Those of you reading our latest #FashionIssue can’t have missed our 8-page Travel special on vibrant, chaotic Lagos. Who did we turn to for the stunning photography? None other than Lola Akinmade Åkerström, our latest photography heroine.
Stockholm-based Nigerian writer and photographer, Lola Akinmade Åkerström’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, Slate, Lonely Planet, several in-flight magazines, and many more.
No stranger to our nation, Lola was in South Africa on a photography assignment for National Geographic Channel which was featured in a vignette called Through The Lens that airs on Nat Geo channel across the globe. Her photography is represented by National Geographic Creative and she is the editor of Slow Travel Stockholm – a site dedicated to exploring her city deeper.
We caught up with Lola to find out more about her work…
How did you break into the photography business?
I actually started out as an oil painter and whenever I traveled, I took photos of scenes I wanted to paint once I got back. After awhile, I realized my photos could stand on their own and over time, they started evolving from just generic travel snapshots to photos that conveyed a sense of place; that visually told the stories of the people of that place.
Once I started freelancing as a travel writer, I was able to pitch my photography alongside my writing which was an advantage. Then I’d audaciously pitch stories and photo essays to large publications even when I was still starting out because what was the worst that could happen? A rejection or silence. That’s how I started breaking into the business: by being audacious and truly believing in my work and what I had to offer even when others didn’t think so.
What advice do you have for DECO creatives looking to do the same?
Being a generalist isn’t going to get you far these days because everyone with a phone is technically a photographer so you need to start carving out your own niche based on what you are truly passionate about. Don’t care about what you think others want you to be photographing. Create what makes you feel alive and invigorated. That’s how your niche begins to materialize. And that’s also what keeps you resilient – that passion – during the tough times. And they will come.
How has the ubiquity of camera phones and photo apps affected photographers like yourself?
I think they’re pushing photographers of all skill levels to keep challenging themselves in terms of creativity and composing good images. That is always a good thing because it also pushes the old pros to keep on their toes and not rest on their laurels from decades past.
Personally, I’ve been using my Instagram feed for a creative project I call picture puzzles… For me, it’s a visual metaphor that says the everyday photos we create in life tell only a fraction of the full story. It also forces me to think about each part of the image and if they can stand independently on their own as well as together as a puzzle.
What are your favourite things to shoot and why?
I truly love being around people who are passionate about what they’re doing or are doing work that is important to them. So in addition to general travel lifestyle and food shots, I do a lot of environmental travel portraits and spend a lot of time in markets. I try to make my subjects tell their own stories the way they want it to be told to the world, through my photos. Not how I want to personally show them to the world.
For me, it’s about listening, empowerment, integrity, and dignity. People want to be acknowledged and respected and want the power to tell their own stories. It’s very easy for a photographer to come back with a “single story” of a person and place. With my portraits, I always want the viewer to see it in the eyes of my subjects. That there is a real connection and permission there as well as mutual respect.
What is your go-to lens and must-have piece of kit for travel photography?
For travel photography, I usually travel with only two lenses most of the time. Maybe more if I’m on a specific type of assignment. They are my Nikon Nikkor 24-70mm which is a solid everyday street photography lens and my fixed 50mm lens which is great for portraits, low light, and everyday food shots. For my photography style, it’s all about getting as close to my subject as possible.
What would your dream commission be?
Oh, I have so many dream assignments – from island hopping around the South Pacific islands and spending time getting beneath its cultures through photography to traveling across Africa spending time in markets and with fishermen. But one of my dream assignments right now is inspired by the book An African in Greenland and I would love to retrace some of Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s steps in modern day Greenland… Do I have to stop listing out dreams? I have plenty.
How do you take cues from your closet when it comes to home decor?
Since moving to Sweden five years ago, its Nordic minimalist style and IKEA mix-and-match mentality has grown on me. So my closet is filled with base monotone colors which I can mix, match, and build upon – like I was assembling a 50-part IKEA cabinet. This same style flows through my home decor. Simple and basic.
What fashion era best describes your personality?
I swear I still rock 1970s bell bottoms every day. The prints, the afros, the flowers, and bo-ho chic style of the ’70s are my own fashion style to the core. A style that says I’m an idealist and an optimist and I truly believe world peace will be achieved tomorrow morning.
Who are you following on Twitter or Instagram?
Since I work primarily within travel, I follow a lot of travel brands and destinations on Twitter. On Instagram, one of my favourites I recently discovered is @SymmetryBreakfast. As someone who loves strong shapes and patterns, I am in love with this feed.
If your decor dream came true, what would your home consist of?
Ceiling-to-floor windows, light colours, large open-plan studio space for my photography and so I can start painting. A place full of light and love.
FOR MORE LOLA INSPIRATION:
Visit Lola Akinmade Åkerström at akinmade.com and lolaakinmade.com
Represented by National Geographic Creative
Editor-in-chief, Slow Travel Stockholm | slowtravelstockholm.com
@SlowStockholm | @GeotravelMedia
The Fashion Issue edition of ELLE Decoration South Africa is on the shelf of your nearest magazine retailer now. Packed with fashion-forward interiors trends, it’s full of all your favourite features, decor tips and the stylish spaces of Jessica Alba, Malcolm Kluk and Stella Jean. Pick up your copy today – across South Africa wherever magazines are sold – and tell us what you think on Twitter @ELLE_Deco, sharing your #FashionIssue #DECOselfie.