Woody Gooch’s tender years belie the superlative quality of his work. Entirely self-taught, the young Australian photographer is grabbing the attention of the world, all while taking all of the newfound adulation in his remarkably laid-back stride.
Imagine nearly 40 miles of sun-drenched, palm-lined beaches where a perfect topaz sky reaches down to lazily kiss an ocean so blue, you hesitate to wade in for fear of polluting the flawless, clear waters. The wide stretches of hot, fine, white sand, always pleasant between your toes, lingers between backdrops of forested dunes all the way down to the shore, where the Pacific Ocean swells and laps it softly. You could spend your days secluded from the human race, or you could choose to seek out the hustle and bustle of town. Wherever you go, there is plenty of room for everyone here.
Woody Gooch was lucky enough to grow up here, in Noosa, Queensland, on Australia’s Sunshine Coast; the whiff of saltwater on the warm breeze and the gentle swooshing inhale and exhale of the living ocean were a constant presence in his life. The ocean, he says, is a sanctuary for silence and patience, which has taught him a lot; as a child, he formed friendships in a “massive playground” of sand and water. With that in mind, the only surprise is not that the 21 year-old has become the self-taught wunderkind of surf photography, but that he started out as a young boy shooting his friends inland, away from the coast at a local skate park.
Woody’s enthusiasm and obvious talent for photography was encouraged by his parents who home-schooled him and his younger brother, allowing sufficient time for each to explore and develop their own interests alongside more conventional subjects. From snapping away at his skateboarding teenage friends to developing his own unique style of simply gorgeous images, being self-taught has been a rewarding experience for Woody, who sees all of his mistakes and achievements as the bedrock of his current work. Everything is a learning experience, driving him to push forward in his career and stay true to form. Although Woody still admits to finding the ocean an addictive environment, there is so much more to his photography these days than skate and surf. He is capable of taking on, and completely nailing, everything from landscapes, portraits, winter and motor sports, to fine art prints, even the odd bit of Sumo wrestling. “I don’t have a certain genre that makes me feel most at home,” he says, “If I can photograph Sumo wrestling as well as surfing, then I feel at home.”
Ironically, despite the many deserved plaudits for his surf photography, it seems to be Woody’s surfer attitude to life that leads him away from the subject and into new genres. “I’m always stuck in today and not tomorrow. My job has created an incredibly spontaneous life, so I just drift with that,” he explains. “That’s the way I want my life to be and also the way I photograph things.”
As one might expect from a photographer who has carved his own niche, Woody can’t name a single inspiration for his work. Like his choice of genre, he seems to drift, although he does admit that he aspires to those individuals who go and find the things that make them unique and sail away from all the others. “This is kinda funny,” he says, “but I actually get most inspired when I’m not feeling inspired.”
It seems as if Woody’s secret is just to not try too hard, what will happen will happen — a quality that is evident in his images, which have a fresh, dreamlike quality to them. Often setting his subject small, almost overwhelmingly so, against the might of nature, this is perhaps an impulsive declaration of love to the environments that shaped the man and his photography.
As most of us live with tarmac and traffic jams, Woody has surrounded himself by sand dunes and sunshine. With his prodigious talent, he floats rather placidly through the commotion like a man who abandoned the oars a long time ago and is content to soak up the rays and let nature take its course. He denies being an artist or even a skilled technician, insisting instead that he merely freezes time with a camera and it comes out how he wants it to be seen.
So, the big question: can the boy who says he will be forever indebted to the ocean actually hold his own on a surfboard? “Of course!” he laughs. “I try to as much as I can when I get the free time, but I do find it hard not documenting a surf with my friends.”
To stay up to date Woody’s latest adventure, follow him on Instagram @woodygphoto