A Conversation with Karla Gachet

Photographer and journalist Karla Gachet was born in Quito, Ecuador. After studying at San Jose State University, she returned to her homeland to practice photojournalism. In 2007 she went freelance to work on long-term, book-length photo essays, many of which she created in collaboration with her husband, Ivan Kashinsky. Her Ingage story is a personal study of the fading tradition of pasillo, a romantic Ecuadorian style of music played on stringed instruments. Karla recently sat down with Lisa Lytton, Scrollmotion’s senior director of product design, to discuss her work.

Karla Gachet Ecuador

Lisa Lytton: When you were going to school, you were studying art and design. What it was about photography that spoke to you—why did you make that jump?

Karla Gachet: I was always attracted to art, but I was never confident enough to make a living as an artist. So then I tried graphic design. But as much as I liked it, it wasn’t free enough. It was more about doing what your client wants. Meanwhile, I was under pressure to pick a career. Studying at San Jose State was expensive. It was like a ticking bomb: when you’re done, you’re done.

So I thought, “Maybe I should go into journalism. I enjoy writing and that’s something that I could do anywhere.” I remember walking into the journalism department and there were flyers for a speaker who was a photojournalist. And when I saw this guy’s work, I was like, “That’s it. That’s everything I want to do: tell stories visually, with the freedom to do it how I want to.”

Iranian photographer Reza Deghati was speaking at a course I attended, and he sold it for me. The things he did were so amazing. He showed this project where he took pictures of families in one side of a border and then kids on the other side, to reunite them. I was convinced that was what I wanted to do. I bought a camera from a friend and that’s how it all started.

Lisa: After college you were a photojournalist at a few newspapers. How did that kind of rapid-fire work shape the way you shoot today?

Karla: I interned in Hollister at The Pinnacle and at the Tennessean in Nashville, and when I went back to Ecuador I worked at Diario El Comercio. It teaches you a lot. I mean, you go to school and you learn the basics, but you really learn in the newsroom because you’re shooting everyday on so many assignments.

At Diario El Comercio they totally overworked their photographers. Sometimes I had eight assignments a day because there were so many sections to their newspaper. But that’s how you build your portfolio. Still, it’s a lot of work, and it’s kind of scary to talk to people if you’re not completely extroverted.

Lisa: I think that’s the reason I didn’t go into photography.

Karla Gachet Bolivia

Karla: I’m a little shy; I don’t just go and talk to people. But you do it because you have to—you push yourself. Newspaper trains you for that. It helps build your confidence. You stop being so afraid and you learn how to talk to people. It was my education on how to approach the world.

Lisa: You are a storyteller. Tell me about that, and how you look for the stories you want to tell.

Karla: When I was growing up, my grandma told me that her mom was one of those people who always had stories. All these women used to come to her house and sit around and she would tell them stories. So storytelling is part of my heritage, I guess.

For me to choose a story, there has to be something that just grabs my attention. Maybe that’s what drives me to stories, to explore things, to bring out some aspect of weird, or good, or bad, or whatever. I want to draw out some kind of emotion so the viewer can feel something, like the tension or the beauty. You know what I mean?

Lisa: Sure. Your story of pasillo music is very emotional, and seems very connected to family.

Karla: I hear pasillo music and I want to cry because it has this sort of gentle nostalgia to it. My dad plays pasillo and it’s so important to him. His happiest moments are to be with his friends playing pasillos. Working on the story, I realized this is not just about him. It’s about me. In my house there were always musicians and they played all the time when I was growing up. It’s crazy because it happens in all of Ecuador. A lot of these musicians are older now and they still do it. It’s kind of sweet that it’s still alive. It’s like another world, a world that’s probably going to change somehow, going forward.

Karla Gachet Pasillo

Lisa: You and your husband Ivan have moved to LA with your son, who’s three years old. Are you worried that he won’t grow up having pasillo and Ecuadorian culture as part of his life?

Karla: It totally worries me. The hardest thing for me was to leave my culture. I have family here but I’m very attached to my roots. I don’t want him to forget where he comes from and I don’t want him to not be connected to that. It’s definitely scary, like “is he ever going to feel like he’s from my culture or is that going to just kind of disappear?”

So it’s funny that when I shot the pasillo story I was pregnant with my son. I traveled everywhere with him in my belly, trying to shoot as much as I could before I gave birth. My dad used to say, “He’s definitely going to like this music because he’s listening to it all the time.”

Lisa: When you’re in the field, you gather every asset you can, including audio, video as well as photography. You and Ivan have done some really beautiful videos. The pasillo piece is very nice. Do you enjoy video?

Karla: I don’t really do much video, to tell you the truth. It’s a different mindset. A lot of times, you’re shooting video but you’re missing your stills, and it hurts. You’re like, “I want to be photographing this!” It’s hard making that decision: will it be better as a still or would it work better as video? To do video, it certainly helps to work as a team, because one of you can concentrate on one thing and the other can look after the other part. When I work with Ivan, he can focus more on video and I shoot stills.
What I have been doing a lot, and kind of prefer, is recording field audio—interviews, ambient sounds, even narration. I think it raises your story to another level by adding a new dimension.

Lisa: And you know, on Ingage, you can weave your pictures, video, and audio together to tell a story that has several levels…

Karla: I like it. It’s an awesome tool.

Lisa: So, Karla, you’re eight months pregnant with your second child. How will having two kids change your work or the things you want to focus on?

Karla: When I had my son Nahuel, Ivan and I had been working nonstop for many years. I was thinking, I’m ready to take a break and be a mom. But then I started missing photography a lot. I was like, “I want to shoot again, and edit my stories.” But with one kid and especially two, you have so much less time to work that it forces you to choose what you really, really want to do.

If I hadn’t had a kid, it would probably have taken me longer to do a certain story, or I would have been all over the place. So I think it’s helped me focus. You think, “I had so much time before. What was I doing?” It’s weird how your perspective just changes. Even with two kids, I still want to travel. I still want to do stories that are not exactly around here. The world is full of stories that are waiting to be told.