Brighton Photo Biennial 2010: Mexico's Oscar Fernando Gomez on his remarkable journey

Interview by Ben Miller | 06 October 2010
A photo of a man pulling a mattress across a South American street
While some dream on a mattress, others sell a mattress to get something they dream of (2010)© Oscar Fernando Gomez
In his own words… Oscar Fernando Gomez is a taxi driver in Monterrey, Mexico. Taking pictures from the window of his cab, his work was intended to capture urban life in an album for his daughter, but she died shortly after she was born. His work is currently featuring in New Ways of Looking as part of the Brighton Photo Biennial…

"At the age of 20 I decided to move in search of work and a change of life, but I ended up in the wrong city. I came to Monterrey, which is four hours away from the city I had wanted to move to, and started living on the street with no money, just a bag of my personal documents.

I ate popcorn and drank soft drinks people left outside the cinemas. I thought my life would end, but then remembered that I had an aunt living in León. I hitched a ride in a trailer car on a truck carrying strawberries. I lived there until I was 28 before I moved back to Monterrey.

I bought a Kodak camera before I left to remind myself of the images of León. I got around by foot or bike, touring León taking pictures. By the time I went back to Monterrey I had bought a 35mm roll of film.

I started taking photographs for pleasure in rivers, hills and all kinds of natural settings. Someone mentioned that a neighbour of mine was getting married and that I ought to take photos of the event. From then on I started taking photographs of friends. I read about how to take photographs in magazines.

I spent a lot on taxis, so I decided to rent one to save on taxi fares, since I could not afford to buy one myself. The taxi rental was about the same as what I used to spend on fares some days. When I rented the taxi I could not drive properly. One day a woman decided to pay me with her clapped out Volkswagen. I managed to drive that because the woman told me to take it away, and I started to practice my driving by driving around the neighbourhood.

The passengers gave me tips on how to drive, and by that time I had a wife and we were planning our family. We were extremely happy. I planned to make a photographic album for my future son or daughter. We found out that it would be a girl, and I started to take photographs of things I would notice in my taxi. Sometimes I would work in the taxi and then watch the dawn or the sunset.

My daughter died soon after she was born. We never realised there was a problem until she was born. Everything felt finished in one single day. I began working as a full-time taxi driver, and I no longer had any interest in the sort of photographs I had taken before. I went on taking photographs, but I was attracted by peoples’ tragedies and problems.

I took photographs by letting myself get carried away by my heart and mind every time I felt the impulse or energy to take a photograph. I have taken thousands of photographs which have come to nothing, but there have been others in which I have felt an irrepressible desire to preserve them.

As the years went by I took part in photography competitions that enabled my daughter to transcend through my photographs. Nowadays I drive my own taxi. What I enjoy in life is driving, taking pictures and having a nice cold drink. I think I will spend the rest of my life appreciating that I do what I like. Being able to continue my work will depend on my efforts and the support of people who like my work.

I can visualise myself in the future showing my photographs to my children – one aged two, the other one eight months – and, if I am lucky, to my grandchildren. I like to tell everyone that if there is a will, there’s a way."

New Ways of Looking is at The Former Co-Operative Department Store, London Road, Brighton, until November 14 2010.

Logo for the Brighton Photo Biennial
Culture24 at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010:
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Artist's Statement: Alejandro Chaskielberg
Inside The House of Vernacular at Fabrica
Artist Molly Landreth on Queer Brighton
Video: Alec Soth on Brighton Picture Hunt
Artist's Statement: Stephen Gill
Our preview of the Brighton Photo Fringe
Five to see at the Fringe: Part One
Five to see at the Fringe: Part Two
Behind the Scenes: Three Views of Brighton
John Deakin's Gods and Monsters in Chichester
Laura Burgess on the education programme
"Cutting edge" programme announced for 2010
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