Billy: I’m originally from Los Angeles, although I’ve been in Seoul for the last six years. Came out here to teach. The plan was to do it for a few years and then head back. Six years later…and going back is still nothing more than a plan. I didn’t expect to see and experience what I did. The isolation and anonymity kind of allowed me to re-invent myself creatively. If I wasn’t teaching, I was in the lab experimenting…still am to be honest.
HESO: Talking about “The Plan”…they never do go the way we plan them, do they? When did you first pick up a camera?
Billy: I think I picked one up a long time ago, but I never held it long enough to form a vision, or develop a voice, or think about what I wanted to do or accomplish with it. I would just shoot a few rolls here and there. I was around talented people who were doing amazing work though, Aloysious and Danny Dougherty. Seeing them grow as photographers and artists instilled a degree of what a work ethic would consist of…it was definitely a reference when I came to Korea and began to bury myself in my little creative endeavors.
HESO: Your work is like a cross section from a very distinct portrait artist which crosses traditional boundaries into street photography. How did you get into photography?
Billy: I just started taking pictures of people. Nothing more. This was at the end of 2007. Around the same time I discovered Flickr. So I would go out all day and take pictures…then see what all these other people were doing around the world. Comparing what I had to what was going on in all these other places, kind of gave me a reference for what worked and what didn’t. So strange to become interested in a kind of photography and have access to all these communities and people, that you’ve never been to or met, but sharing mine and seeing theirs, was really instrumental. Flickr definitely had something special for a while there.
HESO: That was exactly like our photo crew in Tokyo. We all met through Flickr. Now we are all lifelong friends. Seeing what “all these other people were doing around the world” let’s us understand and relate better to our own. Does the medium affect what you do? Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa. Or is it not important? Explain.
Billy: I could care less. It’s a tired argument. The only thing that matters is the music. The instrument you use is an afterthought. Being productive is paramount, plain and simple. Shoot a shit-load of whatever medium or format you choose…and be happy. I’ve said this before, but it’s funny how the militant advocates on either side of the argument all have the same thing in common…their work tends to always be less than mediocre.HESO: Militancy has that affect on people. What technology can you leave behind? Alternatively what can you not do without?
Billy: I make music with a drum machine that’s almost 25 years old. Definitely can’t do without that. Interestingly, I just got an iPhone about a month and a half ago and I think I thought of it more as a phone purchase, as opposed to being a camera purchase. Good lord what a mistake that was…I have been shooting with it a lot as of late and it’s changing the way I work and think entirely. I’ve been playing with a handful of apps as well. I definitely saw the need for an iPad after trying to edit with those apps on the iPhone’s tiny screen. Man, I don’t know, I am incredibly late to the party but I am really enjoying the workflow these two devices afford you. The more I use them, the more I learn, and the more excited I get about the possibilities. Having only used them for the last month and a half, I could definitely live without them… but it would be sure be a shame.
HESO: You get up in the morning, pick up your camera, where are you going?
Billy: To work (laughs). Sad to say, I rarely ever get up with the sole purpose of taking pictures at that time and it’s definitely something I should change. I’m definitely a morning person, but I just end up tinkering with other things at that hour. However, I will say that when I went home to Los Angeles for the first time after having gotten into photography, I had a newfound appreciation for the light there. I was much more inspired to get up and take advantage of it when I was visiting. It’s definitely something I think a lot about too…about going back to L.A. to do a ton of street work. It would be a great challenge, the thought of what I could produce with that kind of light available essentially all year round, excites the hell out of me.
The light is a lot less unforgiving in Korea. During parts of the spring, fall, and summer it can be interesting. But for the most part, air pollution and intense weather patterns keep it so scrambled and inconsistent. Waking up to golden sunlight is not a common thing here, though we’ve actually seen a little of it this past week…conveniently coupled with 100 degree heat and humidity. Most of the pictures I take are while commuting to and from work. I’ll do a walk here and there on the weekend, but I have to say that there’s definitely something different in the way people look and act at that time. During the week, the pinch is on, you know…the weight of the world is in those eyes and on those shoulders. That same emotion just doesn’t seem as frequent on the weekends.HESO: Some of your photographs seem like stills from a film. Is this intentional? Do you like film? What particular genres? Favorites?
Billy: That’s a very nice compliment. And yes, I think films have had a huge influence on the type of photography I do. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Watching La Double Vie de Veronique by Krzysztof Kieślowski was the first time I wanted to know the directors name when the film was finished. I looked for everything I could find of his at the video store and library and then I started ordering his films off of ebay because most of them were impossible to get otherwise. Wong Kar-Wai is another director I definitely connected with before I ever started taking pictures. The slow motion, the lighting, the color, it was all pretty goddamn hypnotic. The key component in both of the aforementioned is how they both told a story without anyone saying anything. Go figure.
HESO: The technical portion aside, what do you look for in shooting a photograph of a stranger? What grabs you and shouts at you to, TAKE ME!”?
Billy: Interesting faces, interesting light–the same thing everyone else seeks out, right? And the two either arrive at the same time or I end up waiting for one or the other. Changing the subject abruptly, I really admire people who are able to capture scenes, as opposed to portraits. It’s something I really want to work hard on. These nameless ghosts though, they kind of haunt me…I can go out with the intention of wanting to capture scenes, and then a certain person will just glow in a crowd, and then the scenes go right out the door and I’m doing the same thing I always do. Patience must have something to do with those scenes, I suppose. I’m a work in progress.
HESO: We all are. Who are your favorite photographers?
Billy: To tell you truth, I don’t even know many photographers…and it’s nothing I’m proud of, or anything like that. I think I’ve gotten more inspiration from my family, Aloysious Dougherty and Daniel Dougherty, than I have from any of the so-called masters. But there were a couple of instances where certain work found me. One of them was the work of Sebastião Salgado. Like Kieslowski, it was the first time I saw a picture in a magazine and wanted to know who took it. Not long after seeing that picture, I went to the library and checked out all his books. Taking an interest in him lead me to War Photographer, the documentary on James Nachtwey. That kind of photography is mind boggling to me and I have to say, I think I have more of an appreciation for it than any other form of photography.
HESO: Where are you now and what direction are you moving in?
Billy: I’m in Seoul and in the time I’ve gone through these questions and answered them, it has dawned on me that a change of some sort is imminent. I have had an amazing time in Korea. It has changed my life forever. But seeing more of the world is a must for me. I feel like every year here is a lateral move. To move forward, I think I need to move on. Again, it’s a work in present… and these feelings on the matter are something that have manifested as a result of doing this interview. So I appreciate that, very much. Probably more than you’ll ever know. I have a set on Flickr called ‘The Roots of Imperfection‘ which is a collection of stories that accompany images. If I was a drug dealer that would be what they call a taste.
HESO: Thank you for your time.
Billy: I appreciate anyone who stuck around long enough to read these words.
Modern Loops: Interview with Photographer Billy Gomez is part of HESO Magazine’s ongoing Summer Interview Series, where we interview photographers, musicians and artists about their work and what they think about the world of 2012. We may ask them similar questions, but the answers have been anything but the same old canned responses. Check out the entire series here.