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Meet Gabrielle Scharaga

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gabrielle Scharaga.

Hi Gabrielle, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in San José, CA, watching my family capture moments. My dad recorded everything on his camcorder, and both my mom and older sister shot on my mom’s old Canon ae-1 camera. My mom would share slides of images she took in NYC clubs in the 70s, and my sister would come home with photos showing off all the crazy shit she was getting into as a teenager. I always had a point and shoot and was amazed with the mechanics behind capturing a moment, but after my sister passed away when we were kids, the preservation of a time and place gone took on a new meaning. In high school, I took whatever photography elective was offered and supplemented it by taking summer courses at the local community college. Before cameras were as ubiquitous as they are today, I was the friend that everyone expected to document our lives. I had the ae-1 on me at all times and obsessed over keeping moments forever.

I moved to San Francisco for college when I was 18. It would have been logical for anyone to guess that I’d pursue further education in photography, but instead I studied graphic design and early childhood education thinking it would be easier to find a job later. I still went out shooting as a hobby and used a lot of my photography in my design projects, but it was no longer at the forefront of my life – until I needed a job. To get through college, I worked part-time at Best Buy in the digital imaging department and taught people how to use the cameras I was selling to them. Once I graduated, I had the hardest time finding entry-level roles in design, but a friend told me about an opening at the company she was working for that involved photography so I applied knowing that if nothing else, I knew how to work a camera.

I was hired at Zazzle, an online marketplace for customizing products, in 2014 and spent two years there learning the ins and out of product photography and studio lighting. I had no prior experience with studio lighting but faked the funk and learned it quickly in order to produce images for e-commerce. My time at Zazzle reignited my love for a camera in my hand and playing with light. As cheesy as it sounds, it made me realize that photography could be both a passion and a career.

After two years of shooting various angles of products on white backdrops, I wanted to find something that offered me the opportunity to be more creative and also to learn marketing strategy. I landed a content creator role on Benefit Cosmetics’ US marketing team in 2016 and dove into the world of beauty products, makeup artists, and influencers. I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, and I wasn’t really into influencers at the time, but again, I relied on my craft to pull me through, trusting that I would learn the rest. I studied the products, I learned about competitor brands and their approach to social media, and soon became familiar with all of the top-tier creators in the space. During my three and a half years at Benefit, I drove and managed the brand’s owned channel acquisition and engagement strategy. I fostered relationships with followers and influencers to leverage user-generated content and ensure dope pictures came from any influencer activations. I executed social campaign strategies, planned weekly social content across platforms, created a shit ton of assets, and moderated the Instagram community from 5M followers up to 9M. To say I learned a lot would be an understatement!

With this new sense of “I think I know wtf I’m doing now,” I felt like I needed to try freelancing. I wanted to focus on creating content for a wider range of subjects and objects, photo assist with established photographers, and also get back to doing some personal projects – something I had put off almost entirely while working as a professional photographer. I left my Benefit family in February of 2020 and then panicked as soon as the pandemic and shutdowns hit the next month. It was quickly looking like I picked the worst time to leave my job. Every brand I reached out to was putting their creative budgets on pause for the foreseeable future.

My girlfriend and I moved to LA in August, and luckily I’ve had a few consistent clients through the shutdowns. Leaving my job when I did ended up being OK, and I know what a privilege it is to say that given the current state of our country. I’m still looking for other brands to work with and for opportunities to photo assist, but with the forced pause, I found the time to create with friends and family and am reminded of the power an image has to communicate with others and preserve fleeting moments.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
While life in general hasn’t always been a smooth road, I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunities to pursue the things I want to pursue. From the get, I was born to a family that appreciates art and fosters an environment to explore creative outlets. That said, being a creative in a capitalist society is far from easy. Thankfully, I can be versatile and use my skillset and medium for commercial purposes as well as passion projects.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I’m a professional photographer that executes high-quality digital assets for social, e-commerce, PR, event, and model/influencer photography while maintaining cross-platform consistency and adherence to brand identity. I’m known for fostering a community-first strategic approach and having a deep passion for tackling social justice issues. I create content and interact with social communities with intention, and I’m mindful of uplifting marginalized voices to help brands understand how they can best advocate for and be accessible to all populations.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
My parents are my greatest influence. My mom is an amazing mixed-media installation artist and her dedication to her art and her desire to continually learn new skills inspires me to be just as committed. Her experience helps guide a lot of my decisions when it comes to navigating the balance between producing fine art and commercial art since I’ve witnessed her struggles in that regard. Despite the struggles she continues to create. It’s an undisputed fact that my dad is the biggest cheerleader of our family. His sacrifices and support have helped put both my mom and me in positions to pursue these dreams as creatives. No matter what I’ve chosen to do, my dad has always been the first one to try to help me connect the dots.

In addition to my parents, I had a lot of incredible teachers in my life that centered justice, global awareness, and service in their curriculum. Their teachings and philosophies pushed me to hold those values at my own core.

I also have an incredibly supportive partner that helps me feel comfortable with the building periods of life. She encourages me to stretch for my goals and to reinvent until I am happy.

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