• Tracy

Sit Down with Leslie Kehmeier: Photojournalist and Aspiring Filmmaker

Updated: Jun 30

Things happen in the order they are meant to happen and the time they are supposed to take...I wake up every day really excited to do the work that I do.

-Leslie Kehmeier


Leslie Kehmeier, Photojournalist on a bikepacking trip.

You can easily take our conversation with Leslie anywhere with you, as it can be heard on Anchor or Spotify.


The format for this article and podcast is a bit different than the VWC's typical. They are different because we experienced many interruptions during our time together. The interruptions were so frequent that our recording became a comedy of errors. The recording and this article, therefore, had to have a bit more context in order to share completely.


To start, the original plan was to meet Leslie Kehmeier for a mountain bike ride and then conduct our podcast interview in the Urban Wilderness on a balmy day in Knoxville, Tennessee. Donned in my unable-to-remove-the-funny-stench mountain bike shirt, properly helmeted, and hydrated, I opened the garage door. As I stepped confidently outside with my bike, the skies darkened, thunder clapped, and giant pellets of rain began to fall on my face.


This is a typical summertime occurrence, and so I laughed to the heavens, called Leslie and we agreed to meet on my back porch. I assured her with all my confidence that my porch was ‘a great place to record a podcast.’ What ensued was a course in being adaptable and much laughter. My normally quiet, somewhat chill previous podcast recording experience was interrupted by a plumber visiting to fix our stopped-up kitchen sink (who parked his work truck in a manner as to take up the majority of our narrow driveway), our Great Dane puppy breaking through the gate and deciding her barking needed to occur on the recording (which lead to one major edit and redo of the recording), a helicopter roaring hysterically close overhead (a second edit), the air conditioning unit cutting on, loudly, as Leslie embarked into a great story (third edition) and lastly and most problematic is that the software I have used to previously edit podcasts seamlessly decided I was not going to be able to access the last portion of the podcast (the last two minutes are unedited laughter and conversation between two friends).


At one point due to the interruptions, we decided to blame the New Moon in Gemini and Mercury Retrograde and then decided that we should probably start an Astrology Club in Knoxville. We will need the assistance of others, as we are just novices in this area. Anyone looking to assist us with this, please let us know.

Regardless of the recording mishaps, I kind of like the recording the way it ended up, as this entire experience tells a story itself and should perhaps be renamed:

The Grand Sit Down with Photojournalist and Aspiring Filmmaker, Leslie Kehmeier

It also taught me that podcasts should most likely be recorded inside. I had done this previously and will do it again. Although, the background of the birds chirping is a most definite added bonus.


I have tried to edit the interview as best as possible but reader and listener please note: this was a recording escapade. And as the thunder still rolls on in East Tennessee, I write these words, excited to share Leslie Kehmeier's story, regardless of the interruptions and hilarious chaos.


Now, to Leslie's story:


Leslie started out her journey with a career in Geographic Information Systems. She was content working there for many years but knew there was more she had to do. After creating a bridge between an office job with good money and the uncertainty of working full-time in photojournalism, she took the leap. Our podcast includes elaboration on her processes for doing this, for all the aspiring freelance photojournalists listening and reading.


Today, the list of clients Leslie works for includes a few notable cycling favorites such as Patagonia, Liv Cycling, and Shimano, and some of her top adventures include biking the Annapurna Circuit and traveling to all seven continents in one year.


With stories and clients such as this, Leslie humbly refers to herself as a 'good photographer and competent writer' who likes to sprinkle punctuation about. However, her work speaks volumes and fortunately, she recognizes that in that comment, she had understated her work.


Leslie believes that people can do anything given a certain amount of time. She believes an individual can competently craft a dream career. She notes that freelance work is very uncertain, as sometimes you hear nothing from the places where you have pitched work and have to continue to beat the drum until work arrives. Her hard work (drum beating) and dedication to her craft have clearly paid off and you can hear the theme of persistence and opportunistic optimism throughout our conversation in the podcast.


Worth mentioning is the Roam Fest, which was recently set up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Leslie mentioned she was the photographer hired by Kona bicycles for Saturday's activities. Roam Fest as described by their website is the "fun-first mountain bike festival that creates space for women, marginalized riders, & genderqueer femme folks to build community while riding in world-class bike destinations." Leslie and I were both attendees, and it was one of the most inspiring events I have attended as an outdoor enthusiast. Their mission was brought to life in our town, as previously marginalized riders were given opportunities to get outside and ride bikes. Roam Fest also had a silent disco, mountain bike workshops, and women-first vendors.


Other projects Leslie fully supports are Full Circle, the first all-black team to summit Mt. Everest on May 12, 2022, and GHT on Wheels, a challenge to be the first solo mountain biking expedition on the upper route of the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT), a network of roughly 1700 km of trails that covers the entire Nepali Himalayas: the majestic Kanchenjunga region in the East, popular trekking areas of Everest and Annapurna, and awe-inspiring and yet relatively untouched trails of Humla and Darchula in the West.

Leslie is an inspiration and friend. As a fellow mountain biker, her work has inspired me for some time now. Albeit, a little bit starstruck when I met Leslie, I began to do winter polar plunges with Leslie and some other mountain biker women this winter. At first, I could barely talk with her more than a few words - which I always felt were silly - Leslie does not make anyone feel silly and I am honored to share her story with you.


I highly recommend visiting Leslie's website and Instagram to view her portfolio. Keep an eye out in the documentary world for what lies ahead for this aspiring filmmaker and adventure photojournalist of wild, outdoor spaces.