Expeditions blog

Meet female photographer and storyteller Erika Larsen

Taking inspiration from the movie Mulan, we set out to talk to one of Nat Geo’s female photographers about their personal and professional journey.
September 2, 2020

Disney’s new movie Mulan, streaming on Disney+ exclusively with Premier Access on September 4, tells the story of Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honoured warrior that steps in to take the place of her ailing father in the army. Masquerading as a man, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential.

Taking inspiration from the movie, we set out to talk to one of Nat Geo’s female photographers about their personal and professional journey and how being female influences and transforms the way she works.

About Erika Larsen

Erika Larsen is a photographer and multidisciplinary storyteller known for her essays, which document cultures that maintain close ties with nature. Larsen has shot multiple stories for National Geographic magazine—from following Sàmi reindeer herders to exploring the significance of the horse in Native American culture. Currently, she is a National Geographic Society Fellow exploring the landscape of the Americas in relation to the animals and natural resources which are interpreting of our current environment. Her work has been shown all over the world and Erika is also one of the featured photographers in the Nat Geo Book ‘Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment’, which profiles the lives and work of important photojournalists and goes behind the lens of their individual assignments.

 

Tell us why you chose to pursue a career in photography – what do you like most about photography and being a storyteller?

For me being a storyteller is a constant discovery of what it means to be human and a way to learn and reflect about the world. It is a way to share, communicate and evolve.

 

Your work – like your documentation of the Arctic Circle’s Sami people which appeared in National Geographic Magazine – often tells the story of cultures that maintain a close tie with nature. Is there anything you have seen in other cultures that you think we, in our modern world, can learn from when it comes to our relationship with nature?

I think at the core it is most important to remember we are nature. We are intimately connected to the environment around us as well as the universe at large.

 

You are featured in Nat Geo’s book Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment, which celebrates female photographers and their outstanding story telling through pictures. How do you think being a female photographer has impacted your perspective on the stories you tell?

I believe the way we experience the world around us, our reflections and perspectives are intimately tied to who we are as individuals. Therefore, being a woman, has greatly shaped my vision of the world. I take a great interest in women’s experiences in their respective cultures and how they uniquely interpret their environment.

 

Many women around the world will feel inspired by this book. Did you have a female ‘role model’ when growing up?

I think for me it came naturally to respect the women in my immediate surroundings when I was growing up including my mother, my aunts, my stepmother and grandmother. I also had mostly women teachers for the majority of my formative years and this greatly influenced the way I think, explore and interact with the world around me.

 

You are also involved in other Nat Geo projects such as Women of Impact, a 56,000-strong online community that National Geographic set up as a place to share women’s stories. Is there a particular story that stands out for you?

I think that every story shared becomes part of our collective history and helps contextual the narrative. Every experience then becomes a part of how we perceive, react and participate in the world.

 

Mulan is celebrated for being driven in achieving her goal, even when all the odds are stacked against her. What motivates you to continue to do what you do, even when it is not necessarily plain sailing all the way?

I really have a strong belief in my own intuition and curiosity and believe that storytelling has the ability to help us heal and evolve. I regard my doubts and fears as my own lack of clarity and storytelling helps me to access the myriad perspectives of the world.

Disney’s MULAN Mulan (Yifei Liu) Photo: Film Frame
© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

In the movie, Mulan finds creative ways to get herself out of the tricky situations. As a photographer, I am sure you find yourself in tricky situations as well (for example bad weather, a big obstacle getting in your way of taking that particular shot, etc). Can you tell us about a creative solution to a problem and how you finally got the shot you wanted?

I really believe in allowing the moment to be what it will be. Most of my creative solutions have more to do with me accepting the terms of what I have to work with and making myself malleable within those circumstances. I always try to respect the elements that are presented to me in the moment and honour those.

 

Erika Larsen is one of our National Geographic Experts, escorting some of our Tours with an Expert. Please contact us for more information on which specific trips Erika is currently scheduled.

Disney+ subscription and single additional fee of £19.99 required for Premier Access to Mulan.

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