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Inspiring people: George Garcia (@garsha18_photography)

jorge garcia interview

Who is George Garcia?

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I was born and raised in Southern California, not far from Newport Beach. After finishing college, I moved to Maryland where I attended medical school and accepted a commission in the US Army. After graduation, I moved to Hawaii to begin my surgical training at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. Later, I would complete my training in a Trauma Surgery and Surgical Critical Care fellowship at the Ryder Trauma Center, University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. During my 20 year Army career, I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where I was the medical officer for 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne); Fort Campbell, Kentucky; the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC; Forward Operating Base Naray, Konar Province, Afghanistan; and, finally, as Director of the Army Trauma Training Center, once again at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center until my retirement from the Army in 2012. Since retiring from the Army, I have been on faculty at the Ryder Trauma Center.

What made you interested in photography?

My appreciation for photography began when I was walking down the street in Laguna Beach, California on a visit home. I happened to glance into a display case and saw a photo of a wave breaking on the shore taken by Clark Little. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I quickly found the small gallery he had there at the time and went in and bought three pieces! It hadn’t yet occurred to me to take it up photography myself, though. That would be several years later.At first my interest in photography was just to justify taking some time off work. I have a fairly demanding job that many would consider quite stressful, but for the majority of my career I took very little time off. To be honest, I just never really felt the need to. I’m lucky in that I really enjoy what I do and never felt the need to take any time away. Eventually, though, some of my colleagues convinced me that I should, and that it would actually make when I was at work more enjoyable. Whether I believed it or not, they said, it would be good for me and actually lead to a longer, happier career. So, I bought myself a beginner camera and started messing around with it. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I really enjoyed it and my obsessive personality pretty quickly kicked in. I almost immediately upgraded my camera and started taking every opportunity I could to practice.

Whale jumping by George Garcia

What came first, diving or photography?

I started diving long, long before I seriously took up photography. I was fortunate enough to live in Hawaii for five years during my general surgery residency. In the very limited time that I had off (in those days 120 hour work weeks were the norm), I got scuba certified (both open water and advanced open water). That would have been back in 1996 for the open water and around 2000 for the advanced open water. My first camera was one of the old Sealife Reefmaster cameras (the one that came in the yellow water housing) that my little brother got me as a gift after he came out to visit in Hawaii and we went diving together. I absolutely loved that thing. It completely transformed the way I experienced my dives. I slowed down, I started peeking into every little crack and crevice in the reefs where I dove. I saw SO many more things. That was back in the pre-digital camera days, so I could only take 24 or so pictures per dive. It was always so exciting to drop off the film at a one-hour development place and get the images back. There would maybe be only one or two per roll of film, but it was so rewarding. The pictures, looking back, were obviously amateurish and not very high quality, but it was so much fun. Unfortunately, I eventually had to leave Hawaii (I was active duty at that time and was re-assigned upon completion of my surgery training) and moved to North Carolina. There wasn’t too much diving there and the photography just kind of faded away until I re-discovered it a long time later.

What do you look for in a photograph and what is your intention?

This has changed quite a bit over time. As I said, at first I was just looking for a way to pass some time and get away. As I got more and more serious about it, though, and started getting out to some pretty wild places, I started to notice something pretty profound. I realize that this may sound corny to some, but I also think it will resonate with a lot of people. I first noticed this with my landscape photography. I would be out in these wild places and I would find myself wondering what the first people to see this sight must have thought.A great example is when I was standing on a remote part of the Grand Canyon, 60 miles from the nearest small town. I was absolutely dumbfounded at the sight. A mile wide and 3000 feet deep; it was almost more than I could process, even with my 21st century mind and the ability to take out my phone and look up the geology of the place for a scientific explanation of what I was looking at. I realized that if I felt this feeling standing here in our modern world, what did the first people to see this think? I find myself almost transported back in time and feel them standing next to me. I share in their wonder and can feel them share in mine.So, I what I look for in a photograph is, first, a feeling. A place that inspires wonder. A place that stirs that part of me that has been buried under decades of tv, iphones, textbooks, and all the trappings of modern life that urge us to be as comfortable as possible. A place that reminds me that I, and we, are not meant for comfort. We are meant to explore and adventure. We are meant to connect with the world around us, but not the concrete man-made world. We belong in the wild with the wind in our hair and the rain on our face. My intention is to share that feeling when you see one of my images. I want people to feel their wild selves stir. I want them to see my image remember what it feels like, or discover what it feels like, to stand in awe of the natural world.I had a similar experience the first time I was in the water with a humpback whale. I watched her slowly ascend from beneath me. She couldn’t have been more that 15 feet from me. We were close enough that I could see we made eye contact. I felt such a profound connection to her. It was like I was looking into the eye of the ocean itself. It was the kind of experience that, if you let it, will change your life and the way you see everything.

Gran Canyon By George Garcia

What’s in your photography equipment bag?

I shoot with Nikon equipment. I currently shoot with a Nikon D850, but I’m in the process of upgrading (at least I hope it’s an upgrade) to the Nikon Z9. My landscape kit includes two D850s, a 14-24mm lens, a 24-70mm lens, and an 80-400mm lens. When I’m shooting in the water, I use an Aquatech housing. If I’m in the surf photographing waves, I use a 15mm fisheye. When I’m freediving to photograph whales and sharks, I use a 16-35mm lens.

Which image do you feel the most proud of and why?

That’s a tough one. If I had to pick one that I’m most proud of, I think it would be Baja Morning. I captured that image while on my first real photo trip. It was a trip down to Baja, Mexico. It was a crazy morning with humpback whales breaching all over the place. I was still pretty new and I kept moving around on the boat and missing the breaches. Eventually, though, we saw one of the whales lift her tail way up out of the water and start tail slapping. We were able to whip the boat around and get a little closer. I shot Baja Morning while standing on the bow of the boat in the few seconds that she had her tail up. I was able to get the exposure right and to get it in focus! I shot on burst and captured a series of images. Baja Morning is the one with her tail the highest. Not long after the trip, I wanted to give my girlfriend a gift and picked what I thought was the next best shot and got it printed for her as a metal print. It was the first one of my images that I had seen actually printed and not just on the computer. When it got delivered to my house, I opened it to make sure it was in good shape and looked alright. When I saw it, I was surprised at what an emotional experience it was. I could almost smell the salt water and feel the boat moving again. That’s when began to believe that my photos were good enough that other people might want to see them and hang them in their homes.

What was your most unforgettable moment below the surface?

My most unforgettable moment in the water came on a trip to Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Although the trip was primarily to photograph whales, we took one day and went back over to Tahiti, about a 45 minute boat ride. Our plan was to photograph tiger sharks. After picking up some fish heads and tails to lower into the water, we got geared up and got ready to get into the water. As soon as we got in, I saw sharks everywhere. There were black tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, and white tip reef sharks. After about 10-15 minutes, though, I felt something change. I could feel a presence in the water, an energy that wasn’t there before. Looking back now, I would describe it as a power that was palpable in the water. Only a moment or two later, I saw them. Two 10-12 foot long tiger sharks swimming slowly into the area. One of them approached me and I was absolutely mesmerized. She swam slowly, knowing that she was the unquestioned alpha in these waters. She swam right up and bumped the lens dome of my camera with her nose and slowly turned away. I have never, not before that moment or since, been in the presence of such strength and such beauty. She came near my a few more times, but not as close as that first pass again. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Tiger Shark by George Garcia

What picture do you still dream of capturing?

There are so many photos still to take! I had a trip to Antarctica scheduled last winter that got cancelled at the last minute, so I desperately want to make that happen. I would love to go to the arctic. One shot that I have been dreaming about for a long time would be to capture an orca in the water! I was lucky enough to photograph orcas in Monterey Bay, California but only from the boat. The opportunity to be in the water with orcas would be beyond incredible.

Which award are you most proud of?

I don’t know if there’s one that I’m most proud of. I’m humbled to have won any awards with my photography. The fact that I’ve had my work recognized, especially as relatively new to it as I am, is incredibly gratifying and validating. It’s something that continues to provide a little extra motivation to continue to try and get better.

What do you have on your schedule? What are your plans for the near future?

My next trip is to Alaska and is a landscape photo trip, although I’m hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to photography some bald eagles while I’m there, too. Shortly after I return from that trip, I will be heading up to British Colombia to try and photograph the spirit bears that live up there. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll spot some wolves and be able to photograph them! That would be another dream shot.

Which place is still on your travel bucket list?

There are SO many places still to visit. As I said, I desperately want to get to Antarctica. I would love to go back to Mo’orea and to Tonga for another opportunity to swim with the humpbacks (my favorite whale). I want to go to Japan, particularly Hokkaido in the winter. The far north of Finland. A photo safari to Africa. The list goes on and on and on.

Where can we find your work and get in touch with you?

Of course, you can find me on Instagram (@garsha18_photography), on facebook (@garsha18), and on twitter (@garsha18_photo), although I don’t use twitter very much. I also have a website, www.garsha18photography.com. I am currently completely re-designing my website and the new version is almost done, but my current site is still up and active. You can reach me via direct message on Instagram or email me at info@garsha18photo.com.

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About the author

Picture of Ana M.López

Ana M.López

Ana holds a degree in Marine Sciences and has completed a Master's Program in Aquaculture with a specialization in ornamental species. Additionally, Ana is a certified Dive Master and Cave Diver, taking her passion for marine life to new depths. Ana has gained years of experience in the aquarium industry.