How This Photographer Learned to Bet on Herself
How L. Renee Blount, a.k.a. Instagram's @urbanclimbr, blended her passions for climbing, travel, and design into a budding photography career
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Road tripping has become an essential part of Lanisha “L.” Renee Blount’s path to success. The Bay Area–based innovation strategy consultant began her photography career as a side hustle. After pursuing master’s degrees in both design and urban planning—“living under a rock for five years,” as she puts it—she wanted to combine her dual passions of visual storytelling and climbing. In 2018, after she began a consulting job in Manhattan, she started taking on photo assignments for outdoor brands, using weekends and vacation time to travel from Brooklyn to California, where she shot fellow climbers in places like Joshua Tree and the Eastern Sierra. Here, Blount talks with Christopher Keyes about what she’s learned along the way—from her desire to illuminate Black joy to the key ingredients for a fun road trip.
On Pursuing a Career in Photography
“At one of the firms I worked at after grad school at Harvard, I was getting raised eyebrows, like, You’re taking all your vacation to fly out and do this photography work? And then my boss said, ‘You know, I bet you could make that work full time if you wanted to.’ So I just decided to take a bet on myself.”
“I take my brother on adventures every year, and really wanted to capture that. I recognized that the life I live is really different from some of the people I went to high school with and some of my family, and I wanted to illuminate that.”
“My smile is very integral to who I am, and I want to share the things that make me smile in that way. There is so much negative imagery of people who look like me, and it can get really tiring and overwhelming to see our bodies portrayed that way. People need to see Black people being joyous. More importantly, we need to see ourselves being happy and joyfully reclaiming spaces.”
On Representation in Outdoor Media
“There are very few professional Black climbers, but there are tons of Black climbers who climb so well, who should be seen.”
“In the outdoors and outdoor media, there’s so much of a culture of suffering, of summit culture. Selling suffering to other people of color is not going to get them outside.”
On Road Trip Essentials
“Recently I’ve been exploring California’s Eastern Sierra. You can do a lot there. If Bishop is too hot, you can go up to Tuolumne Meadows or Mammoth Lakes or Owens River Gorge. There’s just so much, and that makes it really nice for road tripping.”
“What do I always pack? Dried mango, plantain chips, and blueberries. Maybe a little charcuterie. I like to bring in a little bit of bouge.”
“A good climbing or road trip is about the people I go with. I do consider myself an athlete. I train for climbing. When I’ve gone out with people who don’t allow themselves to have a drink if they, say, didn’t climb their project, it’s not as fun. It’s fun to try hard, but I feel like I’m winning just being able to be in some of these places.”