When did you decide to be a documentary photographer?
Gabriella N. Báez: I was always the artsy person in my family. Throughout my life, I've had a diary practice.
At some point, my older sister had a boyfriend. His parents were photojournalists, and on this one occasion, they showed me their archives. I was so moved and impressed by seeing a whole other vision and story of Puerto Rico that I had never come across at school or through my family. It was another version of my country that I had never experienced.
That was the first time I learned about documentary photography. I was around 15 or 16 years old. Although I was interested in it, I didn't start photographing at that time.
In 2016, when I started at the University of Puerto Rico, I was an anthropology student. At some point, I took a course on media studies. One of the assignments was to do a photo essay. I picked up a camera and started photographing, and I was like, “Yeah, I am convinced this is what I am gonna do.”
At the same time, there was a really big student strike, and the whole country was very politically active. This was right before the hurricane. The Fiscal Control Board, also known as PROMESA, had been recently implemented.
PROMESA is a colonial debt restructuring experiment signed into law under the Obama administration, which proposed major austerity measures and budget cuts to essential services like education, health, and transportation, among others. I remember as a student at the time seeing a lot of misrepresentations of the student movement in the press.
I already had this tool of photography. I 'faked it till I made it' and was like, "I'm gonna be the student photojournalist." It was then that I began to take my practice more seriously.
During that period, I also had a keen interest in visual anthropology research methods and photography, particularly as a primary method of collecting data. As a beginner, I looked up to all these famous photojournalists, who have incredible work, but I was trying to imitate their voices.
With the death of my father, things shifted towards more artistic, introspective, and personal work. I began exploring photography and finding my own voice at that time.