When a creative meets social justice

By Sandra Porto

Think what we may about Nietzche but the man did say one of the most undeniable human truths: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

This is the short story of someone who found their “why”. Juliana Oliveira, affectionately called ‘Julie’ by her friends, is a photographer with a heart for social justice, community and an acute eye for the complexity of life. She is also a well travelled Brazilian with an enhanced spiritual awareness and faith. Looking at Julie’s pictures you’d be forgiven for thinking she was born a free spirit with an innate audacity to capture any subject she desires.

This wasn’t always so. For good part of her life, Julie fought for what she believed was expected of her; often in the shape of a reliable and excellent professional, and the dutiful daughter and friend that everyone could count on. So far so good, right?

Except that this was not the full story: that was not all of Julie. Finding herself in London in summer 2010, she was searching for the ‘rest’ of her, in a deep quest for the answer to life’s question: what is your why?

It was in this transient state of thought that the answer presented itself, rudely, at London’s Southbank: “I was pushed over the precipice by a friend. (She laughs.) We were there attending a festival she was writing about. At the time, I had started, very shyly, to explore my passion for photography… I say shyly because I couldn’t accept that I was good enough to even speak publicly of my desire to take photographs as a career.”

Both friends were taking a break from the festival, enjoying an uncharacteristic London sunshine, when two guys approached Julie’s friend asking if she could take a photo of them.

”Without hesitation, my friend pointed at me and said ‘my friend here is a photographer. I’m sure she can take that for you’; and she returned to her activities, just like that, casually throwing me, in what felt at the time, the deep end for a very reserved person.”

That afternoon became a watershed moment in Julie’s life as, it turns out, instead of an abyss, she found a room for her talent. After the Southbank’s ‘precipice’ incident, Julie steadily embraced photography as her new life. She has since registered people’s profiles, fashion shows, breathtaking landscapes in Europe and her native Brazil. Building a name for herself, Julie has found not only a new career but her ‘why’: “I cannot forget that day. I’ll never forget that, never! When anyone asks me how I started my career, I say it was thanks to my friend, my ‘sister’ who saw my potential, believed in me and went on to push me.”

It was an impressive career change for the IT professional in her 30s who now gets to choose how she works and what she captures. Subjects are incredibly important to Julie and she is very particular about what her lens set to register as she believes the subject must be aligned with her beliefs as a professional and as a person.

When the pandemic hit, Julie found herself living in one of the most desirable places in Brazil, that is, by the beach with plenty of nature nearby. It was in this idyllic place that she came across her current subject – Fruto Das Mãos: a grassroots initiative driven by volunteers in her local church.

“I think I have the heart of a volunteer…. Wherever I go, I always want to get involved and help the community. When I got to my local church, on the very first day, they talked about this initiative and my heart simply burned and I wanted to get to know more and help.”

She visited the project and received such a warm welcome that she committed there and then. In her first day of volunteering, Julie experienced a moment of deep reflexion and insight into her own life: “They gave me and a group of volunteers the task to untangle elastic straps that had been formed into a ball. We were many together doing that task but, for some reason, I found myself alone doing that work and doing so with a lot of pleasure. In that moment I felt as if God was there showing me a metaphor; as if my life had been tangled like that ball of elastic straps but now it was time to untangle and unravel. I didn’t go home until I had finished that work.”

And she hasn’t stopped helping ever since, using her talent as a photographer and in any other capacity she can by documenting all the project’s development and the volunteers themselves.

The day to day seems simple: volunteers collect and prepare donations which are restored if necessary and sold at minimum prices that everyone can afford; with the money reverted to help others who have no means at all. Clothing, toys, furniture, stationery, everything you can possibly imagine is put up on sale. The initiative also facilitates courses to the community such as crochet and sewing. During the pandemic, volunteers turned its efforts into making face masks for key workers and expanded its operations to supply food to those who needed it the most. Founder volunteers Elisangela and Leila said: “Our community seeks to help others and to give people the skills to help them make a living. Today, we have expanded from a small charity shop into a full on social action.”

However, it is also a community that unites volunteers and give them purpose. For many volunteers, this is their ‘why’. It is the case of Angelita: “I think volunteering is to love your neighbour. For me, this is a blessing, because I can help more families and more people than I would ever be able to by myself. We want to help those who can’t afford to clothe themselves. You have to love what you do and help others.”

For another volunteer, Ana Lu, it was the beginning of a new life: “I was going through one of the most painful moments of my life when I had lost my will to live. When I came across this group I found so much love; they dedicated this love to me and turned me whole again. I then started volunteering and found reasons to stay alive and, more than anything, I was reconciled with my faith again.”

Registering the daily activities inside Fruto das Mãos and its volunteers, Julie is actively using her talent to contribute to others finding their own why. She spends days and nights in long, pleasurable (and often tiring) hours helping, filming, photographing and spreading the good news to others. Her talent is now in demand by other charities in the area, eager to have her expert talent but Julie sees more than activities:

“I see many volunteers arrive and the difference it makes in their lives, it’s noticeable in their faces. The effect is transformative, I see the smiles that weren’t there before…”

“During the pandemic, there was a lot of fear and many procedures to comply with such as social distancing. But, it was during the pandemic that we expanded even more and when I dedicated to my maximum. It was and it is my refuge. We help each other and help others and, in turn, it helps us. It’s a refuge.”

As the pandemic lingers, I ask Julie about her plans for the future: “I would like to be more available and help others more. I want to take good photography to those who cannot afford it. I want to make it accessible to those who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise. I treat all clients the same, the wealthy and the poor, and I want to continue to bless more people with the gift of photography.”

It sounds like the precipice had the answer, after all…

To learn more about Fruto Das Mãos, visit their profile on Instagram: @frutodasmaosstore

To see Julie’s work, visit: @julianaphotogallery

Watch on YouTube:


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_