Life is a wonderful adventure. You make plans and decisions but life has its own funny ways. Gabriela Vivacqua became a lawyer in her native Rio de Janeiro, assuring a quiet life, near her family, with a fixed schedule… little did she know, that wasn’t the plan destiny had for her. Now based in Sudan, this young photographer tells us about the secrets that Africa has to share:
Photography is my true passion and the profession I chose. Nowadays being a lawyer is a background, which gives me good insights of maybe how I can help the people I get in touch when I travel.
Photography happened unexpectedly in my life. I never thought that one day I would work as a photographer. I graduated in law but never enjoyed the office routine and all the bureaucracies that the lawyer work involves. I love nature, animals, I was born in a farm, always enjoy the freedom. With a friend I decided to do a photography course and I fell in love.
“I started photographing animals, that was my focus. I traveled to the Amazon, I worked as a volunteer in the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden at the Fauna Project. Photographing animals helped me to evolve quickly in photograph, as these “models” never stopped. My love for social photography came later, when I was invited to work in the IOM (International Organization for Migration) in Sudan, Africa. One of my biggest dreams was always come to Africa. I didn’t think twice and saw it as an opportunity to start something different.”
“First what caught my attention was a completely different culture, the way people lived, poverty, trash on the streets, but over time I created another way to look. I start to see how people were interesting, receptive,how light was so beautiful. I began photographing the women who make tea in the streets, the families who live in the desert, their stories and that was when I fell in love of social photography, humanitarian photohraphy.”
I decided that I wanted to use my art to help people, tell their stories, show the beautiful side that exists in every situation, inside of everyone. After that I started working in the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) covering all types of social projects that they provide and this just made me more sure that this is the path I want to follow.
Until now I never feared for my life. I’m always cautious in this kind of places. You should always take appropriate actions. Before the visit I search everything about the place and I always have someone local to accompany me.
What’s the biggest culture shock you’ve experienced?
Definitely was when I moved to Sudan. Especially because I am a woman. It was a big challenge. The culture is totally different from what I am used to.
I always have a local guide. This helps me to communicate properly with people, get to know their life stories and make them feel more comfortable about being photographed.
Photography is my tool to interact with these different cultures, listen to their stories, and learn new life references. I hope by registering their traditions I will be somehow helping to preserve them. I am just like a “vehicle” which shares the beauty of these remote cultures with the world and this is what makes me proud of my work.
“All are very interesting and fascinating, because each one has a unique story. I would mention the close relationship I developed with Beduins from Sudan Desert. They were so warm, treating me like family, serving me meals and inviting me to live with them and even proposing me marriage!”
Have you ever bonded with people from remote places and tribes?
Yes and the story above is a good example. Another very nice episode was in Ethiopia at the Darsaneh tribe when I had a magical moment with the old women and children. I could really feel we exchange something… there was a love coming from them. We dance together and the children walked with me back to my boat, singing a very beautiful farewell song. I have deep respect for everyone I take pictures and I never do it if the person is not comfortable with it. When this bond is built here comes the magical moment and maybe a great picture.
It is funny how I can communicate quite well, even not speaking nor understanding their language at all. We communicate with the eyes, the body language and tone of voice. I speak with them in Portuguese and they in their own language, we laugh a lot and at the end we understand each other.
My favorites place up to now are Amazonia Forest (Brazil) because of the abundant nature and Omo Valley (Ethiopia) because of the diversity and exotic ancient traditions.
What’s the most touching experience you’ve had in your career?
When I am visiting the humanitarian camps I face scenes and listen to stories I would never think could be possible. It is always very intense.
The most rewarding part of photography is the possibility to get in touch and learn from completely different new cultures. My photography has been teaching me to respect even more the differences and to have more compassion and kindness.
What parts of the world would you like to travel to and shoot?
Oh! There are so many! Papua (New Guine), Tahiti, places in Latin America and still many African Countries as I always dreamed about coming here.
The best of travelling continously is the opportunity of be always learning something new. The hard part is to be away from family and friends.
My advice is be persistent and have courage enough to move foward and face challenges. Get out of the comfort zone!
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