A closeness of observation
Nigerian-born Lola Akinmade Åkerström is no stranger to immersing herself in the deep end, learning how to adapt through resilience and excelling while she does it.
Formerly a Geographic Information Systems architect, in 2009 she embarked on a freelance travel writing and photography career. Today her work appears in National Geographic Traveler, The Guardian, Slate and CNN, among others.
Add speaker, blogger, traveller, consultant at Geotraveler Media and mother of a toddler and six month old baby to her list of demanding roles and you start to understand the capacity for hard work that has taken her to the top of her game.
In 1994 at the age of 15, Lola left Lagos (“that will always be true home to me,” she says) to study in the US. She stayed there for 16 years, completing a Masters degree in Information Systems, before relocating to Sweden.
“I still have family in Nigeria and try to go home as often as I can, at least once a year,” Lola says. But she has also embraced her husband’s birth country, Sweden, and is the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm a website that shows visitors a more considerate way to experience this capital city.
“Wherever my nuclear family resides is my home, and right now that’s Stockholm,” she says. “This means it is my personal duty to learn as much as I can about it and thrive as best as I can within it.”
In her work, Lola brings a fresh perspective to the world of travel photography, traditionally a white male dominated field.
“I remember attending a Nat Geo photo seminar where Bangladeshi photographer Sarker Protick presented an ethereal set of images from his country, presenting a beautifully quiet yet powerful side. Similar images I’d seen by western photographers always showed the gritty, rough side. There is a clear difference when people tell their own stories,” she says.
In response to this challenge, Lola features the Snapshots series on her blog howcasing various outstanding black travel and lifestyle photographers.
Lola also runs the Intimacy Project in which she captures portraits of people, shooting at eye-level or below. Subconsciously, this places her subjects in “an elevated position of power”, and allows viewers to connect with them directly.
“It’s a warmer, more inviting look that communicates acknowledgement and attention. I realised that it’s always in the eyes. Or rather, how I position eyes in a photograph.”
Lola’s personal definition of intimacy means giving a subject her full and undivided attention. Consequently, she spends a great deal of time interacting with the people she photographs before pulling out her camera.
“People want to be acknowledged for who they are as people and not by their surroundings or what others expect them to be. I try to communicate this through my images. I want to listen to what my subjects want to tell me visually through the photos”.
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Words by Ishay Govender-Ypma
Images – Lola Akinmade