Filmmaker & photographer
A selection from Paul Sixta's body of works.
Q: How do you reveal identity in a portrait?
A: So, this is something I think about a lot.
I try to treat everyone with the same degree of kindness and respect. Who are you? How do you feel today? What would you like to share with me? What would you like to show me?
When I photograph, I focus on who that person is at that moment. While doing that it’s hard for me to think if a certain shot will reflect their identity. While I’m shooting, I’m in conversation with the people I photograph and it feels objectifying to ask them to show me their stretch marks, their top surgery scars, or their loose skin. It takes us both out of the moment and puts them in a box.
I usually end up with a photo that reflects how someone felt, not how they identify.
It’s always a struggle to show different identities without reducing someone to a single quality. So, looking at my work you might not see the transman or the person with a life-changing spine injury because I didn’t focus on a visually defining feature.
Q: Where would you start if you portrayed me in an image? Light? Form? Color? ...?
A: I would start by asking you who you are. Sometimes directly if that’s not too overwhelming. Otherwise by having some small talk and observing how you respond when I invite you to sit/ stand in different places. Building up comfort and trust.
Q: When you make an image, are you aware of it as if it is a public image?
A: I try not to think of that while shooting and I encourage the people I portray to not think about it either, by giving them control of what happens to the image afterwards. Most of us are extremely aware of what an image can do online. For the person I’m photographing, that idea is probably the biggest obstacle to overcome while shooting. It takes them out of the moment.
I only allow myself to think about what a photo does in the eye of the public once I finish editing it.
Q: Does being unclothed naturally give sexual connotations to a person in a portrait?
A: Nudity doesn't have to be sexual. But since I try to portray how someone feels, that feeling may be sexual. I think I used to be in denial about what the act of getting naked in front of a stranger and their camera could mean to the portrayed. There is tension there. It is what I seek out. Not the sexual aspect, but the intimacy that that situation can bring. It is absolutely exciting. For some, sexual expression means pornography. Often with negative connotations. For me, a nude photo becomes pornographic by the way of its consumption. For instance, on Instagram photos aren’t viewed, they are consumed.
If a photographer censors their photographs online and asks a viewer to pay to see them uncensored, what does that say about their relationship to the people they portrayed?
Can I have an honest moment photographing someone and then afterwards put a price on their genitalia?
Q: Lies the truth of portraiture in its capacity to idealize one's full potential, or more in its ability to sincerely capture one's most defining features?
A: Glorification or stereotyping/oversimplifying? Might a truth in a portrait lie in the middle? In the slightly boring? The mundane?
Q: How do you choose the moment to capture the time in a still, non-moving image?
A: Coming from a film background, I don’t choose. I shoot almost continuously. I choose afterwards. I try to demystify the experience of ‘the perfect moment.’ Emphasizing the act of spending time with the person portrayed. Not having that one perfect frozen moment gives me the feeling a person could stay with me longer. Not lost, frozen in time.
Q: If you as a maker look at the portrait you made, do you see a reflection of yourself despite another person in the image?
A: I see the quieter side of people which reflects my personality.
Q: Should a portrait be timeless, or solely specific to the time in which it is created (so that it is dated in the long run), and therefore just testify to the ‘here and now’?
A: One reason I use nudity is to make a photo feel more timeless. That of course is an illusion. Everything is dated. When you look at an obviously dated nude portrait from the 70’s it’s easier to connect to the person on a human level than when that person is wearing the fashion of the times. Skin is timeless.
Q: During the portrayal process, are you ever concerned with what the subject will think of it? Do you hope that the person portrayed will eventually identify with your portrait?
A: The photos mustn’t feel exploitative. Did I focus too much on one thing? Could this photo trigger body insecurities? Is it too confronting? Will this make them upset?
I always hope the photo makes them feel ok. Not necessarily to please their vanity.
Q: In which way is your working method visible or tangible in the energy of the work?