You’ve seen the photos—images of poverty, desperation, violence and suffering beyond all measure.
But chances are you’re focussed on the subject, never really giving the person taking the photo much thought. Turns out, getting yourself in the situation to allow the best chance of capturing poignant moments isn’t as easy as booking your ticket and wandering around, camera slung over shoulder. Something that photographers Quinn Matthews and Woody Gooch found out.
Quinn and Woody both started their photographic careers in the surf world, and achieved success at a young age. But, worldly young gents such as they are, always had their eyes set on more than swimming around with a water housing. Seeing as they’ve been pals for a while, they’ve instigated an annual trip to take themselves out of the comfort of the Western world, and into the shit. Well, not really on the Nepal trip which we’re here to talk about today, but definitely the Haiti trip, which you’ll hear all about in due course. Spoiler alert: guns, drugs, homosexual brothels, and DIY rap videos. For now, let’s talk Nepal, and the photobook honouring the trip, Above Else.
“We didn’t want to do the whole hanging out in Kathmandu, Everest base camp thing,” Woody explains. “We ended up living with a tribe and did a lot of things that we had planned, but ended up going a little deeper than we thought.”
The pair decided that they were going to need some kind of a local contact if they were going to be able to access the remote areas that they were craving, and eventually—via China of all places—Woody got in touch with BJ. BJ was a local who had set up a foundation to try and integrate members of some of the tribes living in Nepal’s rural areas into modern Nepalese society. Sounded perfect. After meeting BJ at the airport, it turned out that there had been a bit of a communication breakdown—BJ thought that Quinn and Woody were working for him.
“We thought we were going to end up in the remote areas with the tribes, primitive living,” Woody explains. “We went out to all of these tribes in the mountain ranges, which took a fair while to get to, and then the kids were running around in GAP shirts and Lakers hats, and we were like, no BJ. So we ended up in a lot of heated discussions. And it was really hard to convey exactly what we wanted to see.”
Eventually, Quinn and Woody broke through that language barrier and got to glimpse the Nepal that they’d set out to capture. At the time Woody was heavy into the digital, and Quinn the medium format, so the results of their capturing the same subjects, are compelling. Then it came to trying to turn the hundreds of images that they shot into a book—a first for both of them.
The project kicked for a couple of years (the trip was in the back half of 2016) until Woody moved to San Francisco for a time, and the two were able to lock themselves in Quinn’s house and get it done. “As far as the editing and the curating of it goes, it was refreshing,” Quinn says. “It’s cool because you’ve got a lot more control. With magazines or brands, it’s ultimately the marketing team that decides how things are going to look. But on projects like this, you can act a lot more on your ideas and creativity.”