Therapy and escapism: Gabriel Lopez on the healing power of photography
“Putting my body in front of the camera puts myself on the same pedestal I put the rest of my subjects on. If I want them to feel seen, I should too.”
- Olivia Hingley
- 25 May 2022
At only 20 years old, Gabriel Lopez has already proven himself to be a formidable talent behind the camera. Primarily focussing on portraiture and self-portraiture, Gabriel uses photography to both express his vulnerability and explore his connection with his queer, Black and Brown community. Showing such an aptitude for depth and sensitivity, their body of work shows a confidence rarely seen in much more seasoned photographers. Observing “everything” around them, for Gabriel, photography has always been a process of “feeling and reasoning. Sometimes the feeling or reason is obvious,” Gabriel expands, “and sometimes it’s not.”
When Gabriel was younger, they attest to not even really realising that photography was considered an art form. They instead pursued illustration and wanted to major in drawing at their visual and performing arts high school. But, it was following a campus tour that Gabriel was introduced to photography by a teacher, Mr Shipley. “His classroom was filled with cameras, studio lights, backdrops, a black-and-white darkroom – I was really fascinated,” Gabriel reminisces. Despite not being able to join his class, Mr Shipley pushed him to begin photographing for the school yearbook. “The more I shot, the more quickly my eyes picked up on things that I thought were beautiful and intriguing,” Gabriel shares. “During my sophomore year (when I was finally able to take a photography class) I learnt how to shoot and develop colour film and since then I haven’t stopped.” Gabriel adds pointedly that “colour as my main medium has been a bit tricky for me since I’m colour blind”. But, while Gabriel sees his time at school as giving him vital technical skills, his personal exploration has proven most vital.
To create such impressive work, Gabriel goes through a thorough process of self-interrogation. After taking an image they will ask themselves a whole host of questions; “how have you challenged yourself to compose this image?”, “how do you think this image is going to make someone feel?”, “do you leave room for interpretation?”, among many others. Clearly, for Gabriel, self-reflection is a key. Another central focus for the photographer is achieving a “balance” of light. “It’s kind of like Goldilocks tasting each bowl of porridge. After each bowl she ends up liking one that’s just right.”
Before long into their photography practice, Gabriel realised that it held greater power than just capturing a moment in time. “I am diagnosed with depression and have had a history of enduring child abuse,” Gabriel shares, stating that “photography has been my form of escapism and therapy”. Growing up, Gabriel also says he didn’t have many close friends or people to open up to, and so instead, he opens up to those he photographs. “In a way, the people I have met throughout my art have taught me so much about the world and being a human.”
It’s Gabriel’s self-portraiture that has provided a powerful route to navigate such personal experiences. “It began as a way to cope with my body dysmorphia,” Gabriel explains. “I used to be very overweight when I was young. I didn’t necessarily feel normal or beautiful. My mother picked on me a lot because of how my body looked. She and society have influenced how I see myself.” Out of these feelings came one of the projects Gabriel treasures most, his first conceptual series made in high school, Take me away from me. Exploring their feelings of “self hatred” one image shows Gabriel contorted into a closet, a harsh red light enveloping the scene. Inducing feelings of discomfort and pain, the photo has a deeply melancholic tone; a powerful creation for someone only aged 16. Concluding their thoughts, Gabriel says that self-portraiture hasn’t taught him how to “love” his body, but it has taught him how to “accept it”. “Putting my body in front of the camera puts myself on the same pedestal I put the rest of my subjects on. If I want them to feel seen, I should too.”
Gabriel Lopez: Self portrait in my father’s house in Tijuana (Copyright © Gabriel Lopez, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.