The Road Is Home: Australian Photographer Nirrimi Hakanson On Touring With First Aid Kit

Fashion photographer Nirrimi Hakanson shows us around her tour with Swedish band First Aid Kit.

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She left school at fifteen and was a mother by nineteen, narrowly escaping societal finger-wagging by already having a wildly successful international photography career. Nirrimi Hakanson‘s first twenty-three years have been anything but ordinary.

Daughter of Aboriginal artist and actor Francis Firebrace and a Swedish mother, Nirrimi won the SOYA award (Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards) for photography at seventeen, and by eighteen she was shooting international campaigns for blue-chip clients like Billabong and a controversial campaign with Diesel. Skipping out of her hometown of Townsville, she chronicled these years faithfully on her popular blog ‘The Road Is Home’ — named so because, by then for Nirrimi, it was. She wrote about travelling as a very young professional and later a young mother, and about her family and partner, fellow photographer Matt Caplin. When the couple broke up last year, she wrote tenderly about that too; her honest and open blog has become almost as well known as her photographs.

Klara and Johanna Söderberg, a.k.a First Aid Kit

Klara and Johanna Söderberg, a.k.a First Aid Kit.

Growing up across the world from Nirrimi sisters Klara and Johanna from the Swedish band First Aid Kit had a rise to fame no less impressive. Both were well shy of legal drinking age by the time their first album The Big Black And The Blue was released, and both were practising their craft — in this case, playing music — since well before their teen years took hold.

In the middle of this year the band asked Nirrimi to go on tour with them, to snap their North American festival tour. We we’re given an exclusive look backstage, and got to talk with Nirrimi about the collaboration.

On Stage At XPoNential Music Festival, New Jersey.

On Stage at XPoNential Music Festival, New Jersey.

Junkee: Your pictures on the First Aid Kit tour are really beautiful. What was it like travelling so closely with the band?

Nirrimi Hakanson: Travelling with the girls felt like a big road trip with friends a lot of the time. Klara is one of my closest friends now and Johanna is one of the sweetest humans I’ve ever met. It was one of the hardest goodbyes of my life — and I’m well versed in goodbyes.

Soundcheck, Wolf Trap National Park, Virginia

Soundcheck, Wolf Trap National Park, Virginia

How is music photography different from fashion?

There’s a different hierarchy in the music industry. Photographers aren’t as important as they are in the fashion world. Instead of everyone looking to me for answers or directions, I was always in the background. A shadow with a camera.

It was confronting for my ego at times, but it was also pretty refreshing for the pressure to be off me. I’d just float around, trying to get the moments of connection and emotion that are gone so quick and can’t be faked.


The road is home: festival accommodation.

What did you learn about the music industry?

It gave me an insight into touring as a musician. The highs and the lows; endless nights on the road; forgetting what city you’re in; a blur of dressing rooms, stages and crowds. Klara and Johanna have been doing this for so long now it’s all second nature to them, the routine of it all, but it was so exciting to me. I grew to love the feeling of falling asleep as the bus was moving.


Klara, Nirrimi and Joanna at Meredith Music Festival, Victoria.

The band’s aesthetic is so similar to yours. Did the girls approach you, or was it the other way around?

Klara emailed me in March asking me to come to a show, saying she’d been reading my blog for five years — for as long as I’d been listening to their music. I flew to Melbourne and came to their show and joined them on a festival the following day.

As I braided their hair after the festival, Klara said she wished I could come on tour with them in America and the seed was planted. I’m sure we’re drawn to each other because of the similarities in our art and selves. In reality we’re both so childish and silly.


Klara performing at Meredith Music Festival

You’ve always been exceptional at capturing a very particular adolescent-girl phase; a real sense of vulnerability, without the slight (or overt) sleaziness that comes out in similar pictures by other photographers. Do you think this has something to do with starting as a photographer when you were that age?  

Ah, that is really nice to hear! What I created in the very beginning has really affected my work. Even as it has evolved and grown I am still so drawn to what it feels like to be a young girl. It was the most influential and intense period of my life, and it’s just stuck with me.

I guess I tend to create and capture what I know.


Wolf Trap National Park, Virginia.

Fans of yours tend to feel a really personal connection to your work. Do you think it’s because you’ve been so candid with your personal life, too?

I think vulnerability is kind of my super power. The moment I decided to stop being afraid to be honest, and realised that telling my stories could help other people, my life and world changed. There are also many who have been following my story for a long time now, through love and heartbreak and joy and pain. The love is very mutual.


Johanna getting a good luck smooch From their mother, pre show

What advice do you have for other creatives starting out?

I suppose the best way to be taken seriously is just to be good at whatever it is you’re doing. Do it and do it whole-heartedly, pour everything into whatever it is that makes you feel alive. Don’t worry too much if what you create isn’t great, or it’s so difficult you want to cry; it’s all part of the journey, and it wouldn’t be so fulfilling if it was easy or simple.

You’ve got to follow whatever it is that’s calling you. Take your happiness seriously. What do you actually have to lose?


Tour bus times.

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All images by, and used with permission from, Nirrimi Hakanson