Behind the Lens: Kymri Wilt

Kymri, a travel photographer, travel writer and travel director is our inaugural interview for our Behind the Lens interview series. Meet the woman behind Mira Terra, Kymri Wilt.

In what ways do you experience the world differently when you're behind the camera?

Honestly, I don't think I experience the world any differently with or without a camera. I've taken as many pictures with my mind's eye as I have with a camera. Without a camera, I still compose scenes and focus subjects when I look around. And when I'm with the camera, it's really more of a tool for recording 1/5 of the experience. I travel with all five senses taking everything in. I can look at just about any photo I've taken and recall a smell, sound, temperature, conversation, texture, taste, or emotion that was present at the time.

You've been to so many amazing destinations - Bhutan, Namibia, the Galapagos - do you still feel the same excitement traveling to an exotic place that you did when you first started visiting such places?

Oh yes, absolutely! Exotic will always be exotic, whether it's my first or 50th time. When asked to name my favorite place, my response has always been "wherever I'm headed next." I love the excitement and anticipation of traveling somewhere for the first time. And I feel like I'm visiting "an old friend" when I return to places I've been.

For example, Machu Picchu is considered an exotic destination, yet my work has taken me back there again and again (and again this coming October). The sky will be different, I'll meet new people, I'll eat different things, and I'll learn something new. I'll see something differently, and I'll create a new image. Still, my heart skips a beat each time I catch that first glimpse of the ancient citadel. Excitement is an understatement!

We've all had instances when we want to capture a scene and don't have our camera. But have you had instances where you "had to" take photos but would rather have not been behind the camera?

Yes, when I've been hired to shoot weddings. I really wished I hadn't! I cry and my camera viewfinder fogs up. I get wrapped up in the moment and forget to press the button. I'd rather be hugging people and dancing and eating and celebrating, than telling people where to stand or to get out of the way. So after doing two, I decided never again, no matter how much money or how close I am to the person who asks.

You enjoy meeting local people and having cultural encounters on your travels. What is the most memorable experience you've had connecting with locals?

I was wandering through the village of Daxu in China with my camera. I noticed an interesting older man sitting at a corner against a red wall, and took his picture. I approached him and held up my camera, asking permission, and he obliged as I took a few more shots. As I thanked him and turned to leave, he reached into his pocket, pulling out a piece of paper on which he wrote something, in Chinese.

He handed it to me. I thought he was asking for money. I showed the paper to my guide who said it was a description of this corner where he sat. He wanted me to send his photograph to him. With pleasure! I smiled at him and nodded my head. To be honest, I had no intention of ever mailing his photo to this street corner; I was going to do better than that. I knew I would be returning there a year later, and when I did, I brought with me an 8x10 print of his portrait.

When I got to Daxu, I went to the corner where he sat. He was not there. I began asking around, showing the photo to the shopkeeper across the street. She sent me down the road. I showed the picture to another older person sitting on a step, who started hollering into a few windows - voices hollered back, but alas, he turned and shrugged. I was with a group of 4 other travelers, and we had a schedule to keep, so on we went.

As we wandered through the town, I kept an eye out for interesting subjects to photograph. I noticed an elderly man reading a newspaper on some steps and moved a bit closer. I decided to pull out the photograph to see if he might recognize my subject. Lo and behold, it was HIM! I handed my camera off to a companion, and approached the man with his photograph.

His face lit up and he smiled with half his teeth...his eyes teared and he beamed with joy. Then he took my hand to follow him. We rounded a corner and headed straight back to the original corner where he sat in the photograph. He knocked on the door, and after some moments, a much older woman opened it up. He gave her the photograph, and she immediately hung it on the wall overlooking the kitchen table. It was a gift for her...his 103 year old mother.

You are a travel writer, travel photographer and travel director. How does that happen? And by that we mean: did you spend years actively pursuing those roles or did the opportunities arise unexpectedly?

All of the above, actually! I didn't pursue those roles so much as they pursued me. One led to the other, which in turn would lead to another, and it would come full circle again. My career only really started to form when I began working in travel in the early 90's - I had found the niche most suitable for my artistic endeavors. Within that industry, opportunities arose, and I pursued them tenaciously.

I was writing, taking pictures, and leading tours within the travel industry for years before I set up my own travel photography business and went freelance. I made that decision (to go freelance) when I became pregnant in 2001 and wanted to work from home for the first two years of raising a child. I never went back to an office job, but I retained those skills and maintained those relationships, so opportunities continued to come my way. With each opportunity came a new skill. With each skill came new opportunity. I just kept saying "yes." I often joke that each one is my "day job" as I pursue work doing the other!

What is / are the most important lesson / lessons you've learned on your travels?

There will always be more to see, and more to do. There will not always be more time. Make the most of every moment, and be grateful for everything.

Thank you Kymri, for a wonderful interview!

To view more of Kymri's amazing photography from around the globe, visit her site, Mira Terra Images. Read her travels stories on her blog, Mira Terra Travel.