It’s interview time again! This time I catch up with Matt Gomes (San Jose, California). Matt keeps a photo diary over on his blog that I’ve followed for a while. The majority of my work forms a personal diary so Matt is someone I’ve been wanting to talk to for a while. I’ve been sharing my work over on Instagram for some time, but it was actually Matt that inspired me to start my own photo diary and to share my photos in a more chronological form. I really enjoyed our chat, and Matt shared some great insights for anyone thinking of starting a photo diary.
What is your history with photography?
I started out like a lot of people tend to nowadays. I went to Asia with my wife and some friends and figured I was going to need something to take photos of our trip so I picked up an entry level Canon DSLR then began snapping away. It didn’t take me very long to realize I was enjoying photography much more than I expected and it just grew from there. That was about five years ago and I only very recently feel like I’ve arrived at what you could call my “comfort zone” or “niche”.
Was there like one photo that suddenly made things click, or did your style evolve slowly over time?
I would definitely say it’s evolved slowly over time. I tried lots of different techniques and styles but always felt myself wanting to do something new. I’ve found my ideal look and style through pure black and white compact digital photography. It’s just perfectly in line with how I think and how I like to create.
What made you start a photo diary? How long have you been doing it?
I take a lot of photos of my family and things I see at work. There’s just way too much output for an Instagram or Flickr account and I still wanted to put these particular photos somewhere anyway. A vast majority of the photos on my blog are only posted there and won’t be posted anywhere else. These are my most personal shots. I started it this year in February and typically I’ll post every couple of days with three photos per post but occasionally I’ll post more.
Do your photos form part of a project? If so, tell me about the project and what it is you aim to convey.
I think the photos are just photos, if that makes sense. The edit and the sequence are the project. I just try to accumulate as much of an archive as I possibly can to give myself the most freedom in editing and sequencing for a print show or zine.
A lot of your stuff seems to be like the everyday stuff you come across as well as photos of family and friends. Do you ever go out with the sole purpose of making photos? Sometimes, I’ll go and shoot street if it’s a sunny afternoon, but somehow the photos always end up feeling forced and impersonal. I tend to prefer the photos I’ve taken when I have a reason to be somewhere, even if it’s just making a trip to the post office. I might still take a street photo but the fact that it wasn’t just a photo for a photos sake seems to make it mean more to me. Maybe I’m just mad haha Do you get the same feeling?
I just make sure I have my camera with me 100% of the time. I never think “I’m going out to get photographs today” or like, make special time just to go take pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I think that would be great and everything but I have a small child and I work a lot so it’s very difficult to set aside time to just go do something like that. I’m just extremely diligent to always have a camera no matter what. I even have it when I’m just in my house and we have no plans. Anything can be a photograph at pretty much any time and I try to find as many photos as I can in my everyday life.
What tips would you give to someone who is considering starting a photo diary?
Don’t think about it too much. Try to avoid setting rules and just shoot literally anything that is remotely interesting to you. It makes it much easier to sift through the trash and find some good shots to put together. Also, shoot every day. Even the most mundane blah blah whatever type of day, it’s important to get some shots in. This helps to tell a story that develops over time. You may have a post that doesn’t look great on its own but once it’s contextualized with the posts before and after, it provides a nice flow.
How do you stay motivated when you’re trying to shoot everyday? For me I can go days at a time without shooting anything. Especially on work days, because they always have the same routine. There must be times when you just don’t feel like taking photos.
I shoot every single day. Sometimes it’s only like three photos that end up getting trashed but I make sure I get a few shots in daily. Staying motivated isn’t too difficult if you just incorporate remembering to use your camera in your daily routine. Taking pictures to me is like, remembering to eat breakfast or have a cup of coffee. It’s automatic after you do it for long enough. Now I throw away a staggering amount of the photos I take so I’m in no way implying that constantly shooting every day makes you any better or anything like that. I just think it helps to keep in the swing of things and maybe you get lucky and catch some really interesting tiny mundane moments most other people would miss.
What do you get out of sharing your photo diary with others?
It’s a place where I post with no framework or rules, you see what I saw in a given day. I like the idea that I’m sharing a piece of my world with others and it’s not about follows or likes it’s just purely my vision and there isn’t any external circumstance to take into consideration. There could be only one person checking it out here and there but I’d keep posting there anyway. It’s more for me than anyone else I guess but it’s nice when somebody tells me they like it and appreciate the personal nature of the photos.
You share a lot of personal photos, particularly of your daughter. How do you decide what to share with the world and what not to? Like I share a lot of photos of our messy house and general laziness and sometimes I worry that could cause people we know to look at us differently. On the other hand, I kind of think in the age of social media, it’s much more refreshing to be totally frank and honest instead of trying to paint the best possible picture of yourself all the time. Especially in a photo diary where being fake seems to defeat the object. What’s your take on it?
Luckily my wife understands me well enough to know I wouldn’t publicize anything that would potentially portray she or our daughter in any sort of humiliating or sinister context. I just try to capture intimacy while respecting our personal boundaries, if that makes sense. As far as the general perception of us from whatever content I show may be, none of us are too concerned but I would pull anything from online or resist printing it if it made my wife or child uncomfortable.
With my photo diary stuff, I sometimes get really hung up that it’s not consistent – like there’s a lot of talk out there about how good work should be consistent and have a great flow. But real life isn’t like that so you have to work with what you’ve got, you know. Sometimes things are random and that’s just the way it is. Do you consciously try to maintain consistency in your work or is that something that just comes in when you edit for a specific series or post?
I do aim for a consistent aesthetic approach but I think that’s more due to my obsessive nature with that sort of thing than anything else. I wouldn’t say an inconsistent look or feel is necessarily a bad thing at all, it’s all in the big picture. I think I’ve practiced a really consistent approach to shooting and editing to where my stuff just ends up coming out that way due to my preferences.
We both share a love of compact cameras. What is it about them you like? What is it you’re looking for in a good compact?
I’ve used countless cameras over my time as an enthusiastic photographer. I’ve gone through four Leicas, a bunch of giant medium format cameras, huge full frame DSLRs, compact 35mm cameras, and so on. By far and away the best and easiest cameras I have ever used for any purpose are the Ricoh GR series digital cameras. I currently shoot the original GRD1 from 2006 and I couldn’t be happier. It’s absolutely minuscule, it makes beautiful black and white JPEG files, and I’ve made 17” prints from them that look great. It’s simply the most functional and portable instrument for what I like to do. I still have a gigantic Nikon D800e that I use for the occasional color landscape and formal portrait work, but we are talking a VERY small percentage of my overall output.
I’m kind of obsessed with how my photos look in terms of the aesthetic as much as I am about the composition. Your black and white shots have a certain stylised look to them. How important is the look to you? Does the type of camera have any role to play in that?
Absolutely! Don’t believe when somebody tells you the camera doesn’t matter. Every camera is suited to a certain purpose and some do what you need them to while others simply won’t live up to whatever task you’ve assigned them. Anyway, I was shooting Kodak Tri-X for a long time and I always loved the look of it pushed to 3200 with a 3 stop red filter but I eventually found the amount of film I was shooting and the subsequent scanning to be prohibitively impractical. I’d been trying to get “the look” right in digital and came close to it but never was truly satisfied. Then, I came across a blog post from our mutual friend Josh White on the original Ricoh GRD1 and it’s incredible black and white JPEG files and I knew I had to try it out. I honestly think using this ancient camera made a huge difference to my photography! I hate screwing with processing and I hate fucking around with knobs and menus, I literally live to point and shoot. This thing makes it so easy.
I do process the files a tiny bit to get them to look the way I want but all it is is a basic exposure channel preset I made and apply to everything on import. Aesthetics are paramount to photography, the look is a big deal and can differentiate your style from others. Charalampos Kydonakis immediately comes to mind. You know a photo is his without anyone telling you. It just looks like his style, and I think that’s really important.
You’ve just finished up a gallery show, can you tell me about that? How did you choose what photos to show, was there a theme you focussed on or did you just pick your favourites?
It was at a local gallery and I shared the space with a really close friend of mine who makes surfboards by hand. He actually invited me to participate as he was the original invitee but is a big fan of my photos and wanted to have a diverse and unique show. It seems kind of odd to pair these gorgeous colorful handmade surfboards with a bunch of black and white photos but it ended up looking really great! Like way better than we had planned, really a bit of a shock. It was held at a gallery (called Cukui) in downtown San Jose that regularly features artists and photographers in an intimate space. There really wasn’t much of a theme, I just selected recent favorites and a few older photos that had a little flow to them but also enough individual appeal to hopefully sell something.
Do you have any favourite photographers that have inspired your work?
Mark Cohen, Masahisa Fukase, Trent Parke (who doesn’t love him though?) and obviously early Daido Moriyama and Eikoh Hosoe.
Can you pick three of your favourite photos and explain the story behind them?
This is my favorite photo I’ve ever taken. This is the exact moment my daughter was born. Taken with a Mamiya 7 on Portra 400 with a huge ridiculous Sunpak 522 flash. The Mamiya 7 is literally the only thing I miss about shooting film.
This one is one of the first “Japanese” looking BW shots I got that made me feel like I was figuring something out, like I was close to finding my personal style and photographic identity. It’s an abandoned lot two blocks from my house and I’ve probably taken 1500 photos of it but this one really stuck with me. This was with the Ricoh GR APS-C version camera.
And one more medium format film photo of my daughter. What can I say, I’m a sentimental man. This was a Mamiya 645 Pro TL on Portra 400.
Having followed your photo blog I had a feeling your daughter would feature heavily! Those are some lovely shots man, that portait of your daughter in the cart is lovely. She looks so relaxed! Makes me wonder what she was thinking about.
We were at a cactus nursery getting some plants for our yard (yes, at the time I was hauling a Mamiya 645 and two backs everywhere) and she was just thrilled to see all the colorful plants and the birds flying around. I noticed the colors just seemed really nice and I wanted to get a photo of her so I snapped three or four while I could get her to sit still and I ended up just loving this one too much to keep to myself!
You’re part of a collective that has just formed called Inverse. How did it come together?
Jeff Potvin approached me about the idea and he suggested a few people with similar styles, after checking them out I asked if I could bring in a couple of people I’ve worked with and he agreed. So far the plans are to have a collective website and work on zines together. We are international so an exhibition may be difficult but certainly possible in the future! Other than that, it’s just nice to have some dialogue with shooters that share a familiar eye and taste with me and we help each other out in whatever way we can.
Since I like your photos, who else should I follow on instagram?
Joe Aguirre, Joseph Maddon, Mike Aviña, Alison McCauley, Inverse Collective, Todd Gross, Aaron Berger, Josh White, Feng Li, Rafal Pruszynski, Julian Reid, Dennis Zhu, Caspar Claasen, Jeff Potvin, and too many more to list.
For anyone interesting in seeing more of Matt’s work, you can find him on instagram, or over on his photo diary at knewandused.wordpress.com (and stay tuned for an Inverse Collective website in the near future).