• Elsie Hernandez

Photographer Gianni Sanchez Reveals the Beauty of an Alaskan Village

"Life is an Adventure." says Photographer Gianni Sanchez, who recently traveled to  Arctic, Alaska with his mentor Scott Sternbach. Where he had the opportunity to capture these incredible images of native Americans, who live in a primitive society of only one hundred and fifty people. The last village in America, that actually has preserved land. He describes the experience as an incredible journey and the people as survivors. This interview has been really a true awakening of the reality, of the people on the other side of our world, that are almost forgotten. Especially in America. (All photographs were provided by Gianni.)

Gianni Sanchez

Tell us about yourself?

I’m originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador. That’s the southern side of the Ecuadorian Coast, which is very hot. There are a lot of beaches there. I moved to New York, 8 years ago.

What made you come to America, from such a beautiful place?

A better life, there are not too many wars here and in Ecuador they don’t have many jobs. The economic system was changed and people lost jobs and people are leaving the country.

What made you become a photographer, with so many different selections of professions?

To be honest, I never touched a camera before and when I came to New York, I met a friend and he introduced me to the photography department at LaGuardia Community College. I accompanied him to the dark room, where they developed and printed photographs and I was intrigued. Then, I started visiting often and kept watching the process and that was that. I then, decided that I was going to attend the college. I never thought, I would be passionate about photography, like I am today.

What inspired you to take this long road trip with your mentor Scott?

I believe, that I am like a nomad, I don’t like to be in one place. I like to explore. So, I saw that Scott was looking for a guy to help him record images for this documentary project, that he has been working on in Alaska and I applied for the job. He saw my work and because I am very influenced about past photographers, like Garry Winogrand, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank.  I imitated some of their styles and put something of myself into the images. He liked my work, it’s like risky kind of fearless. I don’t think too much, I just improvise and he chose me.

How long did you stat on this trip?

The first one was in 2014, for a month and two weeks and then we went again during the cold winter and that was one month and one week and the last visit was also one month and one week.

What do you think you took away from this last trip to Arctic Village, Alaska?

This trip was different, because I can appreciate the reality of the town and the people were more genuine. On our former trips, people were caught up with festivities in the town, but this time, we really saw how they struggle and the population that was of 150 people was decreased. Many moved to the city of Fairbanks, Alaska to find jobs.  

Who do you recommend to take this kind of trip?

I don’t think that everybody can do this trip. This is a tough trip, it’s not like you are going on vacation. Even, I am still tired from this trip and I came back at least a week ago.

With so much going on in this world, what do you find beautiful about America?

I like America, I like the environment of America. I’m not crazy about the people sometimes. However, it depends where you are, I've been to some towns where you feel that people can be genuinely nice.

What was the strangest thing that you experienced while traveling on this trip.

Everything, but the food was the most strangest thing, because you never knew what you were going to eat. We ate  caribou heads, with the tongue, the eyes. We ate a whole entire fish, with the head and everything. We also ate ground squirrel.

You ate squirrel?

Ground squirrels, they are not like the ones we see here in NY. These are small and are from the fields and the mountains, so they are very healthy.

Are the people the same in the areas that you have visited? Like, when you drove through Canada and then back into America.

The Canadians are very friendly, they are very open people and they like to help. They are always looking, because sometimes we would stop on the road to photograph and they always stopped to ask if we were okay. That was in Canada, but then when we crossed into the United States to Alaska, there were friendly people, but they were also ones with attitude. Even on the road, you can see the difference, in Canada they wait for you to cross, but in the US, Alaska side, the drivers were more aggressive. However, in Alaska you also find a lot of friendly people too, very nice people.

What were the challenges you faced on this trip.

When we went to Arctic Village, we met some natives, that were aggressive towards us and tried to scare us. One guy was aggressive towards our guide dog. They train their dogs to take care of them and their dogs stay close, but our dog strayed a little from us and the guy was defensive against the him.

Did you feel scared?

No, not really, in my country I've faced these challenges before, but I talked to this guy in Alaska and he calmed down. He and another native, assume that we were making money off our documentary. So, they started saying that we were exploiting them. "You click, I click." The guy stated with a gun in his hand. I didn’t know whether to record or put the camera down. So, after that I kept the camera low and recorded close to my hips.

Do you ask them, can we record you?

We ask them and the thing is they say one thing and then they change. The town already know us, from our last trips. We are trying to do this documentary, because this is the last town in that part of Alaska, that have surviving cattle, these animals feed a lot of people. The people there can't eat much, because they don’t have the resources to. They don’t have the money to buy the food. They call it, white people food. Everything is expensive there, there are no roads to transport stuff. So, whatever is brought by airplane is what they get. We brought them stuff. When I have a chance, I also send them stuff. Sometimes they don’t even have shoes, the good thing about them is that they are natural hunters, so they make things, Things that cost plenty of bucks on this side of America.

That’s weird, because this is in America. They are like the forgotten of America.

Yes, and it’s a natural reserved land.

How did you mentally prepare for this trip and what are the steps you took to make it happen?

My colleagues Scott, Karen and her dog mentally and physically prepare for months for this trip. They go, hiking and biking to prepare. Me, however, I don’t think too much about it. The day before, I prepare. I think about what we are going to shoot, etc. If I do it before, sometimes you lose the motivation and start questioning yourself, should I even go on this trip, where there is no running water and no daily showers for a month. When you start thinking about all of that and your motivation goes down. When I’m there, it takes me two or three days to adapt and I'm good. Before, I just prepare myself with the equipment that I need. On this trip, the weather was nice to us. The last trip was brutal in the winter.

What is life to you?


We'll get back to that question.

What other talents do you have and how did you use them on this trip?

I also do video and editing, but I am also a semi-pro soccer player in Ecuador and play for fun here. I guess you can say, that physically helped me on this trip.

What are some stops you can recommend to people, planning to take this trip?

Our trip was from New York to Alaska. We passed by different states, we went through Minnesota, Michigan, Chicago, etc. and Canada. We stopped by Scott's friend's home. So, if you have a chance to make this kind of road trip, it can be an amazing experience. You get to meet people, explore new places, you get to go through British Columbia in Canada and that entire road is stunning. You get to see a lot of beautiful wildlife. Animals like; black birds, eagles, hawks, musk oxes, bob cats, grizzly bears, beavers, porcupines, foxes and wolves.

Do you have any future endeavors that we should look out for?

We are planning to go Italy to the Alpines, to record the life of an Alpines Italian guy named Ario Daniel Z’HOO.  He has skied across Alaska alone for at least 6 to 8 months. He goes through the winter, because he is a winter guy. This guy really has crazy stories. He has had face to face encounters with wolves, grizzly bears and a lot of other wildlife.

Going back to the question, what is life to you?

Life is an adventure. I don’t see myself staying all my life in the city. I see myself in other parts of the world. Like, moving from place to place. Recording life, documenting what is happening around the world. That's what I'm trying to do.

Some of Gianni's Iconic Images

We loved this interview! Gianni is an incredible photographer. His images speak for themselves. We love the way he captures the authenticity of the subject. Each image tells a story. Thank you Gianni!

Follow Gianni on: 




Photographers mentioned:

Garry Winogrand

Richard Avedon

Diane Arbus

Robert Frank

Scott Sternbach