Q&A: Sion Fullana on photographing same-sex couples and speaking out against DOMA
Mar 19, 2013 at 01:29 pm
When Sion Fullana moved to the United States from Spain in 2005 to live with his partner Anton, he worked hard to blend his passion for telling stories with his need to find work in the United States so he could remain here and continue to develop his loving relationship with Anton. Because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Anton would not be able to sponsor Sion for immigration purposes, even if the two were legally married - a discrimination they've been facing since getting married in New York shortly after same-sex couples won the freedom to marry in 2011. He has been able to balance these two desires - stay in the country while finding rewarding work - through his talent as a photographer; he is currently staying in the country through a visa for his extraordinary ability in the arts.
In recent years, Sion has learned the power of photography, and he has worked hard to develop his photographic passions in order to share stories of why marriage matters, how same-sex couples share the same love and commitment that different-sex couples share, and why DOMA needs to be overturned. Here, Sion spoke with us and shared some of his photos to talk about why marriage matters to him, how his relationship with Anton developed, and why he's inspired to photograph same-sex couples and their weddings.
MC: What motivated you to become a photographer?
SF: All my life, I've been passionate about the idea of capturing stories, emotions and thoughts and sharing them with an audience that may be interested in that exchange of information. That brought me to journalism in college, to graduating in film directing later and eventually to photography as a self-taught practitioner. At first, photography for me was a complement for my writing, either short fiction stories or essays. I never thought I may have a strong photographic eye and feared not mastering the technique well enough. Then I moved to New York City in 2006 from Spain, and as a freelancer I had lot of time in my hands, so I started to go walk around the city while bringing a camera to capture the magic the city had to offer. I realized images truly transcended any language barriers and finally allowed me the chance to tell those real life stories to people anywhere in the world. There's also something really special about trying to capture the essence of a moment in real life or of a subject's personality in a portrait through a still image and preserve it for posterity. A frozen immortal instant. (Photo: Joef & Zach, married in New York)
MC: You are from Spain and were married in New York to an American man. How has the Defense of Marriage Act impacted your life with your husband in America?
SF: It has impacted us terribly, in an absolute way, right from the very start. For a binational same-sex couple like us, DOMA becomes an uninvited guest that comes to your party to ruin every step of it. Anton and I met at the end of 2004 while he was visiting Barcelona, where I was living at the time. We immediately hit it off and began a wonderful long-distance relationship, with visits across the ocean every few months and hours of daily video chat. Eventually, after 14 months longing to begin a life together, we knew we had to make a decision and take a step. We decided to try our luck with me moving here.
I came with a tourist visa and then got a freelance job as a correspondent with a public radio TV station in my hometown in Spain, which gave me a few years of a foreign journalist visa that allowed me to remain in the country but not to work in the US for any local company. I always dreaded the countdown of when the visa would expire and we would be forced to find another solution or have to face either separation or exile.
When NY state finally approved marriage, we took the step and married in a very small ceremony at home, close to the 7th anniversary of meeting each other. But because of DOMA, that union is still not fully recognized. And with certain bitterness we've witnessed the unfairness of seeing foreign people marry Americans of the different sex to get their situation sorted out and obtain a green card almost immediately, while we are left to still fight and find ways to remain together.
In 2008, my photographic path started to take off and I got a decent amount of international recognition for my more artistic work, which in turn allowed me - with a lot of work and almost two years of preparing - to get my status changed right before the expiration of my journalist visa to a new one of extraordinary ability in the arts. It provides me with a little breather for three more years and finally gives me a chance to work legally in the US. Still, I hope DOMA is struck down as soon as possible so that I can stop worrying for good! DOMA has been and remains a heavy burden on our backs. (Photo: Sion and Anton, now married, on the night that the New York legislature passed the freedom to marry, by Eric De Fino)
MC: You were in New York when we won the freedom to marry. What was that moment like for you?
SF: So thrilling. Anton and I had participated in several pro-marriage activist events, from the NY protests after the passing of Prop 8 to the National March for Equality in Washington DC. That night, we were still living in the West Village in Manhattan, and we were crossing our fingers for a good outcome. When we heard the good news, we all took off immediately to go to the iconic Stonewall, and when we got there we found hundreds of people cheering, crying, laughing, hugging, kissing, celebrating - a wonderful sense of union, of community. We took a bunch of photos, hugged some friends who had gone there too, cried a bit, jumped up and down in joy and went to bed happy that night knowing that sooner than later we were totally going to make use of that newly earned right to marry. (Photo: Outside of the Stonewall Inn on the night that the New York legislature passed the freedom to marry)
MC: Tell us a little about the work you've done photographing weddings for same-sex couples and your growing interest in this field.
SF: In the last two years, I've been able to attend four gay weddings in New York, two of them as the photographer as well as a guest. Both experiences were very special, because when I photograph something, I empathize so much with the emotion that is playing and I love to know I'm there to help capture all that joy and preserve it in images for the grooms. Both weddings I photographed were as different in style as the personalities of the people getting married, but deep down, every wedding is about the magic of two people committing to each other and their loved ones sharing all the emotions of the occasion with them. And nothing beats that beautiful feeling. So I want to get to do it many times more and put my skills and vision in service of any couple looking for an honest and passionate eye to tell the story of their happiest day. (Photo: Bryce & Neil, married in New York)
MC: Are there differences in the ways you approach photographing gay couples and your other work?
SF: In these last few years I've been able to photograph many different clients, from entrepreneurial business people to musicians, artists, actors, and celebrities. I love to connect with the person or people I'm photographing and together get to create something unique. The times it works best is when you understand the person's character and can empathize with their story.
I think the fact that I know how hard it is for any gay couple to complete every single step that it takes to get married (from building a solid stable relationship to having to fight for the right to have that wedding ceremony), especially because I've been there myself, gives me a certain insight and complicity with the situation and the grooms. I won't lie saying this, there is of course a certain gay sensitivity in a creator/artist that perhaps comes across more when you photograph any LGBT related subjects. And I want to explore more of that side of my work. (Photo: Outside of the Stonewall Inn on the night that the New York legislature passed the freedom to marry)
MC: What do you hope to express in your work featuring gay couples?
SF: While I love the idea of portraiture work and getting some good old-school, wedding-traditional shots of the couple posing, or family group shots. One of my biggest strengths (and passions too) is my street photography/documentary work, which relies on the ability to capture candid unguarded moments of life, of the true emotions that happen when there is no expectancy of a shutter being around and pressed to capture the image. So I'd love to offer that approach combined into a more traditional one, to tell a richer, deeper, truer story of the events of the happy day and its characters.
Because deep down, the slow spread of marriage for same-sex couples is still in its infancy right now, I feel like every wedding celebrated is a milestone. And those memories need to be preserved for study in the years to come. A documentary approach celebrates the beauty and the uniqueness of every couple and their universe while helping that task of memory preservation. (Photo: Outside of the Stonewall Inn on the night that the New York legislature passed the freedom to marry)