Photographer Kirsty Larmour’s ‘Year of Reclaiming Saturdays’ took her young family to some of the world’s most extraordinary places. We caught up with her to talk Uzbekistan, being struck by lightning and schooling on the Silk Route.
Where are you from and how did you end up based in the UAE?
I’m from the UK, but lived for a long time in Hong Kong, where I met my Irish husband. We then lived in China for three years when we had our first daughter Saffy, who is now 9 and then my husband’s job took us to Abu Dhabi in the UAE, where 7-year-old Indy was born and where we are still based.
What inspired your decision to take the family on the road for a year? It’s what many families talk about but few actually do!
With our kids being born overseas we had travelled almost from day one of having children and always talked about taking a year out before they reached high school, but I started to worry it wouldn’t happen. Then the stars aligned and my husband’s company agreed to a sabbatical after him working 7 years of 6 day weeks. We figured he needed around 350 days back to have the same time with us as people who have a regular 2 day weekend – we called it ‘The Year of Reclaiming Saturdays’. At the start we weren’t really sure where we’d go, I had a photography teaching commitment in the USA so we knew we’d go there, and decided to add Cuba in while we were that side of the world. The road trip side of our year out was something we’d talked about doing if we ever left the UAE and so it kind of evolved into a circular trip starting from and ending back in Abu Dhabi.
What does ‘World Schooling’ entail and did you all take to it?
World Schooling to us is learning and being inspired by the world around you. It means learning geology as you stand on the continental divide, or art as you wander the halls of the Guggenheim, or about Central Asian architecture in the cities of the silk route. It means embracing the opportunities for learning presented by the environment you’re in and by your own personal interests rather than by what you should know at a certain age. For me, one of the hardest things to tackle was how methods of teaching subjects like maths have changed so much since I was at school. The girls were both very motivated to learn though and to keep up with their friends back home.
Highlight and low point?
Highlight: People! The media would have us believe that people different to ourselves are scary. That’s just not true. We were met with the most incredible kindness everywhere we went which just further reinforced our view that people just want to live a good life and love their families and get through each day feeling they’ve done OK. Another highlight was just spending time together as a family – without any of the pressures of the school run, or work or meetings or after school activities – I truly embraced having no real set agenda. The low point was that long days on the road could be exhausting, finding accommodation and food after a long day even more so.
Your favourite country and why?
Can I totally cop out on this question and say travelling large lengths of the Silk Route was my favourite part? This is a long held dream of mine, and from the wild mountains and lakes of Kyrgyzstan, to the incredible architecture of Uzbekistan, to the wonderful hospitality of the people of Iran, the diversity of this ancient trading route held me enthralled constantly. We stayed in yurts, camped on the bed of the Aral Sea, were invited into peoples homes, slept in caves and traditional courtyard houses. We travelled from lush green pastures, through snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes, past desert fortresses, to blue tiled mosques and spice infused bazaars. Our girls hung out with the kids of nomads and yak farmers, and other travelling families, and children where they had no shared language but the one of childhood, of playing with dolls, or a ball or lying on their tummies drawing together.
Any scary moments that made you question your decision?
Honestly, I don’t think so. I mean scary things really did happen, like breaking down in a remote area, or the time we had to make a 1,000km detour which took us 2 days to avoid an area where fighting broke out, and our car getting hit by lightening, but I don’t think they ever made us think the trip was a bad idea.
Best things the girls said to you during the trip?
There really wasn’t one thing, but they constantly talk about when we’ll do this again, and about how they’re going to travel when they have families of their own, which to me is a sure sign they loved it. One of the funniest things though was when we met two 20-something German guys who were doing the Mongolian Rally and Indy said “Oh my Mummy and Daddy want to do that when they grow up!”
What country really struck you on your travels?
Iran: it’s really nothing like how the media portrays it. It’s beautiful, diverse geographically, bursting with history and full of the most incredibly hospitable people. It has great fresh food, amazing shopping in the bazaars and awe-inspiring architecture, too.
Where do you want to return to when the girls are older?
There are some countries that we zoomed through to get to other countries, like the Baltics, which I’d love to go back to. And Romania which just seemed so beautiful. We will always keep going back to both China and India – and South America and much of Africa are still on the list!
Your blog and Instagram account challenge common perceptions of the Middle East – was that your intention?
I’m really flattered if that’s the case. I don’t think I set out to change peoples opinions. I’ve travelled a lot in this region including to countries like Lebanon and Syria, and I have good friends who come from countries that are in conflict and the one thing I know everywhere I have been and with all the people I’m friends with is that people are good and kind and have hearts. I wanted to show our real experiences wherever we went, regardless of where that was, but without being ‘insta-fake’ which is a real IG problem. I live with my whole heart, so if you saw me say something good about a place that’s because it was good, not just because I wanted to show off just the glossy moments. We were lucky to have incredible experiences everywhere we went.
3 tips for photographing kids on holiday/travels?
- Let your kids be themselves and capture them being themselves, if that means you don’t capture smiling faces all the time then so be it. My kids rarely look at my camera (without major bribing) and as my own bio truthfully says that I “take lots of pictures of my kids backs as they adventure through life, (and temples and souks and rice paddies or over sand dunes).”
- Early morning and late afternoon have the prettiest light, midday has harsh light. If you can be at beautiful places early or late then you’re already on your way to a great photos. Obviously, late afternoon doesn’t always work as it’s prime toddler meltdown time so be realistic about what you can achieve.
- Don’t forget the details: the textures, the smells, the little things that your kids love. Get down to their level and see what they’re looking at and capture those things too, they are the things that will help to tell the whole story of your holiday.