Conservationist And Photographer Gab Mejia On Overcoming Your Fears On Assignment
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
Before Covid halted travel, Gab Mejia's work as a National Geographic Explorer took him around the globe, exploring new habitats and documenting his experiences with his camera. His images tell stories about nature, wildlife, the climate crisis and indigenous peoples.
In his work as co-founder and head of communications for Youth Engaged in Wetlands, Mejia works with youth leaders to protect ecosystems, while at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) National Youth Council, he aims to conserve endangered species and educate young people on issues such as plastic pollution. In June, Mejia became the first Filipino to be awarded WWF's International President's Youth Award "in recognition of his outstanding achievements, dedication and commitment to the natural environment."
Here, Mejia describes his work in his own words.
The pandemic has been a very difficult year for photographers and artists alike, and merely surviving the year is already a great achievement in itself. The past year has been filled with grief and loss, with scarcity of opportunities and work, but nevertheless a moment of reckoning for my career. Our international youth organisation, Youth Engaged in Wetlands, launched its first Flyway Youth Forum during this time. We were able to gather more than 70 youth leaders from across the globe, along with Dr Jane Goodall and [Ramsar Convention on Wetlands] secretary general Martha Rojas Urrego, to further advocate for and act on the conservation of our wetland, wildlife, and planet.
Underwater photography is a genre I’ve been constantly learning about the past few months. The Philippines is blessed with the most pristine oceans and reefs, filled with mesmerising marine creatures that I hope I can continue to document and share stories of.
Arguably, my most memorable shoot is the solo expedition I did in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in 2018. It was a six-week long expedition crossing the frozen peaks, barren valleys and daunting glaciers of South America, where I had to document the changing landscapes of this alien world as a 20-year-old boy, coming from the tropical islands of the Philippines. It felt like I was transported to another world; I had to hike and document for more than a month. There is truly no other place in the world that I could compare Patagonia to.
Nature is and will always be my ultimate inspiration in how I live my life and how I create. From our oceans and distant peaks, our forests, ridges and reefs, nature has taught me to appreciate both the beauty and fragility of our world.
Climate change and environmental degradation is one of the greatest existential threats that we are currently facing as a collective and society. I firmly believe that we should all work together in solving this problem. We have been inadvertently disconnected from nature and the culture of care. I only hope that in the photographs and stories I tell, I can connect this growing divide with our wildlife, marginalised communities and nature that have all inspired me to keep creating and exploring this beautiful planet we call home.
See also: 5 Award Winning Photographers Explain How Photography Can Evoke Global Change
People ask me if I ever get scared to go on assignments, since some can be dangerous. The answer is always. There’s this lingering feeling when I go on assignment that I won’t be able to truly give justice to the stories that the people and places have entrusted in me, where I just hope that, one way or another, a photo will be able to make even the slightest difference in their lives through the moments I have encapsulated in the mere frames of my camera.
Research, research, research! That is the best way to prepare for a shoot assignment. I’ve always believed that going on location and shooting in the field only comprise a small part of the actual work a photographer does, especially in the field of conservation photography. Knowing the places and people and respecting the culture is always the most important thing to allow your stories and work to have an impact.
This portrait of the Philippine Eagle is my favourite photograph I’ve taken of all time. It's just hard to imagine how such a magnificent creature exists right under our noses, found only in the mountain forests of our country. A symbol of pride and hope for many, an animal way before our time—these tender yet striking, brazen eyes staring straight into your soul.
See also: What Are The Risks of Climate Change Investment?
Three artists and creators that I follow are Ami Vitale, Hannah Reyes Morales and Gio Panlilio.
I think photography in the Philippines is appreciated but not truly valued. Photographers are not being paid rightly for their work and services, which in turn pins down such people from creating more promising work or from taking greater projects and risks to grow, due to the constraints and indemnifying culture that the biggest media platforms and companies have long been enabling in the country. Now more than ever, photographers should be rightfully paid for their work, and empowered by the industries and communities that have long taken advantage of our medium.
See more honourees from the Media, Marketing & Advertising category of the Gen.T List 2020.