jane of all trades

lola akinmade akerstrom

stockholm based, nigerian born, lola akinmade akerstrom, has been travelling the globe photographing and writing about her experiences. her work has appeared in national geographic, cnn and bbc. she speaks with i.t.a. about her time with the sámi people, photoblogging in sweden and her new editorial site.

with her inspirational work and wandering ways we welcome travel writer and photographer lola akinmade akerstrom to powder… and let me tell you lola it is such a delight to be able to speak with you.

Thanks so much. Honored to be interviewed.

you’ve spent the last two years photoblogging on sweden’s official site. why did you choose sweden to settle during this time and how has your experience of sweden been?

For many years, Sweden wasn't really on my radar. It wasn't until I met and fell in love with my now husband that we mutually decided I relocate from the US to Sweden. At first, I struggled with the move because I had to give up a lot of my cushy past life but looking back on it now, it's been one of the best decisions (and blessings) in my life both personally and professionally. My experience so far in Sweden has been mostly positive. One of the advantages of being married to a Swede is that you gain quicker access into the culture because it is such a "reserved" and "closed" culture and making true friends can take a few years for a foreigner. Sweden still has a lot of work to do when it comes to integration.

you seem to have been taken by the sámi people of northern sweden. you’ve spent time amongst them and they’ve been a favourite subject matter of yours. can you fill our readers in a bit about who the sámi people are and how your time was spent amongst them?

I would love to spend a lot more time with the Sámi people; to get beneath their complex culture. The little glimpses of their culture I've experienced keeps me intrigued. My first direct contact with a bit of Sámi culture was at the 400+ year old Jokkmokk Sámi Market -the largest Sámi festival in the world, drawing over 30,000 visitors and indigenous Sámi people from the Sápmi regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. I got to meet, chat with, interview, and photograph a few indigenous Sámi - from reindeer herders and traders to activists and culinary ambassadors like Greta Huuva as well as the Swedish Crown princess Victoria.

I recently got back again from Swedish Lapland where I was photographing Northern Lights and learning a lot more about Sámi reindeer herding and sledding.

in two thousand and twelve you won the international food wine and travel writers association’s professional journalism award for your story, slow food from sapmi. how did you feel winning the award? what was the inspiration for the story and how was that reindeer soup?

It was definitely an honor especially because of the subject matter. I was in Jokkmokk on assignment for Sweden's official website to write two pieces - one about the complex relationship between Swedes and indigenous Sámi - and the second was an interview about their slow food culture. The reindeer soup was fantastic.

travel writing and photography have taken you all over the globe. what would you say are your favourite places that you’ve visited?

I love places where tradition and culture are richly interwoven with modern living and are celebrated every day. So I’m drawn to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East more so than European destinations. In terms of a favorite travel destination, Nigeria will always remain my favorite no matter how far and wide I travel.

are there any key things that you have learnt via travel?

Two things I've learned over the years while traveling is (1) flexibility - everything is pretty much out of your hands, and (2) traveling with an open mind and giving everyone I meet the benefit of doubt. I've had my share of experiences from adoration to downright prejudice and racism directed towards me, and I've learned to always isolate events, and don't let them be my defining image of an entire country.

was it your love of travel that led you down the road to becoming a writer and photographer? how did it all begin for you?

I come from a family of travelers and it truly runs in our blood. But my first foray into travel writing came when I was chosen to be one of 100 volunteers working with the Eco-Challenge Expedition Race in Fiji. I worked as a field journalist where we were to trail the teams all over the islands and dispatch daily via the website. Our team of four was writing up daily press releases, doing competitor interviews, filing travel narratives, and so much more. Working behind the scenes of a production of that calibre (created and produced by Mark Burnett of "Survivor") taught me so much in just three weeks.

In terms of photography, I started out taking pictures just so I could paint from them (I'm an oil painter), but after awhile, I realized my photos could stand on their own and so I made the gradual shift towards travel photography.

who are your influences both photographers and writers?

Too many to list. Seriously. I love traditional photojournalism. While I appreciate hard-hitting war documentary photography, I’m drawn more to daily slice-of-life photojournalism that showcases life‘s balance.

I really like Ed Kashi’s work from the oil-rich, conflict-prone Delta region of my home country, Nigeria. I also admire Glenna Gordon, Alison Wright, and Mitchell Kanashkevich.

In terms of writers, again, too many to list. I love DH Lawrence's dramatic way with words and short sentences. Though I admire and respect dozens of writers, I draw a lot of inspiration from simple quotes and music lyrics.

you’re nigerian born; what was life like growing up in nigeria? how do you think this has influenced your work compared to others travel writers in the west?

I think being born in Nigeria has made me a bit uncomfortable around opulence and unnecessary luxury. As a travel writer, I often get invited on press trips that are five-star experiences all the way and I don't think I'll ever be 100% comfortable going on a trip to say India where we're staying in the most expensive property right next to a slum of human struggle. Growing up in Nigeria gives me an intrinsic balanced view of what is necessary and what truly isn't.

For a glimpse into my life growing up in Lagos, check out this piece - My hometown in 500 words: Lagos, Nigeria

along the way you’ve worked for some non-government organisations. which ones did you work for? what did the work entail and how were your experiences?

I've volunteered with a few NGOs here and there. I volunteer as a photojournalist with the Swedish Red Cross in Stockholm. I also volunteered with World Hope International, documenting their projects in countries such as teacher training in Nicaragua and anti-sex trafficking efforts in Cambodia. I also volunteer with C.H.I.E.F (Community Health Information Education Forum) – an NGO based in Nigeria that promotes grassroots health development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and the empowerment of women.

you also run a travel consulting and multi-media company, geotraveler media; can you tell us a little about what your company does?

I consider myself a Jane of many trades – writing, photography, social media consulting, art, web design, travel consulting – and I needed an umbrella company to handle all aspects of my business activities, so when I moved to Sweden, I moved my company which used to be called Lemurworks, and rebranded it as Geotraveler Media.

and what projects do you have cooking in the coming months lola?

I recently launched an editorial site about slow travel in Stockholm - Slow Travel Stockholm - and our sister site, Slow Travel Berlin, has been around for a few years. In a nutshell, it's really not a "Top 10 places" or expat-focused site, but it encourages travelers to stay longer and explore deeper.

We're also looking for guest contributors who would like to contribute an article or photo essay once in awhile. Slow Travel Berlin is currently run by guest contributors who voluntarily contribute anywhere from once a month to once every three months.

So if you know any other Stockholm-based creatives, please forward them my email at lola@slowtravelstockholm.com.

i’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with us here at powder lola. see you on the road…


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