Gemina Garland-Lewis


Expeditions Council Grantee

Picture of Gemina Garland-Lewis rowing a boat

Photograph by Gemina Garland-Lewis

Photo of Gemina Garland Lewis

Photograph by Márcia Dutra

Birthplace: Gays Mills, Wisconsin, but grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Current City: Somerville, Massachussetts

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

As cliché as it may sound, as far back as I can remember I've wanted to be a photographer and explorer for National Geographic. Being born on a permaculture farm cooperative, I've also always had an interest in sustainable agriculture and health. There was a good chunk of time I spent wanting to be a marine biologist working with cetaceans, which is what initially brought me into the research that led to my NG Young Explorer's Grant project.

How did you get started in your field of work?

As a photographer I got started when my grandfather handed me one of his cameras when I was 12 years old. After that I was hooked but still knew I wanted to pursue biology as well. Following college I spent a year traveling solo around the world on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, independently researching different cultural attitudes toward whales and whaling in the Azores, South Africa, New Zealand, Tonga, Japan, Norway, and Argentina. I worked with a multitude of whale researchers, whalers, and whale-watchers to try and understand the varied cultural connections to these animals. In the Azores I came across some of the most culturally unique (and virtually unknown!) whaling histories. Working with Azorean whalers taught me how to really listen to people's stories and fostered a desire to share these stories before they're lost.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to photography?

Incredible places and incredible people are what keep me exploring. I'm continually inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit, the amazing places we find ourselves in, and the similarities we share as human beings across the globe. Throughout my work I've continually encountered the myriad ties between humans, animals, and the environment, which has inspired my work in photojournalism as well as in agriculture and health.

What’s a normal day like for you?

I haven't lived in the same place for over ten months since high school, so normal is a pretty relative term for me. Now that I'm in graduate school a normal day is mostly made up of classes and homework, but in general over the last five years a normal day could find me teaching photography for National Geographic Student Expeditions, diving off the South African coast, farming in Wisconsin, backpacking in southern Utah, or interviewing ex-whalers in the Azores!

Do you have a hero and, if so, why is this person your hero?

I've never really had one specific person I've identified as a hero, but there are countless photographers, explorers, researchers, and storytellers who've paved the way in raising cultural and environmental awareness who I admire and respect for their work.

What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?

My favorite part of being in the field is getting to hear so many interesting stories from people I work with and the warmth and hospitality offered along the way. The more I travel and the more stories I hear, the more I gain a greater understanding of our shared humanity as people on this planet, which has been an incredible lesson in breaking down barriers. The most challenging part can sometimes be the same thing, however. Some stories people have shared with me have been very difficult to hear, and learning to listen and share these objectively has definitely been a learning process.

What are your other passions?

All things related to food—growing it, harvesting it, cooking it, eating it, etc. Dance is also a major passion of mine. I've been dancing Argentine tango for over a decade and have incorporated West African dance in the past few years.

If you could have people do one thing to help save the Earth, what would it be?

Step outside of your comfort zone as often as you can. Talk to new people and visit new places, whether it be halfway around the globe or somewhere new in your hometown. The more we can connect with other cultures and the environment around us, the more we see that we're all in this together!

In Their Words

Incredible places and incredible people are what keep me exploring.

—Gemina Garland-Lewis

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