Ania and Tyler Stalman
Creative duo and married couple Ania and Tyler Stalman bring together a diversity of expertise under the unified creative studio Stalman. We caught up with the jetsetting Canadians to discuss their creative journey, current projects, and their furry feline, Charlie.
Ania and Tyler Stalman take our call in the hallway of their hotel. They’re on their way to the airport to fly from Project in Vegas to Toronto for a photo shoot. After which they head home, only to fly back to Toronto shortly thereafter for fashion week. And yet, despite the fact that they’re walking and talking from the hallway, then the elevator, then the rental car, it’s apparent we have their full attention. They answer each question with clarity and honesty. It’s impressive, really.
But maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Between the two of them, the always-on-the-go duo multitask for a living, running a broad range of creative services for a growing list of clients alongside two blogs, a podcast, a YouTube channel, and active social media accounts. Regardless of how they manage, it’s clear they’re doing so with passion. And they’re doing so, somehow, while remaining exceptionally and genuinely nice.
They are Canadians after all.
While the Stalmans are both longtime Canadian residents, technically only one of them is native to Canada. Ania Boniecka immigrated to Canada from Poland with her family in 1999. And, as every new beginning necessitates, she got busy exploring life in a new world.
“I was looking for something that connected me with other people and helped me to be more social,” explains Ania. “But I never really had an interest in sports or band or any extracurricular activities. I played on a basketball team because I was the tallest girl in school, but I wasn’t athletic at all,” she says with a laugh. That height would come in handy in other ways, however. “Modeling fell into my lap by default. So I started modeling at 14 years old.”
With her parents prodding, however, Ania eventually attended university to get a business degree and went on to work in public practice and accounting. And she worked hard. All the way up from filing papers to managing the office. But there was definitely something missing.
“In Calgary, there wasn’t a lot of fashion. The scene wasn’t very sophisticated. And I had been shooting with a friend in my spare time, doing creative stuff — doing it for fun. I would style shoots and we’d art direct them together, but there was nowhere for us to publish the work that we created. One day while I was at my office, I just didn’t have enough to do, I guess, and I went online. I had been following some blogs from Canada and in the States and from Europe, and I thought ‘I could do this too’. ”
So Ania started a blog. One that eventually evolved into a publishing platform for her various inspirations, as well as the platform for the photography she captured on the streets of Canada. Now six years later, Ania chronicles adventures from Paris to Puerto Vallarta, melding high fashion and street style in some of the most inspirational places around the globe.
While Ania’s creative journey began on the far side of a camera, Tyler’s began on the near side of his computer screen. “I liked to mess around on computers a lot when I was young,” says Tyler. “I really enjoyed making things digitally — building websites on Geocities and messing around with a free version of Photoshop. I really thought that was just a hobby.”
Such is the birth of many creative careers. But after studying web development in school and working in a few photo labs, Tyler’s creative passions aligned when he was offered a job as a web designer for then nascent, Calgary-based startup iStockphoto. “My friend and I wandered into iStock when they used to sell film cameras. They were the only place in town that sold a Lomo, so I ended up chatting with Bruce [the founder]. He ended up hiring my friend and I right out of college. It was pretty early on. 2006, I think. I must have only been the 20th employee or so.”
Working at iStockphoto provided Tyler not only a community of photographers to learn from, but an outlet to make money from his newfound passion as well. Eventually, Tyler earned more money selling photos on iStockphoto than as a designer for the site. So he quit his job to work on photography full time.
Years later, after bouncing back and forth between photography and a number of web development projects, Tyler complained to Bruce — who had since left iStockphoto — of how bad the experience of selling stock images had become. The quality of stock photography was boring. Everyone could spot them a mile away. Even blogs were really starting to point out how bad they were. And they weren’t wrong. There was — and still is — a lot to be made fun of. So, along with a number of their colleagues, they decided to fix things.
The result was Stocksy United — an online collection of royalty-free stock photos that is heavily curated, so every image is beautiful, unique, and, well… they don’t look like what we’ve come to expect from stock photography. “It’s really about being real photography that represents people’s lives,” says Tyler. “Images that are aesthetically on par with something you would hire a photographer for.”
If “stock photos” primarily bring to mind a shiny (and ethnically diverse) group of business people in suits smiling together at the camera — “synergizing” together perhaps — against a white background, then you’re due for a visit to Stocksy. It will reshape your definition of what stock can be. And it’s already reshaped what stock can be for photographers. Stocksy rewards their tightly curated and abundantly talented photographers handsomely for their work. Each one of Stocksy’s contributors not only receives higher royalties than most competitors, they’re given a share of the company. “It’s designed to be a team project forever,” says Tyler. “We’re representing artists and selling their work. We want to let our contributors really make a living off of creating beautiful photos.”
It’s fitting then, that these two immensely talented Canadians would collide with each other. And do so in Los Angeles of all places.
“Tyler was house-sitting for Bruce one time,” explains Ania. “A friend of mine and I were traveling to LA, and we were going to crash on a couch in a dodgy apartment. But a friend of a friend knew Tyler, and at the last minute, we thought, ‘Tyler is at a house in Venice, why don’t we get him to take us in’? I messaged him on our way to the airport, and by the time we landed in LA, he had replied: ‘sure’.”
The two acquaintances (nearly strangers) ended up spending quite a bit of time during the trip. “That was the beginning,” says Ania. “He had already taken a job with Stocksy in Victoria. So he came back to Calgary for a month so we could get to know each other. Victoria after that. Long distance for about six months and shooting together. Six months later, I quit my job in accounting and moved to Victoria. That was really the start of our working relationship.”
The result of that working relationship — not to mention a marriage of three years — has produced an amazingly diverse portfolio of creative work. The couple’s eponymous creative studio, Stalman, is home to a wide variety of their collaborative creative endeavors. Tyler’s digital media background along with web development, YouTube, and podcasts has given him a deep understanding of digital marketing. While Ania’s background in fashion provides both of them a seasoned stylist and art director. And if you take a quick review of their blog or social media channels, it’s easy to see that both are more than proficient behind a camera.
“It’s hard to say what we do full time,” says Tyler. “We just don’t stop working. Between Ania’s blog and Instagram, clients, and my work with Stocksy, we’re working in hotel rooms and all over the place on the road. So our next goal is making all these things we do easy to understand to our clients and to the world,” says Tyler. Ania continues this thought. “The industry has evolved into everyone needing to do more than one thing now. It’s actually a huge asset to be able to offer. We really have a production company. There’s sometimes a bad association with it though. A lot of people think that if you do a lot, you can’t do it well. But I don’t think that’s true anymore. With access to so many resources, you really can.”
It’s not untrue. From video and photo to marketing to design and styling, the Stalmans can grow and shrink to deliver what is needed for any given project. And with the number of talented friends they’ve made along the way, a contract hire is a phone call away. “We’re really a nimble, full service creative studio. When we attack a problem, we can solve it with a lot. Stills, motion, a clear social understanding, and a variety of different approaches.”
The one problem they can’t seem to solve? Figuring out how to spend more time at home. But other than missing their cat, Charlie, it’s hard to say no to the next paying job. Especially when said jobs involve trips to New York and London and Paris.
“It’s a ton of work,” admits Ania. “But we can’t complain. We love what we do.”