For most people perusing this website, Africa is a huge continent of near-infinite mystery on the opposite side of the globe. For photographer Paul Shiakallis, that exotic, distant world is home. Even for us who have seen Beasts of No Nation and have been collecting Fela Kuti vinyl since the 1970s, the idea that Botswana has a thriving heavy metal rock scene and that women populate that scene is alien.
But the women of Botswana’s heavy metal underground—documented in his “Leathered Skins; Unchained Hearts” series—is not alien to Paul Shiakallis.
To visit a host of the South African native’s planet views, take the open avenues of exploration on Shiakallis’s site.
The Skeeve: What role does trust play between you and the people you photograph?
Paul Shiakallis: In the past, I used to take someone’s portrait and never get involved in their lives. It was a hit and run situation. More recently, I have been photographing people on the fringes of society, the vulnerable and the poor, and some people I photograph are involved in illegal activity. Trust here is extremely important. I find the lives of some of these individuals very fascinating; so I get involved on a social level. I chat with them on a regular basis, and I try to keep my motives quite transparent. It’s really important that there is a mutual and agreed exchange between my subject and me. If they want a walk in the park, I give it to them.
The Skeeve: What are the keys to capturing charisma in a photograph?
Paul Shiakallis: Allowing my subject to forget that my camera is there. Distraction for me is key. I move a light or look at my phone or engage them in a bit of shit talk. It’s not always about making them feel comfortable in front of the lens. I’m nervous; they’re nervous. That awkward moment is sometimes the charisma I want.
The Skeeve: Why photography?
Paul Shiakallis: My dad loved collecting cameras and gadgets when I was a kid, and I would play with these when he was at work. I built a fascination with the mechanics, the textures, the smells of his old film equipment. I would smash them open to see what was inside. After kicking my ass, he taught me how to use a camera at age 15, and I started taking pics at school sporting events. I was always good at art drawing; so taking pics came naturally.
The Skeeve: Where is home and what makes it home?
Paul Shiakallis: Home is in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am first generation South African from parents of Cypriot descent. I have an African soul. Home is electricity and water cuts. Home is political corruption and aggressive crime. Home is municipal and student protests. Home is also sunny. It’s spacious. Our people are eclectic and welcoming. Our braais are plenty, and our meat is tasty.
The Skeeve: Please compare-contrast travel versus education.
Paul Shiakallis: If you have the opportunity to travel, then do it. Traveling doesn’t always mean going overseas; you can travel in your own town. You can spark conversations and take numbers from strangers like the janitor from the local brothel. Drink and laugh with them in their hometowns. If you are really shitting your pants, take a couple of friends along. It’s all about the thrill. Education on the other hand is necessary: It’s what’s going to get you a job. It’s a means to fund your travels. In both scenarios you lose money, but you gain priceless knowledge.
All photos copyright Paul Shiakallis.