Hailing from Caracas in Venezuela, fashion photographer Diana Gomez has shot some of the most famous people on the planet. But that sort of thing doesn’t bother her. Nothing seems to really. A true force of nature, Diana is very much her own person, doing what she wants, how she wants, and we love her for that. She spent 17 years living in London before relocating to LA a few years back. In 2017, she took over Pikes with ‘FREE WOMEN’ – a feminist-driven and autobiographical show that consisted of life-size portraits and outdoor installations inspired by Diana’s incredible life and experiences. Hung on specially designed stands, her huge pieces were spread around the grounds, the terrace and one was even anchored to the bottom of the swimming pool of the hotel, where you can see it to this day. The following year (2018), we gave her a call in LA for a chat about who she is and what she does. We had to be quick as she was on her way to Malibu for a lunch date with Cindy Crawford. As you do…
Do you have wanderlust, Diana? You always seem want to be discovering new places; is that a fair way to describe you?
Yeah, definitely. I’m very hyperactive and I always like to push life to the limits. I like to experience different things, places and people all the time. But you know, in a place like London, you don’t need to take a flight to take you somewhere else, it can be within the same city that you live in all your life and you’re constantly discovering new places. I am Venezuelan, from Caracas, and when I was there I was always trying to go to a new bar, a new club, new art space, meet new people, find a new beach, a new mountain, a new hike; I explore everywhere I go.
Pikes is a good place for that, it’s famous for all kinds of different people meeting.
Oh completely. I adore Pikes, and I love Ibiza. I’ve been going to the island for a long time for work but when I met Dawn, she’s such a wild spirit, she’s such a beautiful woman and I am really drawn to women who support one another. That’s my mojo in life, and it’s the basis and the grounding of my work in many ways. Just to be empowering one another and making women feel amazing about themselves. That improves my life and others, so when I met Dawn I just thought, this is perfect, Pikes is a perfect place to actually do my exhibition. Her creativity, friendship, kindness and her beautifulness make a perfect scenario to host a concert or an exhibition. Especially one that is about freedom, empowerment and femininity, and supporting one another, being incredible to one another and pushing the boundaries of one’s lives. All set in a surrounding where people celebrate hedonism, life, dance, health, beauty and nature. So I just thought, oh I’ve got this idea that I wanted to develop and I happened to meet her at the right time. I discussed the exhibition concept with her and she loved it, because she’s one of me, she’s one of us. So it was the perfect connection.
Did you guys meet in Ibiza or somewhere else?
I think I met her in Ibiza, but she goes to London often – we’ve got a group of friends in common, so I’ve seen her in London many times and she comes to L.A. often too so I see her there too. I mean she’s one of those who’s a keeper forever; a wild spirit that sort of transcends this life and goes into another. I really respect her and I really appreciate her kindness, her wildness, her spirit, her efforts and her humanity, mainly.
Was 2017 the first time you exhibited one of your photos at the bottom of a swimming pool?
Yeah, that was, I’ve always wanted to do an exhibition that was completely different so I created my own walls. I wanted to create it in a place with no walls, that’s why I showcased it outdoors. And obviously I wanted it in a place where people celebrate life to the fullest, to feel free that they let their hair down, to act as if they were children, and enjoy life to the fullest. So Pikes is the perfect place for that with all its history. It really was perfect. I created these images, which are real, life-size women that represented different episodes of my life. They’re kind of semi-autobiographical so I made the models re-enact different episodes of my life. I created all these pictures and printed them on weatherproof and waterproof acrylic. I also made some bases for them because there was to be no walls – hence the freedom for women concept. I wanted to put one inside the pool because to me it was like the perfect place. To take over the whole space and just put one in the pool, another one by the gardens, another one by the tennis courts. It was just like a guerrilla take on the idea of creating an exhibition that is not conventional. And the picture that I put inside the pool is called ‘Sex’, all the images are titled different words or emotions that to me are encouraging and are beautiful and powerful, and that everyone should be aware of on a daily basis. I am a very sexual person; I am sexual as well as very spiritual. I am a wild animal. So the picture, which represents to me the power and the freedom to be a very sexual being I put at the bottom of the pool so people could jump inside the pool. They could enjoy Sex on the water, which is something that has always been very appealing to me. Jump into sex, jump on the sex – sexy time on the water.
What’s your secret to getting people comfortable, because taking photos is a real art form. You really get at the essence of people in your photos.
I’m very good at making people comfortable or uncomfortable – it depends. I am mainly known for being a very optimistic positive person. People sometimes stop me on the street and say, “oh my god your energy is amazing, how do you get it?” I don’t know, it’s something that is innate to me and I guess I was born with it. That same energy scares a lot of people so it really depends what time in their lives they are at. The whole women revolution thing to me is really important because women find other women a little bit scary when they’re powerful and confident. My trick is that I get very excited about my work, I get very excited about going on a new day. I am a very optimistic, positive and fun. I’m very wild, so I kind of relax them by just being myself. I walk into a studio or situation and I have no shame. When I introduce myself I speak my mind, I’m very honest, very transparent. And I think that’s kind of my charm you know? That’s why people feel relaxed when they see me; I just pull my own leg and make fun out of me. I tell stories that ground me and in that way everyone feels very grounded around me. They don’t feel like I am not see-through. So that’s the kind of trick that I have. I remember photographing Chaka Khan and she and I became friends really quickly. She was telling me all her truths and I was telling her all my truths and I was just revealing myself to her. I have no shame, I am who I am and I get into a lot of trouble, I’m very great at getting out of trouble too and I live life very passionately. That’s why I am a photographer, because there’s a philanthropy within me, that’s the only thing I can give, and I can give back with – I can share that energy. I can make people feel special, and turn them around. That’s why I love what I do so much.
What is it that makes you go “that’s the shot”, is it just a feeling that you get?
I’m very fast. I shoot tons and I think most of the time they’re very good. If there’s a beautiful synergy in the studio then most of the time every shot is gorgeous. You know, it’s like a play I guess, because there are a lot of elements; there are a lot of people to please. It tends to be very spontaneous, I get it sometimes, I just go, “oh, it’s beautiful.” Because it’s beautifully framed, the colours are perfect, they’re very balanced, the crop, the framing, the situation, and the emotion that the people are giving me is perfect. Sometimes it’s little details, like the hair didn’t work and then you just go “oh no, the hair it’s wrong so let’s change it.” So it really depends, in fashion photography there are a lot of elements that you need to make sure all combine to create a very well balanced image. Sometimes it takes longer than others, and sometimes it’s just there, sometimes you don’t see it because you’re worried about other things too. And then you move on. It depends. In commercial photography sometimes you just have to move on quickly and just shoot, shoot, shoot. If I have time to spend with someone fantastic, sometimes I just have to get the shot straight away and it’s the only shot I can get. I photographed Rihanna; they were counting me down, five, four, three, two, one. So I said well that’s the shot. You just do it, you just work it. As long as you’re always aiming to create the best possible scenario there then you can get a really great shot.
I think I know the answer to this already but does celebrity bother you?
I think they’re incredible, they’re amazing, but to me celebrities are just normal people. I treat them as normal human beings, as I would the corner shop guy, the hot dog dude or the masseuse. They’re human beings, they’re beautiful human beings. Some of them have an amazing talent and have worked really hard, and they’re incredible humanitarian, beautiful souls who understand the world, nature and the arts so they’re amazing to be around. They don’t bother me, what bothers me sometimes is the fuss around them. The entourage. Also having to deal with the back and forth of information, like she likes this she doesn’t like that, she might like to try do to this, or maybe not. She be down to do it or she only wants to do it six times, that kind of silliness. I’m just trying to concentrate on something much more important than little things that we could just speak about on the day of the shoot and ultimately are irrelevant. So there’s sometimes a lot of preparation around a shoot with the people that work for celebrities, and that can be a little bit tedious, but I’m sure it’s tedious for them too. For me it’s really incredible, for me I respect and I admire people who have actually got to a place of fame through working really hard and through creating something special for the world; a legacy. So I really respect them and I adore working with celebrities or with writers, actresses, musicians who have risen to the top. I find it, and them, amazing.
If someone had to take your portrait who would you choose?
Myself. I am one of the most un-photogenic people I’ve ever met. But I am also one of the most self-confident people I’ve ever met. I feel like I am stunning, I wake up and I’m like, oh my god I’m so sexy, I’m so amazing, I’m so beautiful. And then someone takes a picture of me and I’m like, oh my god what is that? It’s probably both, the fact that I think I am very kind to people and make them look very amazing, and then the fact that I don’t feel that I’m very photogenic. I don’t know. I respect lots of photographers, but I am not very good in front of the camera, hence I am usually behind it. My models tell me to get in front of the camera all of the time because I act out what I want them to do, physically telling them what I want. It’s a kind of a crazy little hectic day with me in the studio – I’m always posing and doing it and showing them how to do it. That’s why my FREE WOMEN exhibition says a lot about why I became a photographer – maybe I wanted to be in front of the camera, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t that photogenic. So I’m behind the camera but I’m still putting all of my myself into these incredible, beautiful, gorgeous women who I can direct and photograph. So I genuinely don’t know who would take my picture! I guess I would have liked to meet Diane Arbus, I think that it would have been amazing to see how she would portray me. I also adore the work of Cindy Sherman. Maybe I would like her to dress as me and then photograph herself, rather than photograph me. I think that’s a pretty strong idea.
Words by: Josh Jones
Photography by: Diana Gomez / Dan Wilton (Pool Shot)