Woody Gooch is an Australian photographer that has been capturing bold, minimal and escapist images since he was 14 years old. Entirely self-taught, his body of work invites the viewer to get lost in surreal, evanescent worlds with him.
Woody Gooch’s photographs draw you in with their boldness. From textural black-and-whites of sumo wrestlers in Tokyo to sensual reflections of nature’s isolated wonders, the visual depth displayed in his work expresses a perception of life and movement that is often difficult to reflect in still imagery, yet Woody seems to do it with ease. His surf photography is particularly captivating. Transient moments in the water are immortalised with ephemeral but clear moods – often oscillating between comfortable solitude, quiet triumph and unhurried curiosity.
Woody’s sense of security behind the camera comes through in his images and it’s easy to understand considering his upbringing. Spending the majority of his childhood in Noosa Heads, his parents home-schooled him and his brother from the age of 14 and encouraged them both to pursue their own interests, which for Woody just happened to be photography. In the beginning, he was simply shooting his friends with an old digital camera whenever they were at the skate park or surfing. But it gradually turned into a serious pursuit as Woody became interested in how he could tell stories by making images that accurately depicted scenes in the same way he’d perceived them from a distance.
“I guess when you’re enjoying something so much you don’t realise how much time you’ve spent being absorbed. You’re just trying to learn and understand and practice … the tool of being creative before you start being successful,” says Woody.
“I guess when you’re enjoying something so much you don’t realise how much time you’ve spent being absorbed.”
With the support of his parents and a healthy attitude towards self-study, Woody was only 16-years-old when he began making a small income from his photographs – just enough to, as he humbly remarks, “buy new camera equipment and fund a few trips”. Now just under a decade later, he is widely recognised as one of Australia’s most promising landscape and surf photographers, travelling all over the world for personal projects while also working with respected brands and publications like Corona, Monster Children, Billabong and Raen. Sometimes the two even happily intersect, which is exactly how Woody captured one of his favourite images to date.
“This was from a recent trip to Morocco last year on the coastline of Imswan. I was actually shooting a commercial just up on the cliffs but halfway through I was distracted by this group of boys and men playing soccer in the mist. I said I needed a toilet break so I could sneak down the edge of the rocky cliff to spare five minutes amongst the fog with these guys before they finished up. To me, it tells a story of how simple things can be for people here to enjoy something. Even in the middle of a school day, you see this. Soccer is one sport I see in most countries I travel to. Mixed ages and lots of unhidden talent. I really get lost in this image – the simplicity and eeriness.”
“I really get lost in this image – the simplicity and eeriness.”
Stylistically, Woody’s individual aesthetic continues to evolve. He’s always had a minimalist approach to his subject matter that evokes a soft elegance that continues to become more refined as he gets older. Yet, at the same time, many of his images also contain a tangible physicality that makes it seem as though you could simply step through them and suddenly find yourself in the place they were shot. Regarding his personal growth, rather than being overly influenced by outside factors, for Woody, it’s more important to have enough breathing space to create something of substance.
“I like telling meaningful stories. I guess the type of photo I make now, whether it’s a one-off thing or a yearly project, it always has to have a topic and a subject to create a conversation around. Instead of just taking beautiful pictures that don’t make much sense to me, I find myself seeking the work that can almost be explained without even having to read anything about it,” explains Woody.
Often it’s the time in between shooting that inspires Woody most. Rather than having a camera on him at all times, he finds that the moments he ‘misses’ become his drive later on. In his own words, it’s the “build-up” that excites him – and having a persistent creative vision to seek certain things out rather than simply capturing them by chance. Some of his best work is created that way, including a long-term personal project he’s been working on with a few friends surrounding Haitian Vodou that he cites as his “most fulfilling project to date”.
Having been to Haiti three times now, Woody and his collaborators are putting together a short 16-millimetre film documentary and photography series that may never have happened without a key chance encounter during their first trip to the Caribbean collection of islands. “We ended up shooting a Haitian rap video absolutely out of the blue. These guys must have seen our gear … and they pulled us over on dirt bikes and asked us if we’d help them out,” says Woody. A few weeks later they’d all become close friends, eventually shooting a handy cam rap video that would “blow up” in the country.
It was this initial serendipitous friendship that allowed them to make the kind of local connections necessary to pursue a project like this responsibly. And, as Woody explains, while it may be a bit of a controversial body of work for him as “it’s far from anything [he’s] ever done or what people have seen from [him] before”, he’s excited to witness the final result and hopes it starts plenty of the kind of conversations he aims to prompt with his work, now and into the future.