The Milky Way in Full Force by Shayanne Gal


Looking back and reminiscing on photos from my year in Chile.... Here is a long-exposure shot I took of our galaxy as we know it, The Milky Way in full force. The universe and everything beyond it. Here in my lens. 

I took this photo while looking up at the clearest night sky I've ever seen, in the driest desert in the world, The Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. I remember when I was growing up in New York, and hardly any stars appeared in the sky each night, just faint little sparkles scattered here and there. I'd always heard of people speaking about the night sky filled with stars, and I'd always dreamed of seeing something so phenomenal and so beyond our material humanity. Once I arrived in North Carolina, there were more stars in the sky, more scattered sparkles, more substance to stare at and to admire each night. 

And then... this. This night sky in Chile. I could've stared at forever. In the little town of San Pedro de Atacama, once the nighttime came, darkness took over. There were no streetlights, or factories, no pollution, no highways. There was just this. Bright, beautiful night sky filled with the most stars I had ever seen in my entire life. Encompassing our entire galaxy, our world. There were more stars than sky. And as I looked up at this sky, I felt something so ethereal, so strange and so wonderful, something I had never felt before. A sensation that this, this right here, is all we have and all we are. And this is the force that keeps us going. That gives us life. The Universe is at the center of everything, and we are at the center of that said Universe.

A Personal Story: 19 Years to Citizenship in the U.S. by Shayanne Gal

In August 1998, my family and I arrived as immigrants to America. Today, March 30, 2017, almost 19 YEARS later, I *finally* became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America!!! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

It's been a huge 19 years for me ... considering I'm only 24, this citizenship application process has taken up 80% of my life. It's been 19 years of registrations, visa renewals, mandatory yearly trips to the U.S. Embassy abroad (a.k.a. taking weeks off school and work to go to Canada, standing in line for hours at a time in sub-freezing temperatures, and waiting for interviews), biometrics sessions, alien numbers, green cards, citizenship tests, and naturalization interviews.

In these 19 years, I've learned to love this country so much - to truly and fully appreciate the privilege it is to be here, and to exercise the rights that it offers.

I arrived here with limited English proficiency, but the need for the language was urgent. My strong and incredible parents are both immigrants who learned with me, and I quickly realized how important it was to master the language - and after a few encounters, I especially realized how important it was to make SURE that no one would ever try to take advantage of my family because we weren't fluent enough or sounded "foreign". Through the educational system I was brought up in, I have not only mastered the language, but have gone on to teach EFL abroad to international students so that they may have the same opportunity I had to immerse myself in this new world. The U.S. gave me the opportunity to be the first person in my family to ever attend university, it gave me the opportunity to speak out on behalf of other people like me - people who left behind other countries, cultures, family members, and lives to pursue a new future and hope in the United States.

Today, I sat in a court house with 117 other individuals who have taken a similar path. These individuals came from all over the world, they comprised of different races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and so on. Within my direct vicinity, I sat by an Indian, Salvadorian, Russian, and Jamaican - but I am near certain that at least 90 different countries in the world were represented in that room today. And the one thing we all shared in common, was our sacrifice, our journey, and our love for the United States of America.

Oh, how beautiful it was, to see a room of immigrants from all over the world, with different backgrounds, languages, and cultures, stand together as one united body and recite The Pledge of Allegiance. (Seriously, I nearly teared up.) Just an epic reminder that THIS is what America is made of! A land of immigrants, a melting pot of hope.

We all listened as a judge told us of the freedoms and rights we inherited today in our great democracy. I know the irony is striking - with all that is happening in our political atmosphere - but albeit incredible because the platform that this country was built upon became all the more prevalent. The judge told us a story, of how some years back, during the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, a series of protests took place outside of the federal courthouse we sat in today. He told us about how people came, and they petitioned, and they rallied, and then ... they went home.

And he explained to us how amazing it was, that in our nation, a group of individuals can effectively protest against the government on the steps of a federal building, and then... they can go home. In many other countries, of course he pointed out, how unlikely this scenario could be. With the amount of dictatorial regimes and repressive governments across our globe, this story rings as a true miracle to humanity. People have fought and died for this right in America - the right to the 1st Amendment. And I am both inspired and honored to use this right to advocate for positive change in our government, and for the inclusion of immigrants like myself that diversify and contribute wholly to our great nation.

Today, I can say, sincerely and solemnly, that I am PROUD to be in this country, I am PROUD to carry out the privileges our presence here encompasses, I am PROUD of the immigrants that made and continue to make this country the great nation that it is ... and most of all: YES, I am, and will always be, PROUD to be an American! 🙌🏼❤🇺🇸

Portraits from Ritsona: "Baba" Namist by Shayanne Gal

Here's "Baba" Namist. He is one of the infamous jokesters at Ritsona Refugee Camp. He notoriously shows up for every food distribution early, and waits for the volunteers to open up the warehouse - only to come up from behind them and scare them with his cane! Even as early as 8 am, he is always ready to pull a prank. He does this to everyone, especially the new volunteers.. it is almost like the unspoken Ritsona initiation procedure.

Aside from his rampant tricks, "Baba" (he insists on being called this, the Arabic word used for a dad and elder) and his wife and young son, spend a lot of their time drinking sweet hot tea, and are always eager to have company over at their tent or caravan. Although the language barrier is intense, between him speaking Kurdish and Arabic, and the volunteers mostly at beginner-level, we communicate in hand gestures and small words - like when he says "chi" for "tea" in arabic and motions the sipping of an imaginary glass. This is his invitation for us to join him and his family for some tea.

Even in the toughest conditions, Baba has a smile on his face, and is always there to joke around and make the volunteers feel welcome. Him and his family fled violence and war in Al-Hasakah, Syria to Greece over a year ago, leaving the only home they'd ever known and many loved ones behind. They are among the over 50,000 refugees that have been awaiting relocation in Europe ever since March 2016, when the Balkan Route shut down - closing international borders and leaving many families trapped along their journeys to a new life.

The Squealing Sound Of A Baby Crying by Shayanne Gal

I hear the squealing sound of a baby crying. Heavy hitting, from deep in the chest, these infant screams echo in my perimeter – but there is no external response. No one comes out from behind his or her plastic tarps; no one emerges in shock or alarm. As my heart escalates its thumping, I run from tent to tent, climbing under make-shift rope clothing lines and trotting around UNHCR cracked water buckets, missing piles of trash and collected puddles of mud along the way. Finally, I reach this scene. From behind, I see a stroller sitting amidst a line of tents at Ritsona Refugee camp – but as I turn towards the front, I see an infant, about 2 months old, wailing at the top of her lungs. I stand there for a moment, in a bit of shock, figuring out how to console this baby, looking for her guardian or for someone to assist - and simultaneously, I wonder to myself: If I’ve heard so many babies cry in my lifetime, why does this one cry sound harsher, deeper, and more striking than ever before?

Is it because this cry is the cry of her mother, living and solely supporting 6 children on her own at a refugee camp?

Is it because this is the cry of her sister, playing with dolls in her tent, still harping on the fear of a rat entering her ad-hoc home? Still hoping that today will be the day that she can return to school and be a “normal” child again?

Is it because this is the cry of her brother, trying to play the “man” of the house, while his father figure lays dead in a pile of rubble where their old neighborhood used to stand?

Is it because this is the cry of the people of Syria, mercilessly stripped from their homes, denied of their freedoms, and made prisoners of their own existence?

Visual Memories by Shayanne Gal

There's something uniquely captivating about the way memory works. How memories work in accordance with intangible thoughts, feelings, sensations, and via visual remnants we store in the back of our brain only to emerge again upon conscious reflection. To me, there's something even more uniquely captivating about the way photography works in correspondence with memory. That instant in which you capture an image, thereby stamping it forever as a relic of time. That action of consciously transforming a split moment of existence into a tangible and eternal remnant. And therefore, shaping the power to reflect upon that instant as a snapshot of life, journey, and experience. I could relish in it forever. Being able to retrieve and reminisce on old photos I've taken will always hold an insurmountable significance to me, as these photos are now tangible memories, and being able to share these milliseconds of time with others is what really amplifies the whole art of photography at its core ... By virtually transcending memories from the realm of personal, split-second induced nostalgia to the realm of shared, collective reflection over eternal instants of our existence here on Earth. I am and forever will be grateful for this art.

On Travel & Photography by Shayanne Gal

The world is so vastly large and complex. It’s filled with nature, beauty, color, and love. Staying put in one place is always hard, knowing that there is just so much out there to discover and to experience; to learn from and to build upon.

For me, that moment, when you’re on the plane or the bus or the boat or the back of a truck about to take off onto the next adventure, that is what makes my heart skip a beat with excitement - Excitement and anxiety, that recipe of bittersweet emotions. Knowing you are embarking on a new journey, accompanied by the uncertainty of what the future may hold. One thing I can always cling close to is that with everywhere I’ve ever gone and everywhere I’ll ever go, there are always a myriad of common, encouraging factors: countless incredible people to meet, breathtaking places to see, revelations to take hold of, ideas to manifest. And for me, specifically, photographs and words to capture my experiences and hold on to them through the momentous click of a shutter.

The truth of the matter is that all the while crazy and unpredictable, at times filled with joy and at times discouraging, endlessly complex and intrinsically beautiful – life is not meant to be lived in one place. I’ve crafted this site to share my images and my split-second moments of awe. These photos are a testament to life and to connection. No matter where you are in the world, no matter your ideologies and your beliefs, your triumphs or defeats, we can all relate on this very idea: that the globe is our communal home, it is where all life begins and all life ends. To us, It is everything there ever is and ever was. Through circulating photographs and words, we can all connect on a level plane - and make the world a smaller, more engaged space through our collective visual and written experiences.