A couple of years ago I wrote an article on why photographers take photographs. It was a personal journey on how I became a photographer. I felt compelled to share my story and I asked you the FujiLove community to share your own stories.The featured photograph in that article was of my friend Richard Sixto. I didn’t give any context to the image, but it was important photograph to me. A few years prior to taking that photo, I had no idea where my random weekly walks into Vancouver Chinatown would lead me. However, through regularity and persistence, this routine eventually formed the backbone of my street photography philosophy: people before photographs.
I first met Richard in 2014 at a local coffee shop in Chinatown. He was working by the front window on his Surface Book and I just loved the way the light was hitting his face. He was also very photogenic. I walked up to him, introduced myself as a local photographer, gave him my business card and asked if I could take his portrait. Richard agreed and we ended up talking for about half an hour. The opening photograph of this article was the first image I captured during this first encounter. I asked him to email me if he wanted any of the images I took (hence the business card) and we parted ways.
As previously mentioned, because of my regularity of walking the same streets in Chinatown on a weekly basis, I eventually bumped into Richard again, this time by the local bike repair shop. They had this bench out front called “The Loiter Bench” and Richard was sitting there doing just that. On this particular day I was with Eric Kim, as he was in town conducting one of his street photography workshops. We had just finished eating lunch at Maxims and we bumped into Richard and had another nice long conversation. At this point Richard revealed to me that he too worked in the photo industry, but was initially hesitant to share that info with me because… well, we were still strangers.
After this second meeting, Richard and I regularly bumped into one another within a 4 block radius, since he lived in Chinatown. This was the summer of 2014 and he was usually hanging outside his building talking with his neighbours, or on his way grabbing a coffee at one of the local cafes. I wouldn’t photograph Richard every time we met, but whenever I wanted to grab a photo, he was always willing. By the end of the year Richard was inviting me up to his apartment and we would hang out there if it was too cold outside. Other times I would see Richard from across the street, we’d recognize each other, and we’d both give each other a quick wave or a holler. Richard was one of the first locals that made me feel like part of the community.
Over the next few years I had the privilege of photographing Richard on a regular basis. In fact, it got to the point where I didn’t even have to ask him to pose for me. Richard would notice I had a new camera, and he would ask me if I wanted to photograph him. We never pre-planned any of our shoots. Every photograph of Richard was exactly how he was dressed when I bumped into him. This leads to the “Running Man” photo I captured on June 13th, 2018. This photo session was special because I didn’t even feel like taking any photos that day. I was tired and busy, but Richard convinced me to take his portrait.
He directed me into an alley behind his apartment and put his hands on the ground and posed like a sprinter at the starting block. I couldn’t stop laughing because he was so animated but also serious. I had the GFX 50S and the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR lens. I had just enough room to back up to the other side of the alley and capture him head-on. This photo was memorable because he took control of the photo shoot and kindly encouraged me to do my job. I learned my lesson. I would always take photos when the opportunity was there, even if I didn’t feel like it. Sometimes that’s when you capture your best images.
After this incident, Richard and I had an understanding. We would still hang out and talk, but I never had to ask him to take his photograph. Either he would initiate the shoot by telling me what he wanted, or I would I ask him to walk to a specific spot where the lighting was better. The second last major photoshoot with Richard was on October 28th 2019 just after the release of the Fujifilm X-Pro3. I bumped into Richard after having a quick snack at Goldstone and on my way home after a long day of shooting. As per our understanding, I saw Richard looking dapper (as per usual) and despite being tired I knew I had to photograph him. Since most of the shops in Chinatown were closed, we could pose in front of any of the shops, so I was looking for just the right spot.
I’ll post a few images from that session here, but in a previous article on the X-Pro3 I featured Richard posing like Bruce Lee. That’s also one of my favourite images of him because that pose came out of left field, considering how he was dressed. I took approximately 20 great images of Richard that night, and he changed up his pose every time like a pro. Each photograph showcased different aspects of his personality: dapper Richard, suave Richard, serious Richard, playful Richard, relaxed Richard.
My final two photo sessions with Richard were less jovial. I was out testing the newly released Fujifilm X100V, and I ran into Richard in the alley just behind the coffee shop where we first met. The day was March 15th, just 3 days before the government announced a province-wide state of emergency. We talked about how this lockdown would affect my work, but Richard remained positive. He encouraged me to keep shooting and he thought we’d be okay in a few months. I rarely saw Richard after this as I stopped my regular visits to Chinatown during the day except for some quick errands.
By summer our province had flattened the curve and people were more optimistic. I came down to Chinatown a few times during the day, but rarely spent much time hanging out. Goldstone had permanently shut down and Maxims had limited days and hours of operation. One day in July I was testing a few new lenses and I bumped into Richard hanging outside his building. We talked for about an hour this time, but I think we were both worn out by the lockdown and isolation. We also talked about the BLM movement and how that affected him personally. Our conversation was less positive but we were still hopeful that things would get better.
As I headed home we both gave each other an elbow bump, even though we both really needed a good hug. I called him later that day to try and encourage him, but I was also trying to encourage myself. I saw Richard one last time a couple of months later, but it was through my car window as I passed him while doing chores in Chinatown. As per usual we hollered and waved at each other, and I texted him later just to say hello. We texted a few more times that summer, but nothing significant. I felt I would see him again once the pandemic was under control. I had new cameras and new lenses to test, and he was my number one model (after my wife of course).
During the second week of December I was getting multiple messages from Richard’s friends via Instagram. They all told me Richard had passed away in his sleep, but I thought maybe it was a mistake. Eventually I got a message from Richard’s long time friend from Calgary about the local newspaper wanting to do a thing piece on him, then I knew this was real. They asked if I had any photographs of Richard and if they could use them and of course I said yes. Over the next couple of weeks I had similar requests from others, including his sister. I told her I had over 100 proper portraits of Richard and she could use any of them, but she wanted the first photo I ever took of Richard at that coffee shop in Chinatown. I hunted down the photo on an old hard drive, re-processed it and sent it to her so she could use it for his obituary. I also offered to make some prints and send them to her and his parents. As a side point, this particular portrait was captured with the Ricoh GR that I was testing at the time. I mentioned this “conflict” to the editor of Fujilove, and how I wanted to use it as my featured photograph for this article. Crazy right? Tomash said it was fine, the story was more important.
So that’s the story of my friendship and collaboration with Richard Sixto. I always told Richard that after Camera Girl (my wife), he has appeared in more posts than anyone else. He was the first to adopt me as a local in the Chinatown neighbourhood, and he always made time to talk with me, as he did with everyone else in his community. I’m selfishly going to miss Richard as my most willing and most dapper model. But more importantly, I’m going to miss him as my friend and honorary Chinatown neighbour. My condolences to his parents, his sister and extended family, and everyone who knew him both in Calgary and Vancouver. It was a great privilege getting to know Richard, and also being able to collaborate with him on the portraits I was able to create with him. This is a humble reminder to all of us who have the passion and the skill to create beautiful portraits of family, friends, and even strangers. Photography is important, even on a personal level. Continue to photograph the great and the mundane, the familiar and the unknown. You never know how important that fraction of a moment or that chance meeting can change the world, even if it’s just one person’s world. Thanks for reading and happy shooting.