Federico Cabrera is a dreamer. For years, he had dreams of becoming a National Geographic photographer. Taking photos in Africa was top of mind for 15 years as he toiled in foreign trade. But that nagging thought of grabbing up a camera and exploring the world finally prompted Federico to give up his successful career and follow the photo bug dream.
These days, Federico Cabrera is a Buenos Aires-based freelance photographer, traveling throughout South America on a bicycle and living in the countryside and, as we’d like to point out, making a difference in the world.
Walking away from his former career, Federico put new-found energy into a life behind the lens. And to do this, he said he began commuting country to country by bike, initially to reduce stress and eventually to return to a simple/healthier way of living. He now travels at a pace that enables him to actually see the countryside from the seat of a chain-driven bicycle rather than behind the wheel of a fast-moving, impersonal car.
Today, we feature the works of Federico in Part 2 of our Inspiration Through Exploration series. A photo is nothing more than light passing through a hole in a box. Whether exposed to paper treated with chemicals or digital receptors, the end product is the same — a photograph. And when you see a photograph that moves you, that is inevitably the result of the subject and the camera operator engaging in the movement of light together — a beautiful dance.
This week’s featured artist not only performs this dance with his subjects, but he produces beautiful portraits of them that he frames and then hands over to the subjects of his photography. His portraits are the residents of poor communities in South America, many living in homes with little or no access to electricity or clean water.
It was while visiting with these families that Federico discovered that in many of the homes, the residents didn’t even have a portrait of their family. That prompted him to carry a printer along with paper and ink to deliver personal portraits of his subjects.
On a more realistic level, Federico saw many families living with little or no electricity in their homes and worse yet, contamination in their water supplies. He decided he could make a small difference by handing out solar lamps and water filters to households he visited while on his expeditions. That, along with portraits of those families that were often the only photographs these South Americans had in their homes.
Federico figures he’s donated nearly 350 solar lamps and water filters, along with more than 500 printed portraits in the six years since he began these bikepacking adventures, which include expeditions through Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia.
So when Federico packs up for a photo expedition, he brings along his essential photography equipment, as well as solar lights and water filters that he personally delivers to those who need them.
A photographer? Yes, but Federico is much more, not only capturing the light to make a family portrait, but a light that is filled with empathy, compassion and a heart.
We asked Federico what inspires him and how he arrives at his inspiration:
NCOAE: What is your preferred adventure vehicle?
Federico Cabrera: I prefer to travel by bicycle because it lets me cover more ground (reach more communities) and carry more donations. But I also travel by pack raft, by foot and the combination of all of those options.
NCOAE: Where is a place that you feel inspired or awed?
Federico: My favorite place is Patagonia.
When did this artistic journey begin?
Federico: I started making photos as a kid and even when I wasn’t any good, my dream was to explore Africa as a National Geographic photographer. I’m not sure if I grew as an artist by giving away my portraits, but I would like to think I grew as a person.
NCOAE: What types of tools are you using to capture your work?
Federico: My photography kit depends on each trip depending on the bulk and weight I’m able to carry, but it always has at least a camera and a printer. After six years on the road, I realized I don’t need the fanciest gear to make a small tangible difference.
In fact, Federico’s travel equipment usually includes an action camera, a seven-inch tablet, tripod, solar panel, and a printer, paper and ink,