You get married, you have kids, you stop going out, you watch lots of cartoons, you memorize all the words to the Frozen soundtrack. Your life becomes about your children, rather than your passions and interests. Is it possible to do both?
We recently asked those questions of adventure photographer and outdoorsman Kennan Harvey, who seems to be able to do it all. We emailed Kennan and waited for his answers and a headshot. His response? “Will look for a good headshot, but first I need to cut some firewood for next season.”
Aurora: You’re an avid outdoorsman and climber – you were once named one of America’s top 10 best climbers by Climbing Magazine. What inspired you to become an adventure photographer, and who or what inspired your love of the outdoors?
Kennan Harvey: My love for the outdoors matured in the deep woods of western North Carolina while home schooled and living simply without electricity – our family even went car-less for several years. My mother worked for Outward Bound and introduced me to climbing. During the 70’s backpacking was almost a national pass time. We walked a lot. Ambling along a trail, with unknown corners ahead lined with green Appalachian lushness helped me develop the keen observation skills necessary for striking images. My transition to photography was initiated through a mentorship with landscape photographer Pat O’Hara, who helped satiate my wanderlust after college in exchange for help hauling his large format gear far into the wilderness. During the late 80’s there were a handful of adventure photographers such as Galen Rowell, Chris Noble and Greg Epperson who showed me the possibility of turning my climbing passion into income. At the time there were no media crews or sponsored athletes so personally combining the two gave me an early edge.
Prevailing wisdom tells us that youthful adventuresome ways are over once you have kids. That might go double for an outdoor adventure photographers. Has that been true for you?
Having a child only extended my photo career. First, kids are endlessly creative which forced me away from my set routines. I was 40 when Roan was born, suddenly I had more dominating youthful energy in the house. Having children is first about creating a safe and predictable environment for them to thrive, a wise parent then needs to encourage exploration in all things social, academic and physical. My wife and I both believe outdoor education is even more important than classroom learning. Adventures are fun ways to set obtainable goals and build success. They don’t have to be dangerous. But learning about risk management at an early age will be valuable for her teenage years and beyond. Breathing high mountain air may become her addiction or just a memory of youth. Until that point we are very similar to any soccer family – midweek practice followed by a weekend road trip – only to remote and quiet wilderness.
Your daughter currently goes camping and hiking with you and has started to rock climb as well. Are there any sports or activities you DON’T want her to attempt?
She really likes backcountry skiing and so we have a small beacon for her to carry. However, we are pretty nervous about steep terrain and avalanche hazard. I would certainly be nervous if she ended up in a ski movie at 18, but if she does she will have way more experience by then than I did at the time. Any sport with objective hazards is a parenting challenge for anyone, but it is important for kids to learn how to make good decisions. Luckily, she likes fun over danger and so far has shown good judgment managing risk.
Many photographers use their children as free models. Your images of your daughter have an authenticity to them, they’re in the moment, and there’s a bit of wildness there. Has your daughter gotten sick of you taking photos yet?
There is a saying, “Kids don’t come with instructions!” So right at the beginning, we just went family adventuring and now Roan seems to have the bug. When a good photo materializes mid adventure, often with serendipity, fleeting and authentic, it only takes a moment to capture. Any grumpiness is easily dispelled when she hears, “A few photos now and we can start planning our next adventure!” Bringing a friends adds magic. Jumping off a rock into the water a couple times first, for example, keeps the activity organic and sometimes Roan even makes the photo suggestion.
Many might think your work isn’t really work — you get to spend so much time outdoors in nature — but the life of a photographer is often grueling, with long days and heavy equipment. How do you maintain a good work / life balance and keep the outdoors fun?
I recently finished climbing a granite ridgeline in a windstorm, in the winter, with skis strapped to full packs. It was way more than anticipated and we wondered about the worth. But then, after an exhausting day we topped out into 5 minutes of glorious light. Above us were dark clouds with the rays of the setting sun bouncing off of their undersides and painting a sea of alpine rock with gold. My life does have more work, but in these moments, there is balance. Parenting is no different. There are days where the work of parenting is exhausting, but then just 5 minutes of glorious light, and it makes it all worth it.
In this age of technology, surely even your child wants to be on the computer, cell phone or watching TV. Do you have advice for other parents who want to get their children to spend more time in nature?
In my view, technological obsession with kids is a sign of boredom. I realize all situations are different, but with 300 days of sun a year in Durango, kids around here would much rather ride a bike or the zip line, even planting peas is more fun than screen time. It also helps that we live in a solar powered house with a hard wired computer and no wireless. Photographer Ace Kvale once told me that the best way to become a photographer is to just start. My advice for parents wanting to get their kids into nature is the same, just pack the car and find a campsite.