care about my clients and their families, businesses, needs and their lives.”
A family man at heart, Alexander says he’s fortunate to have his loved ones by his side. His wife, who is also self-employed, understands the challenges of running your own business and has always been there to lend a hand. She single-handedly painted his studio for him and helps with other tasks when needed. His two children played a role in his business when they were younger as well, sorting images, assembling albums, fixing things around the studio and other odd jobs.
Though the children are now grown and married, with families of their own, Alexander still spends his free time with them. He and Olga often travel to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to spend time with Arina, her husband Josh and their three sons, while son Cary and his wife Emma live close by in Norfolk. The family all vacation together in the Outer Banks, and Alexander also enjoys playing piano and working on his Jaguar, challenging himself to do most of the maintenance on his own.
While Alexander enjoys his time off, he says that his work is so incredibly rewarding that he has no plans to retire anytime soon. When asked what makes him feel most fulfilled about his business, Alexander said it is the happy look on his client’s faces when they first see their final photos:
“It is the best feeling on earth to create joy for another person. It reaffirms that I made the right choice to fulfill my dream to become a photographer.”