Martin Edström’s Top 10 Images

Showcasing the ten best images created by Martin Edström, with personal commentary on each, this gallery gives insight into the personal importance of these photographs to the photographer.

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CAPE VERDE. The Cape Verde islands are entirely made up of volcanic material. Santo Antao is the most mountainous of the islands, as can be seen on the massive cliff faces surrounding this village.

This image means a lot to me.

First of all, vomit.

As we were heading out on the ocean with a couple of fishermen, both me and my friend Per started feeling a bit sick. Young as we were, though, we both tried to “man up” and just endure. After all, we had paid for that boat trip to get some images.

Turns out though, sea sickness doesn’t really go away unless you go back to shore and lie down for about 10 hours.

But I did manage to get a few images, despite my sickness. And it landed me 1st prize in Travel Photographer of the Year – my first international photo award.

– Martin Edström

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BURMA. Nuns out on an early morning pindapata - the practice of collecting alms food, as observed by Theravada Buddhist monks who have gone forth from ‘home life’ to ‘homelessness.’

I remember this moment perfectly. Me and my childhood friend Alfred, traveling through Burma, were up with the sun to people-watch. This is very early morning, with a cool breeze blowing in the massive tamarind trees above our heads.

We saw these young nuns chatting away as they went on their early morning pindapata (when they gather food from the locals, since they are not allowed to cook for themselves) and followed them for a while.

While monks and nuns can sometimes seem aloof and distant, these girls hung out and laughed all morning. And as I snapped this frame, with my grandfather’s old 105mm Nikkor lens, I was glad to capture exactly that.

For me, the whole image is about the holding of hands between two of them: symbolising a close, physical relationship not often seen in monastic life.

– Martin Edström

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SWEDEN. You climb most of Storsylen in Sweden, but just before the top you cross the border and enter Norway. No passport officers in sight, though.

Few things inspire me as much as mountains.

They are the perfect representation of our continuous struggle to achieve. Even if that’s just an illusion, it’s a beautiful one. To get to the top, and high-five someone you love, celebrating that you made it.

Mountains are also the perfect reminders to our place in the world. As humans, we’re just small creatures that have borrowed Earth for a while. Nothing more, even if we act like it.

That’s why it’s so fascinating to capture images like this: where the littleness of man is so very evident. If you haven’t already, notice the climbers on the ridge to the right. They are very small.

On a more personal level, this image also represents the exact moment (mountain) where I fell in love with alpine climbing.

– Martin Edström

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ITALY. Inside a plantation shed sits Siriman, 18 years old, from Mali. He still remains in Rosarno, even though all migrants were driven from the village and migrant was recently killed in a clash with the local population. Sleeping through the night is tough without drinking and smoking first, he says. He wants to go home.

This might be one of my most heart-wrenching encounters as a photographer.

Me and my journalist colleague Erik traveled through southern Italy, covering the deepening migrant crisis in Europe. Following the footsteps of migrants that had been driven from a temporary shelter in an old oil-processing plant, we ended up in the middle of a plantation of oranges. A small source of light flickered from inside a small shed, so we went.

Inside sat Siriman, 18 years old, from Mali. He had fled his home, traveled over the Mediterranean, slept in an oil-processing plant for months and then been chased off by the local people. Not even there, in an abandoned factory, were he and his fellow migrants allowed to stay.

“Smoking is all I have left”, he said, inhaling.

“I just want to go home”.

– Martin Edström

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NEPAL. This young monk is preparing for the birthday celebrations of the Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley the 17th. In May, the birthday of the Tibetan highness Gyalwa Karmapa Tinley. He is widely celebrated throughout centers and monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism worldwide, and especially so in this temple of Kathmandu.

Often life presents all these great visual symbols, and all you have to do as a photographer is be there.

This moment presented itself when I was just walking through Kathmandu on a rainy day. I went to my favourite place in the city, the temple hill of Swayambunath, where you can get an epic view of the city. I was lucky; this day, the monks living on top of Swayambhu were celebrating the birthday of Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley the 17th. They lit candles all over the temple, creating a magic athmosphere for photography with thousands upon thousands of small light sources.

And then, it started to rain. Most of the monks went inside to seek shelter, as Kathmandu rain hits hard.

But this one boy monk stayed.

He kept relighting the candles snuffed out by the heavy raindrops. He just kept at it. For me, this created great visual symbolism of several things. Perseverance and hope, to name two. A feeling of seeing something through til the end. Not giving up.

– Martin Edström

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INDIA. Hundreds of thousands of people gather each year on the slopes of Vadakkunnathan temple to catch a glimpse of the 15 beautifully decorated giants in the center of the Thrissur Elephant Festival in southeast India. With smartphones lighting the crowd, the mammals can surely feel properly photographed.

Imagine tens of thousands of people coming to see 15 elephants.

That is what the Thrissur Pooram is all about. In this absolutely massive festival, held every year in spring in Kerala, two teams of young men face off in an acrobatic tour de force; equally showing off their own strength as well as the beautiful decorations of the elephants. The square in front of the Hindu Vadakkunnathan Temple is flooded with young and old, men and women, some that have traveled from far away to get to witness this spectacle.

I’ve seldomly felt more immersed in a situation, literally squeezed between tens of thousands of people.

But most interesting to me, is to look at this image from a time perspective. This festival started back in 1798. Most of the things have remained unchanged since then: the tradition of parading the elephants has been a constant event in Thrissur every spring, happening for almost 250 years. Nothing has changed.

Except for the light coming from the audience. Suddenly, people don’t just come to look. They come to photograph, and film.

They come with smartphones, adding a new dimension to the atmosphere – each device creating it’s own version of the festival.

– Martin Edström

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ALGERIA. Most youngsters in the Sahrawi refugee camp of Tindouf study inside the camp, and a lucky few get scholarships to study abroad. But growing up in the closed camp, in the middle of the Sahara desert, is mostly a tiresome wait.

The long wait.

That’s what always strikes me when documenting refugee situations and places that have seen conflict: the tedious wait. There are so many places in this world where time almost stands still; forgotten people caught in limbo between political decisions are made far from their homes.

In the meantime, all you can do is wait.

Refugee camps all over the world are slowly turning into cities, waiting for the rest of the world to do something about it. And after a while, even the children stop playing.

This particular image was taken in Tindouf, where I lived with a family of Sahrawi refugees (from Western Sahara) for a week. That refugee camp has been around for over 40 years, since the conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco is nowhere close to being resolved.

– Martin Edström

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JORDAN. In three days time in October 2013, over 19600 children from Syria were vaccinated against Polio in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. This is one of the first who recieved it.

Life-saving vaccines.

Being privileged enough in my life to only witness desperate situations from the outside, as a photographer, I’ve most of all come to get a good perspective of my own bubble back home. And how stupid people can be, since they have never seen any kind of hardship in their own lives.

This image, though assuredly stressful for the baby in question, represents hope for the world. A newborn baby, living in a refugee camp just across the border from Syria, gets vaccinated against polio. Even though though polio has almost been eradicated from the face of the earth, it resurfaced in rural communities hit by the civil war in Syria. The parents of this child were deeply thankful for the opportunity to ensure the health of their newborn.

What is truly disturbing is that there are currently groups in the modern world working against the use of vaccines. People in Europe and the US, living so far from conflict and hardship that they are willing to risk their children’s health by refraining from proactive vaccinations. If that isn’t the definition of too much privilege, I don’t know what is.

Luckily, this child had smarter parents.

– Martin Edström

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LIBERIA. Mae Azango, Liberian journalist and activist, sitting in her bedroom.

Revolution from a bedroom.

This is Mae Azango, a journalist from Liberia. One of the most impressive people I have ever met.

She has recieved more death-threats than she can count.

Her reporting on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) were at the center of the revolution against its practice in Liberia, and in many ways her reporting yielded direct results in the government suspending support of FGM. Despite battling great odds and entrenched cultural (and judicial) norms, Mae fought on. Her paper received so many threats when her stories appeared that her editor, called to tell her to go into hiding.

But she kept on. Laws were changes because of her, and women in Liberia have her to thank for the progressive ban of FGM throughout their nation.

It was very humbling to meet her. Expecting her to be more careful and hesitant to meet new people, after all that’s happened to her, I was amazed to meet a warm, powerful woman who laughed hard in every other sentence.

Mae is the kind of change-maker that the world needs. Someone who has a strong will, a sense of what is right – and a laptop. From writing in her bedroom, she sparked more change for more people than most of us will ever do.

– Martin Edström

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THAILAND. A girl traveling with her mother across the Chao Praya river.

This is one of the first photographs I ever took. And the one that got me hooked on photography.

I remember it like yesterday. I was 12, and we were on a family vacation in Thailand – sitting on a riverboat crossing the Chao Praya. In my lap was my grandfather’s (fully manual) Nikkormat FTn camera with his old steel-n-glass 105mm/2,5 lens. I saw this girl looking at me, and tried to muster the courage to actually take a picture. I quickly tried to anticipate the exposure settings, fiddling with the aperture, and held the camera up to focus with the really slow-moving metal focus ring.

This was the first time I ever framed another person (apart from mom and dad, of course) with my camera. I snapped several frames, and spent the rest of our vacation wondering what the photograph looked like (since this was in the 35mm film days).

Once home, I spent my weekly allowance on developing the film – and ripped the package as soon as it landed in the mail.

I had done it. I had created a first photograph of another person, and captured a portrait. The power of photography became so very tangible to me: being able to reconnect with this moment, meeting this girl all over again, through an image.

Even though I was just 12 years old, I had one regret. I wish I had asked for her name.

– Martin Edström