“Everybody has a song to sing; I just try to be a good listener” – Billy Gomez
I can’t remember when or how I stumbled on Billy Gomez’s page, but upon seeing one of his photos “anchors and sails“ and reading the accompanying dialogue authored by him, I was immediately inspired. Looking back, the aforementioned photo was just the second photo I favorited on Flickr. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was one of the triggers that led me on a journey down this path to where I am today. I’ve never met Billy in person but I can tell through his photography and writing the kind of person he is; someone I would be able to relate to and have a beer with any day of the week. Equipped with an aptitude for capturing an eclectic mix of dark and moody emotions on the street, he has in turn captured the attention and hearts of many. With that said, here it is…
Q1) Could you tell me about yourself. What brought you to Korea and how long have you lived there?
I’m originally from LA. I came to Korea about 6 years ago to teach English. Knew nothing about the place before coming. And I didn’t really realize that until the plane began it’s descent into Seoul. When I left baggage claim, there was a man I had never met, holding a sign that had my name on it. “Hello Mr. Billy Gomez.” I smiled, walked over to him, and I’ve been here ever since.
Q2) I know you started doing street work in 2007 but how did you start photography and particularly how did you get into street photography?
I was lucky to be around some really talented people, mainly Danny and Aloysious Dougherty, both of whom were great photographers.
Seeing Aloysious and Danny do their work, inspired me to do more of my own. I began with video, shot tons of it. While editing, I would pause the footage on these interesting frames… and those frames got me more interested in taking pictures. But it took a while for me to actually buy a camera and begin the journey.
I finally did that in Korea, 2007. I bought a Canon 30d and just drowned myself in the process. In fact, I remember writing Motionid on flickr. He was so nice and told me that he had shot something like 80,000 pictures over the course of six months. It was a good marker for me… but being that he was so much better than me, I figured I had do more… so I went out and shot close to 100,000 pictures over the same stretch of time, not really knowing what the hell I was doing, and I still don’t to be honest… but yeah, getting lost in that sort of method was really helpful to me… because somewhere a long the way, street photography presented itself and once it did, I didn’t want to shoot anything else.
Using flickr gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with people from all over the world, who were interested in the same things. People like Sakura Love, Tommy Oshima, Brett Walker, Falsalama, Bichito, Chieska, Minas, Motionid, LJ, Tom Hoops, to name a few.
Boom. Seed was planted… and the cultivation began.
Q3) What were your inspirations and influences? Are there any past or current photographers you admire?
As mentioned before, Danny and Aloysious were a big influence at the outset.And now, I don’t know… with the advent of so much mass media and social networking, we have constant access to a never-ending shortage of talented people doing exceptional things. But I find myself being more cautious of all this information… meaning, I try to filter the content by not paying attention to it for a few days, or a week, or even a few months. I think that focusing too much on what other people are doing only makes it more difficult for us to hear our own voices.In terms of photographers I admire… there are so many on flickr. A few in particular that I’ve been enjoying as of late are :
Q4) What gear or equipment do you use?
At the moment, I have a 5d mkII, and a 50mm f/1.8. I also use the 135mm f/2. I’ll use my ipod touch, my crappy phone, or borrow a friend’s point-and-shoot. I’ll use anything really. In terms of lenses, I’m not a big fan of zooms but I’m not opposed to using them. The same can be said about film. For my process, film just adds too many variables into the equation, like buying a particular stock, then developing and printing it. I write and make music, too… so time is crucial. There are only so many hours in a day. Using film, up to this point, just hasn’t been feasible based on how my days are spent. Not to mention all the additional costs that I’d be subject to. But I’m totally open to using it at some point in the near future. The results, when executed properly, are obviously undeniable.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter what you use. There is nothing more irritating than the film vs digital debate. I find that the people bitching the loudest about it, all have one particular thing in common… their work is mediocre at best.
The story behind the story is always an interesting subject to discuss… what lenses, bodies, or post techniques were used… but that kind of discourse is completely secondary to what was actually produced. It’s the final product that matters most, and that’s it.
So you like film? You think it’s better than digital? Great. Enjoy it. Just spare the world of all that senseless rhetoric.
Q5) Tell us about your shooting techniques (what you look for, emotions you feel, strategies for shooting, do you interact with subjects? ) or workflow.
I’m into stories. I don’t have something to share if a story isn’t present. Plain and simple. If the image makes you think about anything… the person in the image, their life, your life, your day, or just emotions in general, then I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.
That said, it’s not always easy to determine what works. I think that’s what makes sites like flickr so special. And I’m not talking about the generic comments people leave, hoping that you’ll go to their page and do the same… I’m talking more about the dialogue that’s exchanged between you and the people you respect and admire, or even better, the people you’ve actually had the chance to meet and talk with. I’ve been afforded the supreme pleasure of having met Tom Hoops and Daniel Griffin (falsalama), two relationships I’ve come to really value and appreciate. I would like to meet more of these people… yourself included, my friend.
Shooting techniques. I don’t know, I like to find a place where the light is good and then let the people come to me. Simple really. I try to get what I want without disturbing the environment. As you know, people don’t always take kindly to having their picture taken in public. Most of the time though, I’m able to get the shot before they even notice me. Shooting street takes thick skin though. The rush is part of the process… the excitement of not knowing what will happen, is a huge reason we get out there in the first place.
It’s interesting how we find the people in our pictures, or how the people find us.
Post processing. I use a lot of it. No secrets there. Lately though, I’ve been shooting 100 percent manual and the results have been interesting, and I actually find myself not using as much PP. But I enjoy playing with textures, filters, cropping, colorization… it can sometimes be as fun as getting the initial image.
Unfortunately, post processing is also a debate that photographers like to squabble over. Again, I find that the people barking the loudest and opposing it the most, all have that one particular thing in common… mediocrity.
Q6) Do you have any personal favorite shots that you would like to highlight in your collection?
My favorite shot is my next shot.
Q7) I love your stories. In addition to your photos, your stories were what got me hooked. Are your stories mostly fictional or are they a reflection of personal experiences?
Thank you, I appreciate that very much.
Writing is like making music and taking pictures, I don’t really separate them from one another. When I’m making music, I’m writing a story, and when I’m taking pictures, I’m making music. In each discipline, there’s a language, a language of sounds, colors, and shapes… and they sort of become puzzle pieces… that you lay out and then try to put it all together. And I’ve found that it’s not always the result that matters… the process is equally as meaningful, perhaps even more.
The stories. Where they come home? Christ, who knows? I think most of them are lies… and I’m not sure what’s true and what isn’t anymore. Or if it even matters. I don’t know, I think there are threads of my life in them… or threads of other people’s lives that I’ve known, or loved, or disliked… or maybe it’s is all been based on conversations I’ve had or overheard… probably also lifted ideas from scenes in a movie, I never finished watching because the idea was too good to ignore… I don’t know. But one thing is certain, when I finish, it always feels like something that has happened to me. Does that many any sense? It’s okay if it doesn’t.
Q8) You have many creative outlets… which do you get the greatest satisfaction from? Do you have any current or upcoming projects?
I’m a hobbyist… an extreme one at that. If I considered what I did anything more, I’d be kidding myself. But at the same time, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t also admit that it would be really fucking great to someday to get paid for what I’m good at, as opposed to getting paid for what people need. So yeah, at some point in this life, I’d really love to experience that kind of satisfaction. How, what, when, or where… is to be determined by how hard I work, and how consistent I am. I suppose luck might have something to do with it, too.
It’s really gratifying when you create something that people connect with. I’ve had more success with that in my writing and photography. Music is so unforgiving. I think it takes more time to develop a voice… and then even more time to develop a voice that people want to pay attention to… so I try not to concern myself with too much critical thinking on the matter. If I’m consistent, and I continue to work hard, the results will speak for themselves at a later time.
Website. I recently launched my website, well I guess it’s been about six months, but it still feels exciting: http://www.billygomez.net , largely due to the hard work of Youngdoo Moon (youngdoo) and Dave Jensen (deibu), both of whom are extremely talented at what they do. Look them up on flickr!
Books. I can’t decide on how to make one. I definitely want to do one though. Just not sure if I want it to be stories by themselves, or stories and photos, as I’ve posted them to the set on flickr titled “The Roots of Imperfection.” Regardless, a book or books is/or are in order for 2012.
Music. I’m going to be releasing several beat tapes between now and the end of the year. All of which will be downloadable for free on my bandcamp page:
Q9) Personally, as an introvert, when I shoot I feel its a spiritual, soul-searching experience; an exploration of the universe within myself so to speak. Do you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert? Do you believe in God?
The Spiritual. Travel is where such mysticism resides for me. Nothing like being completely out of your comfort zone, immersed in an entirely different culture, landscape, and language. I think you find out a lot about yourself under such circumstances. As a result, I think travel has made me more of an introvert… largely due to the fact that it’s so humbling. The more you see, the more you realize you haven’t seen much. The same can be said about knowledge.
Do I believe in god? I believe in spirituality. I think that religion is for people who are scared of going to hell… spirituality is for people who have already been there.
Q10) Tips for up and comers or photo enthusiasts? and last words .
Freedom from the known. Ignore generic forms of encouragement… pay attention to criticism only when it is constructive, and most of the time it isn’t. Ignore negativity that comes from opinionated people who consider themselves experts, or worse, purists… and when their voices are far enough in the distance… start copying, stealing, ripping, remixing, cheating, and experimenting… and do so relentlessly. If you do any or all of these things for a prolonged period of time, some sort of interesting, personalized vision that is distinctly your own, is bound to manifest. And when that happens, send me a link so I can be inspired by it, too.
For more on the demystification of genius, watch this 4-part series I came across the other day:
Part 1: http://vimeo.com/14912890
Part 2: http://vimeo.com/19447662
Part 3: http://vimeo.com/25380454
Part 4: http://vimeo.com/36881035
To close, I just think everything is a process… I’m in the middle of mine, you’re in the middle of yours. In the days ahead, I would simply like to surround myself with more like-minded individuals who are better than me in all facets of creativity and life.
Learning more, and being humbled… that’s where I always want to be.
That concludes the interview. I leave you with one of Billy’s short stories titled “Where she wants to be”
“i’m sorry. that’s the way i am, that’s me… i’m a sceptical person.” he said to the woman sitting across from him. she looked down at the food on her plate and pretended to be interested in it. he watched her, hoping that she would somehow process what he had said, and not press him for more details that he couldn’t provide her with… that he never seemed to be able to provide her with.
she put a fork full of food in her mouth and began to chew on what he had said.
“i think you want more security,” he said to her. “you want me to promise things i don’t think i can right now… but that doesn’t mean i don’t want to be with you… it just means i can make long term commitments… does that make sense?”
she nodded her head and agreed with him, then spoke in an irritated tone.
“did i ask for one? have i ever asked you for a long term commitment of any sort? ever? can you think of a time, because if you have, it would be great for you to refresh my memory.” she said to him, while reaching for her water.
he looked at her and thought about it.
“no… no, you haven’t… but it just seems like we have this conversation all the time… you don’t say the actual words but you make hints and suggestions towards it… subtle hints… and it’s getting frustrating for me… i’m sorry to say that, but it is.”
she looked around the restaurant, then out of the window that was to her right.
he got up and went to the bathroom while she continued to glance out of the window. her eyes pulled away from the window and followed his every step until he turned the corner and was no longer visible.
“i love the way he walks, even when he’s mad.” she mumbled to herself.
she smiled while thinking about this.
her eyes moved from where he had disappeared, to a table nearby. a woman was seated by herself, reading a magazine, picking at the food on her plate, while periodically turning the pages in the magazine.
she stared at the woman until the man came back from the bathroom and sat down across from her again.
“i remember before i met you,” she said to him. “i remember before i met you, i used to come to restaurants alone… and i would see couples, at other tables, eating and talking, and it would make me wish that i had someone.”
“and then you met me.” he said to her.
“yeah… and then i met you.”
they stared at each other. she smiled a little, while he remained stone faced.
“and that woman over there…”
he turned and looked, then turned back.
“that woman, she’s sitting there all alone… and a part of me… a part of me wishes that was me again.”
he looked down at all the contents on the table… as if the answer resided somewhere amongst the dishes and linen.
he reached for the napkin on his lap and dropped it on the plate in front of him. he pushed his chair back from the table, stood up, and looked at her while she looked up at him.
“i didn’t mean it like that.” she said to him.
he set a few bills down on top of his napkin and walked away.
the woman watched him the same way she had watched him when he had gone to the bathroom. she knew this time though, that he wouldn’t be coming back.
the waiter came to the table. he had seen everything. the woman looked up at him.
“and now i’m supposed to get up and chase after him, right?”
the waiter took the check and gathered the bills. he said nothing, but smiled courteously.
the man was out on the street, facing oncoming traffic. he looked through the window while the woman was talking to the waiter. he shook his head, with a confused look on his face, and got into a taxi.
the woman had coffee, and continued to stare at the other woman who was seated alone. when she had finished the coffee, she got up and walked out to the street. she looked back at the restaurant once more. the waiter was gathering everything that was left.
the woman she had been watching, across the room, who had been sitting alone, was no longer by herself. a man was seated across from her now, they were smiling at one another. he was holding a menu. she was holding a closed magazine.
a taxi stopped in front of her. she got in, closed the door, and told the man where she wanted to go.
Both Billy and I have put in a lot of our personal time to share this with you and we are both in it for the passion; not for the money. If you appreciate our effort and enjoyed the interview, please help by sharing his work below. I am working on my next interview with photographer Junku Nishimura. If there are any great photographers you’d like to share, please let me know.