Karen Walrond is a nationally-recognized author and photographer who inspires others to find and celebrate their own uniqueness, through the power of storytelling. She has spoken around the world appearing on CNN, TEDxHouston, and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Her site, Chookooloonks, is an anthology of images and stories about living with intention and a sense of adventure. It’s photography and travel and food and art and life. It’s about the connection and creativity and determination and resonance that we all experience, if only we look for the light. Find out more about her at chookooloonks.com.
How would you describe your style of photography?
This is such a tough question for me — because I’m not sure exactly how I would describe it. Photojournalistic, for sure, in that while I certainly use Photoshop, my motto is that I don’t delete pixels — any composition that I do I do before I squeeze the shutter, and do very little post-processing to my photographs after the fact. I don’t change skin texture, don’t remove blemishes, don’t remove some errant distraction that made its way into my shot.
In that sense, what I shot is what it is.
That said, I would like to think that my photography is soulful: that beyond simply reporting what existed at a certain moment in time, my images evoke emotion as well. I love using the technical aspects of photography — playing with aperture or shutter speed, for example — to create a mood with my shots.
It’s certainly what I strive for, anyway.
Can you share the backstories behind these two photos?
Sure. This first photo was taken on my second day in Addis Ababa, back in 2012. We were visiting FashionABLE, an organization that handmakes beautiful scarves and leather goods, while providing women in crisis with a sustainable living. It was a perfect day — one of those totally blue-sky days, and the air was crisp — and the group I was traveling with was so excited and honoured to see the beautiful works being made by our kind hosts.
As part of our visit, we participated in a coffee ceremony (ubiquitous in Ethiopia), and while the rest of our party was touring the facility, I caught one of the young women roasting the fresh coffee for our visit. The smoke from the fire was swirling about her, and in the light, she looked beautiful.
So I snapped the shot.
The second photo is a personal one: a film photograph of my father. I took this photograph on a whim: I suddenly realized that I had very few portraits of my parents, and I happened to have my Hasselblad on me, while visiting them one Sunday.
So I begged my dad to let me take his portrait. I love this shot, because I think his keen intellect and kind soul are very apparent in this photograph.
What are your dreams as a photographer?
My hope is that my photographs and my work build resonance — that viewers of my images recognize something deeply familiar in my images and connect with it, even if the subjects of my images are initially quite foreign to them.
In a world where there seems to be increasing strife and conflict among people who are different, I hope that my work continues to build connections and a sense of kinship. I hope it inspires people to look for the light in their lives.
And of course, my dream is that my work continues to reach a wider and more global audience, in some capacity.
The “Snapshot” series are mini interviews with fellow black travel photographers to inspire others and myself. As I’ve navigated the world of travel photography over the last few years, I’ve found very few fellow photographers of color who are also doing this professionally with a heavy focus on travel documentary. So this inspirational resource of professional travel photographers of color is a way for people to always find us. Please get in touch if you’d like to be featured or know of others to feature.