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Behind the Lens: How Jeri Gravlin uses her camera for storytelling and activism

Updated: Apr 25

A distance shot that captures the thousands of people who showed up at the rally for Great Salt Lake, including the Capitol steps full of people holding banners and signs for the Great Salt Lake.

Photographer Jeri Gravlin took photos at the Rally to Save our Great Salt Lake on Saturday, January 20. More than 1,200 people flocked to the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City as the legislative session began to call for political and moral action to protect the lake.

At a rally most people face the speakers; as a photographer I face the crowd. I am constantly looking around for a moment: a sign silhouetted against the sky, a mother holding onto her daughter, the intertwined hands of a couple, a delightful dog adorned with a protest sign, or the myriad expressions of laughter and sadness among the crowd. 

As I walked around this Save Our Great Salt Lake Rally I was met with many such meaningful moments: lots of smiles, laughter, tears, connection, movement and song. Certain moments particularly resonated with me: The collective cry proclaiming the lake as “our sacred lake” was powerful, coupled with the inspiring sight of so many young individuals, resolute in their fight for a sustainable future. I was moved when author Terry Tempest Williams declared that our assembly was an expression of love because that’s exactly what it felt like. 

Four people dressed stand on brown lawn outside the Utah Capitol holding signs that say "Water is Life," "Protect the Great Salt Lake," and From Salt Lake to Dead Sea, Land Back and Free"

This love for the lake was immediately visible: rally goers wore masks of the lake’s bird species to celebrate the eared grebe, avocet, phalarope, and pelican; they danced in bright brine shrimp costumes, made bird puppets fly, shook blue fabric to mimic the salty waves; or wrote their own message on cardboard, ranging from humorous to serious.  

I started bringing my camera to rallies and protests because I not only wanted to share the message with others but also to capture these moments to save for just myself. When I feel alone or discouraged in my advocacy efforts, these photos of rallies remind me there is a whole community of people to support, care and act. I love being able to immortalize these important gatherings in order to highlight how strong we are together and so we don’t forget that we have each other. 

Activists stand on the steps of the Utah Capitol Building holding protest signs that say things like "Defend Our Future" and "No Lake No Life." They hold a long blue fabric that looks like a wave and wear bird puppet hats.

Most people are very gracious when it comes to being photographed, and many folks really want to share the pride in the outfits and signs they have created. They put time and effort and their own love into showing up and I hope that by capturing it, those efforts can live on for more than just that day. 

The rally concluded beautifully with poet Nan Seymour guiding us to face the lake as the sun was setting behind us, a symbolic and serene culmination of our shared experience. Walking around this rally with a camera, I not only observe but engage. I got to really see the people there: our community leaders, the volunteers, parents, children, students, friends, their interactions, their reactions, their joy and sorrow. While having a camera around might be intimidating, I also hope that people feel seen and recognized in their myriad emotions about the lake. I may not get to hold a protest sign but I still get to listen, sing, watch, capture and share. I am so thankful to everyone who continues to bring our community together to fight and care for our sacred lake. 

Black bird puppets are silhouetted against a cloudy sky with the pillars of the Utah Capitol Building rising in the distance. A crowd of people are dark in the forefront.

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1 Comment

Olivia Juarez
Olivia Juarez
Feb 07

Very artfully captured photos and beautiful reflections!

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