Interview 1: Kaylyn van Driesum
When Team TC decided to add a section called Interviews to The Collective, I immediately started compiling a list of people I wanted to chat to. The criteria, for me, turned out to be pretty simple: someone I admire who is doing something exciting, unique, or just plain cool. And, if their work or play happens to intersect with anything we’re doing at TC, that’s an added bonus.
At the top of my list was Kaylyn van Driesum, who, in addition to being an increasingly well-recognized Vancouver-based wedding photographer and a passionate philanthropist, also happens to be one of my best friends. How very convenient for me!
I successfully lured Kaylyn to TC’s favourite local haunt with the promise of coffee and we sat down to talk about her work behind the camera, her return to Vancouver (hallelujah!), and her recent trip to the Dominican Republic on behalf of the HOPE International Development Agency. It’s worth noting that this trip took Kaylyn to the Dominican as part of a team called Women For Water, which raised $63,000 to help 75 families in the village of El Memiso. Pretty damn cool!
Learn more about her work with HOPE and find out which three items Kaylyn, aka KVD, would bring to a desert island in our conversation below!
Kaylyn and Cola, the town leader of La China. His town's irrigation project was completed two years ago.
Lauren Makin: [Opening preamble including complimenting Kaylyn’s hair, which is amazing and always perfect]. Part of the reason that you’re really intriguing to me and part of the reason I feel like you have a lot in common with the team at Traveller Collective is because, first, you’re operating a successful small business here in the city and, second, because of your efforts with HOPE International. Your first project with HOPE was for clean water in Ethiopia and so was ours, with charity: water! But, anyways, all that aside: describe yourself in two words.
Kaylyn van Driesum: Oh my gosh…this is really hard for me!
LM: Take your time.
KVD: We might have to come back to this!
LM: Okay, sure. I was interested in how you got into photography. You’ve been doing it for about four years, primarily wedding and portraits, although I know you do the odd event.
KVD: I have literally always had a camera in my hand. It was the one thing I’d ask for on my birthday and I finally got one when I was 15 or 16. I was so happy; it was one of the first digital cameras that came out. I’d haul it to school every day and was that person who was always taking pictures of my friends. I just never thought I could make a living as a photographer. It wasn’t a thing that I sought after in my small town of Prince George. But as soon as I moved to Vancouver I thought more about it, every day really. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Even when I went to fashion business school, I still had the dream of one day having my own photography company. Wedding photography is not what I thought I’d be getting into but I absolutely adore it. I had the opportunity to second shoot for a guy in the US and that pushed me in the right direction.
LM: What kind of camera are you rocking these days?
KVD: I am a Canon girl so I have a Canon 5D Mark III and an assortment of lenses…if that means anything to you. [Author’s note: Nope].
LM: Earlier you described Vancouver as the site where you realized that there is a market for photography and that you could potentially make a business out of it. How long have you lived here?
KVD: I’ve been in Vancouver for just over a year now, but when I went to school here [John Casablanca Institute] I was probably a Vancouverite for about two years. There was some time in between when I lived in Victoria and back up north for a while, but it feels good to be back in the city.
LM: I was thinking about your move back here. How would you say Vancouver impacts you as a professional?
KVD: I came back to Vancouver from Victoria, where there is a bit of an Island vibe and life is a bit slower. I think in Vancouver you want to be busy, you’re encouraged to build your business and get your name out there. There are so many amazing photographers here so [there’s a] sense of competition, but I’m inspired by the people I look up to in the city. Being back in Vancouver has been great for me because I feel like my business has expanded and I can see how much more work I’m putting into my business because I’m excited to do so.
LM: What does a typical workday look like for you?
KVD: I have breakfast and coffee first thing in the morning. Then I’m usually working at my desk by 9:30 AM until 4 or 5:00 PM. There might be a few coffee breaks in there, too; I love seeking out cafes in my neighbourhood. It’s a lot of editing and emails; it depends if I’m in my busy season or non-busy season. A lot of time at my computer.
LM: I know that, before this, you worked in restaurants for a long time. Now you’re the sole proprietor of your own business, KVD Photography. What would you describe as the biggest challenge to owning your own business?
KVD: I think staying motivated is the hardest thing for me. There are so many times in the day where I’m by myself at my desk and I haven’t talked to anyone all day, other than the people I’m emailing or maybe a phone call or two. Going from the service industry to owning my own business, having served thousands of people to now not having a conversation with anyone during the workday, is a bit tricky. Come wedding day and shoot days, that’s the fun part of my job. Everybody says, “Isn’t that the most stressful?”, but it’s my absolute favourite part, being surrounded by people and doing what I love.
LM: So what is the most rewarding part of your job? It sounds like it’s the actual labour!
KVD: Totally. I’d say 90% of couples have never had professional photos taken so [they] come into the photo shoot or engagement shoot being super nervous and then by the end say to me, “That was so fun! I wish we could do it again” because they were so amazed by how comfortable they are in front of the camera. And then I show them the images a week or two later, and they’re so stoked about them and I’m getting texts saying, “I can’t believe we look like this on camera. I’m now so excited for our wedding day!”…that’s probably one of the most rewarding things in my job.
LM: What’s the wildest or craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen at a wedding or a shoot you’ve done?
KVD: I’ve been really lucky to have people that are really low key and not stressed on their wedding day. I’ve never had something crazy happen but there have been some highlight moments where I think, “I can’t believe this is my job.” I was shooting a wedding in Victoria and the groom’s two brothers got up and were going to give a speech but then slowly made their way to the dance floor and I think everybody could feel what was about to happen. They did this dance, I don’t think anybody was sitting in their chair by the end. There were legs wrapped around each other with one person flying, there were lifts…it was soo good. It was surprising and not surprising; I think everybody kind of expected it of these brothers. I can’t even explain it, I think you had to be there.
LM: I want to chat a bit about the work that you do with the HOPE International Development Agency. I know you just returned from El Memiso in the Dominican. Can you fill me in on your special connection to HOPE?
KVD: My family has been involved with HOPE for about 20 years, and I’ve been really active for about 15 years. The very first project we did as a family was in the name of my Opa when he passed away. We took on the task of raising money for a well capping project in Ethiopia. And then after that we did a project for my brother after he passed away…it’s been quite a journey with HOPE. I took a break between that first fundraising project and then went back 8 years later to the Dominican. It wasn’t until I went on a UNION trip [Understanding Needs In Other Nations] that I really saw myself getting back into it. The Dominican is definitely where my heart is.
LM: So it’s a real family attachment.
KVD: A real family attachment. My sister and I have come together to raise funds for two villages in the Dominican [Cazuela and El Memiso]. There’s always the family support, from my parents, and my brother has taken on his own projects in South Sudan. I think we all have a heart for helping people. We’ve always been told that we’re a very generous family and we’re really passionate about helping others that are less fortunate. I think we see it as a duty, in a way, because we’re so blessed with what we have in North America.
LM: You’ve been to the Dominican four times now. What continues to surprise or shock you when you get there?
KVD: How much time do you have [laughs]? The whole country to me is shocking, in a way. I’ve been there four times so my level of comfort is a lot higher than it was…now I feel like it’s almost a part of me so when I do arrive I feel like I’m coming back to this amazing place that I know but I’m still amazed by so much that happens there.
The most surprising thing continues to be the people in the villages that I visit. They are joyful, resilient, determined individuals who live their lives with very little. To paint you a picture: they have one school in their village with teachers who teach multiple grades at the same time. Parents raise big families in houses that are the size of the garden sheds in our backyards. Many of the families don't own their own land or have a way to earn reliable incomes for their families. And yet they are so grateful for the chance to have a better future! Some families have had to move out of their villages but are now able to return home because of the opportunity that's been provided by HOPE's projects…and that's a pretty special thing to be a part of.
I’d also say that the way that they raise their kids and the community that they have is amazing. I was in the village of El Memiso for five days and I didn’t know which child belonged to which parents because everybody just raises everybody over there! They all have these roles in everybody’s lives and they talk to each other with such respect. They really listen to the kids over there and the kids respect their teachers and the principal of the school and the elders in the village and it’s really, really cool to see.
LM: I was thinking about people who have similar inclinations, who want to give back and want to help, but I feel as though there can be a barrier to entry in that you just don’t know where to start. What do you make of that?
KVD: I think one of the best things that HOPE International does is put on these fundraising dinners. It’s the opportunity to have a great evening out and be entertained and have a great meal with a lot of people that are inspired to give so I think attending one of these dinners is a step in the right direction and there’s a chance to donate there, too, to bid on silent or live auction items. It’s also a way to get to know what it’s all about at the same time. [The dinners are] all across the country, which is great, so that’s one way to get involved. It depends how people want to give; whether it’s their time or financially but there are plenty of ways to do that!
LM: That makes sense, that getting in at the local level makes it less intimidating. I like the idea of getting involved locally and then getting to spend time with likeminded people from the same area.
KVD: I don’t think people should look at HOPE as this big intimidating organization, either. They’re run by less than 20 people in a house in New West [city outside Vancouver]. You go to their HQ and you think it’s going to be this big bustling place but everybody is so humble and so down to earth and they’re there for the same reason.
LM: How do you feel as though these two things that you do—photography and philanthropy—overlap?
KVD: I would say that it comes back to people, honestly. I love working with people, taking photos and getting to know people, understanding their relationships. Whether that’s me shooting a wedding and getting to know a couple or whether that’s me going to the Dominican and understanding how they live and work over there. I’m really fortunate to have a job that has a high season and a low season so if I can spend half my year focusing on my couples and then half my year focusing on them but also on my HOPE International project and fundraising for that, then I’m thrilled to do so. I’m really fortunate to be able to have the time to do both.
LM: You obviously get to travel quite a bit for work and with your efforts for HOPE. What would you say is your number one travel tip?
KVD: Do what the locals do. I think going to a place like the Dominican, it’s so easy to say that the Dominican is made up of beautiful beaches—which it is! The Dominican is a gorgeous island. But there’s way more to it than that. You can get to know the people and eat where the locals eat. Get away from the path that everybody takes and get to the small inland towns…I think that enhances your overall experience of any country you go to, not just the Dominican.
LM: A plane is taking off right now…you’re on it…where is it going?
KVD: I’d love to say the Dominican but I think I’d really love to go to…that’s a really hard question. Let’s go with Croatia. I’ve always been super intrigued by their culture and architecture and the things I hear about it. I’ve never really been to that part of the world.
LM: What would the weather be like there now? Nice, I’m assuming? That’s a guess.
KVD: I think less rainy than here, but don’t quote me on that.
LM: If you were on a desert island and you got to have three items with you—what would they be?
KVD: A bible, an axe…no, wait, I changed my mind. A machete, as someone from the Dominican would have. And a camera.
LM: To come back to the opening question: describe yourself in two words.
KVD: That’s SO hard. I want to say generous. And principled.
I couldn’t agree more.
Kaylyn next to the water reservoir in La China. It holds one million gallons of water and irrigates all of the town's fields.