It's not often you'll find this photographer in front of the camera. Usually found in her happy place in the ocean or up the Mount. A couple of weeks ago we sat down for a sunrise and a cuppa with Lou Burton to find out more about how this kind and generous woman ended up in New Zealand, her photography and passion for supporting people struggling with mental health.
Lou's life has never been too far from a good adventure. Growing up in the small English town of Alton with her 3 older siblings. Her Dad worked for an airline and every year the family would get loaded up and taken on a holiday. This included lots of trips through the States and Canada. The exploring life was bred into Lou from a young age. Being active however, was not. She hated school sport. And if she could go back and give teenage Lou some advice, it would be to move your body more. But struggling with a lack of confidence meant that as a child, Lou just never connected the joy that comes from moving your body.
When Lou was 19 her loves and dislikes were to combine. While travelling on a gap year in Malaysia, she took a 3 day trip into the jungle. To reach base camp, it was a one hour uphill hike to where the camp sat at the top of a waterfall. And Lou struggled. Pulling her asthma inhaler out every 15 minutes, she realised that something needed to change. It was during this time in the jungle (where she lived for a while) that she began to fall back in love with exercise. Regular hikes and outdoor exploration had her loving moving her body. She also says the humid climate helped her with her asthma which, as an adult, has totally disappeared.
Back home in the UK, her fitness slipped again and she found herself not doing a whole lot. That changed when her sister took her to the hottest new phase at the time, Les Mills BodyAttack. And it was all back on. Doing these classes made Lou feel so free and happy after leaving life in the jungle and coming back to a form of culture shock brought on from being out of nature and returning to the city. It was the balance for her nature loving soul being stuck in London. From spin classes to Ministry of Sound HIIT, anything that came up, Lou was in. Now living here in New Zealand, she can get into nature on the daily. Being active for her means surfing, climbing the Mount, yoga classes or a walk or run on the beach.
Not long after moving to London, she met her partner (a Kiwi), Mark, AKA the man of her dreams. There they took the opportunity to travel to nearby destinations like hiking and camping in Norway, sailing in Croatia and skating in Barcelona, working in their professional roles to fund travel and live a life of brunch, good coffee and epic skate parks in between the adventure.
Together they decided it was time to get out of the big city. During their travels back to New Zealand, her and Mark climbed to Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, they stayed in India for two months practising yoga and learning to surf. Moving her body is now a way to connect back to herself and appreciate what her body is capable of. If she’s feeling anxious, she heads up the Mount because it helps her breathe properly again (to get to the top, you’re forced to take deep breaths). This time in nature with the birds, sounds of the trees and birds or taking to the ocean on her board is a special experience. She reflects during this time, seeing how far she’s come in her desire to learn to surf, and knows that she can push other barriers in her life to see how far she can go. Being active makes her feel happy. And you can’t ask for much more than that in life!
We met Lou through her beautiful photography - but this isn’t actually her day job. She’s a Brand and Content Specialist for Tauranga company, SwipedOn. Her background studies are in Fashion and Textile Design. Though it was clear that Lou had a natural curiosity for photography and film. Volunteering her time at the V&A Museum, she learned from experienced fashion photographers during events from the press stands. It’s been a passion project in more recent years, and inspired by photography in Lonely Planet Guides and National Geographics, she’s been capturing her adventures as she’s travelled about the world. Recently, she’s acquired a waterproof camera housing which has her combining her love of photography and the ocean on a whole new level.
Lou has had periods of her life where her mental health hasn’t been as good as it could be. There were times in London and when she was travelling that she felt anxious and stressed. Realising that, at the age of 30, she didn’t really have a concept or understanding of the term mental health, she learned of an organisation called OneWave from her friend Megan who is a tribe leader alongside Lou for the Mount Maunganui group. OneWave is a not-for-profit surf community that raises awareness for mental health through saltwater therapy, wearing Fluro (to make the invisible issue visible) and talking opening about mental health in a safe space without judgement. Lou and Megan now run the sessions together and you can find them down at Tay Street every second Friday after work with a group of brightly dressed people with surfboards. The sessions begin with an anti-bad vibes circle, where people can share anything that’s on their minds. They then grab their boards and head into the ocean to surf together or just get salty. The great thing is that anyone can join in.
Her biggest inspirations are her friends, community and other photographers that she’s come to know through Instagram, her partner Mark and her family. She loves the book The Alchemist - if you’ve got to page 70 and still not feeling it, she suggests you hang in there. On Lou’s horizon lays lots more photography including getting her website live for sales of her images, more Fluro Friday’s and to surf as often as the waves are rolling in.
Lou’s outdoor billboard would read “In the end, followers, likes and how other people perceive you mean nothing. Life is sweet, so live in it”