Martin Edström, Photographer/Journalist
Photograph by Mats Kahlström
Photograph by Katja Adolphson
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
It depended on which day it was. Some days I wanted to be an astronaut; other days a marine biologist. Some days I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. The last idea somehow stuck, and as I was graduating high school that became one of my goals.
The overall feeling I've had while thinking about my future has been the need for passion. I've never been able to even think about careers in some line of work I don't feel passionate about. So that was the most guiding factor in becoming a photographer—my passion for photography.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I remember getting access to my grandfather's and father's old SLR cameras, and buying a few rolls of film. I remember snapping my first good portrait of a girl on a riverboat in Bangkok, while on vacation with my family. I just couldn't wait to develop the film—and when I finally did, the image was fantastic. I realized that I had just taken my first good photo.
Since then, I've been hooked on photography and the power of visual storytelling. Some things came naturally, others had to be learned, but I slowly started making myself a career within photography and journalism. I've always held freelancing photographers and journalists in the highest regard, so I started freelancing myself just after graduating high school.
And now I'm in way too deep to ever get out!
What inspires you to dedicate your life to photography?
Images and stories from the world around us have always had a profound effect on me. It's through meeting people through images and hearing stories from around the world in the media that I learned about the world—about its problems as well as its beauty. These images and stories are vital and hold the power to give us all greater understanding and make it possible to continually improve ourselves and our society.
Being privileged enough to be able to choose my own career, I can't think about a better choice than one where I can help bring [attention to] important issues and help people change for the better. By telling important stories in new and more compelling ways, I hope to engage people to care more about the world and the people in it.
What's a normal day like for you?
Different from the one before it! I have exciting field days as well as 12-hour post-production shifts at my office in Stockholm. (Too many of the latter.) Some days I spend in refugee camps in the Middle East, some in a tropical rain forest, and many days I work with a laptop at the airport while traveling. I try to focus on being productive instead of just being busy, which means I give high priority to spending large amounts of time with the core of my job: photographing, writing, and improving my storytelling tools.
Since a lot of my fieldwork is physically demanding, I make sure to include training in my weekly schedules. Being a freelancer, I simply plan to hit the climbing gym or take a run in the middle of the day—something I think is very well-invested time for mind and body.
Do you have a hero?
I often find new ones among the people I meet while traveling, people that literally make the world go round and are vital to their own context. People that save lives, but no one will ever hear about.
One example is a Syrian mother I met in a refugee camp in Jordan, who despite her own hardship while fleeing Syria (she lost her husband to the war) has taken care of six orphaned kids in her home. No songs will be sung for this mother, even though her actions show proof of an extremely selfless and kind human being—able to put up with more than most of us would. People like her are the true heroes of our time.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
I have many great memories, most of them in the great outdoors. One of the most beautiful and also challenging experiences was during the first project I did for National Geographic in Son Doong, [Vietnam], the world's largest cave.
Working in the cave and creating immersive 360-degree images for an interactive reportage was extremely challenging. Everything—lighting, photographing, and communicating inside the cave—was complicated beyond belief. We spent hours just setting up for each shot to be able to capture what we needed to make the final reportage.
But at the same time, we got to experience the fantastic and wondrous nature inside Son Doong. The cave is a masterpiece of nature, an almost alien landscape the likes of which I never thought I'd see and visit. It was a truly fantastic experience, in all aspects.
What are your other passions?
There are so many things to be passionate about! I'm a nerd for many things, and wish I had more time for most of them.
One thing I devote a lot of time to, apart from my work, is press freedom. I am vice chairman of the organization Reporters Without Borders in Sweden, which means I continually work with projects and advocacy to make way for a more established freedom of the press in the world. This is a basic right, and one I value very highly.
As for my free time, I love the great outdoors and try to get out as much as possible. I ride my bike everywhere (except to other countries). I've climbed for years and love the feeling of complete presence climbing gives you while on the rock. I've always been a sucker for hiking as well, and can't get enough of the Swedish mountain ranges in the summer. I can walk the wilderness for weeks and always feel a fantastic surge of well-being afterwards.
Luckily enough I share several of these passions with my fiancé, which means we're always planning for the next weekend getaway to go kayaking or hiking.
In Their Words
By telling important stories in new and more compelling ways, I hope to engage people to care more about the world and the people in it.