The Dance in New York City
I thought after I spoke with Sion, that I would learn some secret to how he gets these amazing images.
But there is no secret. It’s a combination of his fluid dance through the streets, his natural connection to the world around him and most importantly going with his gut.
Sion Fullana’s passion to capture New York City in an undying attempt to give back the gift the city has given him. It’s that simple.
With that I’ll say Thank You Sion for sharing the gift with all of us.
D: David S: Sion
D: Let’s start at the beginning. Were you surrounded by the arts during your childhood and upbringing?
S: No, no, no, not much. The only person in my family with an artistic flare was my cousin Eva, my mom’s sister’s daughter. She used to draw and paint with water colors, and I used to think “wow, that is beautiful.” My dad collected paintings, so it was more about seeing paintings and going to galleries. I never took any creative classes or things like that as a kid.
D: So is all of this output recent or what?
S: I always knew that I liked to tell stories, it was all about transmitting things. One of the things I always wanted to study, because I like working with people, was psychology or psychiatry. The crazy part is, I wanted, for a while, to study the science of dreams. But I’m so 100% right brain that in high school I had to repeat one year because I failed the 3 more “science” subjects… having great grades in everything else, I failed math, chemistry and physics. So I thought there was no way I could study medicine, to learn psychiatry, so I thought I’d go for psychology. But then when the time came to go to college, I said you know what, there is math and science and statistics in psychology. I will never finish a degree that has any of that. So my other interest was Journalism. I didn’t know back then, when I was living in Majorca and going to school in Barcelona, that there was a field or a degree in Audio Visual Communications. Had I known, that would have been what I studied, for real, because that had more to do with cinema, TV, radio, a lot more, uh… story telling devices. But I landed in journalism, and it was great; I love it too. But, for example, in the 5 years of college I just got one cinema subject a semester, and one the first year in photography. We learned how to develop film and I didn’t really pay much attention, that was one of my regrets… Anyway, I ended up in Journalism and throughout those years the other thing I loved was film making, I started taking some workshops in screen writing and in the summer of 2000 or 2001 I visited Cuba with my dad, my sister and 2 friends. I had learned there was a very well known international film school there, and during my trip I visited it and fell in love with it. It was in the middle of the countryside, it was an amazing beautiful place, and I thought “when I graduate college I will come and take one of their 3 week or 1 month workshops”. Later I learned that they had a 2 year course and I thought that could be an adventure, so I applied. It was kind of difficult to get into that school, but I was one of 6 directing filmmaking students in my year. I lived there between 2002 and 2004.
D: So this is were the visual side was born…
S: Yeah yeah yeah, I was coming from telling the story, like a journalist, and then that was more the visual and working with composition.
D: Well it’s almost the same, you are storytelling with words and with photos.
S. Oh! If I start talking about this (the captioning) I will go off on a tangent, so very briefly… this is one of my big, big opinions. Yesterday, I was googling my name, because i wanted to find a blog post, and I found another one that I had never read, it was on a discussion forum about Cartier-Bresson and the “decisive moment.” Someone was talking about captioning, and someone was like “oh, if you had to see a Bresson photo and then read a caption, it wouldn’t be that special” and someone else was saying if Bresson had lived and photographed in the era of Flickr, he would have written great captions too and then they said “oh but Sion Fullana and someone else, I can’t remember their name, do great photos even beyond having the caption. The photo tells a story.” To me, coming from journalism, what I’m saying is… the story is never fully what you may want to tell if you leave it open, so I like to combine both and use all the tools to portray what you want.
D: I’m glad you brought Mr. Cartier-Bresson, because that was my next question. Are you a believer in the “decisive moment?”
S: I think so… Oh my god, now you put me on the spot, because I was thinking of a beautiful Cartier-Bresson quote that I read and that I believe in. He wrote: “I’m not responsible for my photographs. Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you won’t get it. First you must lose your self. Then it happens.”
I always say, when people ask “oh, what’s your process?” …I say it’s something that comes from the gut. When I go around the city and shoot, I go into a trance. Someone said the other day too, that it was like a dance. And I’m like, it is! I dance around the street and sidewalks between characters, trying to connect with whatever is around. When I walk around the city, everything happens so fast… if you stop in New York you will get run over, people don’t pay much attention to the faces or the eyes of people. I like to pay special attention to that.
D: I will say I saw a TV interview with you, and you do dance! (laughs)
S: One of my favorite things to do when I go out by myself is to put music on… and I start observing. Whatever music I have in my ears, I start pacing the people around me and everything that is happening to that rhythm. So to me I call it the real life video clip, and I try to think how would I film this?
D: Well, what music is in your ears? Give us some of your inspiration.
S: Oh my! Well one of my muses is Marketa Irglova from the Swell Season, I put on her album a lot. It’s so mellow, dreamy and romantic, and sometimes I’ll go totally opposite into electronic, and listen to Air, David Guetta, Daft Punk or anything like that.
D: I see a ton of street photography on the various mobile photography networks. I think most would agree that your street work is different, like there’s something magic happening, almost fantasy like. Is that your intention?
S: (laughs) I think so, I think I would agree it’s in a very intuitive way more than in a logical way… one of the photos was of this probably homeless man. And I tend not to photograph homeless people much, but it was near Columbus circle in NY, and there’s this metallic wall, and the light at certain times of day hits it miraculously. I was there one day taking shots of people and this man was walking, he had this giant fur, I don’t know if it was a blanket or a cape or whatever, but to me, to see him in this light, he became like those mythical creatures from Lord of the Rings. Sometimes I look around, and I try to see those qualities in everyone around. So I love to capture the reality in the way people dress and whats in today’s urban spaces… on the other hand, the filmmaker in me tries to fantasize about who is this character and I make scenarios and stories up.
D: How long after you take a photograph before you add your titles and words, is it something that comes instinctively or does it take some time? Your titles and stories are often a perfect fit. Can you fill us in a bit?
S: So the captions, my answer has different branches… one of them is if what you post has to be the most artistic image you are producing or if it is an excuse to talk about something you want to talk about or tell a story you want to tell, regardless of if the photo is perfect or not. So I don’t mind posting a photo that isn’t my best if it tells the story. On the other hand, I will have something I wanna talk about in the caption, and it’s in my head, so I will either take a photo that illustrates that or I’ll pull from my archives and see if I can find something. Other times I’ll just open the photos I like and boom, boom, boom start writing on the spot. Here’s a little funny note… Anton always makes fun of me, because when I write for Instagram 95% of the time, I write within instagram, so I type in that fucking tiny box! So anyway, I get inspired on the spot.
Sometimes I find that there are photos that I like a lot, but there’s no caption coming to me, and I end up feeling strangely unable to post them. There is a photo that I’ve been sitting on for 2 weeks now, and I’m like “I don’t know what to call this!” (laughs)
D: Since you started shooting, do you feel any different, see things in a new light? More alive or awakened to the world around you?
S: Oh definitely, like definitely, definitely. If I’m not taking photos I’m seeing them everywhere. And that is good and bad, you know? Good because even when you are not capturing photos, you are working the creative brain… On the other hand it is terrible because it gives you the anxiety that sometimes you are not able to disconnect and enjoy the moment. And I will never say anything because I don’t want to be rude, but I can be sitting with a friend at a cafe and even if I’m paying attention, because I am a good listener, my eyes are seeing people around or walking by the window, and I’m like goddamn that is a great shot! (laughs) So yeah, it has changed a lot, the way I go around through my day,
D: Good, it should, I mean, you are turning life into that frozen moment.
S: That’s how I see it too in a way. I was saying to someone the other day, we should ask ourselves why do we do what we do. Why do we post everyday? Why do we take the photos? Blah, blah, blah, and some people will say “oh just to get noticed or have more followers” or whatever, it’s bullshit. To me it’s to try to do an x-ray of what’s around us and preserve it, you know? 50 years from now, those shots of today’s streets will have an added historic/documentary value we may not fully see today.
D: How are the reactions and connections in your subjects different in NYC and in Spain? I’m sure you have your reasons for loving both places for different reasons, can you talk about some of those feelings?
S: It’s a funny story you know, sometimes I wonder about this. I was telling Anton the other day how I would love to go to another country, some remote location, like in Asia or something and spend like a year telling stories and all and he was telling me, oh you don’t need a year to do that, and I’m like well, at least a few months, to connect, to learn the pace and the idiosyncrasies of the people and the city. And I guess that’s why when I’ve gone to San Fransisco, it’s similar to New York and I love it. But when I go back to my hometown in Majorca, it’s just not the same.
D: When you say it’s not the same… is it less populated? When you go, are you in the countryside?
S: Well, no. When I go, I stay with my mom in the city… I think it’s hard to describe. Maybe I don’t connect emotionally. I guess there has to be a point of fascination and curiosity and in New York. I still find it. I like to connect with the everyday life, also I am trying to challenge myself now. I’m trying to push forward, to take one shot and be done isn’t that challenging anymore, so I am once again trying to tell stories with a series of shots. When I moved to New York in 2006 I had a lot of time alone, so I would go in the streets to take shots, using them as an excuse to write stories… whether the story was connected to them or not. Then all of a sudden, I don’t know, I guess the city inspired me in a way to keep practicing and strengthen that muscle. I once said, when I was speaking at Apple, “I thought New York gave me so much that I want to keep showing it as a thank you, to capture it and showing it the people that cannot be here. As, look, I’m sharing it with you.”
That doesn’t happen much in Majorca, when I go home. When I’m there I like to be with family, and I will always have a little pride on being from the island. To me Majorca is more about nature, remembering summers by the water more so than about urban beauty.
D: OK, here’s a guy getting work and gaining popularity over his Mobile Photography. Why do you think there is such an emphasis on keeping iPhoneography or mobile photography separate from traditional photography? Isn’t it all just photography?
S: It should be, right? One of the strengths with mobile and shooting with a smart phone is the immediacy of everything: shooting, processing, sharing from wherever you are. For example, I have something coming up where Anton and I are photographing our friend Gabe’s conference in San Francisco. I use my camera, but he wanted lots of iPhone shots too so he could share them with the community that follows his brand right then and there. If I was to use just the camera I could not do that so easily, because there is no compact card with wifi for DSLR yet.
D: You would think that Nikon or Canon would come out with a camera with an editing program and an internet connection.
S: But is it gonna be the same? You know what I mean? That’s what I keep thinking too, but if I’m thinking of grabbing a camera and working and editing on a screen behind when its so much heavier and clunky, it’s just not the same. Same thing applies to candids and street when you are trying to shoot people, you’re more inconspicuous with an iPhone than with a big lens. It also applies when you are doing casual stuff. If you are going around at an event, and you say “hey I’m shooting for the party and can I take your photo?”… with the iPhone, people just smile and keep having the fun, but you go in with a camera, probably they’ll pose for you too, but seeing a camera they’ll think it’s way more serious, so it conditions their reactions.
D: One of your more recent images caught my eye, please tell me about “Masculina Plural”.
S: Strangers, and on the fly, I mean this is the kind of thing when sometimes I may lose shots because I don’t stop. But if you’re walking and the subject is walking too, especially if they are walking from far away, you can pretend like “oh i just got a text” and wait to get it. But when you are close by you aren’t gonna stop on their face, point the camera and shoot. I mean, aah… sometimes you can do that, but it’s more like they can say what the heck are you doing, you know. So I shoot on the fly, you know, boom. Here, we were walking and I saw the guy, the guy that’s looking at me actually was standing up. Then I saw the other guy, and I said “ooh, that’s a good compo here.” He sat down, and boom, I shot him and just kept walking.
We Are Juxt thanks you for your art and your words!
1- Masculino Plural, West Village (NYC), 2012
2- Sangre Española, West Village (NYC), 2012
3- Grumpy Day, Subway car (NYC), 2011
4- The Girl at the Bar, West Village (NYC), 2010
5- There Is No Better Fantasy Than Life Itself, Columbus Circle (NYC), 2010
6- Mutual Curiosity, Majorica (Spain) 2011
7- The Dog Whisperer, Gramercy (NYC), 2012. I stumbled upon this woman sitting on a bench with many dogs, and I had a conversation with her and asked to take a few portraits. As soon as I saw this image and I heard she had over 20 years of experience in dog training, caring and walking, I immediately knew the time had come to finally start a documentary series on her and the topic, which had always fascinated me here in New York. The woman’s name is Carol Kissling: https://www.facebook.com/manhattanTLC4pets I’m meeting Carol once a week now, walking around with her, taking photos of her and the dogs, and the interactions that strangers get with them. Plus I have met a few of the owners and even another few walkers, and I hope to eventually tie it all in the same story as well.
Contact Information for Sion
My Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sionfullana/
MPG page: http://mobilephotogroup.com/