Interview: Paul Santana Bellas on His Journey to The Bay, Photo Composition, and Flowing Together a Project

February 06, 2018

Paul Santana Bellas is a young photographer and designer based in Oakland, CA. Having spent a lot of his life moving from place to place, floating through familiar and unfamiliar landscapes, Bellas eventually picked up photography to document and explore the nuances held within people and their environments. As a black and gay artist, his peculiar eye and identiy allows him to shed light on the conflicts within masculinity, politics, community, sexuality, and much more, while also exploring the medium and art of photography. Check out our interview with Paul below, as well as a small sample of his work. 

IMG 7020

Where are you from and what got you into shooting photos?
Oh man, the thing I remember most about growing up is moving. It feels like I'm from everywhere! Originally, I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and then moved to Indianapolis. After that I lived in Honolulu for a few years until I moved to Northern Virginia. Now, I reside in Oakland, California, right here in the Bay Area. I’ve been in the Bay for 10 years now, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really got into shooting photos. It started as a hobby that got me out of the house, but I instantly fell in love with photography and haven’t put my camera down since.

When did shooting photos become an artistic thing for you, if that's how you feel about it now?
It became an artistic thing for me about a year ago, when I started creating multiple projects with my photography. Before that, it was just something I would do in my free time.


What are some common themes that you explore in your work? What draws you to these?
I’m a huge fan of capturing lifestyle, culture, and candid moments. I have the best time with it. It reminds me of my early photography days when I shot photos just for fun.

What is the most important aspect of a good photo? Can you single it down to one, or is it just how they all work together? What's one thing that can ruin a good photo?
I’m really into compositions, and the story being told in the photo. If I can’t showcase a story in a photo, then I’m not too intrigued by it. A good photo also depends on the type of message being conveyed to the viewer. Overall, I like using various images to tell a story.

Bad lighting ruins a good photo. Shooting in the wrong lighting can make or break the quality of a photo.

IMG 6050

What are some thoughts that come into your head when picking subjects for photos?
I always think about the project as a whole: the theme, the vibe, and the message I want to execute. I want to make sure that everything flows well together. Pretty much, the subject has to naturally fit into the project, not the other way around.

How do you find your background in design interact with your photo projects?
My design background comes in handy when I’m creating zines, posters, and print/digital based photo projects. I’m lucky that the two go hand in hand. As a designer, we’re programmed to tell a story in our work, therefore I always look for a story in my photo projects.

IMG 8210

What's one of your favorite things about living in the Bay? and one thing you don't like about it?
Man…it’s hard to choose just one. I love the Bay’s culture, diversity, weather, and opportunities. I love it all! Althought, one thing I don’t like is how expensive it is to live here.

Where to from here? What are some projects you'd like to be able to do in the future?
In the future, I would love to be involved in campaigns for bigger name clients, and hopefully collaborations with some fashion brands. I also want to step into different roles that’ll allow me to design clothing, model, and direct. That would be ideal for me.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
I have some great upcoming projects that I'm really excited about. At the moment, I’m working on two projects. SPELLING is going to feature my static images in various music videos and a zine. I’m also creating a zine with Summer Mason about preserving black church fashion. With this zine project, my goal is to showcase how black church fashion is timeless and should be remembered in fashion history. In addition to that, I’m working on a special comic style zine with Clarence Lives.

I have a lot more coming out soon but I like the element of surprise, so you’ll just have to wait and see what else I’ve been up to!

Thank you Paul!