Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste Q&A
It means looking at Black subjects with kindness, empathy and nuance. It means that as Black people we can be seen as we truly are and not with preconceived notions of who we are. It’s important because images are powerful.
Whether we like it or not they oftentimes define the way that we perceive and think of things. They create an invisible framework that the majority articulates its perceptions of blackness around.
How does this relate to your photography practice?
I love capturing black people in all of their glory. In that sense, my work is very much collaborative. I am highly conscious of making sure that I am telling the truth about who a person is but in a way that also corresponds with the way that the person sees or thinks of themselves. I want to create a revised frameworks through which we are viewed.
What do you want to say or address with your photography?
A lot of my recent projects have been about giving voices and spotlighting people that are voiceless, forgotten or who are not celebrated as I feel that they should be. I want them to be seen. I also want to speak of the joy of life as opposed to the misery of it. I like finding pockets of joy in the everyday.
What influences and inspires you? How is this reflected in your work?
Everything! Lol! I have a pretty unhealthy relationship with my phone to be honest so I’m on it constantly. I can weave in and out of online rabbit holes almost all day. That means that one minute I am looking at someone’s Instagram feed and the next I’m on a tour of the Louvre Museum and then listening to a podcast about design or food!
I pick up the pieces that speak to me and bookmark them so the I can go back to them at a later time (I have 32 tabs open on my internet browser right now!) I would say that it makes my work very eclectic and empathetic at the same time.
Who are your favourite Black photographers from the past? Why?
Kwame Brathwaite and of course Gordon Parks. Mr Brathwaite because he created pictures of Black women that presented them as fashion forward, beautiful, regal and elegant. He also helped popularise the phrase, “Black is Beautiful” which resonated with and inspired so many people from the diaspora.
Gordon Parks was an amazing photographer and polymath who remained relevant for decades. His pictures are evocative, truthful, beautiful and as such they speak to me.
Please describe the highs and lows of your experience as a Black photographer?
My biggest high comes from someone telling me that a picture I have taken makes them feel something. To know that an image I have created evokes a visceral reaction in someone is absolutely amazing. The lows are really around getting the sneaking sensation that I may not have gotten a job because of the colour of my skin.
What work are you producing and what more would you like to do?
I am currently working on a series on Black Women in Healthcare during the pandemic. As a second generation Haitian Canadian, I know many people in the healthcare industry and I also happen to live in a borough in Montreal that was severely impacted in terms of COVID-19 infection rates.
The project also coalesced around the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of Breonna Taylor. I wanted to make sure that I captured these women for posterity and told their stories with empathy.
I definitely want to be hired to do more documentary photography work. I want to be able to tell the stories of people who don’t feel represented in the media that they typically consume.
About Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste
Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste has an eye for the elusive moments of magic that can appear and disappear in an instant within a scene or a human face. Her aim is to have those moments endure and express the depth of feeling that, at times, go unnoticed.
Her work was selected as part of the Diversify Photo print sale held in April 2020. It has also been shown in Montreal libraries as part of Montreal’s 375th anniversary and has appeared on the Montreal radio station CKOI’s website.
Connect with Karene-Isabelle
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The Photographer’s Q&A is an ongoing discussion that is open to Black photographers of all ages, genders and genres. To take part, start here.