Being in the right place at the right time is rarely a scheduled scenario but when it occurs it presents golden moments of impromptu creativity and exposition. Senior photography student Iain Gomez experienced his own shining opportunity while he studied abroad in Hong Kong in the fall of 2014.
Near the midpoint of Gomez’s time abroad, he inadvertently experienced an issue concerning political reform and underlying human rights problems affecting Hong Kong’s government and citizens.
“I had woken up one morning to my newsfeed on Facebook completely filled with news about a protest organized by the youth of Hong Kong that was going to take place later that day,” Gomez said. “I didn’t know what I was going to get myself into but I decided to go and not tell anyone – just as a photojournalist to document what was happening.”
Gomez decided to photograph the scenes he encountered during the situation. Now, the photographer plans to share his images Friday, May 13, at the Non-Fiction Gallery in an exhibit titled “Under the Umbrella.”
According to Gomez, the situation started off peacefully and nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary.
“I didn’t notice I was at the very front until my back was against a barricade and I had police yelling on one side and protesters trying to break the barricade on the other. I was pepper sprayed and got help from the people around me with water and a surgical mask.”
For Gomez, this moment set the tone for his next month of documentation.
“I turned around a few hours later while I was standing on a fence to see the whole main road behind me blocked to traffic and filled with people,” Gomez said. “It was eye opening to see anyone and everyone there fighting for what they wanted and the will they had to be heard. I stayed all night through tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.”
Gomez did not realize the gravitas of the situation until he returned to his room late one night and read up on what was taking place with the Umbrella Revolution and Occupy Hong Kong.
“This whole situation felt much bigger than me and it did make me feel the need to keep documenting what was going on,” Gomez said. “This wasn’t a project that was self-driven until those protesting began to thank me for being there and asking me to share this moment in time with everyone, just because I had a camera with me; the ‘thank you’s,’ the help I received and the help I gave to those who needed it around me at the time. These people who didn’t know me opened up to me and it only felt right to continue creating images.”
The entire experience was a humbling one for Gomez, because it motivated him to use his abilities as a photographer to capture and share this story in his own medium.
“I didn’t think of photojournalism as my go-to style of photography at the time but since then that’s all I’ve done,” Gomez said. “Documentation and bringing news worthy stories to the world is a huge motivating factor for my work now. I want people to understand that these are everyday people who were just standing up for themselves and something they knew had to be changed.”
Though “Under the Umbrella” is a completed exhibit, the project itself is not, because Gomez wants to return to Hong Kong and continue to document its current state. Gomez plans to graduate in June and then move to New York to further develop his passion for photojournalism and documentary work.
“I really just want to start on my career and continue to bring stories to light around the world,” Gomez said. “I’m looking for work in either photography or film because I have a minor in film and television as well and that’s another passion of mine.”
Culture shock was one of the best feelings for Gomez when he arrived in Hong Kong, and the subjects seen in his photography were his motivation and inspiration to pursue the type of style exhibited in “Under the Umbrella.”
“Putting aside this moment and stepping away from the protest in general, the people in Hong Kong are so kind, funny, generous, and light hearted,” Gomez said. “That made the trip for me. SCAD already has the campus there and it was a blessing to be able to go and have a new and eye opening experience overall.”
“Under the Umbrella” will make its public debut tomorrow night from 6-9 p.m. at the Non-Fiction Gallery on 1522 Bull Street.
Written by Emilie Kefalas.