Getting Personal: Karyl Wackerlin

Getting Personal: Karyl Wackerlin

Getting Personal is a Q&A with a local personality. Here, 63-year-old Champaign resident Karyl Wackerlin chats with The News-Gazette’s Melissa Merli. Wackerlin is a professional photographer who photographs family gatherings, weddings, landscapes, nature and people in third-world countries that she visits on humanitarian trips. She’s been a photographer for more than 30 years.

So ... what's new with you?

Last fall, I started a project called Soul Journey: Haiti as part of the "That's What She Said" event at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. I challenged women to get out of their comfort zones and say yes to a women-only mission trip to one of the world's poorest countries. The purpose of the trip? To empower and encourage each other and those we met in Haiti and to exchange stories of strength and hope. Twelve women traveled to Haiti last May to work in an orphanage and encourage the Haitian women who work there full time. A team of 10 will leave Jan. 12, 2015, on the second Soul Journey: Haiti. We also hope to have enough to fill a trip in June 2015.

Are you a twin? What does your twin do for a living?

My twin sister, Kristi, is a family therapist in the Atlanta area.

How long have you been a professional photographer? What kind of photographs do you take?

I started my own photography business almost 35 years ago. For many of those years, I specialized in environmental (outdoor) people photography because it allowed me to combine my passion for people with my love of the beauty in nature. I have photographed weddings throughout the country and even shot one at a shelter in Louisiana while serving with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. I also have an extensive collection of photographic art for home and office and was commissioned by the new Carle Heart Institute to do two large photomontages for the lobby of their new building.

Was the C-U Symphony Pictures at an Exhibition project your biggest? How did you think it went over?

Maybe not my biggest but certainly one of the most challenging. Larry Kanfer and I collaborated for almost a year on the project and photo-choreographed more than 1,000 of our images to the music of the Mussorgsky piece. The production received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd. So yes, I'd say it was a success.

What kind of camera and other equipment do you use?

I used Hasselblads for many years and reluctantly switched to Nikons with the onset of the digital age. I still have my original camera and keep threatening to go back to film someday.

Where can people see your photographs, other than your website?

I currently have photographic art hanging at the Carle Heart Institute lobby, the President's House at the University of Illinois and the Champaign Country Club, as well as many homes and businesses throughout central Illinois. A photomontage of my images also hangs in a church in Lisanjala, Malawi. Self-marketing isn't one of my strong suits, so many of my images are trapped in my computer, screaming for a wall to hang on.

Tell us about your humanitarian trips to Malawi, Haiti, Peru and other places. What do you do on those trips and who funds them?

Every trip is unique. The most common denominators are my camera and my desire to use the gifts God has given me. What do I do on those trips? Let me answer that by telling you about what might be my favorite trip, to a tiny village in Africa. I took digital cameras from home and, after teaching a handful of villagers a few camera basics, I let them take pictures of what brings them joy — their families, their homes and even their water pumps. We laughed together as they shared their images. I danced with the women of the village every day, tried to learn to carry water on my head and spent the night in a three-room house with dirt floors and no running water, doing Bible study by candlelight. I told my host that I was humbled by her hospitality, and she responded, "No, I am the one who is humbled. In my 50 years, I have never had a white person agree to stay in my home and share a meal." What did I do on that trip? I let myself be used by God in any way he needed to use me ... even if it meant sharing laughter with a group of colorfully dressed Malawian women after the bucketful of water on my head came tumbling down all over me. I use the images from each trip to share stories with anyone who will listen — the stories of the strength and beauty of the places I've been, but, mostly, the people I've met. Many of my images have been used by non-profit groups for websites and fundraising purposes.

Do you have another job besides photography?

I started my career as a writer/editor, so I periodically take writing assignments.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

That's easy — being married to the same person for 43 years and raising two children who are amazing parents and responsible, caring adults.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

I'm not really into "stuff," but if my house were burning down, I'd grab my Christmas ornament collection because it's like a diary of the best memories of my life.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?


What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I'm currently reading "Soul Keeping" by John Ortberg and rereading "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown. My favorite book ever: "The Little Engine that Could." I read it to my kids, and now, to my grandkids.

Where on earth are you dying to go? Why?

I'm addicted to color. I'd love to travel to anywhere that has insane amounts of beautiful color — Maine to see the fall color, Tuscany to see the sunflowers in bloom, Texas to photograph the bluebonnets and New Zealand. And I'd love to return to Malawi, too, to dance with the women of Lisanjala again.

What's your favorite sports competition?

The Masters and the Ryder Cup.

What would you order for your last meal?

Since I wouldn't have to worry about the scale, I'd order a smorgasbord of junk food including Garrett's Chicago Mix, malted milk balls from the General Store in Hilton Head, turtles, my daughter's chocolate chip cookies, Mackinac Island pecan fudge ... and Diet Coke, of course.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Our six grandchildren (ages 1-7), who put on concerts for us every time we're all together.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

That's like asking which kid/grandkid I like best ... I can't choose just one. But it would have to be something family-related — births, marriages, family get-togethers.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

The term "dinner party" scares me. I'm out of practice and would be afraid they'd end up with a junk-food buffet.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Nelson Mandela, who showed the world how to forgive.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I don't hate any personality trait — I just see it as pain and baggage coming through in ugly ways. Most dislike about myself? Codependency and envy.

What's your best piece of advice?

Discover what brings you joy and use it to make the world a better place.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My sister and I ran a summer camp in our neighborhood when we were 10 and charged 50 cents an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I was on a path to becoming a journalist but discovered that photography gave me an opportunity to get in touch with my soul — to express deep emotions that I couldn't express any other way. The fact that I could get paid well for it was a bonus.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

No regrets — just a lot of lessons learned.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I pray, phone a friend and reach for chocolate ... not necessarily in that order.

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