PHOTOGRAPHER: Rebecca Gaal
BASED IN: California, USA
KNOWN FOR: Photography that focuses on planetary health and conservation
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-T2 Camera, FUJINON XF10-24mmF4 R OIS Lens, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens, XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens
Rebecca Gaal has devoted her professional career to humanitarian photography. She has traveled to some of the most exotic and remote regions of the world to document healthcare issues, environmental concerns and the way the two are often inextricably linked. In this latest chapter of our On the Road with the X-T30 adventure, we catch up with Rebecca after she visited Guatemala on assignment for the Seva Foundation.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, rich with history, character, color and community. It is certainly a place that many would consider the ideal place to travel, not least Rebecca, who found two aspects particularly appealing: “In a land where the first chocolate bar was created and coffee is the biggest export, I felt right at home,” she laughs.
However, despite all of its many positives, Rebecca knows first-hand that just like many other countries, Guatemala faces a very real crisis. “Today an estimated 253 million people worldwide live with vision impairment and 36 million individuals are blind. Those numbers are projected to triple by 2050,” says Rebecca, who traveled to Guatemala on behalf of the Seva Foundation, an international non-profit eyecare charity. “The aim was to highlight some of the stories of those affected by sight impairment to help communicate the increased need for global understanding and support,” she explains.
“As a photographer who is nearly blind without the aid of contact lenses, I understand what becomes available with sight and the power it holds to communicate non-verbally with the world. Sharing stories of individuals helps humanize numbers and statistics,” she continues.
For such important work in such unpredictable conditions, it’s essential to have a tool that is as reliable as it is portable, and Rebecca certainly found that in the X-T30. “Like slipping on worn-in sneakers, the X-T30 was an instant companion. Even in low-light conditions I never found myself searching for features that weren’t available,” she tells us.
She also notes the versatility of the camera and its appeal to a wide variety of skill levels, saying: “The Auto options produce stunning images yet the X-T30 can be personalized like the X-T2 and X-T3 models. The small body size is great for street shooting and offers numerous options for creativity without compromising integrity.”
Working in conjunction with the Seva Foundation’s partner hospital, Visualiza, Rebecca traveled to remote villages in the Petén region where she focused on four stories in particular. In each case, it was through the aid of community work from Visualiza that these people are now able to enjoy the everyday pleasures that many of us take for granted.
“Being able to document individuals and stories of this magnitude with a tiny camera that fits in my purse is priceless,” she says. “The ability to share their stories visually not only brings awareness but it may help others who don’t know that there are people who care and possibilities for treatment regardless of societal circumstances.”
Rebecca discovered photography as a medium of expression relatively late, but she quickly recognized its power. “My background is in painting, environmental science and public health. Photography happened to me when I least expected it, just like it can for anyone else,” she remembers. “There is a certain instantaneous connection you make when you see a photograph that moves you. Sight is a universal language which paves the road to a more equal playing field for opportunity. Every time I pick the camera up there is an opportunity.”
The thing that inspires her to keep shooting is undoubtedly the characters and stories that she encounters along the way. “It’s all about the people I meet. Like different versions of who you or I could have been. Everyone has a story and they are endlessly rewriting new chapters, being directors of their own plays. Some lines are already written while others can craft their own,” explains Rebecca, going on to tell us how this power to tell stories facilitates her main motivation: change.
“Every second the world is different. The only constant is change and there is both beauty and sadness in memories that are worth filing away,” she says. “Photography conveys emotion and emotion creates connection. If you can connect with something or someone you have the potential to empathize.
“I feel a responsibility to seek beauty in and be true to whatever or whomever I’m photographing. If it’s a human then represent them with dignity, if it’s an environment then tread lightly. I feel the need to do things that inspire questions and inquiry and also feel an increased responsibility to find common ground and common truths.”
“Photography is just a way to shift and explore perspective, to broaden horizons and preconceived notions of what we believe things, places or people to actually be, and to offer alternative perspectives,” she continues.
Such an idea is particularly poignant in the context of this specific project, with the primary focus being the gift of sight and the extraordinary effect it has on people’s lives. “In this project, the camera is a way that I can help empower others to both be and feel heard and understood. That’s a tremendous feeling for both parties,” she tells us.
Rebecca has been inspired by countless legacies, including work from musicians, poets, scientists and philosophers. “I love Einstein, books about astronomy and the cosmos, Maya Angelou, and stories about the lives of philosophers. It’s the combination of everything and how it fits together,” she says.
She goes on to talk about how she is fascinated by the passing of time and the number of things that can change during one’s existence, concluding that this is a key part of building her own legacy. “Legacy is the little things you choose to do and choose not to do on a daily basis multiplied by time,” she explains. “Change can feel slow but the possibilities are boundless.”
Follow the X-T30’s journey and find out more about this amazing camera on our dedicated X-T30 page.
Rebecca Gaal is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer.
To see more of Rebecca’s work, visit her website.