How Travel Photography Can Connect You to Humans Outside (Lola Akinmade Åkerström, travel photographer)

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Lola Akinmade Åkerström Humans Outside podcast

We spend a lot of time talking about the act, art and benefits of connecting with nature. But what about connecting with the humans who live on the land? What about seeing and being seen no matter where you are or what kind of nature you call home?

Travel photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström has made a career of creating connections with the landscape, land and culture through portraiture of humans around the world. Born in Nigeria and now living in Sweden, Lola has a deep understanding of connecting with other humans because of the way she shares their experiences.

In this episode Lola talks about what she has personally learned through travel photography, what it’s like to make excellent portraits around the world and how you can find those same connections, too. Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:


[3:16] How Lola Akinmade Åkerström became someone who likes to go outside

[4:04] Lola’s outdoor story

[8:21] The kinds of photos Lola loves to make

[10:59] Lola’s books

[13:00] Life as a GIS scientist and how it translates to travel

[15:58] Her country tally and why it doesn’t matter

[17:58] The meaninglessness of borders and the importance of humans

[21:07] Why the connection of humans to seasons matters

[26:27] How she’s learned about people and culture

[28:45] How you can lean into that cultural connection

[30:43] What the shame cycle has to do with it

[33:31] The barriers, access and connection brought by being a Black woman

[37:30] Lola’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside even for a few minutes is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and here at Humans Outside, we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while hearing from fascinating outdoor minded. As a journalist for 19 years, I’ve let curiosity be my guide.

After my husband’s injuries from military service, we started looking for a better way to live. That’s why we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if an outdoor focused life was the answer. Since September, 2017, I’ve personally spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

When I head outside, I’m focused on seeing the world through my own eyes and experiences. Sometimes I pause and think about it through the eyes of my kids or from the perspective of a. I come here and do this podcast to hear about it through the eyes of my guests and share that with you. But some outdoor users spend their lives viewing the world through the eyes of others, via film photography or both. And by doing so, they gain an understanding of the experience of nature and humanity. That’s an experience that enriches their own lives, too. But what is it that you gain by doing that? What do you learn about yourself and the world by opening yourself to visually capturing and then sharing others’ experiences, and how does that change your own experience?

Today’s guest, Lola Akinmade Akerström has a world of experience on this topic, not just because of what she’s done, but also because of where she’s done it.

Born in Nigeria, Lola has settled in Sweden after also living in the US. She’s traveled worldwide making pictures as a travel photographer. She runs a Stockholm- based travel consultancy, Geo Traveler Media. co-founded the travel influencer marketing collective Nordic TB. Co-founded Local Purse, which supports travel guides and local artisans through live video shopping. And is a mentor for her own online academy, Geo Traveler Media Academy, which guides visual storytellers. So she’s a little busy, which is one of the reasons it’s amazing that she’s here with us today to share her perspective and insights. We’re gonna talk about how visual storytelling connects you with nature and yourself, what you can learn by traveling to find perspectives beyond your own, and how the act of creating puts you in touch with the world.

Lola, welcome to Humans Outside.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

Amy Bushatz: And you are coming to us today from Sweden. I’m of course, here in Alaska. But we like to imagine ourselves with our guests in their favorite outdoor space, as if we’re hanging out somewhere you like outside just having this conversation there instead of where we actually are, which is in front of computers in two wildly different locations. So if that were true, where are we with you?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Oh, absolutely. So even though I’m based in Stockholm, Sweden, my absolute favorite spot in Sweden is actually the West Coast. Out in the archipelago the archipelago. And there’s so many lovely fishing villages along the coast and I really love kind of the fishing outdoor lifestyle or the of that kind of seat to table experience and so, west coast, Sweden. That’s my favorite part. And that’s where, you know, I would love to be every summer.

Amy Bushatz: So we are on a summer day in the west coast of Sweden having this conversation. I love it.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yes.

Amy Bushatz: Can you talk to us a little bit, first of all, about how you became someone who likes to go outside travel, make photos, and visit places like the west coast of Sweden?

What is your story?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. So I’m you know, I’m originally from Nigeria born and bread in Nigeria, and I come from a traveling family. So my grandfather was in the shipping business. My dad was a geologist. He traveled the world, my family really traveled. And so in a sense exploring beyond my borders, beyond kind of my culture was always gonna be in my lifestyle in some form..

And so when I moved from the US at 15, you know, I started college quite early. I started kind of exploring different lifestyles at a very young age. And so just in terms of the outdoors, you know, one of the things that really draws me, especially now that I’m based in Sweden and I spent a lot of time up in kind of really cold climates, is, it sounds cliche, but just how small, right, just how small you are, where the little things we stress about in our daily lives. The minute you go outside and witness something that’s just grandious that’s just so much bigger than yourself definitely puts you in perspective. So that’s, that’s for me, the lure of the outdoors is to pull me out of my little bubble back into perspective in terms of just my spot in this world.

Amy Bushatz: I imagine traveling, you know, being outside anywhere brings that feeling. But travel in particular, I think emphasizes it because you have this opportunity to see and experience this wide expanse of what you’re saying instead of just in that context bubble almost of your own location.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yeah, no, absolutely.

And I think the thing that comes with travel, It’s not just about place, but the people that make up a place. And I specialize in environmental portraiture, travel, photography through the lenses of locals and traditions and their cultures and their lifestyle. And that is what truly draws me to travel is that seeking of cultural understanding, learning from others.

Connecting on our similarities so that we can appreciate our differences better, you know, and more when you see yourself reflected in me based on our similarities. So in a sense that is kind of the gift of travel is not only does it open your mind, you know, it just makes you a more open-minded person, but it really pins you with that vulnerability that allows you to connect, to be able to put your foot in other people’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, I think it’s easy to forget, you know, we’re called Humans Outside and we talk about outside quite a lot, but we don’t always talk about the human part. And it’s easy to forget that humans, us, you and me, the people around us, the people you see while you’re traveling, the people I encounter out on the trail, are just as much a part of that outdoor experience as anything else. And understanding those perspectives, as you’re saying, is an enriching experience to not just spending time outside, but just like spending time outside helps you in your indoor life, so does understanding the experiences of others in those environments. And that’s exactly what we were talking about.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. And you know, I am really interested in people that have just a very close connection with the environment, with nature, with the outdoors, with taking cues, you know, from nature and there’s so much you can learn, right? So I’ll give you a quick example.

We all know the Northern Lights are quite unpredictable, but people that have grown or lived for thousands, you know years, take cues from the Northern Lights, how they dance to say, for example, the indigenous Sami in in Northern Europe. They can observe how the Northern Lights are dancing and know whether to take their reindeer into the mountains or not, you know?

So being able to have that very close relationship with nature is something that’s fascinating and it requires a setting stillness, you know, as well.

Amy Bushatz: Mm. So, perhaps this answers my next question, but what are your favorite types of photos to make? What do you love?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Oh, I absolutely love just connecting with people that uh, again, close to nature, that take the accused from nature, people that walk with their hands. So I really love working with artisans and I call ’em, you know, Custodians of culture, of tradition, people preserving the, those bits of culture while we still evolve, you know, because every culture evolves. I love being out with fishermen. I love being in places where people kind of markets, you know, where people are really trading, moving their everyday lives because that you get a real good snapshot, you know, into how people are living their lives against the backdrop of you know, of whatever grandeur you know, that they live against. So in a sense, I really love that environmental portraiture uh, cultural lifestyle portraits as well. But as a travel photographer, I shoot everything, including the Northern Lights and outdoors, right? You have to be able to shoot everything. But in a sense, what really brings me alive is creating those portraits where in an instant you see the connection in the eye of the subject and the photographer that we put see each other in that moment.

Amy Bushatz: It’s creating a, it’s almost like a string of connections. Like you’re ha you have a connection with the subject and the subject has a connection with you, but then because you are creating this connection through photography, You then are gifting that connection or at least a part of it, or window into it to someone like myself who is viewing the photo.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s, you know, I always said that we all at the end of the day want the same thing and which is to be seen and fully acknowledged for we are. That’s it. And I think once you can communicate that in a photo, where the person feels seen, where you fully see the person without kind of judging them based on their environment.

I think for me, that is calling on my purpose. I love that kind of work where I can connect the viewer with the person. So you just see them as what they just as opposed to where they’re from, this is their culture, this is what they believe. You just see them as is.

Amy Bushatz: So you’ve recently published a debut novel. I mean, in addition to all of the other things I listed that you’ve done. You’ve recently published a debut novel in Every Mirror She’s Black. And you have a book on living well, but it is it’s a Swedish book and it has a word in the title that I’m gonna mispronounce. So tell us about your books and what is the title of your second of your wellness book.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. So, so I’ve got so far, I mean, I’ve come through picture to a lot of books. But I’ll say, you know, these are my sole author books. The first one is Due North, which is a collection of travel stories and essays and photos from over 20 years of travel.

Right? And so that’s my first travel book. The second is called Lagom it’s called The Swedish Secret of Living. Well, it really deconstructs the Swedish mindset because when I moved here, once I decided that, you know what, this is where I’m going to leave my legacy or grow my roots, you know, my family, then I need, I needed to know what the quality of the soil was that I’m gonna put my roots in.

So I needed to dig, dig deeper into the culture. And that’s how, you know, I really was able to deconstruct the mindset culturally. Then in terms of fiction, I used to write fiction when I was younger and it was something I always wanted to go back to, but I’d struggled for many years. And then once the idea came, which is kind of look close at your own experiences, look at what you kind of know. You’ve traveled a lot. You in culture you, you know this place uh, very well. So why not bring those stories uh, to light? And so that’s kind of how the fiction came about.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So your. , I dont know, background? I, you’ve done so many things, so it’s, it’s hard to characterize what your background is, but one of them is in geographic information systems, which is also known as GIS, so can you explain what GIS is for people who don’t know and what that work looks like for you?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. So before I became a visual storyteller, travel writer and photographer, I spent many years as a GIS programmer and system architect. So my background was really technical, and GIS is called Geographic Information Systems.

So in a nutshell, it’s about looking at data spacially. So if you are looking at data in a spreadsheet, instead of looking at it that way, out of that data map across, you know, a map and what does that information show us, tell us spacially? So think about it like Google Maps in essence, you know, and so I used to program things like that, you know? And work for lots of different airports and different clients. And so it was a really exciting, cool job that I had.

Amy Bushatz: How does programming that GIS, those maps and communicating data to mapping change how you, I don’t know, maybe communicate the data that you’re receiving every day and map it into the photographs. Is there any sort of correlation there and, and skills that you lean on or background that you have?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yeah, so I, I think, you know, the connection will be just my love for human geography right? Uh, Because when you are looking at data that way, when uh, you are looking at the borders on the map, but then in person you go, and you really see that even across borders, you know, we want the same thing.

I remember being in Jordan being at a spot in Jordan, kind of at the tip where you could see five different countries from one spot, right? Lebanon and Israel and all, just all the countries from one spot. It’s incredible when you see that on a map with all the borders and the geopolitical issues and things like that, it’s different than when you actually go there in person and say, you know what I’m just looking across the Sea of Galilee here and witnessing things that I’ve just read about. So in a sense, it brings up a bit more appreciation because I’ve seen these, you know, spacially on the map, how things compute. But then being there in person is a whole different feeling.

Amy Bushatz: How many, do you have any idea how many countries you’ve visited?.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yes, I’ve been to over 75, but I actually kind of stopped counting because Yeah, like earlier, like when I was younger I was like this, this, check, check, check. So now I’m just like, it’s a lot of countries. It really doesn’t matter. I’ve been to many of them many times. And it’s a matter of just what type of experiences, what are my most memorable experiences, right? I don’t have a favorite country, I just have memorable experiences from different places because you can’t have just a favorite, you know, it’s, there are things then that made it memorable for you.

Amy Bushatz: The reason I ask that is because of what you’re just saying. So you said what I expected that you would say, which is it doesn’t matter. And a nd that is, that’s an experience you gain when you’re doing what you said a few moments ago, which is standing there gazing past geopolitical borders that are invisible.

And looking at other countries as just simply spaces that you witness and we as humans are so good setting up boundaries for us, for ourselves, culturally, yes. That we cannot cross this mark. So I live here in Alaska, well you’re in Europe, so it’s very prominent there. But here in Alaska we’re close-ish to the Canadian border.

Right. And from a I, my understanding is from a native perspective, these are not. A border, right? Like you have the native tribes, the First Nations in Canada, that are across the Canadian border, and they have very similar cultures and traditions as the native Alaskans here in Alaska and I think there’s something we can learn from that. That which is what you’re saying, that we share experiences and wouldn’t it be lovely if instead of looking at things as borders, we looked at things as human cultures and experiences and the fluidity of that.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: No, absolutely. And, and just to add to that point here in the Nordic, there’s a region called Sapmi. And Sapmi is where the indigenous Sami, that’s uh, their land, but Sapmi actually extends across four different countries, right? So it extends across northern Norway, northern Sweden, Finland, and the Peninsula in Russia.

So it’s, it talks to your point. Cultures are fluid that way, but there’s a, are just this arbitrary things that have been carved out, you know, through history. But the land is the land and it’s usually the cultures that creates then that natural boundaries, right?

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So we’re, what we’re talking about is how travel has broaden that view for you. But what about viewing nature and the humans of nature through photography and through that portraiture creation that you were talking about earlier, what does that teach you about these borders and about the other humans and the nature and the world that you can use in your life?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. I think that’s, why I’m also not a fan of first impressions because we are so multi-dimensional. First impressions force us all to be one dimension, to put our, just the best foot forward. And on any day you could be having a bad day, but then the next day you could be absolutely lovely, right?

Because we’re all complex human beings. And so travel has allowed me to always give people benefit of the doubt. To give people space to show me more sides of who they are before I can make a judgment based on just one experience. Right? And so in a sense, that’s the gift. I get it. So not a lot of people can do it, especially when you have just one bad encounter.

You’re like, I’m done. I don’t wanna do this. But being able to add their grace, space to say, you know what? This person is a complex person, just like me. What’s going on? Maybe they have, maybe I can give them time to show a little bit more of themselves to me. So in a sense that is really important when you’re navigating different cultures.

You know, one thing that could be uh, prejudice, could be curiosity, could be shyness, could be it can manifest in different ways. So having that grace to, to look to cultures as well is important.

Amy Bushatz: It strikes me that that’s a lesson that we are perhaps better at learning about place and nature. That if I was to sweep into any given location and judge it on the weather I encountered the day I got there.

Right. It would be a mistake because, well, lots of people in the summer think they would love to move to Alaska. But they haven’t been here in January, right? And so they’re really just basing that experience off of one lovely day in July, which verifiably the best. But wait till the end of July when it just starts raining and it does not stop.

Or on the flip side, you come here in January and you think, my goodness, it is so dark and cold. Why would I ever live? But you don’t know about the fireweed and about the sunshine and about the midnight sun. You know, you don’t know about the northern lights. in you know, at at midnight, you don’t know about how the low light looks on the snow when it’s so cold and Yes, that’s

Lola Akinmade Akerström: what actually one of the best Yeah, the light. Yeah. The winter light is beautiful.

Amy Bushatz: Yes. You don’t understand how the darkness shows you that light and how important that experience is. So it’s like if you sweep in somewhere to say, this place is crap, I’m out. You don’t have the breadth of experience and you know you’re closing yourself down to having those experiences by not being, not accepting the idea that there’s something in the world outside of your immediate lens.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And then, and that’s the thing that different places and nature can teach us. It’s just, yeah, how complex nature is, all the different sides of it. And if you are really interested in a place, go visit it many times in different seasons to see not really what that season is doing to the place. But how people are transformed by the season in that place. Because we, we know that in the winter, people do not wanna talk to anybody else. We are conserving energy. The minute spring comes around, people are like skipping in the streets. Like, what? La-de-da. Summer? You know, everybody’s a social butterfly. And then it goes into that cycle, right? So in a sense people are just so tied to nature and the season, then again, that affects interactions as well.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Do you find that people don’t know that they’re that tied to it? That they aren’t aware that you, as a photographer, as a traveler can see that they, that this is happening, but they themselves don’t know that this is happening? Is that something that you find?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Well, in a sense, most people that live in a place might know, they may not be able to put words to how they’re feeling, but they will just say, you know what, now I need to put my head down. I need to conserve energy like people can feel their moods change with the season.

Those that are more in tune with themselves spiritually, holistically will say, you know what? It’s my seasonal blah. But but for the most part, it’s usually maybe people coming in then getting met with a different kind of reaction that may not understand that it’s different based on nature. The weather was going on, how people are interacting as well, it adds.


Amy Bushatz: So here in Alaska, I would say March is a surprisingly tough time for people. They are just coming off of this long winter. They’re starting to feel a little better because there’s sun in the sky and the sun, you know, the sun is coming up a little higher each day. There’s some more things to do, but the weather can be very blah dirty. Right? Like it’s melting. It’s, we call, it’s called breakup, right? Like it’s just slush piles, and your car is filthy no matter what you do. And you are filthy no matter what you do. And it’s just like the weather’s not warm, it’s not cold. How do you even dress for this? I mean, it’s really, it’s a kind of a challenging time of year. And I love how you have been able to absorb that truth by traveling around and by witnessing different people in different cultures in different times of year, and then take that back for yourself. So do you find that, that you then are more in tune to your own rhythms and seasonal ups and downs because you’ve witnessed that from other people?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And especially living in the nordics, when it gets really dark it’s very similar to Alaska, right, where you have to kind of gear up for the winter, it’s gonna be dark, it’s gonna be long, it’s gonna be miserable. And then light starts coming back, you know, end of March, April. And we have what we call April weather, where it’s the most kind of unpredictable weather because it’s a transition between winter and, yeah and May.

And then and then in the summer we always say that it’s very difficult to get people out of the Nordics in the summer. Because first of all, it’s just absolutely beautiful, temperate and so it’s, when we say it’s difficult to get the Swede out of Sweden in the summer, they’re all running to different islands on the archipelago and they’re just all out in different islands. So in a sense, yes, absolutely.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. No one understands why I don’t wanna leave Alaska in the summer. They try, we have weddings and all sorts of commitments, hither and thither, and I just really don’t wanna go anywhere.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, And I think it’s also for a landscape that might be a hush during the winter, summer is opportunity to see that at its best in a way, and so you wanna be there to witness that after winter, let’s look at you when you’re glowing, when you’re beautiful, when you’re smiling, when you’re fullof light. And so in a sense, I dunno, it’s just there’s a connection be between places that are very tough winters, and then there are summers and people not wanting to leave during the summer.

Amy Bushatz: I always joke that Alaska’s sort of like my summer fling. It’s my boyfriend in the summer , and I really want people to come and meet my boyfriend and I it’s, it’s my yearly fling. We have a relationship for several months, and then he leaves and then he’ll come back next year. And it’s never long enough.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yes, Yes. No, absolutely. It’s, It’s that feeling, you know, it really is. So

Amy Bushatz: it’s a summer love. Literally.

Do you think that you could have learned these things about these patterns and about culture and about people through a different means? That, in other words, through not through photography not through making pictures. Is there another way that you personally could have found this?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: All right, because it always boils down to first what your passion is, and then finding the avenue that lights that passion fastest. I always describe, like if you think of a stove with four burners right, of different sizes, no matter where you put the pots of water, it’s still gonna boil, right? But the biggest burner, what’s that gonna do? Burn it faster, make it boil faster. So your passion is the pot of water. Travel is the biggest burner. That’s what makes a passion more visible because it makes it burn and ignite faster. If you move that pot of water to a different industry to something else, it’s still gonna boil, but maybe not as exciting as travel..

And so for me, when I talk to people, it’s what is your po pot of water? Because your passion is not the burning, it’s not the stove. My passion is not the act of travel. It’s not the travel itself, but what travel does to me and my passion. So that is the way I want kind of people to look at that re relationship. My passion is truly about cultural connection, about fighting isolation, right? Because when we don’t understand each other, we tend to exclude each other. We tend to isolate each other. We tend to not deal with each other because we feel we’re very different. So how can I bridge that? You know, through words through photography, how can we start seeing ourselves mirroring each other because we all want the same thing just to be seen. Right? And travel happens to be the biggest burner that makes that more visible. I could do that in a different field. I could do that in uh, in education. You know, I could do that in advertising by bringing in the different voices of you know, storytelling. There are other ways I can take that passion of cultural connection to different industries, but travel is the one that makes it burn quicker because you see it quickly.

Amy Bushatz: Mm-hmm. For those of us who are very much at amateur travelers and photographers and combining the two, what is your advice for leaning into that cultural connection viewpoint that you find through doing it?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: First, so there’s a, there are two reasons why people don’t like approaching strangers when they take photos, right?

Because everybody would love to go to a place, take, bring back photos of some amazing connections that people they’ve met. But there are two reasons. One, we are afraid of rejection, and two, we are afraid of the shame that comes from the rejection. Because when people reject you, they usually reject you in front of other people, and then you get, it’s just a shameful experience.

But once you realize it’s all about being vulnerable, it’s all about understanding as a photographer, that lost photographing people, that the minute you ask somebody for their photo, it no longer becomes about what you want, but what they’re willing to give you of themselves. So that needs to change the power dynamic.

Once that changed the power dynamic, then you are more comfortable in the fact that they have full right to reject you because you are asking them for something for free. Right? So it, it takes a mindset shift. But once you change the mindset shift, then it’s, it’s easier. People wanna be acknowledged. So don’t sneak shots. Actually call to people, say hi to them, call them by their name. Because that’s the quickest way to see, to tell somebody that I see you is by calling them by their name. Amy. Amy, Amy. Like it means I see you in just in a basic sense. So you know,, and so there are so many tips and tricks and ways you can, I don’t wanna see tricks, you know? It’s just so many tips and ways you can just organically interact with people that can make them come closer to you. Make them open up a little bit more to you when you travel.

Amy Bushatz: Do you think that’s why people are so drawn to nature photography, to taking photo or making photos of animals, that there is no shame cycle?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yeah, absolutely. And I always say that, you know, when somebody shows me a beautiful photo of like, uh, of the not light, you know, some amazing la um, national parks in Chile.

Or just incredible landscape photography that one is easier to take than if you show me the picture of somebody in the market with eye connection with the photographer. It’s a difficult, a more difficult shot. So nothing to not to knock epic shots. Not to epic landscape photography. Absolutely. But it’s easier to just set up a tripod and take a shot, a still shot that to go up to a stranger, interact with them, let them let you in close enough to get an intimate portrait.

Amy Bushatz: I imagine both have their own challenges. I’m thinking of animal photography, the tremendous amount of patience it must take. And, pers, well perseverance to get to the location where, let’s say you’re, you really wanna make a picture of a brown bear.

Well first you have to find one. Good luck. Brown bears are only around when you really don’t want them. You know,? So now you have to find one that you can safely make a photo of, and then you have to wait patiently for that right photo. And then you’re in that space where you’re feeling the awe and that smallness, and all of those things.

All of those things I imagine are true and wonderful, but what you’re saying is that when you take it to another level and make a human connection and make yourself vulnerable. By risking rejection from the person you’re making the picture of, and then, should they accept you, having that human connection, you are stepping into a space of different enrichment. And a space where there are layers of connection that create richness to your life that is not found in the same way as taking that shot of that brown bear.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, every style of trouble photography has its challenges, it’s merits the, the things it requires. But connecting with people, interacting with people, it’s all different. It requires a different kind of skill set that we all have once we just realize, right, that we all want the same thing, just to be seen and acknowledged properly. With respect.

Amy Bushatz: With respect. So, you are a black woman. And you travel broadly, and that’s not always a well received personage in many places. How do you deal with the rejection that comes with that? That it’s not about you as a photographer, it’s about you as a black woman.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Yes. So it dep it usually depends on the place, right? So sometimes as a black woman, I may even have easier access because I’m also a marginalized person sometimes. Locals in some places may put on airs for like travelers that they feel are like, you know, Caucasian European photographers and not show their true side, and they can be a bit more honest with me.

Sometimes it’s just flatout rejection. Sometimes the stereotypes, the wall that’s there on my behalf, proceeds me at a location and then they expect me to be twerking on arrival. So there’s so many things that I have to You know, as a, as a black woman in this space and doing it professionally as well.

And sometimes it’s also a lot of curiosity because there’s some places where they’ve never even seen a person of color, a black woman, somebody that looks different. You know, I remember when I was in the Uzbekistan I took so many selfies with locals because they just were, they wanted to. And after a while I was getting tired. I was like, you know what? I’m tired of this kind of object. But then I, I started digging deeper and I understood that one they don’t really grant visas to people from African or Caribbean countries. If you’re holding that passport, it’s usually to European countries they grant visas to. So, that, again, adds a barrier.

But also, if I’m the last person, they see in their life, I want that experience to kind of counter whatever stereotype they may have seen, because stereotypes are damaging. So, so it really depends. It really, I can’t put like a one brush stroke, but it depends on the location based on if I’m having to fight stereotypes on arrival verses if I don’t

Amy Bushatz: Right. It strikes me that there’s a string here between how other people perceive you as perhaps a representative of black women, which is sort of what you’re describing, but also in how you are taking their photo and you’re making a portrait of them, but not as a representative of all of their people, but as a representative of themselves and that window into who they are.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Correct, so in a sense, I actually don’t make them a representation of the place I actually make them just so that when you look at it, you know, okay, I took this picture in Mongolia it’s not like, oh, this is just how everybody looks. You know, this is how everybody carries. You actually wanna know who the person is.

That’s what I really strive for. So in a sense, there’s that making people individuals so you just see them first. So you wanna know their story person’s story versus more their cultural story. And then even me, not so much being a represent, representing my entire race because I can’t do that and I don’t wanna do that, but also showing that there are many facets of black womanhood. Right? So this is just one. So now you have two. And then you meet a third black woman. Now you are three because we’re all individuals as well, right? So that, that’s kind of how I move.

Amy Bushatz: Lola, I have so enjoyed our conversation here today. As a final thing would you take a moment to walk us out, envisioning ourselves with you in a favorite outdoor moment? You’ve described connections and building culture by having windows into individual people and creating this landscape where you travel and see things and then communicate that to others, is there a moment in there that you feel a special personal connection to, that you like to think about or just go back to when you close your eyes and if so, can you describe it for us?

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Absolutely. So I actually have one moment that keeps popping into my, into my mind, and it happened in a small mountain village. In uh, the village is on the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. And I was there kind of, wait, you know what, what there, and I saw an old man wearing a beautiful purple robe.

And so I told the guy, the interpreter, can you tell him that I wanna take his picture? So I take the picture. And then the guy said, old guy asks me, what’s your name? I tell him my name is Lola. And he’s like, no, no, no, no, no. What’s your name? I’m like, what do you mean was my name? What’s your name? He said, my name is Lola.

And he is like, but are you African? I said, yes. Then it’s like, then your name is longer because I know your name’s having meaning. And I looked at the guy, I was like, is this a wizard or what’s going on here? Like, he’s like, no, no. I know your name, so what’s your name? So I told him my name. Onoaralolaoluwa. and it means God’s ways are mysterious, God moves the mysterious ways. Okay that’s your name. Because I knew that your name was longer and in that moment, in the tiny remote mountain village, I felt completely seen. Right? So in a sense that’s what I take with me when I travel. That’s, it doesn’t matter where once we feel fully seen, that’s what creates a cultural connection. That guy knew that my name was longer than just Lola. How? I don’t know, maybe he’s traveled himself and then retired there. But that is, that is what travel gives, that gift.

Amy Bushatz: Lola, thank you so much for your time today and thank you for joining us on Humans Outside.

Lola Akinmade Akerström: Thank you so much having me.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. Help me out by leaving a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It really does help other listeners find the podcast too. Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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