Woven in true colours

By Sandra Porto

Unmasked humanity creates unique tapestry in Janssem Cardoso’s photography.

Love, compassion and tolerance are often quoted as good qualities to possess and to live a good life; but the Brazilian photographer and videographer has gone beyond personal traits to incorporate them into the very fabric of his work.

Among his short movies and exquisite photography, a common thread of humanity, vulnerability and warmth links his subjects with incredible results, which are always touching and simultaneously provoking.

Mastering imagery in such a powerful way, you’d be forgiven to think he’d done nothing else apart from photography. But his journey didn’t necessarily start behind the lens: “I was studying Graphic Design at university and photography was one of the subjects – I just fell in love with it.” From there, he got a job at an animation studio where he was placed in a fast lane leading to the purpose he instinctively wanted since childhood.

Growing up in the Amazon State in Brazil, he was exposed to a rich universe of colours, cultures and the arts beyond the standard ludic space reserved from children. A close uncle, who was an artist, had a defining influence in Janssem as a child: “Thanks to him, I was allowed into this artistic universe… I loved drawing and anything artistic as a child… Later in life, after discovering Photoshop, I translated that instinct into a new purpose and just created and experimented with photography and filming. Everything was very intuitive.”

“When I started filming, digital was only in its infancy. I still had to use VHS and then digitalise the material. It was a complicated process but this walk influenced me and the experience in the animation studio gave me the confidence to take part in the Amazon Film Festival which, in turn, pulled me into cinema”, here, talking about the Amazon State in Brazil.

For around a decade, Janssem has been developing his talent and achieving a body of work that conveys emotion, humanity and compassion in projects that are beautiful, audacious, thought-provoking and incredibly attractive. Perhaps one of his most notable qualities is that he is remarkably devoid of artistic self-reference and genuinely interested in his subjects’ wellbeing, their needs, struggles and stories. This is evident in his work. But when we ask him about his inspiration, he says: “My photography and my work are a reflection of who I am, my life experiences… Everything I have ever lived and live right now influence my vision, how I see and perceive things.”

Taking life as it comes and keeping an open mind has led Janssem to live incredible moments: “Photography gave me many opportunities… For example, I went to Paris to photograph as friend’s wedding to whom, years earlier, I had promised to document when he got married. The day finally came; I travelled to Paris and fulfilled my promise.”

Coming from such a long way, he decided to take the opportunity and visit London for a couple of days… And then, something unexpected happened: “My flight back to Brazil was cancelled and I spent a further two days in London. During these two days I made a new friend through whom an opportunity came to work as a photographer for his charity in Camden, completely out of the blue! I went back to Brazil, organised the logistics and returned to London to take this unique opportunity and lived there for over 2 years… All because of a cancelled flight…”

Leaving the charity and London in search of new horizons to expand his work back in Brazil, Janssem started to explore and research a resurging movement of artistic nude photography. But, far from eroticised subjects, he was interested in documenting identity, the human vulnerability and self-esteem: “I then created the project ‘Other Colours’ to show nakedness as something natural. I wanted to disassociate naked from sexual.”

From ‘Other Colours’ project by Janssem Cardoso – humanity and identity.

As he started the project, fundamental questions emerged such as body types – he didn’t want to keep reproducing similar profiles of what an ideal body should be and, so, diversity entered heavily in his concept: “I felt the need to document a variety of subjects, being it physically and racially.”

From “Other Colours’ project by Janssem Cardso – humanity and identity.

Taking this direction was really important for Janssem on a personal level too: “I evolved with this project and it also helped me to accept who I am. Not only it touched the subjects and those viewing the results but it touched me deeply on a personal level, physically, sexually and since then, I started having more empathy and compassion for people and understand things I did not understand before.”

‘Other Colours’ is a beautiful manifestation of a human need and desire to spiritually ‘undress’ and be accepted by what we really are – acknowledging and accepting what we believe we are: “For some subjects, the photoshoot was even the first step to accept who they really are”, says Janssem.

For example, there is the story of an over 60 years old woman who noticed that, as soon as she stopped dyeing her hair, people on public transport started offering their seats and; in general, treating and seeing her differently as if she had no much more to offer and someone who was not desirable anymore. The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth – she has a healthy and active sexual life and wanted to see herself as a sensuous and desirable woman: “The project opened the doors for discussion on many other topics such as a disability and age. At the beginning I just wanted to register people in a non-sexual way, but it has now expanded to a wider discussion and matters of identity.”

From “Other Colours’ project by Janssem Cardoso – identity and humanity.

The photos are strong, delicate and truly individual. It’s difficult not to connect with their humanity and be involved in the emotions captured. Now running into its 4th year, Janssem planned to conclude with 100 subjects but the pandemic has delayed it: “I’m still digesting all this… Is there going to be a vaccine? When? Everything is hanging on standstill… this time was useful to think and have confidence in what I know – my work as a photographer and videographer; and get deeper in my search and share this search with other people.”

Sharing his search with others has led Janssem to work on a new podcast called “Ruminando” (ruminating), where he explores creative ideas with guests specialised on different areas and who have influenced him throughout his life. It includes an economist friend, a tutor from his university times in Manaus (capital of the Amazon State), a journalist friend and a teacher from his post-graduation: “I want to share my own journey and create something that will be useful not just for this moment that we’re living but for the future too, by taking the experience and advice from people I admire and respect.”

Certainly for Janssem, the pandemic is an invitation for reflection. He keeps inspired by feeding from the same sources that translates into his work: humanity.

To view ‘Other Colours’, visit on Instagram > othercolours_

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