From Iceland — The View From The Ground: What Equality Looks Like To Gabrielle Motola

The View From The Ground: What Equality Looks Like To Gabrielle Motola

Published December 6, 2016

Parker Yamasaki
Photo by
Art Bicnick
Gabrielle Motola

Gabrielle Motola makes eye contact. When she speaks, she speaks directly to you. And when she listens, she invests herself in what you are saying. If there were such thing as “ear contact,” I’m sure that Gaby is making it. Her eyes water a little bit when she gets conversational momentum. Maybe it’s the beer, maybe it’s passion.

This acute attentiveness, combined with a photographer’s eye and a writer’s quick lips brought Gaby to Iceland to publish her first book, ‘An Equal Difference’. It began with the financial crash. Gaby was in London and heard the international media describe the Iceland’s clean-up process as a push to “feminise the banking system.” What did this mean? she wondered. And, more profoundly, what is the mindset that prompts this kind of thinking?


From doubt to do

She flew to Iceland with little more than her camera and this question, looking for the forward thinkers and the liberated minds. She came to look, photograph, and listen. She collected and recorded her interactions with everyone from the former President of Iceland to young up-and-coming musicians. After a couple of years of kicking these conversations around with friends in London, New York, Los Angeles, Spain, Reykjavík, and so forth, she decided that she had a cohesive message to share. A book.

Ólöf Arnalds by G.B. Motola

Ólöf Arnalds by G.S. Motola

“The publishers I was pitching to heard ‘equality’ and would direct me to ‘feminist’ publishers or companies with ‘women’s interests,’” Gaby says. “Equality is not about women. It’s about human beings. It’s about a balance in the mind.”

Eventually Gaby decided to self-publish the book. “I knew that if that’s how they interpreted the book, then they were not the ones to publish it,” she says. The decision echoes a conversation Gaby writes about with Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the world’s first democratically elected female president. “[Vigdís] told me that our mistrust of ourselves is the great handicap of women in the world… you have to have to ask yourself constantly, why do I doubt myself? Do I doubt this person? No, I don’t doubt this person. Why do I doubt myself?”

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir by G.B. Motola

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir by G.S. Motola

‘An Equal Difference’ was completed and released in September through Gaby’s own company, Restless Machinery. The book traverses the Icelandic mindset—from family values with Birgir, an advocate for fathers’ rights, to the treatment of prisoners with Margrét, the former warden at Iceland’s largest prison in Eyrarbakki. Gaby uses the framework of equality to investigate Icelandic educational structures, virtual reality, music, science, pool culture, power, punishment. The book is far-reaching and the topic broad, but the conversations are intimate, and the people local. In this way it reflects the current Icelandic identity: expanding, and yet loyal to its roots.

Making contact

In the back of the book is a constellation-like map of the connections that Gaby made over the course of the book. The spindly webs of interconnectedness give a visual dimension to Gaby’s attitude toward travel in general. “I am not transient,” she says, digging into every corner of each word. “I try to keep it in mind when I am in New York, Los Angeles, London…” Gaby continues, and repeats: “I am not transient.”


‘An Equal Difference’ allows space for its readers to think, and suggests that you examine your own thoughts along the way. It dances between passive and confrontational. It makes you self-aware, but gives you something to look at all the while. Kind of like really strong eye contact.

For more by Gabrielle check out her website here. You can pick up a copy of ‘An Equal Difference’ in Eymundsson and other downtown Reykjavík bookshops. Hardback and e-copies can also be purchased online at

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