By the time Paul Shiakallis met Millie Hans, he’d heard of the heavy metal band Manowar, but he didn’t know any of their songs. That changed when he was invited to Hans’s house to hear some of her favorite music. “She went to her bedroom to fetch a piece of paper, and on this paper she had written out the lyrics to the song,” he told me in 2017, after being chosen as a winner of the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards. “She did not get it from a CD sleeve or from the net. She copied the lyrics by listening to the song over and over again.”
Shiakallis’s winning photographs introduced the world to women like Hans, who formed a vital part of the Marok community, the metalhead subculture of Botswana. He spent eight months with the rockers, listening to their favorite songs, joining them for supper, and helping to tell their stories. Now, it’s been seven years since he first met the Queens of Marok. He thinks of them often, and his time with them continues to inform his work as a documentary storyteller.
To coincide with the open call for submissions for the 7th Annual Emerging Photography Awards, we asked Shiakallis to tell us what he’s been up to since winning four years ago.
Your series on The Queens of Marok was one of the winners of the 3rd Annual Emerging Photography Awards. Have you stayed in touch with these women over the years?
“The last time I saw The Queens in person was at the end of 2017, when I accompanied a TV crew that shot a documentary on The Queens for Arte TV. Ludo Dignified Queen Morima, one of The Queens I photographed, helped us with production and she was also one of the three protagonists in the documentary.
“Since then, I have kept in contact with Snyder, Ludo, Millie, and Florah Dylon-Son; every now and then, I connect them to journalists interested in interviewing them. Snyder is still one of the rare few who sings and has her own band. I have been chatting to Ludo lately; she does a variety of things from helping her dad at his security company to helping her mom with her catering company. She is also busy with her own woodworking business. The last time I heard from Florah, I learned that tragically her son Dylan, the one in the photo, passed away.”
What have you been working on lately, and in what ways, if any, have these projects grown or expanded upon interests you cultivated while working with the Marok community?
“I have been working on another documentary project called Hotel Hillbrow, which is about my ventures into the notoriously dangerous suburb of Hillbrow, Johannesburg. The approach has been similar to the way I approached The Queens of Marok in that I had to spend a lot of social time with the people involved, but the main difference is between the two is the level of intimacy I achieved with Hotel Hillbrow.
“It’s more a project of self-discovery; through quotes, conversations, and experiences, I leave my home of comfort and safety to experience the Hillbrow nightlife. The Queens of Marok project taught me how to be persistent in chasing the shots I wanted. From a conceptual point of view, it made me realize I was attracted to certain symbolic objects and colors which have been consistent through my projects.”
What was your experience like after winning the awards?
“I had numerous online and print publications around the world feature the project most notably i-D Mag (USA), The Guardian Newspaper (UK), De Volksrant (Holland), and Vogue (Italy). In addition, I had interest from fashion designers and artists wanting to collaborate. My most notable exhibitions were: The Absa L’atelier awards (South Africa); Sibyline Feminist Exhibition at The alliance Francaise (South Africa); ‘Photographing the Female’ workshops in India and USA, curated by Sarah Ege Hoilund.
“Winning the award generally made it easier for me to approach outlets to have the work shown or sold. Since gaining all that attention, I have definitely become more proactive in terms of submitting, pitching, and conceptualizing collaborations with potential clients.”
The Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards is open for entries through September 3rd, 2021. This year, there are two categories: Single Images and Series. Twelve series winners will have their work exhibited as part of gallery shows in Berlin and Paris, while dozens of single-image winners will be featured in street exhibitions in New York or Los Angeles. Submit your work today.