Alex Garland graduated the University of North Texas in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Emergency Administration and Disaster Planning but later found himself in the world of activist photojournalism.
His work has been featured in many local media outlets such as Crosscut, Seattle Weekly, South Seattle Emerald, and the Seattle Times. He works for the non-profit The Dignity Virus and as a freelancer. He also had his own photography business shooting portraits, family photos, and weddings.
Garland placed first in the Pacific Northwest Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Excellence in Journalism competition in 2015 for Visuals in Feature Photography and Daily Print and Online Small Spot News Reporting.
After graduating the University of North Texas, Garland decided to sell all his possessions other than what would fit in a backpack and travel the world. He traveled to Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, Germany and met up with a friend in Nepal in September of 2007.
While staying at the Happy Home guest house in Katmandu, he saw a flyer on the wall for volunteers wanted at the Happy Home Orphanage and decided to go out of curiosity.
“That was probably my most life-changing experience,” he said.
He and his friend found out that the Orphanage teachers were on strike and need volunteers to teach elementary school kids. Garland taught the kids English and spent time with them at recess. He described a time when the kids invited him to dinner.
“These kids don’t have much so to give some of their food to me was something that I was very respectful of and very aware of what they were doing,” he said.
In return, he went to the store and bought his class a large box of crayons with a sharpener in the back.
“These kids went crazy,” he said. “I have not seen kids so excited in my life because they never get anything new. So to have these new sharp, bright crayons. They just kept thanking me all day long and would write my name over and over again. It was just a very different thing for me. That kind of changed things for me and I saw things differently and I had some perspective that I hadn’t had before.”
Garland’s grandmother called in November and asked him to come home to take care of her in ill health. He is still in touch with the kids from his time in Nepal and says the he recently received a photo from a young girl, now a teenager.
“It really hit me hard,” he said. “It stuck with me for a long time.”
Garland then found a job working disaster protocol and going to disaster sites with FEMA but found his time there contradictory to what he wanted to accomplish.
“It became very difficult for me to see any growth or environmental change,” he said.
Garland came to Seattle in hopes of getting a master’s degree but started practicing photography during Occupy Seattle in 2011.
“I found out that that’s called photojournalism, what I was doing,” he said. “It was documentary work; it was covering what was happening in the moment.”
He decided to stay in Seattle because of his interest in the social movements happening here and to further his skills in photojournalism.
“I realize it takes a lot for people to give up their daily lives,” he said. “If they’re that driven to turn off the Netflix or dress their kids up in heavy jackets to go stand out in the cold weather, then we should probably figure out why they’re doing that.”
The increasing prices of housing and the resulting homelessness crisis is one of the most important issues in Seattle today according to Garland and that it’s an important one for everyone to address.
“I think conversation is probably the best thing we can do and listen to people when they’re talking,” he said. “Open our minds a little bit, open our hearts, try and understand where people are coming from and what motivates them to do what they’re doing. And that’s part of the reason why I think journalism is so important. You’re able to tell those stories to a very large audience and maybe get people to see things in a different light.”
Check out more of the interview with Alex Garland. Here’s a part of the interview transcript in a Q&A.
What inspires you most about Cascadia and the people who live here?
“People are working tirelessly on these issues all the time… It’s a struggle being aware sometimes. Being an empathetic person who is aware of the world around them can be really hard but at the same time you realize that there are people who are living those things. Who experience trauma on a regular basis, and the fact that they keep trying to move forward and try to find solutions to the problem, that’s pretty inspiring to me.”
What does Cascadia mean to you?
“To me the idea of Cascadia is really taking care of the land that you live on and being environmentally conscious but also being aware of the people who were here before us who were stewards of the land we’re living on now,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot more contentedness in Cascadia as a range because there’s such a broad landscape in Cascadia to temperate rain forest to almost high prairie. I think it’s really interesting that it can be divided this way…I like the idea of living in a place that reflects your ideals and who you are. It’s something that people can rally behind.”
You say on your website that you only capture a fraction of the beauty you see in the world and that you have a passion for capturing beauty in nature. Could you elaborate on that?
“I thought it was really cool to capture something that you may only see once like a certain sunrise or sunset or a ray of light through the trees or something that makes you stop and appreciate where you are. And I just think we live in such a beautiful place. Nature is the arts and we’re just kind of the vessel really. Just kind of bring it to people who might not be able to see it otherwise. I really like just focusing in the really unique things about nature that we might miss, things that we might overlook. Finding the beauty that’s already there, just seeing it in a different way maybe.”
What is most important or inspiring about the work you do photographing social movements?
“We haven’t really seen equality or equity yet and the fact that it’s happening right now is pretty powerful and the fact that I’m able to be there and capture it and be accepted for telling the stories that I tell in the way that I tell them. I think it’s really important to pay attention to what’s going on around us right now. I think that there’s a lot of different directions we could go. I think it’s important to be wary of the direction we’re headed.”
How do you go about finding your place or your niche in journalism?
“I think you just got to find something that you really care about, you just got to find those issues that are really important to you and focus on that… It’s hard for me to just sit around and think about doing anything else when I know that there’s so much injustice in the world, so it’s important for me to just do whatever I can do see that, to see life bettered for other people if I have that opportunity.”
What inspired you to capture and document these social movements and why is that important?
“The photos of civil rights movements from the 60’s that I saw when I was in high school and college were always just something that captivated me and helped me understand the scene and what was really happening. I feel like the more documentation I can provide the more people can understand where we got to where we’re going.”
Taylor McAvoy is a Junior at the University of Washington pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has been a writer and photographer for the university’s newspaper The Daily for more than a year focusing on editorial reporting and arts event coverage. She is currently vice president elect of the Society of Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) University of Washington chapter. She is also working on her own as a freelance journalist and photographer.