Campus & Community

An artistic journey comes full circle

Fly With Me photo of white birds
3 min read

Yun Thwaits credits Harvard Ed Portal with kick-starting her photography career. Now she’s back to exhibit her work.

It was 2017, and Yun Thwaits was on an extended medical leave from her nearly 30-year career with Bank of America. “I really needed to find something to do. I couldn’t just sit in the house,” she says.

Thwaits began researching local community organizations and heard about the Harvard Ed Portal from a librarian at the Honan Allston branch of the Boston Public Library. After trying her hand at a few Ed Portal programs, she settled on the yoga classes, bringing neighbors and friends with her and arriving early to set up. She also volunteered for the Ed Portal’s music program, performing with the Chinese lute (the pipa).

Yun Thwaits with her photographs at the Ed Portal’s Crossings Gallery.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“I was really looking for ways to be helpful to my community,” she said. “Often, I would just go to the Ed Portal to chat with people — especially on Friday nights during community activities, or on Mondays during career-building programs. I would help translate for visitors from China or Taiwan.”

Even with these activities, she still found herself with a lot of extra time. A friend suggested photography. She started going for walks, taking pictures on her cellphone, and when one of her photos was selected to be featured on a social media site that curated a daily “best photo,” she was encouraged to continue her fledgling hobby. The Ed Portal once again played a key role in her new venture by providing her with a HarvardX scholarship to enroll in a photography class at the Harvard Extension School.

“I was still using my cellphone when I started the class, and after three classes the instructor told me that I needed to get a real camera if I wanted to continue,” said Thwaits.

With her brand-new DSLR, Thwaits started to learn the technical aspects of photography. “They taught me about shutter speed, aperture, all those basics.” After formally retiring from her finance career and completing the photography class in spring 2018, Thwaits traveled to Kenya with her husband and put her newfound skills to work, photographing animals and landscapes. A second Ed Portal scholarship funded an advanced photography class in 2019 that further honed her skills.

Thwaits has continued to pursue photography ever since, entering and winning international photo competitions along the way.

“Harvard Montage” was photographed in February 2021.
“I like to follow the light and look for reflections that show light and color,” said Thwaits. “Harvard Montage” was photographed in February 2021.

“The Ed Portal really did change my life,” Thwaits says. And she’s showing the results of that change with “A Journey in Images,” an exhibit of some of her artwork on display at the Ed Portal’s Crossings Gallery through Jan. 18.

Her photographs capture the landscapes and wildlife she’s seen in her global travels, as well as the more local sights of Boston and Cambridge. “I try to use my camera to tell stories,” she says of her process.

Thwaits says she will wander in a location, looking and waiting for something to catch her eye. “I like to follow the light and look for reflections that show light and color. I look for anything that attaches to my heart, and I hope my pictures will attach to other people’s hearts too. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world right now, but I want to pursue the beautiful things and I hope other people will see the beauty as well.”