I had the pleasure of interviewing Lola Akinmade Åkerström, an award-winning writer, photographer, and blogger based in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s very likely that you’ve seen her beautiful work at some point. Her photography has appeared in major publications around the world including National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet, BBC, CNN, Travel + Leisure, and many others.
Lola has been kind enough to share her story on how she got started in the biz, shares her advice for aspiring photographers, and reveals the most important thing to take with you on your travels in this edition of Black Women in the Global Village.
You wear many hats, yes?
Writer, photographer, consultant
How did you go from a Master’s degree in Information Systems (University of Maryland) to travel photography?
My background is very technical. I worked as a programmer/developer for close to 14 years, but I’ve always had a creative side. Writing and painting have always been a part of my life since youth, but it wasn’t until 2002 when I spent 3 weeks in Fiji working with an expedition race did I unearth my passion for travel writing and photography. While working 9-5, I started exploring writing and photography on the side and by 2009 when I resigned from my job as a System Architect, I plunged into it full-time.
Was your family supportive of your career change?
They’ve always respected the fact that I’m a free spirit. When I told my mom I was going to pursue this full-time, at first, she told me to remind people that I do have a degree every time I introduced myself as a photographer. At that time to her, photography and writing were just hobbies. Now she fully gets it and is my most loyal supporter.
Tell us about the creation of your site.
I’ve always had a website of some sort since 1997 while in college. Since I was a programmer with a specialty in web development as well, I developed them all. My site has evolved. It started out as a place to document my travels. Now it’s not only that, but acts as a showcase for my professional work.
What was your first published image?
I’d say the first image that I got published in a major magazine that blew me away and nourished that alternate career seed that was already planted and beginning to sprout was this one in Vogue in 2009.
Do you have any favorite photos?
Hmmm…I have a ton of favorite images so choosing is quite frankly impossible. I love connecting with people so any of my environmental portraits are favorites of mine. If you need examples, you can check out this latest post from South Africa on assignment for National Geographic Channel.
I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have experienced a lot of places and cultures from chasing Northern Lights in Lapland to camping out in the jungles of Fiji so there isn’t a “most” interesting place but a slew of interesting experiences.
I’m graduating this spring and start working this summer so the “balancing work life and personal life” is something that’s been on my mind. How have you dealt with this?
That remains my constant struggle especially since I now have a toddler who takes priority. For me, it ultimately boils down to who has a major impact on my life. They get priority over everything else.
I actually wrote a post about why I didn’t want to be superwoman.
Do you consider yourself a role model? I can certainly say I admire what you do and how you carry yourself 🙂
As an individual, my main priority is making sure God’s light and love are reflected in and through my life in everything I do. If that makes me a role model, I’m honored. But I want my life to just be a living example of God’s unconditional grace despite my human weaknesses.
What are your thoughts on black women and travel?
I try to travel with purpose and not just for the sake of traveling. So I’m super opinionated in that regard. We as black women have a lot to share and show the world. From breaking down stereotypes that objectify us to sharing our rich cultures with others.
More black women should not only travel, but be personal ambassadors, educating people they meet along the way as well as absorbing their cultures. I’m not easily impressed by photos in front of landmarks. Photos where there’s someone looking directly at you tells me you made an effort to connect in some fashion with that person.
Honestly, this is the most valuable thing a black woman can pack on her travels…an open mind.
Do you have any advice for aspiring travel photographers?
#1 Be able to handle rejection – Even if you run your own company, you’re still dependent on others..customers…so being able to handle rejection and criticism gracefully is essential.
#2 Patience and resilience – Nothing is going to happen overnight so the sooner you come to terms with this, the more sane your life will be.
#3 Passion -If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you won’t last six months, especially if those six months are those depressing lull periods that every freelancer/entrepreneur goes through
Who inspires you?
I deeply admire Oprah Winfrey because she exemplifies what it is to find your calling in life, pursue it passionately, while lifting up and helping others along the way.
I’m sure there are a few photographers who inspire you as well.
Ooooo…there are so many photographers I admire. I love any photographer who bows down to natural light and can capture the essence of place and of a person. I really like Mitchell Kanashkevich, Ami Vitale, Ed Kashi, Alison Wright, Terence Carter, and so many others.
What parts of your business do you plan to focus on?
Continue to grow my company Geotraveler Media into a formidable digital multimedia powerhouse with a wide range of travel-related products and projects from topnotch travel content, photography and video image banks to my latest project, Slow Travel Stockholm.
And now for some off the wall questions….
Who is your Celebrity Crush?
Daniel Day-Lewis. The man can do no wrong and just oozes talent from every pore.
You have 24 hours to live. What would you do?
I would sit with my closest family members just talking, chatting, laughing, and reminiscing about life all the while filled with gratitude.
Weird fact about you that most people don’t know.
I don’t like bananas. I took one bite when I was a child and that was it. Never again.
Thank you so much Lola! I wish you and your family all the best 🙂