Photographer, Editor & Creative Director Sean Santiago Spruced Up His Bedroom

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Sean Santiago is a New York-based photographer, editor and creative director whose work has appeared in Vogue, Garage, Sight Unseen, and PIN-UP. A cultural producer and vocal LGBTQ+ creative, he is the founder and publisher of Cakeboy and in 2019 served as the art director of Out. He is also an on-camera talent who developed and hosted the social series’ Fancy That and The Haute Seat.

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

In Brooklyn, with my roommate. Not taking for granted that this all happened now, and not three years ago when I lived in this apartment with a married couple and their two cats.

What does your face mask look like?

I bought a tie-dyed two-pack from my friend’s label, Sundae School!

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment? 

Coffee every morning might be the only truly consistent routine I have. I bathe intermittently, read occasionally, and cook begrudgingly.

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time? 

I have ordered a lot — I mean, a LOT — of books in quarantine. I think about 25, total. And I was really into reading for a couple of weeks, but then my brain sort of crapped out. I did read and love Outline by Rachel Cusk, Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, and Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner. I’m also making my way through the summer issue of PIN-UP, for which I interviewed the guys behind Green River Project.

I admittedly hate watching movies on my laptop, so even though I subscribe to the Criterion Channel I’ve mostly been watching anime. Attack On Titan, Bleach, the first season of Sailor Moon. I liked bingeing Kingdom on Netflix and, oh, I just watched Shirley on Hulu, and that gave me some hope for streaming. So did The Half Of It, on Netflix, come to think of it. If you haven’t seen director Alice Wu’s first movie, Saving Face, that’s on Amazon.

Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?

Woof, I had a really depressing answer to this question, but waited a bit and came back to it. It really feels like the past three months have been a lifetime. On the whole I guess I’ve tried a lot of different things. At the beginning I posted some videos to Instagram Stories where I did this character named Lady Margaret who was quarantining in a castle with her husband, Dudley. I have a very inconsistent social presence, but will occasionally channel some stuff through that.

I also downloaded CeltX, which is screenwriting software, and was able to get down about 30 pages of a screenplay. I have not revisited that in months, now. Whoops. And I wrote some flash fiction that I submitted to McSweeney’s a few months ago. I’ve also been playing dress up to remind myself that beauty is still real and being in flats isn’t forever, but also that I need to fully stop buying clothes. My closet is packed!

“Dress up”

Have you taken up any new hobbies?

I tried camming, tbh, but was nonplussed by it. I think the virtual voyeurism kind of exacerbated my loneliness. I was shooting myself at the beginning of quarantine, but that also got old. The best answer is probably biking, which I started more recently. I didn’t realize you could use the Lyft app to unlock Citi Bikes! But, you can! It feels like a healthier way to use my body, instead of just looking at it, trying to actually perform with it. If you can consider biking a performance? It’s effectively my drag. I’m a bike queen now.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar? 

I can’t cook and, more than that, I kind of hate to. But I recently discovered white bean and tuna salad, and that’s been a nice option for summer. Kimchi mac & cheese is another one that I started to make during quarantine; I mix the cheese with half a packet of spicy ramen seasoning (I think Samyang’s Hot Chicken Curry ramen is the best pairing) for extra kick.

What’s your current iPhone wallpaper and what’s the story behind it?

I think I found it on Pinterest, tbh! I was honestly probably drinking wine and looking for something like “’90s mom jean”.

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far?

I went on a bit of a spree for my bedroom, towards the beginning, focused mostly on stuff from friends who run their own businesses. I bought a cute little bookshelf from Leibal that’s supremely useful, and a planter from Caudex Studio, which my friend Elöise launched last year. She biked it over to me. I also got new pillowcases and a Minna blanket from Totokaelo (RIP).

“Caudex Studio planter”

I purchased a few prints from different fundraisers that were going on as well as a mixed media piece by my friend Aldrin, an artist and poet. I just took some of those to Brentano’s, which was a really nourishing experience, if I can get all Amanda Chantal Bacon on readers’ asses for a minute. It was just nice to talk about the depth of bevels and the tonality of grays for an hour. Durga Chew-Bose has a great piece on framing in the Times that I think sums up the sentiment behind the act, if it were to need a summing up.

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

In terms of writing I feel like people’s Twitter presences are one of the few bright spots that creep into my days — my friend Rose Dommu, Vulture staff writer Hunter Harris, Bowen Yang just came back to the platform. My friend Willie Norris has been doing so much organizing and mobilizing the past few weeks, that’s been great to see. And seeing my friends who run small labels — Syro, Leak Your Sex Tape — find ways to continue succeeding as queer businesses is, if not joyful, then at least hopeful. Or at least hoe-ful. Can’t ask for much else right now!

Follow Sean on Instagram @sean_santiago and Twitter @fullmetalblouse.