ARTIST'S SELF PORTRAIT
Da Silva On the Art of the Selfie
The filmmaker talks selfies, Grindr and his latest NSFW short film
When the Portuguese filmmaker Antonio Da Silva first downloaded Grindr to his phone in 2010, he saw a puzzle waiting to be put together. The patchwork of faceless body parts serves for a striking image when taken out of context, as London-based Da Silva instantly recognized. “It was funny to see that sometimes the head of a profile pic would sync with the torso of the profile right below,” the director says of the app’s home page. “I was amazed by the puzzle the pictures created on the screen.” The influence that that Grindr puzzle had on Da Silva can be easily charted through the erotic short films he’s made in the four years since his first encounter with the app: there’s the dizzying hardcore depiction of online hook-ups in ‘Mates’; the anonymous sex culture in a London public bathroom in ‘Bankers’; a glimpse into the adoration and sometimes ageist fetishism of older men in ‘Daddies’.
There’s no question that each of Da Silva’s films tap into the erotic potential of male bodies on film with aplomb, but what makes them surpass their mainstream counterparts in gay pornography is the willingness to explore themes in contemporary gay male culture at large, particularly those focused on the way sex has evolved in conversation with the rapid development of technology.
It’s fitting, then, that Da Silva’s latest film ventures back into the kaleidoscopic imagery of phone apps like Grindr. PIX, released on Da Silva’s website last week, is his very NSFW take on the buffet-style culture of online dating, turning the self-documentary and narcissism of taking selfies into a joyously disorienting 3-minute compilation of 2500 flickering self shot images spliced together. Each image is given a fraction of a second before being cut and pasted with another, creating a collage that is as odd and dizzying as it is stimulating. It’s a fascinating short that raises a timely question: when was the last time you emotionally connected to someone outside of the realms of technology? Whether you’re a social media whore or a full-on luddite, the total rise of technology in our society seems inevitable at this point, and PIX serves as a visual testament to the common effort among gay men in the 21st century to make sincere emotional connections with each other in whatever way they can.
We reached out to the artist to ask him a few questions about finding nudes for PIX, the benefits of collaborating with fans, and the most interesting photo he received while working on the project (hint: it involved a tough, ginger, tattooed boyfriend).
Can you describe the process behind compiling the 2500 photos that appear in PIX? It was a long process. Since 2010 I’ve been collecting pics from hook-ups and after releasing my first film I started receiving lots of emails from viewers that showed interest in being a part of my work. I have been requesting them to send me selfies and videos of themselves for this project. For the “bigger” types of bodies I had to look on Tumblr to complete the “puzzle.” The editing process was a long one. I was lucky to have had great help from a temporary assistant Rui Oliveira.
PIX comes across as both an investigation and a critique of Internet-based hook up culture. How do you think the progression toward electronic methods of hooking up has changed the way gay men interact with one another? Online dating is a natural evolution from the technological progress. The different online channels offer more “type specific” options in the palm of your hand. For each app there is a specific trend/behaviour which defines the type of people you will get and the way you will interact with them. Even though all this goes away from what the “melting pot” of the traditional cruising has to offer, eventually this segregation might be more efficient for many people.
Did you wind up including a photo of yourself in PIX? Yes, I am also a part of this trend.
What was the most bizarre or interesting photo you received while working on this project? I’ve received many interesting photos but the ones that stood out were from a black transsexual fellow sending naked photos of his tough-ginger-tattooed boyfriend. Unfortunately I couldn’t use them in PIX because they were not selfies.
Did you notice any trends in photos (poses, camera angles, etc.) that people use to try to get hook ups while working on PIX? Totally, all those random selfie-pictures made the creation of PIX possible. What is interesting is that not everyone is taking these pictures for hook ups. Selfies have become a culture of their own — a sort of art form.
While obviously erotic in nature, your work still has an artistry to it that is uncommon in a lot of mainstream pornography. Do you see a shift being made toward more artistic films like yours that showcase sexually explicit material? It is clear to me that there is an audience for such work and many creative people are willing to explore that. A good example is the quality of the films shown in the past years at the Berlin porn film festival and the increasing audience attending it.
In ‘Bankers‘ you spied on a popular cruising bathroom in London and filmed the sex acts that took place inside. Have you ever found yourself in trouble doing this kind of risky filming? It took me a long time to find out how to capture this reality. ‘Bankers‘ was a bold move. I was trying to push the limits and myself. A random piss at a public toilet one day became my obsession for months. It was scary but the adrenaline kept me going. Having said that, I would also say… “kids don’t try this at home.”
What about documentary filmmaking appeals to you most? Have you ever made scripted films before? I like mostly documentaries made by visual artists. I have not worked with scripted films before. I am mostly interested in visual storytelling, journeys of perception, encounters with people and places.
Are there any future projects in the works we should look forward to? I am currently working on a dance film with Portuguese dancers. I am also working on a collaboration film with someone who after seeing my work sent me a lot of footage of a cruising place he had been filming for years. I am also hoping to create more films based on submitted material from the viewers of my films. It’s all about collaboration in a very broad sense.