Meet Carl Maynard, Julian Thomas, and Anna Meyer. These three photographers are the powerhouses behind the Washington D.C. based photo community and Instagram account Walk With Locals (WWL). We've had a close eye on WWL since its inception, as Carl has been a force in the Priime community as well. We've been watching their online and offline community grow by leaps and bounds through photography walks and community engagement through photography. Their numbers have been growing in community, hashtagged #walkwithlocals photos, and online following— and this is just the beginning. WWL is an incredible and inclusive community for photographers of any skill level to meet up, get to know one another, and share their love for photography.
Our Community Manager Adrienne Young sits down with Carl, Julian, and Anna to learn more about the ins and outs of building the Walk With Locals community.
Carl, tell us a bit about how Walk With Locals got started and where the idea came from. Where was your first walk and how did you feel after that?
Carl: I had been in the middle of a week-long account takeover for @withthelocals. The account is based in New York, and they get locals from different places to take over their account and post photos of their city throughout the week. At the time, I had been taking photos at sunrise on the weekends with friends and I told @withthelocals that I wanted to announce a photowalk on their account which they thought was a good idea. We announced on the @withthelocals account that we would be at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at sunrise and four new people showed up. Basically we were able to get a few people who weren’t even sure what to expect or who would be there to come out. During that walk, I asked them if they could tag their photos with #WalkWithLocals. It came to me out to nowhere and it was a play on the account that I took over, but I wanted to be able to see all the photos that were taken on that walk. The next day we had twelve photos posted to that tag.
I signed up for the @walkwithlocals account since it was available. I knew I wanted to host a walk again, so I started cold DMing people— Anna was one of them— asking them to join us for our next walk. I reached out to feature accounts in DC, online websites, people— not just in the sense of influencers but people I saw out in DC. We mocked up a flyer, had people post, tweet, and Instagram about it, and then we had the official first WWL walk. We had no idea how it would play out, but we got 50 people to show up. Afterwards, we got a coffee shop called Maketto to let us hang out at, and I just remember meeting all these people that went that first walk who still go to the WWL walks today.
How did you approach Julian and Anna about joining the WWL team?
Carl: I remember texting Julian if he could meet me for coffee. I was getting ready to leave the country for a year, and even though this was a month and a half before I was leaving, I wanted to make sure I had time to find the right people to pass on the role to. Julian had been going to the walks from the beginning, and he really knew the formula. We met at La Colombe and I asked him if he wanted to join so Julian turned out to be one of the first people I would tell that I would be leaving. He was totally in, and from there we started talking about who else should join, knowing exactly who we were going to approach. The next week we hosted a photowalk where Julian and I took Anna to the side and asked her if she wanted to join the WWL team as our third member. She started cracking up— but in like, a good way, the way Anna does— and she was in too.
Regardless of whether I was going to leave the country or not, I knew that I was going to need to bring people to the WWL team. WWL was getting to a point where I could only do so much on my own. Being the only person making decisions or having ideas doesn’t help because no one is there to tell you if it's a bad idea. I knew I needed a team to help bring new ideas.
Anna: Before I came on board with WWL, Carl was really good at connecting with people that were involved with WWL and getting feedback from us. He always wanted to know what people were thinking or how he could grow as a leader. The first time Carl and I hung out one on one —ironically at La Colombe too— he was asking me for feedback for WWL and I remember we talked about the verbiage of the WWL account. Even when it was just Carl running the account, the account always came from a “we” standpoint. I remember telling him that it should always come from a “we” standpoint and now it’s kind of funny that it actually is “we” as a team running it.
What are some of your favorite moments from the WWL photowalks?
Julian: For me, it was the Great Falls walk. I was on the team for around two or three months. I was walking with this girl named Kelly, and we were talking and going along with the general direction of the walk. She started telling me about her real passions and what she really cares about versus what she was actually doing— I think she was working in media— but she was talking about how she’s passionate about farming, having chickens in her yard, having eggs, and this whole lifestyle. Then she told me she lives in Winchester and that she loves this store called the Locke Store and I knew exactly what she was talking about because my girlfriend is friends with Max, the guy who had just bought Locke Store. Kelly went on to talk about how she loves the store because they support local farmers so I bookmarked this in the back of my mind. The next day, I ended up having dinner at Max’s house, and he was telling me about how he needed more associates and employees so I connected Kelly who reached out to Max and got the job.
It’s one of those things that I learned from Carl that if I can help, I will. Before that, I don’t really have memories of helping or changing someone’s life, but this common conversation from WWL ended up being a really good gig for her and now she's living it up out there and doing what she wants to do.
Carl: To add to that, we have some people who are connected through WWL together that have hired each other and now work together. You don’t realize that these things can mean that much to someone, and we never know what’s going to happen. When you’re introduced to someone, you never know if that person can help you or what role they’ll play in your life, but we have so many stories of how people have been connected through WWL.
My story of my favorite walk is this one where we did a coat drive. This was the first real chance where we could not just be a community but be a part of the community. This was the first big shot we had at making an impact. I remember we filled up three huge shipping boxes with coats, gloves, jackets, and hats that we brought it to the donation center. The lady at the donation center was telling us about how they had never received that many donations at once and was really grateful. I love that theme that WWL is not just a community, but we give back to the community as well. We use the city as our playground to explore and take photos so this was our way of giving back.
Anna: My favorite walk was when we went up to New York City and partnered with Moment Lenses. It was great because we came full circle because the girl who started the account @withthelocals came to join us. New York City is my home city too, so to see friends from DC meet friends in New York City was sweet. What stood out most to me about that walk was seeing the dedication that people have put to join this community wherever they are. There was this one girl in particular, Diana, who was really consistent at coming to all of our walks. She wouldn’t miss it for the world. She got on the bus that morning from DC to make it to the walk, and she maybe stayed for about 45 minutes before having to catch the bus back to get to DC. It was crazy to see that she took such an intense journey just so she could keep with the community that she loves so much. When I saw that, it changed WWL even more for me seeing that this community is making an impact in ways that we may not even be aware of.
How has bringing the DC photo community help shape your own photography work and creativity?
Carl: I got my first camera in December 2015, and WWL started the following March 2016. I barely had a camera for four months. When we had our first WWL walk, I think I took all my photos in JPEG format because I had no idea that my camera could shoot with RAW. It was so embarrassing, but for me getting a camera and getting into photography was about taking better pictures since I had always been into taking photos. I also in a weird way felt that every photographer that I knew would have a certain swagger or way about them. I always thought that they saw the world differently, and I thought that if I got a camera, maybe I’d see the world differently too. When I was younger I would bring disposable cameras everywhere as well and was obsessed with taking photos. It was just a natural progression to get a nicer camera, but I still didn’t know what I was doing.
WWL became my focus group for learning photography. I would meet amazing photographers on our walks and ask them about how they take photos and was very upfront about asking people for help. Everyone who comes to our walks is always open to sharing tips. We had a nighttime walk once where I barely took pictures. I spent most of the time picking the brain of everyone there on how to shoot night photography, and nobody was bothered by that. We were once taking photos at the arboretum trying to take a jumping photo of the group and everyone pitched in and provided input on how to take the best photo. I look back at those photos remembering how much we worked together and collaborated to make it happen. My photography really took off once I joined WWL.
Anna: I think it’s similar for me too. I’ve been doing photography for 5 years on the side for work. My dad was a photographer so it has always been an aspect of my life. I would always be the one with my digital point and shoot camera taking photos in high school. It’s always been the way I like to enjoy and experience things— by being able to capture and keep that moment.
Being a professional photographer and doing photography for work, I actually was getting burnt out a lot and didn’t feel like I had a creative outlet with photography anymore. Being a part of WWL has been the perfect balance between being a professional photographer and being able to still enjoy and not lose my passion for photography. It’s been sweet to see that I can look at things differently after going on a walk. We can all be shooting in the same setting, yet it’s amazing how we all look at the world so differently. I think that's what I get really excited about— we see things from different angles and perspectives and we can physically see what people come up with through the #walkwithlocals hashtags. WWL challenges me to look at things differently.
Julian: It’s been two years since I bought my first camera. Like a lot of other people, I wasn’t intentionally trying to be a professional photographer, but I had a friend who inspired me to shoot more so we started going to Instameets and finding the photography community. Now, I'm a professional photographer— it’s what I do for a living. Going to WWL walks is nice because there’s no pressure to create specific images. No one is going to get mad if I don’t get the perfect shot. As a result of that, I have some of my favorite pictures and best ideas have come out of WWL walks. I’m terribly worried about one day only shooting for money and never for myself because photography gives me so much joy and satisfaction. Every time I go on a walk, I can take photos if I want, or if I don’t want to I can just talk to our community.
Carl: Julian always comes back from walks so hyped.
Julian: Like when we did the cherry blossom walk, I remember waking up at 5 in the morning thinking, “What am I doing?”. Like, I usually don’t even set an alarm. I remember getting there at 6 AM and there were already about 15 people waiting, and I was immediately excited like, “It’s walk day. Let’s do this.”. I just got so excited.
Anna: It was cold and rainy that morning too!
Julian: It was cold and rainy but as soon as I saw everyone there, I was filled with joy. Instantaneously.
WWL is definitely a unique photowalk experience, and I remember feeling instantly excited when I went to a WWL walk. I’ve been to my fair share of other photowalks and can easily say that WWL is so much more inviting and exciting because it's not just about the photography— it’s about the people as well.
Carl: When we introduce ourselves at the beginning of the walk, we always introduce ourselves by our names rather than our social media handles, and we encourage people to do the same. We want people to get to know one another regardless of how many followers someone has. I remember the first Instameet I went to, someone came up to me, asked me for my Instagram handle, saw my follower count, said “Oh cool, 900 followers” and just locked his phone and walked away. I never forgot that, so when WWL took shape, I definitely didn’t want this to happen on our walk.
With WWL, we want people to meet each other. We break the groups up at the beginning and divide people up by who has been to a WWL walk before and who hasn’t. Once the groups are separated, we ask each person to go find a person in the opposite group to walk with and meet. That way, someone who has been to our walks before will meet someone new and vice versa.
Anna: This is so important to WWL. It’s definitely so hard for new people coming in and we’re able to automatically break the ice for them this way, so there’s not the same type of nerves coming in to our walks when we help introduce people and tell them what they can expect at our walks.
It definitely sounds like WWL is growing and you’re doing a great job of making the WWL community still feel as tight-knit as possible. As you’ve been growing, how have you managed to keep things as fun and as open and inclusive as possible?
Julian: Our community that has been walking with us for a long time are almost like our community leaders. It’s nice that we actually don’t have to remind them to walk with someone new and introduce themselves. They’ll go up to new people all the time and set the standard that new people coming to our walk understand that people actually do talk to each other and meet. New people can come to our walks knowing that a regular will talk to them and make things easier for them.
As far as the group growing logistically and finding big enough venues? Yeah, that’s been a big challenge for us, but it’s a good problem to have.
Anna: One challenge is that we get reached out to by venues that want to host us, but they have a limit as to how many people can come to the event. We were trying to figure out what we can do to still take advantage of these invitations and be grateful for them, but also not be exclusive by allowing everybody that wants to come to be there.
The best example of this is when we were invited to see the Infinity Mirror exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum. We decided that we were going to do a walk on a weekday morning and that we would tell people that we were doing a walk at a coffee shop over in Capitol Hill so we didn’t announce anything about the Hirshhorn. It started to sprinkle while we started our walk, and people noticed we were walking a little bit faster than usual. By the time we reached the Hirshhorn, it was full-on downpouring rain. I remember people were getting soaked, and I looked over at Julian like, “Hey let’s go into the Hirshhorn to dry off for a bit”, and people really thought we were just going in to dry off.
Julian: It’s hard to describe how perfect the timing was, like we were literally right outside the Hirshhorn as the rain really started to come down on us when we went in to "dry off". Even then, nobody had any idea what we were really doing.
Anna: We had people thinking that it was a weekday photowalk to a coffee shop so we had about 15 people show up even though the Hirshhorn allowed us to bring 50 guests. If we announced that we were doing a walk at this museum, we would've gone over that number easily. That’s the thing that we always wanted to do with WWL though is to keep people intrigued and surprised. Anything can happen.
Carl: It’s awesome because I’m sure for the 15 people there, they won’t forget that experience of being surprised with a cool museum exhibit especially because for some of them it was their first WWL experience. We usually try to be really transparent with our community, but not publicizing where we were going was a way for us to host the event on our terms where we wouldn’t have to tell people that they couldn’t come and we could stay as inclusive as possible. We also always try to have our walks on different days of the week, at different times to accommodate for different schedules and keep people on their toes.
You've worked together on quite a few events now. How would you describe dynamic with one another?
Anna: They’re my brothers.
Carl: I would describe our relationship as a group as a family? And not in the cliché sense that it’s all butterflies and rainbows.
Julian: Like we disagree and we butt heads sometimes.
Carl: We’re really like a family in a car and no one is allowed to ask “Are we there yet?” because we definitely have no idea where we’re going. We’re a family in the true sense of the word like we push buttons, we get on each others’ nerves, we disagree, but at the end of the day we end up at that dinner table breaking bread and love each other.
Anna: We’re also constantly trying to challenge one another, and we do it in a way where we truly and genuinely care for one another so we can be a stronger team. We’re really a family that goes through the nitty gritty stuff, and we’re really involved with each others’ lives apart with WWL. I talk to them all the time about anything.
Julian: Our group chat goes off all day long.
Carl: It's mostly me.
What do you see for the future for WWL? Any dream venues or photowalks?
Carl:The WWL web is definitely growing. For the future, we want it to keep growing, but we’ll have to think about ways to keep things interesting. With our latest series of Instagram takeovers, it’s starting to reach outside of DC so we’re hoping to grow the community to other cities. We’re also starting to get a lot of invites to events and festivals so we’re coming up with ways to give those opportunities back to our community.
Julian: I would love to see like a Greyhound or some sort of roadtrip? Or maybe even a flight. I would love to see a big walk happen far away that we can travel to together.
Anna: I think that’s my dream walk too.
Julian: And I don’t know when this is going to all happen or what the event is going to look like. But I’m excited about our future and where this is going. I’m really convinced that we’re one day going to do something so big, that people will be like, “All of this started as a photowalk?”.
We love Carl, Julian, and Anna and all that they do for Walk With Locals and Priime. Check out their Instagram over at @walkwithlocals for their latest events and news.