Many pro photographers tend to define their work by genres, such as landscape, macro or sports. But for Gabrielle Motola, the subject of choice is more profound: life. Though she refuses to be drawn into genres, Gabrielle’s compelling imagery can best be described as raw, honest and impactful reportage. It’s certainly not your average portfolio, but then Gabrielle enjoyed anything but an average introduction to the industry.
‘Whilst studying film at university, I enrolled in some photography classes. During a visit to France, I shot 30 rolls of 35mm film and when I got back and developed them, I was hooked. The whole darkroom process of enlarging prints felt very intimate and creative,’ recounts Gabrielle. While working in the film industry to pay the bills, Gabrielle decided to continue her parallel passion for photography and would enter the industry by working her way through from the top, not bottom. “I ambitiously went after an internship with Annie Leibovitz and spent three months living in New York City learning about lighting and composition from an inspirational team of creatives. On my first day, someone gave me a package of 120 film as it was about to expire and it felt like I had been given the keys to the kingdom.”
Foundations in photography don’t come much stronger than interning for one of the industry’s biggest names, but it was soon time for Gabrielle to forge her own path and she enjoyed multiple roles, working as a manager of a gallery and exhibiting her own work. “I think in curiosities and life and that drew me to live in Iceland. I was in London in 2008 when Lehman Brothers crashed and the reactions of the people it affected hit me hard. I started paying more attention and became interested in the things that were happening in Iceland, their approach to life and how they reacted to the recession completely differently way to America.” Gabrielle admits she didn’t know much about the country “apart from Bjork”, but after continuing her film editing work for a few years (collaborating with Apple and the BBC no less), it was a meeting with Olympus that made the move possible.
“I had started using digital and began working more closely with Olympus on various projects. I chose Iceland as the first place to visit as part of this new role” she recalls. It was the start of a relationship that saw Gabrielle move away from her 35mm film SLRs to a more versatile digital Olympus set-up. The transition also enabled Gabrielle to work on, and eventually publish, a book. An Equal Difference examines the unique approach to gender equality that exists in Iceland (in 2009 more than half of parliamentary members were female).
The acclaimed book is a heady mix of environmental-style portraits and breathtaking landscapes (this is Iceland, after all), and Gabrielle feels the switch to Olympus kit made this process easier.
‘The thing I love about Olympus cameras is that they’re small yet powerful. I can keep them with me wherever I go, but I can also shoot a professional campaign with them”, explains Gabrielle, who started out on the E-MS but is now shooting with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Making her subjects feel comfortable and having them trust her is important to Gabrielle’s work and putting a large DSLR in someone’s face is, as she politely words it, “not ideal” . The more compact form of the Olympus helps put people at ease. Also, being able to connect to smart devices via Wi-Fi allows Gabrielle to send images quickly, which is an important variable when picture editors or publishers are demanding imagery.
“I love the way the E-M1 Mark II functions. I’ve used different types of cameras over the years and one thing that I am sure of is that the picture-taking experience with Olympus is more enjoyable than with any other system I’ve used” claims Gabrielle. She currently favours the 17mm and 25mm optics and also has a lot of time for the Olympus FL-LM2 pocket-sized flash, which she says works really well to provide fill-in light for portraits.
The Olympus E-M1 Mark ll’s portability will be especially appreciated given Gabrielle’s next project. As she’s also passionate about motorbikes, Gabrielle intends to ride from the UK back to Iceland via Europe, the Faroe Islands and the odd ferry port. Travelling with her Olympus kit is never any problem: “I have a friend who was telling me he struggles to take a DSLR and a couple of lenses on a plane due to the weight restrictions, whereas I can pack three bodies, plenty of lenses, flashes, a reflector and my computer in my bag no problem.” So does Gabrielle have any advice for fellow photographers wishing to take a similar path? “They say ‘do what you love’, but sometimes when you’re starting out you don’t always know what you love and photography can be the process to help you find out. Indulge your curiosity, try things and remember that mistakes are just part of the process.”
Article featured in Digital SLR Photography Magazine in October 2017