We had the good fortune of connecting with Elysa Kemp and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elysa, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking is important for personal growth and growth in general. I feel that throughout my childhood, adulthood and career the things I remember the most always come down to taking risks and trying something new. You don’t get the opportunities in life if you aren’t okay with stepping out of your comfort zone and moving away from the status quo. After I graduated college, I backpacked through Thailand and Southeast Asia for 6 weeks, my roommate from Portland and I met up there and traveled together as well as separating to go our different ways and do our own adventure. I went there to take photos because I was continuing my photojournalism, which I had got a B.S. in during college. We met a journalist that worked for Lonely Planet when we were in the middle of Thailand and he went with me to these special islands called the Ko Surin Islands. They were a small cluster of a few islands in the Andaman Sea where there was a village of sea gypsies on one of the islands that had survived the tsunami of 2004. These villagers instinctively knew to move themselves to a higher ground on the island, simply by watching what was going on with the adversity in the ocean and watching the local animals of the land behave in a way they could only sense through their unique vibrations. I got to photograph these amazing people two years after the tsunami. All I had was an SLR film camera with some Velvia color film. I couldn’t afford a digital SLR camera at the time, so I succeeded to use film and came out with some colorful images of the villagers.
This is an example of a risk that I took, making a commitment to go to a place that I had never been and trying to learn a different language to get around. Luckily during this adventure, many locals knew English and encountered many tourists from Europe, Australia and the US.
During this experience, I had maybe $800, I had saved up bartending in Portland. I had no idea how far it was going to get me for 6 weeks, but I traveled north to south and east to west Thailand and met back up with my roommate and went down the Mekong River that runs through Laos, we went through Luang Prabang and a few other river towns in Laos and met some amazing people.
If I hadn’t taken this risk, I wouldn’t have explored these different cultures in Southeast Asia on my own that I learned so much from and have ultimate respect for.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
First off, I am getting back into the world of art and honing my skills as an environmental portrait photographer. This hasn’t been easy for me, since I’ve spent the last 7-8 years devoting my time to the online marketing world and sales. It’s a conscious choice in changing my current career path. As I mentioned, I had gone to school for photojournalism and started off doing some work in photography/photojournalism. After I went to Thailand, I moved to Las Vegas and lived for 7 months, there is a big art scene in the downtown Las Vegas area that I enjoyed getting to know and being a part of but in the end I couldn’t envision living there for the long-term at the time. I had a Siberian husky and wanted to find a more temperate climate for him, so I ended up moving to Berkley and eventually San Francisco. In Berkley, I lived in a commune of artistic, futuristic, creative individuals. It was inspiring to learn my different roommates’ passion for permaculture, growing vegetables, caring for the environment, naturopathic medicine, hippie culture, being transient, being a circus performer, etc. I felt very at-home in Berkley and much like I was transported to the 1960’s and at the same time the modern future with the amount of knowledge and positive energy everyone around me was encompassing. I ended up later on moving to San Francisco where I met the father of my daughter. We had worked together, I was a 1920’s cigar girl and sold candy and cigars in high heels and a “flapper attire/costume’ four nights a week. He was one of the owners of this small iconic business that went to all the neighborhoods in San Fran. We went to music events, ‘Summer of Love’ festival, huge electronic shows of the 2008/09 era, bars, clubs, etc… there was a lot of walking up and down the hills in North Beach in heels and a full tray of candy and cigars. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. My daughter was born in 2009 and I ended up leaving when she was 5-6 months old from San Francisco to be closer to my family in Arizona. When I first moved back to Flagstaff, AZ, I was a single mom and was breastfeeding my little girl.. I was lucky to have family there to help me out until I found work in 2010 doing digital online marketing sales for a phone book. Yes, it was a phone book in 2010 and integrating into the online world as well! Believe it or not, some people were still using the phone book 11 years ago. It was important for me to understand and relate to my market. I found a new passion for sales around that time and ended up working for Yodle, Realtor.com and Yelp.
So until the pandemic of 2020, I have been working in the online marketing world. I feel that it’s been a great learning adventure and has taught me the lessons to integrate perfectly back into where one of my main passion lies, which is photography.
There are challenges to running and operating your own business and I am just getting back into it. I am excited to see where it goes. I have a lot of work ahead of me in getting a website running, managing Instagram, Facebook and working with people that are expressing themselves naturally in their environment.
What I want the world to know, is that there is a story behind everyone. In capturing people photographically, everyone out there has a story and you can see it through the windows of their eyes. One image can tell a complete storybook.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If we had a week long trip in the area, I would, of course take them to places they wouldn’t find anywhere else. We would start off in Sedona, West Fork would make a great day trek and we could bring a picnic to set up on a flat rock along Oak Creek Canyon. We would head back to the town of Sedona to check out some of the crystal shops and have dinner at Elote Cafe or Dahl and Di Luca Ristorante Italiano. At Elote Cafe, they have some of the best enchilades and mole I have had in Arizona. Their Mexican chocolate pie is one of the best desserts imaginable in the southwest. Dahl and Di Luca has a beautiful intimate patio setting with amazing, rich Italian cuisine after a long hike in the red rocks. Jerome and Prescott together make another great day trip to get an authentic old west experience. We would walk up the windy road Jerome offers, check out some of the local art and boutique shops and maybe go to the Surgeon House and the Spirit Room for a fun drink. In Prescott we could go kayaking at Watson Lake and have tapas later at El Gato Azul. In the evening we could take a walk down Whisky Row and maybe stop in for a drink or non-alcoholic drink at The Palace for a true authentic cowboy experience taking you back to the 1800s. Another all daytrip and photograher’s haven is Antelope Canyon slot canyons, we could check out upper Antelope at noon and lower Antelope canyon that goes underground in the morning/afternoon as well. Other places to visit are the Colossal Caves in the southern AZ area and go on a ladder tour in the caves. For an authentic Southern Arizona dining experience, we could check out El Charro Cafe or Seis Kitchen for some amazing horchatas. Places I would take someone visiting in the Phoenix area would be Lon’s at El Hermosa Inn for an outdoor dining experience on the beautiful patio at sunset. I would also take them on another evening to Elements on Camelback Mountain for another outdoor dining at sunset and watching all the colors gradually change on Mummy Mountain and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. During the daytime we could book a Turkish bath and a Morrocan spa adventure at the Joya Spa. During the winter time, I would definitely take someone, who is up for it, up Camelback Mountain for a hike at dawn.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Well, first off, I want to say ‘thank you’ to my longtime friend Shari Lopatin for nominating me for this opportunity. I feel very humbled and honored. Please read the Shoutout AZ story about her, she is hands-down one of the greatest fictional writers of all time and an award winning journalist. I have been a single mother that came back to my native Arizona and I have to give credit to everyone in my family and around me that help me with everything from spending time with my daughter while I work to helping me with laundry, emotional moments to IT issues with my laptop. So, thank you Mom, Dad, Aunt Susie, my Grandparents, Hillery (sister) and my boyfriend Michael. They are all here to support me and my crazy dreams of going back out there and traveling the world to capture memorable moments along with wanting to preserve the environment that I continuously talk about all the time.
Instagram: @elysak.emp and @portraitsbyvenus
Facebook: Elysa Kemp