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Photographer Christy Hunter has come a long way from taking pictures with her first digital single-lens reflex camera in 2011.
The Photowalk Nashville founder has launched a business partnership with Gina Palmeri, of the bachelorette-party-focused company Nashbash Experiences, to launch an extension of her brand called Photowalk Scottsdale, which focuses on walking tours for photographers in Scottsdale, Arizona.
She also recently appeared in the comedic short film “Nashville Bachelorettes: A Ben Oddo Investigation.”The Tennessean recently sat down with Hunter to talk about her career and what’s next.Can you describe your journey to becoming a photographer?Before the internet was available, I’d go to bookstores when I was a kid and a teenager, and I would look at books. I loved old movies, too, from the classic age of Hollywood, so I was pretty obsessed with the old Hollywood glamor. I would just look at these pictures, and if I could find one of the Hollywood starlets from the ’40s, I would just adore the photos and the way that they were styled — from the makeup to the hair. I always had a fascination with iconic photos.
Then, I became a mother and had four children. Still up to that point, I was always taking photos with a regular camera and getting them printed. But one day, it just kind of hit me that I could buy a good camera and learn to take good quality photos. So I bought my first DSLR with the intention of being able to try a new hobby and a new creative outlet.
Then, one night in 2018, I just happened to be online and was dreaming of a trip to Europe, looking at places on Airbnb to stay. While in that search, I saw there was a whole different product from Airbnb called ‘experiences.’ In that search, I saw that you can do a photoshoot in Paris with a Parisian photographer who was tasked with styling you, posing you and then also showing you the sights and telling you where to eat, where to shop — all the insider info that photographers know because we know our cities, right? I was like, ‘That’s it. That is what I’m supposed to be doing in Nashville. That is the outlet. That’s the way I need to go about it.’ So I reached out to Airbnb through the email at the bottom of the page. I didn’t know a soul there yet. I said, ‘How do I do this thing in Nashville? I want to do a photo shoot experience.’ I got a real response from someone, and they said, ‘Actually, we’re launching experiences in Nashville in two weeks. Do you want to be a part of it?’ I said, ‘Sure, Sign me up.’
It became this whole complete experience, and then it rose to No. 1 on Airbnb experiences. And it still is the No. 1 rated experience on that platform.
Did you expect Photowalk Nashville to become the top experience on Airbnb?It really did happen very organically … So within the first six months of doing this through Airbnb, they reached out to me and said, ‘We see your leadership potential. We really like what you’re doing in Nashville. We want you to be the experience host community leader.’
And I said, ‘Sure, let’s do that,’ and so it became my job — which I still have continued to do five years later. I work directly now with Airbnb. It’s kind of like representing the experience host community, and even when I’m on a call with the product team from headquarters, they’re asking me what I know of the app and the website, and I’m getting to really do consulting for them.
That’s been such a cool opportunity, and it’s connected me to experience hosts from around the world. It’s an outlet and a way to show them Nashville and to be able to connect people to Nashville internationally.
What is your favorite part about operating Photowalk Nashville?
One of the cool things about this experience is that it comes at a time for people where either they’re celebrating, or they’re on vacation or maybe they’re just a solo traveler trying to find themselves. For me, it’s always been something deeper than just taking photos. A photoshoot is somewhat of a self-care experience. It’s something that you’re doing for yourself and an opportunity for you to learn something about yourself. I see it as a way, on my end as the host and photographer, to have the opportunity to encourage someone and to give them confidence or to give them a sense of security, but mostly to just believe in themselves.
The best reviews for me are the ones where somebody says, ‘I never thought I was good in front of the camera, but after this, Christy made me feel confident or made me feel like I am beautiful. I do take a good picture.’ I want people to stop believing that lie that they’re awkward, that they’re not good at taking photos, that they’re just not photogenic. I think those are lies that we tell ourselves in our heads.
You never know if that could be the last photoshoot you have with somebody. I had a set of friends that came last summer. They were best friends who came from I think somewhere in the Midwest. They did a fun photo shoot. We just had a good time. And then on Christmas Day, this last Christmas, one of the girls said to me, ‘Christy, I lost the pictures. Is there any way you still have those pictures? Because my best friend passed away, and those are the last photos we have together.’ She offered to pay me, but I said, ‘You don’t have to pay me a thing. Yes, I’ve still got them.’ And I sent them to her.
We have had people celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries. We’ve had proposals where I got to see somebody ask another person to spend the rest of their lives together, and I’m the only one there with them. You know, it’s so special.
Do you have locals participating in the photowalk experience as well?
Yes, lots of locals. I had a sweet lady celebrating her 47th birthday from Murfreesboro. The husband had the whole day in Nashville planned out for her, and every step of it was a surprise, so she didn’t even know she was getting this photoshoot. He just told her to dress up and have fun.
How has your business grown since you first started?
Well, Airbnb experiences has connected me to a lot of great people, including my business partner Gina Palmeri. She and I were both photographer experience hosts, and we met through our community and our business partners. That’s been an amazing connection, and now we’ve been able to join forces and create a women-owned business that we have named Photowalk Your Travel. So we have Photowalk Your Travel with the subdomain PhotowalkNashville.com. Then, we’re also launching in other cities, and we have just opened up Photowalk Scottsdale, Arizona, so that has its own domain to PhotowalkScottsdale.com.
Also, I began bringing my daughters along with me to photo and video gigs as soon as they were ready. So at the ages of 12, 13, they started coming with me, and that led to my oldest daughter learning videography. She became a professional videographer at 19 … I just started bringing them along and wanting them to meet the people that I’m meeting and just have them in that world. Homeschooling really gave way for the freedom to do that. My younger daughter is our editor.
Now, I’ve got a team of five people here in Nashville and three in Scottsdale, so it’s not just me out there taking pictures anymore. We’ve expanded, and we actually have eight different experiences as well.
There’s no limit. This is something that is so wide open to every demographic, and it’s just easy and fun. Show up in what you’re wearing, and you don’t have to think through any of it. I think that it will, from what we’ve seen, over exceed people’s expectations. What they get is more than a photoshoot. It’s a complete experience.