“Photography was this mystical thing – I know that sounds strange. You could freeze time and see things that people wouldn’t normally see in a fleeting moment.”
The 28-year-old now captures those fleeting moments for a career, recently winning the 2014 West Australian Press Photographer of the Year for four show-stopping photos with The West Australian. But while taking great images still gives him a kick, that’s not the biggest reward, Santi says.
“What rewards me the most is how a picture can bring into the spotlight issues which people wouldn’t otherwise be aware of,” he explains.
“To be able to see how the public reacts, to be able to give the public a view of certain issues…When we have the little tickers on the websites and yours is at the top as the most commented or [most] views, it makes you appreciate what your work can do.”
Santi is a self-described “all-rounder”. Being bombed with foam by Elvis helicopters on the edge of a raging Perth bushfire and hiking in the hills of northern Bali, meeting some of the Bali Nine in Kerobokan prison and camping out with a covert security regiment in the Pilbara have all been part of the job.
His winning photos for this year’s WAPPY ranged from a water polo team to a cellist, from a portrait of a local camel farmer to the poignant juxtaposition of some crime scene workers with a couple of teenage boys traipsing by with groceries.
But his favourite story yet saw him trekking the hills of northern Bali to meet a family who couldn’t afford medical treatment for their newborn conjoined twins.
“We flew over there, myself and a journalist, and spent a few weeks over there with the family, documenting the story and this was picked up by all the networks, all the papers, it just blew up,” he says.
“At the end of it, we managed to raise them tens of thousands of dollars, as well as be there through the surgery.
“Unfortunately one of the little ones didn’t make it. But to be able to set that family up, to see where they’d come from, to know what they had and all of their hopes and dreams and help provide that for them, it was the first job I had where I actually got to give back to my subjects, and I’m friends with them now, it’s fantastic.
“Between the journalist and I and the generosity of the Australian public, we got to give so much back, and it’s not often that you get to do that.”
Read the full story in this month’s edition of The Bulletin, available now.