We exist, we matter: Jessica Batan

Jessica Batan is a Photographer and Journalist based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was immediately struck by the beauty and rawness of her photographs and her ability to capture identity, culture and human connection through a lens. In our chat Jessica shares her views on the media’s bias against the people of Brazil. We also discuss Human rights and Feminism and how we must educate and include children in conversations in order for the world to make real change.

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I want to make it known that we exist and we matter. 

We met at The London Other Art Fair in November, how was this for you? 

This was only my second exhibition, so for this to be international was insane! I also think I was the only one there from Latin America. Selling art isn’t as big in Brazil, it’s mostly available for rich people. But in cities like London and New York, it feels like people believe more in art and buying art. I’d love to do the Chicago Other Art Fair one day. 

Alongside your photography, you are also studying Journalism, how is this going for you?

I’m due to finish my course this year and as a final project I will be interviewing people from my neighbourhood. I was born there and lived there until I was around seventeen or eighteen; it’s a poorer part of the city. My paper is about telling the history of a community. The media only tends to focus on race, religion etc and I want to do the opposite. I want to tell our truth, which I don’t see the media caring about. This is what I do with my photography as well, I don’t just show brown people and black people in bad situations; in the context of crime or poverty – we already know this exists, especially here in Brazil. We are not just that, so my job here is to tell the other side of the story. I believe that with pictures you can build a narrative. When you see photos that only portray bad situations you’re going to believe it’s only that – I need to show that we are more than that. 

Why is it important to you to want to control this narrative? 

It’s because I am from here; I was born here, and my dad was killed just because of his colour. It’s important to me to share my point of view, which I am not saying is the truth, but it’s my truth – it’s how my friends live, my neighbours live. The media does not show us with affection or with love. When you hear negative stories about you all the time, your self-esteem lowers and you don’t believe you can do things. So, I want to make it known that we exist and we matter. 

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Instead of trying to change the minds of others, we should educate children of the future. 

How do you decide on who you would like to talk to and photograph?

I don’t have a specific way of finding people, I just go and sit outside my house or walk around. I approach them beforehand and introduce who I am and what I do. I ask about them and their history and then I ask them if I can photograph them; showing them examples of my work so they feel comfortable and secure, and telling them why I am interested in taking their photo. I also offer to give them a copy of the photograph. Sometimes I have had nos, but it’s ok as it’s still interesting to hear their story. 

Do most people you talk to you share the same views as you regarding the media?

Some of them do, but most of them don’t; it’s often because they believe what the media tells them. Information is repeated so much that it becomes normal for them. Young people however, are waking up to stuff and are reading more and studying more. But with the elderly; some of them get it, some of them don’t and some of them just don’t care. 

Is it challenging when you meet with older generations who hold different views?

Sometimes, it depends if they are rude. It’s fine though, I just think ‘ok you go and do your thing and I’m going to go this way and do mine’.

Do you tend to always carry your camera with you in case you see an opportunity?

Not always because it isn’t the safest of cities for me to be walking around with my camera. It is a shame because sometimes I miss out on taking photos but I try and forget about it so I don’t get too disappointed! 

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It sounds like you value human connection, what does this mean to you? 

This is the most important thing to me. Everything else; the colour, the aesthetic, the angle, all comes after it. It’s all about the conversation and the connection and making people feel seen and feel heard. 

I believe that with pictures you can build a narrative.

How does it feel to develop this connection with a stranger and hear their story?

I feel smarter. They are sharing their knowledge with me, which makes me feel intelligent and more aware; it’s important for us to be aware of others. With technology we are always connected, to the point that sometimes I forget to actually spend time with someone, instead of being on my phone. So, when I spend time with people and they feel comfortable enough to talk to me and share their experiences with me, it is so special. 

It’s so simple to just talk to someone and ask them how they are, without it becoming small-chat. We used to do this a lot before we had phones! 

Do you feel like Social media is interfering with our natural way of communication?

It is interfering with how we connect with others, but at the same time it is connecting us with others, and I feel we can use it in a healthier way. We can limit how much time we spend on it and not check our phones every five minutes. It’s a blessing and curse! Because without it, it is harder to have a voice and to share your work as a creative. 

You’ve done some work for the United Nations – can you tell us more about this?

It was an internship and I worked there for about a year which was great as ultimately, I want to work within Human rights and politics. I love taking photographs, and I know I have a skill for it, but I want to mix this with writing. My aim is to make a change within the society I live in. 

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What draws you to want to work within Human rights?

This is a hard question but it is a good one! Nobody has ever asked me this. I think it’s because I live here, in Brazil, and it’s a hard place to live. Being someone that believes in Human rights, Women rights, LGBTQ, Black rights – I feel that it’s important to have more people talking about it. I find it interesting when I ask people about feminism; some people don’t get it simply because no one has explained what it means to them. Our President doesn’t believe in Human rights; he thinks working hard equates with living a good life, but it isn’t as simple as this because people are not starting off equally. I think it’s important for young people to talk about it, because we are the ones who are shaping things. Instead of trying to change the minds of others, we should educate children of the future. 

It’s all about the conversation and the connection and to make people feel seen and feel heard. 

What are your views on feminism? 

I honestly believe that we need to focus on educating boys, not just girls – we won’t change a thing otherwise. If we don’t offer a safe place for them to share how they are feeling, they will grow up believing that they cannot express their emotions. If we don’t include children in this conversation, we will be screwed in the future. 

Moving forward, what do you have coming up?

I haven’t got anything coming up right now as I’m focusing fully on my Journalism studies, and I would also like to do a Masters. But of course I am open to opportunities. 

To view more of Jessica’s work:

Website & Instagram: @jessicabatanfoto

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