In Focus: Oakland Photographer Santana Bellas

With the EFNIKS focus on the beauty of people of color this month, we arranged a chat with Oakland based queer photographer Santana Bellas. If you’ve never come across his work on social media, you are missing out. Santana’s work features a multitude of looks, styles, and a diverse array of models--he continuously highlights the beauty of people of color simply because they are the people in his world. Even in his online presence, Santana is a person of few words who prefers to focus on the visual aspects of his work, so we appreciate the opportunity to ask him a few questions. 

EFNIKS: Hi Santana, thank you for taking the time and doing this interview for us. If you could, please introduce yourself; name, where you’re from, preferred pronouns.

SANTANA: Hi world! I'm Santana Bellas. Born in Florida but I reside in Oakland. Pronouns: He/Him

EFNIKS: So, how long have you been taking photos?

SANTANA: I've been taking photos for about 3 years now. I was shooting with a Canon Ae-1 then moved into using a Ricoh FF-70 and AF-5. As of now I’m using a Contax T2.

EFNIKS: As a fellow artist, I know a big part of keeping the creative process fresh is through finding inspirations. What inspires you and your work? Music, other photographers in particular, fine art, etc.

SANTANA: A lot of my inspiration comes from life itself, reading and friends. I also pull inspiration from documentaries and indie films.

EFNIKS: Do you take photos purely as a hobby or is it a hired job?

SANTANA: Both. A lot of the times I take photos for purely pleasure.  

EFNIKS: As an ex-designer, I know it’s difficult to find jobs that pay for artwork, especially being a person of color. How has your experience been when acquiring photography jobs? Do you find it difficult being a person of color and getting paid the amount you believe you deserve for your work?

SANTANA: The industry can be difficult to navigate through at times. A lot of gigs aren't always fun but they do pay the bills. Finding jobs can be super difficult and hard to find. It can be difficult but if your work truly speaks volumes then people are willing to pay you the amount that you deserve.

 EFNIKS: On to the subject of our issue FACE, from your perspective what are your favorite parts of the face you like to capture?

SANTANA: Eyes.

EFNIKS: Do you show your subjects what poses you want them in?

SANTANA: Usually I do but also allow them to pose a freely as they would want to.

EFNIKS: What poses do you find most intriguing?

SANTANA: A lot of natural poses that are from the waist up.

EFNIKS: If its ok to ask, I’d love to know who your subjects are. Did you know most of them on a personal level or were some just strangers on the street that allowed you to capture their photo?

SANTANA: About 99% of the people I photograph are my lovely friends. I like to have a natural connection to the subject of my photos. 

EFNIKS: When you approach someone to take their photos, do you find they are usually very open to it or do a lot of people shy away from even the idea of someone taking their picture?

SANTANA: Since I'm commonly working with friends they're pretty open to it.

EFNIKS: I’ve noticed that your page has a great amount of diversity of people you’ve been able to photograph. Has it been a challenge to find or seek out certain ethnicities or race to include in your work?

SANTANA: Not really. I focus on using my friends to model. I prefer working with people that I know and have a relationship with, it makes the shoot more natural and organic.

EFNIKS: Have you ever photographed someone who identified as trans or non-binary? If so, what was your experience and did it mean any significance to them? 

SANTANA: I recently photographed a few trans and non-binary people for a newspaper article. It meant a lot to them because they were receiving a platform to speak and to be known. It was great for them because people could finally know their story. 

EFNIKS: What I really love about your photographs is the use of lighting, especially natural lighting outdoors. Do you find it easier to capture certain skin tones when it comes to natural lighting versus artificial lighting? 

SANTANA: I love using natural lighting. I do find it easier when I'm capturing certain skin tones but also it depends on your film and camera. Since I’m using a film camera there’s many films that I can explore that gives a certain look to specific skin tones. My favorite film to use is Kodak Portra 400.  

EFNIKS: There’s been some conclusions drawn up about European standards of beauty affecting mainstream media, especially when it comes to filters or photo manipulation in order to lighten skin tones. What are some of the techniques you use in order to capture your subjects within their truest appearances? 

SANTANA: I make sure to capture people how they are that’s the best way to photograph someone’s truest appearance.   

EFNIKS: Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you on the other side of the camera.

You can see more of Santana’s work on at his website, projectsbysantana.com. And you can follow them on Twitter @santanabellas, Instagram @santanabellas, and tumblr at santanabellas.tumblr.com.

 

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