This interview with Gaby Clingman, better known by her Instagram handle @Wanderlustories, was conducted last week by telephone. Gaby is currently in Malawi on a 5-month jaunt that has taken her to Namibia, Zambia and Rwanda to explore as well as volunteer and intern with various organizations. We caught up with Gaby to discuss Africa, photography, her advice for newbies to Instagram and why Facebook is sometimes better for sharing pictures and stories.
A condensed interview below:
Can you describe a little about where you are and what you’re doing?
Right now I’m in Lilongwe [the capital of Malawi] working for an organization called Goods for Good, which is based in NY.
How would you describe your role there?
I’m an intern here but I’ve been given a lot of responsibility in many aspects of what the organization does. I’m working within all the projects such as our tailoring program which teaches vulnerable men and women the skills needed to be tailors, as well as our poultry farming initiatives. I’m also helping with social media, and because of my interest in photography and film, they’ve allowed me to get involved in those areas as well; I’ll be taking pictures or our project sites and beneficiaries throughout my two-month stint.
How does your photography play a role in your experience in Africa?
Well, you could say that taking pictures with your phone removes you from the moment. But I think both the ease of an iPhone camera and the love I have for taking pictures has allowed me to notice things and moments that I wouldn’t have seen before. It allows me to capture those small moments I would have brushed by before; there are so many of those that I can remember now that I capture them. Every day I’m taking hundreds of pictures. Every inch of this continent is so beautiful and fascinating, the rain, the mud, even the poverty.
Also, I’m in love with the community of photographers and photography lovers on Instagram (from hereon, IG), and seeing the comments of people who like my pictures. To learn that some of those people are inspired by me has been really exciting. For example, I got a response from someone who commented on my Rwanda experience, who said something like, ‘All I knew about Rwanda was the genocide and you opened me to up to realizing how beautiful it could be.’
There was never a point in my taking pictures, I just loved doing it but this trip has made me feel such a purpose in taking them. In my blog (blog.wanderlustories.com) I also try to raise awareness about the beauty in Africa, which the media has a hard time portraying, and together with my pictures I feel like I’m sort of an ambassador for African beauty in being able to teach people it’s such an amazing continent.
Does photography play a bigger role than art, how do you use it to tell stories?
Being able to tell a story through a photograph is amazing. I consider myself a political person and I also really love art and creativity and to meld the two together is incredible. And, its always been a secret dream of mine… I’ve always been obsessed with photojournalism, constantly reading articles, sifting through newspapers and magazines, admiring so many Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers. What excites me about photojournalism is not only that you’re teaching people and raising awareness through outstanding photography but you’re also traveling the world and meeting people—not only telling stories but hearing stories as well. Recently, one of my followers on IG mentioned that it’s so great there’s a photojournalist like me telling the stories I’m telling, and I never called myself a photojournalist, but she did. It was always a passion of mine not only to take pretty or interesting pictures but to tell other people’s stories, especially those most people back home would never get to hear.
Lets talk a little about your social media experience - do you construct shots for different purposes based on where you plan to share them?
There are certain pictures that, if I think they’re really important, I’ll post them to Facebook, but I get more likes on IG from strangers than I do on Facebook from my friends. With IG, I have better conversations, and then I’ll also post them on my blog, which I dont think anyone follows. I think Facebook is very fleeting for some reason, I think on IG you can see someone’s whole gallery, and it’s more lasting. But when I post a picture on Facebook, it will pop up on someone’s newfeed for a few hours and then kind of fade away. If I post a Facebook status that more serious or has any sort of depth to it, it wont get as much attention as something funny. Like, if I posted today that I met a boy who dying of AIDS, I would receive much less comments [on Facebook] but my IG followers would go crazy with replies.
Can you name a few Instagram photographers pushing the envelope?
What advice do you have for photographers just starting out on Instagram?
The best thing I ever did was download an app called Snapseed. I don’t mind that I edit most of my pictures because so many other photographers do, and I use it because the iPhone isn’t perfect, but I’ll edit the contrast or the brightness to make it a little more clean. I would say don’t limit yourself to IG and learn how to use some editing programs—that’s something a lot of people don’t like to talk about. But almost all my pics are edited on Snapseed or another app like VSCO Cam. Don’t try to change pictures too much but subtle edits really help. No writer just writes a first draft and publishes, and photography is usually the same.