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How One Mother Photographs the World Through the Eyes of Her Children

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For lifestyle and family photographer Kirsty Larmour, travel is a huge part of life — and her family dynamic. The British artist and her husband first met in Hong Kong, where they were both working as engineers at the same company. A few years after having their daughter Saffron while living in Guangzhou, China, they moved to Abu Dhabi, where they now reside, along with their second daughter, Indigo.

Larmour, who also grew up in a family that valued travel, studied geography in college, before going on to become an environmental engineer in her first career. She says that travel has been a natural part of raising her children, and has taken Saffron to more than 50 countries and Indigo to only a dozen less, with her first trip being to Oman at three-weeks old.

Young girls walking in Chefchaouen, Morocco

What’s most striking about Larmour’s photography, other than the beauty she captures in exotic locations throughout the world, is the way she is able to share her experiences of travel with her two daughters, now 7 and 9, and allow them the opportunity to learn about culture, with the “world as their classroom.” She adds, however, that some of her favorite photos are “the everyday images of them climbing sand dunes in Abu Dhabi.”

Siblings standing between two trees

To celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we caught up with the Offset photographer, who is currently traveling through Kazakhstan on part of a year-long journey with her family, to hear what she’s gained from experiencing different cultures through the eyes of her children.

What’s it been like to raise your children in Abu Dhabi?

Larmour: The Middle East is so diverse. It’s so rich in history — a real melting pot with an East-meets-West culture, which means you meet the most amazing people from all over the world. My daughters are happy, easygoing little people, who thankfully have travelers’ souls. Abu Dhabi is a wonderful place to raise them — they have friends from all over the world and are so accepting of people and cultures and foods; so much that seems strange or exotic to adults is just normal to them. They have the big desert as a playground, and the sea right by us, plus the mountains. All that, and a wonderful little multicultural network of friends that really makes it such a comfortable place to live.

Young girls walking in the Sahara, Africa

It’s wonderful that you’re able to include your daughters in your work and travel. Do you have any tips for parents who might find the prospect of traveling with children daunting?

I often think it was easy for me to travel with my kids because, as a new mom, this life was all I knew, and I was totally thrown in the deep end. Living in China when you have your first baby, you have none of the creature comforts of other places, so you just have to get on with it — and so I’ve continued. A trip to the UK to see my parents was 28 hours door-to-door back then, and it was just something we had to go through if we wanted to see them!

I’d also encourage other new parents to just get out there — it’s amazing how little a new baby needs — they’re honestly much easier to travel with than toddlers. And when you’ve done it with a baby, you’ll just keep on adapting to travel as they grow. I think the more you encourage kids to play using their imagination, the fewer other things you need to bring with you; they’ll find their own fun and adventures wherever you go.

Two girls throw powder at each other for the Hindu festival of Holi

What do you hope your children will take away from their early travel experiences?

They don’t see differences in people, and they’re so open to different cultures — kids see the similarities first. They are both reasonably easygoing, adaptable, and have the most wonderful imaginations, because we travel light.

I hope they will remain open and accepting of people of all cultures and backgrounds, and will be open to new experiences and will know that they can push themselves out of their comfort zones. Their dreams will probably be very different than mine but I hope this helps them know they can follow them.

Essaouira, Morocco – February 2, 2015: Young girl walking on a Moroccan street
Young girls holding hands at ruins in Armenia

In what ways do you feel like they, as children, interpret travel differently than adults?

Kids don’t feel the stress adults do. One time we were in the Andaman Islands in India and the ferries were cancelled because of a cyclone. Around us were Western tourists throwing tantrums and demanding an alternate route to their destination — which in India, in a cyclone, just wasn’t going to happen. I turned around and the girls were sitting on a pile of luggage on the jetty playing rock-paper-scissors!

What has been one of the most inspiring travel situations you’ve been in?

When we were in Iran last year, our car broke down on our final day. Night was falling, our visas were about to run out, we had no phone signal, and we had to get across the border, but we were in a remote mountain area some 25km from the nearest small town. People rallied around us, made phone calls, got relatives to come out to us with car parts, spent time helping us try to fix it, and eventually, a guy drove us an hour each way to another town to get a new part. We left Iran with just 15 minutes left on our visas, exhausted, but with tummies full from the food we’d been fed while we waited, and with warm hearts about the way people had done so much to help us out of what could have been a very scary situation. People are so good.

Little girls hugging a tree in the Iranian desert

I’m sure there have been many heartwarming experiences.

Indy won’t remember this, but we traveled to Syria when she was just 5-months old and everywhere we went, people took her from us, lifted her in the air, and danced with her. It was amazing. Thinking back on those times always makes me smile! In terms of things the girls will remember, it always surprises me how they make connections between places. For example, similarities between two different archeological sites; recognizing the work of an artist in a whole different part of the world from where we previously saw it; or seeing firsthand where charitable donations we make end up and understanding the difference they can make.

In what ways are the visual contrasts inherent in your travels interesting to you as a photographer?

I love that travel keeps me on my toes photographically. I’m always having to interpret the light in a new way and in a different setting and respond to those variables — I have to find an interesting way of getting the shot and capturing that place or moment in time. Whether a dull day, or in the rain, or the harsh midday sun, I have to put my stamp and style on the photos. And likewise, when traveling with kids, you don’t always get to go out at the optimal time of day, so you have to work with what you have. I enjoy a challenge!

A little girl reaches for a thistle in a field
Young girl walking nearby a waterfall in Morocco

How are you able to make all of these journeys possible?

We’ve always traveled as much as we can, and we’ve lived simply to allow that to happen. Most years, the girls and I manage three months on the road, with my husband joining us for some of it. This last year, my husband took a sabbatical from his job and we’ve taken a year out, where we have all traveled, first to the US, then Mexico and Cuba, and then on a big road trip from our home in Abu Dhabi down to Africa, and now back to Europe. Next up is Central Asia and some of the Silk Route countries, especially some time in Uzbekistan, before heading back to Abu Dhabi.

I work as we go, doing photo shoots and capturing our travels. We save hard to make these trips happen.

Little girl in Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong

Any parting words to mothers who want to explore the world with their children?

I know this kind of life isn’t for everyone, but if you think maybe it is, then honestly, seeing the world with kids is so much less scary than you think. They need less stuff than you ever expect when their imaginations are opened up to nature and new people and places. They need less entertaining when they are constantly seeing things that make them ask questions and wonder at the world. I think kids follow the lead of their parents, and if you’re interested in the world around you, they’ll pick up on that too. And most importantly, children make you see the world in new ways, and that’s a truly beautiful thing.

View more from Kirsty Larmour in her full Offset portfolio »

Top image: Two girls walk and hold hands on the beach on the Andaman Islands, India by Kirsty Larmour.

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