Woody Gooch’s Wanaka Love Affair

Photographers inevitably develop affiliations with certain places.

Woody Gooch has been visiting Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand since before he started taking photos, and he has developed an intimate relationship with the place. It’s been close to 15 years since Woody started his annual pilgrimage to the area, and still he returns year after year to recharge the personal batteries and to continue to photograph the abundant rugged beauty that the region provides.

“I’ve never had a moment where I’ve thought, ‘I’m done here,’” says Woody. “The area’s had a big impact on my life, especially my career. Going back to Wanaka resets me and makes me step back and have fresh eyes on everything that I do. I’ve got a real appreciation for this place that’s really nurtured me. It’s kind of a second home.”

Recent years have seen Woody strike up a relationship with Wanaka Tourism—an agreement that comes with a multitude of perks, not least having a helicopter at his disposal when he visits. Woody describes that his fortunate position also adds a certain amount of pressure, as shooting from a chopper is neither easy, nor cheap.

“It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve been able to do that through Wanaka Tourism,” he says. “For the last seven or so years of shooting before that, I was at ground level and I never considered what having a bird’s eye view would bring; the landscape was still so overwhelming from the ground.” Woody describes the “holy crap” moment that occurred on his first flight as he realised how many fresh angles to cover there were and also how the unpredictable weather systems make no two trips the same. “Every time you fly new areas appear, and it just works with how spontaneous that place is in general,” he says. “It’s really addictive.”

Technically, shooting from a chopper adds multiple layers of difficulty to something that’s far from easy in the first place. Woody explains that the limited time in the air forced him to adapt pronto. “It all depends on the side of the chopper you’re on and the side of the sun,” he explains. “Some of the choppers have the little flapper windows, but the first few times I had to shoot through the perspex. I managed to nail some of my favourite stuff in the show on those flights—I was pretty blown away. But this year I did my first flight with the doors off, and that was insane knowing that you don’t have those issues and possibilities of fucking everything up.”

Woody goes on to explain that given you only get an hour at a time in the air (at considerable cost), you have to dive in and shoot as much as you can. “You only fly over one specific area for a certain amount of time and you can just miss it, unless the guy’s willing to go back,” he says. “It’s kind of like a really fast-paced video game. You have to know what you want, coordinate it with the weather and just go for it. I have three cameras around my neck and shoot medium format, big lens, and short lens. It’s difficult, and time up there—minutes are like blinking y’know—it’s overwhelming and exciting and before you know it you’re heading back and you’re like, ‘Fuck!’ I just shot the one spot for an hour and it felt like ten minutes.”

You might think that after years of shooting the same location, he might be done with the South Island of New Zealand. But this is far from the case. “There’s just always new things happening and new ways to see it,” Woody says. “It’s a very three-dimensional country. It’s like a cube. An outrageously beautiful cube that has all of these weird textures to it.”

All prints from Woody’s Common Ground series are yours for the taking, and would look a treat hung on that bare wall of yours. For all purchase enquiries, hit him up at woodygoochphoto@gmail.com

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