Australian photographer and surfer, Woody Gooch, is sure to catch your attention. First, with his humorous, but very real, name, and second with his elegant, minimalist surf photography. Gooch finds a way to capture fleeting moments in the water while honoring the curling, curving beauty of the ocean.
At just 21, Gooch is a true mad one, living a life in constant motion. His photography has taken him from his home in Australia around the world, with pit-stops in Tokyo, Bali, New York City, Mexico and, in just a few days, to Zurich, Switzerland for a photo exhibition called “Contained” at the Humo Gallery (January 12 to March 31).
As both an amateur surfer and photographer, I took great interest in the simplicity and calmness Gooch’s images exude, set against a churning ocean (which often feels so chaotic for me). Sure, the sea is lovely, but she can swallow you up in a heartbeat. I’ve seen it. With his minimally edited photos, Gooch hints at this raw power, so I was thrilled to speak to him between his endless string of trips.
I read that you were a skateboarder before a surfer, or at least that you started your photography with skating.
Yeah, it was pretty equal. I skated and surfed just as much, but when I actually started photographing, it was skating.
So, why has it changed more to surfing now?
That’s a really good story, and it’s a pretty special one, as well, because after I started shooting skating quite frequently, I wanted to try surfing.
We had a really big swell come one day at our local beach. The waves break really long. It’s a beautiful sand bottom. Perfect waves for beginners and advanced surfers, and so on. I was on the rocks, there was this one particular guy. I liked his style, and I made sure that I kept my eye on him, just watching him. I got this really, really nice photo of him on this wave. And I never hold back. I don’t care what people say. I never can judge myself for not trying, so I just do it. So, I Facebook messaged him or Myspace messaged him or whatever, and said, “Look, hey, man, I’ve got this photo of you. I don’t know if you like it, or will respond, but here it is. I’m looking forward to hearing from you,” or whatever. I was like 14 or 13 and a half years old. And he messaged me back that night, and was like, “This is an amazing photo. Who are you, where are you from, how old are you? Do you take photos all the time?”
It’s always an amazing story, that one. How I got into the surf scene and surf culture, especially through Harrison. He’s helped me a lot likewise. We’ve both helped each other, too. But it’s a real special relationship, him and I, because we still travel the world and work together. Then it’s exposed me to a lot of people, especially people from Deus, and then from Deus it’s exposed me to people from Dior, Corona, plenty of big-name brands and magazines, as well. It’s been a big, crazy journey.
Did you have any particular photographers that you admired when you got into photography?
A guy called Dane Peterson. He’s a really good friend of mine, as well, and his work is beautiful. But then I started shifting more to journalism and fine arts and more abstract sort of work. I kind of devoted my time more to focusing in that. I merge myself into all genres of photography, not just one.
I’ve never tried to keep myself in shallow water.
Your photography isn’t like normal, cut-and-dried surf photography: sky, ocean, wave, board, surfer, click. How do you manage to bring an artistic eye to something considered a sport?
I think I love just really abstract colors, and the way that shapes form, and patterns and so on. I guess that’s just the way I see the ocean and everything around me. I just photograph what I see. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say, “This is a really different take on the ocean.” I never really think like that, because I look at people’s work, but I don’t saturate myself in other people’s work. I just do what I do.
And how exactly do you do it?
I have this big custom case for my camera, and I can go out in the water and take photos. Before that, I used to surf a lot, so I’d always pretend I was taking photos by blinking my eyes, pretending that’s how it would look.
I’ve always wanted to translate the feeling of being that surfer or the second-person feeling of being the surfer, of paddling out and seeing your friend get a wave, or falling off and being in this really awkward position, and a wave breaks or someone’s catching a wave. You just kind of feel uncomfortable wherever you are, but you still manage to see a moment that’s really unique. It’s almost like it only happens once, and you can’t see it again.
I’ve noticed that you use a lot of negative space in your photos. Is there a particular reason for the style?
It kind of depends on the image and the subject I’m shooting, but I like a lot of simplicity. I love the feeling of being directed to the point that’s so clear that you don’t need anything else, but it’s right there, but you can look at it for hours and it can be perceived differently. I love simple, I love clean, and I love a surreal feeling, where it feels like you can’t feel real. It’s too simple to make it feel real.
I think your photos actually create a lot of emotion, and there’s a lot of drama. You have a lot shadows, and sometimes you use black-and-white, when I look at it, and I feel a sense of intensity, but then the subject is a hand with a butterfly, or a surfer on a wave, or a silhouette of a surfboard. Do you go into the photos thinking that there’s a certain mood you want to capture, is there a way that you want the viewer to feel or do you just want them to capture a beautiful photo?
I don’t play with my images a lot, but I think that’s a really key thing, like everything’s meant to happen that way. I just keep it that way, and I try to be in tune with all the elements. I try just going with the things that are happening naturally.
You’re just saying you try to create something honest.
You said at 13, you started getting recognized for photography. What or who do you owe your success to?
It’s networking, and you not being afraid of meeting people and showing your work to people. It’s all about how hungry you are to want to show your work to anyone.
I just did it, and I didn’t care, and I still do that. I think that’s what people appreciate, too. You don’t have to be a hustler, but you appreciate what you do and you want people to appreciate it, too.
What are you most proud of with your work?
I think especially when I have an exhibition and I see the people that come and appreciate my work. It’s a really fulfilling feeling. Seeing my work in a different form, in a really representable way, big or small, it makes me really … and especially having my parents around, is super-touching for me and for them.
I never want to take anything for granted. I want to keep making people proud that I get to work with. For them to appreciate what we both get to do together,that’s a big thing for me.
What do you think the next step in your career?
This big exhibition is massive. It’s a massive fine art gallery in Switzerland. It’s like a pinnacle of my career where I’m hitting right now, and letting my work seep into that field of work, where it’s appreciated by different sorts of people. I’m really excited to see how this exhibition goes, seeing my work in massive from. I’m printing these prints two and a half meters big.
They’re sumo wrestling and these big old trees in Japan and stuff of the ocean. Being there is just really going to blow me away.