When Gabriel Galgoczy presents his wildlife photos, he introduces you to each animal as if they had a discussion prior to him taking the photo. He knows which areas they frequent, because he says they are like humans, creatures of habit. He once followed two deer for one hour in order to capture the perfect photo of the them aligned.
His passion for animals comes from his father, who grew up on the bank of Someș, three kilometers away from the forest. His father used to take Gabriel and his brother hiking for hundreds of kilometers, hunting, and fishing, teaching them about animals, a fact which lead to making Gabriel look for nature wherever he was on the globe. “What’s that?” he says he used to ask, letting curiosity wild. From his father he learned many things, knowledge he is now growing. He wants to learn the scientific side. His mother is very passionate about plants, having a garden with more than a hundred herbs. As he talks, you can see passion light up his face.
With a Journalism Bachelor and a Masters in Media Production for which he didn’t present his dissertation, he says he never wants to work for anyone else. In the photojournalism course he became acquainted with a digital camera. In the summer of his second year he went to the United States for work. What happened when he reached Boston was, no one was there to pick him up. After begging for one day and a half, he made enough money to buy the bus ticket he needed. The motel he worked at had a National Park near it – a lake, mountains and the Atlantic Ocean – he managed to explore the entire area on his own in the months he was there. You can find nature in every story he tells. Like the time he was stopped by police because he was driving his bicycle without having a headlight. Of course on the forest road he went hom riding it, because he liked it even if there were no lights on it.
When he returned he bought his first camera, which was one of the goals he set while being in the US. He started taking photos at parties for websites, ending up getting a recommendation to work at Look TV. He worked there for two years.”That’s where the change happened.” He had money, everything he needed, his own place, a girlfriend – “it was all absolutely brilliant.” But he didn’t feel comfortable. He didn’t feel ok. Something was buzzing inside of him: “Go and do another crazy thing. It’s not the moment to grow roots.” Even though he had reached the point for which society prepares you for – he had gone through the 17 years of continuous school, “society tells you that once you deviate from this path you will be reproved, judged, you will be a failure.” “But happiness lies in something else. It lies in something far away from what they tell you it’s reality.”
“Even if you won’t have money for a period of time, I believe it’s worth to invest 10, 15, even 20 years in something for which to work, and afterwards to reach happiness. Because practically that’s what everyone is looking for. But they think you can buy it with money. When really with money you buy – what do you buy? – pleasure.”
He never refused an opportunity to take photos. He realized he has to work with people, therefore he put himself in that situation, a thing he does to this day. “It’s the only way to evolve – to confront your fears.”
With the decision that he needs a change, he searched for the “job photograph abroad.” He clicked on the first link which appeared – Carnival Cruise Lines. He send his portfolio and CV, and the next day they called. A week later he went to Brasov for the language test. Three months later he Skyped with the general manager of the photographers team on the cruise fleet. They liked Gabriel and asked how soon can he start. He said he doesn’t know. He went to Look TV and they let him leave two weeks later. During this time, he obtained his visa and all the paperwork. “And I woke up in Mexico.” “That’s where the craziness started.” The work was very hard, but also rewarding. “More things happened in nine months than in five years of university in Cluj.” There are people from all over the world – 42 nations speaking 37 languages – he had roommates from Indonesia, India, Serbia; work colleagues from South Africa, “everything you can imagine, with the good and the bad.”
Just Gabriel and two others finished the nine months on the cruise ship. “The others quit over time.” “You go through some crappy [back] pain because you are always standing. You’re not allowed to sit down. You always have to have a forced smile. It’s a kind of military training in photography.”
That was where he learned to do portraits, “to hide defects, to know what distortion is, to know what absolutely everything is, how the lights work. I learned 16 different light setups.” He photographed around 400 portraits, and took 800 snapshots at events. His work day started around 6 am in the morning, with a different schedule every week, as the photographers were rotated in order to change positions on the ship. They also photographed on different backgrounds, which were rewards based on how good they were. They had to sell 10% of the printed portraits in the gallery the next day.
During this time he saw a photographer from Serbia shoot around 800 portraits and managing to sell 30% of them. “When I saw that I stuck to him. And told him: I want to learn.” So many times when the work day was done, they reviewed Gabriel’s photos together and the Serbian photographer gave Gabriel some advice. When they photographed in the studio, he would come to Gabriel’s background, and even protected him in front of the other photographers. Gabriel describes the life on the cruise as a “mosh pit”, or “a machine that eats people and produces money.” Before the Serbian photographer left he gave Gabriel around 2,000 electronic books about photography. And he told him it’s “Just a small piece of what you should know.”
Gabriel now describes him as “a god in photography.”
After learning and experiencing life on a cruise ship, he returned home. He says he got tired of taking photos of people, that’s why his focus is wildlife now. His brother asked why would he come back home if he wanted to take photos of wild animals. To which Gabriel answered that there are many animals there. He proved it by taking photos of beavers in a very circulated area in his home town, Gherla. He’s reached the point in which he knows how close he can get to different animals. And getting up in the morning and going with his camera around in search of things to photograph makes for his daily adventures.
In order to protect the animals he enjoys photographing, he is working towards establishing a protected area on the Someș river.
Gabriel also hikes as the landscapes are best photographed at the top of the mountains. He wakes up before the sunrise in order to catch the ‘golden hour’ in the location he wants. He climbed many mountains in Romania, hiking as long as 8 hours on the way up. As Gabriel has a lot of equipment, he has climbed with up to a 30 kg backpack, when he only has 55.
Gabriel’s life hasn’t followed a regular line. But at this stage in his life he’s happy that “All my energy goes where I want.” He has reached a stage where if you talk to him, you realize how you need to adjust your life. He explained to me that passion is the only thing worth doing with your life. We all chase happiness, but because we listen to people’s advice, and that might not lead you to your happiness.
I’d like to leave you with his advice – always listen to yourself.