Where are you from and where are you based currently?
I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia (C-PORT!), went to college and lived a little in New York City/Brooklyn (BROOKLYN!), came back to Savannah for a year and some change to go back to school and now I’m headed to Oakland, California (can’t rep it yet, still counting down the days). There I will be opening Wild Seed Wellness (facebook.com/wildseedwellness), a center for massage therapy and also a safe space to host other holistic-health conscious events. My photography (hamaje.com) takes me all over world, or rather, I take photos everywhere I go and I make it my business to get places. But the short answer is that I’ll be based in Oakland.
I’m really interested in your study abroad in Cuba while at New York University, since few Americans travel there. What was your experience like?
My study abroad experience was actually my second time in Cuba. I traveled there with my father and sister my freshman year of high school. I didn’t understand the layers of politics and history and culture at the time, which in retrospect was beneficial to my base impression and has helped my understanding of the place.
The second time was in 2007. I was studying abroad through Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in a documentary photography program. In brief, the experience was necessary. You know, life doesn’t stop just because you’re off having an out of the ordinary experience. Everything is layered. During that time, I met some amazing American students from NYU who helped me feel comfortable recognizing my queerness and my overall attraction to women, especially brown women descendent of Africa, Europe and indigenous to the Caribbean islands. As a Black (African American) and Colombian woman myself, this was the first time where I actually blended somewhat into my surroundings. I was so used to being an anomalistic mixed girl (in the Black and White U.S. South). It allowed me to take in new perspectives. I started seeing the parallelisms between women (of color) in Cuba and women of color in the U.S., the layers, the conflicts, the silencing and the rejoicing of sisterhood. The physical product of this journey is “Yo Te Veo, Eulalia” (I See You, Eulalia), a collection of black and white silver gelatin photographic prints of Cuban women. I call it a “Photo-Visibility Project” because its main aim is to bring to light these international connections. You can read my artist statement and view a few (low-res) images here (http://hamaje.com/docs/AnaJahannes-ArtistStatement-YoTeVeoEulalia.pdf).
Can you tell me about your work as a freelance photographer? When did your interest in taking photos begin?
My mother is a visual artist and was a professor of art since I was born. That’s the easiest way for me to answer that. Not to mention, my father is an art critic, collector and a writer. Always.
Part of being a freelance photographer is figuring out and being adamant about what you don’t do. For instance, I don’t shoot weddings. My personal political beliefs clash with traditional institutional marriage so I’m very uncomfortable shooting them. There have been exceptions; don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a desire that I have nor am interested in pursuing. I only take freelance work when it excites me, when I have a creative part in the planning, not just the execution and when the vibe is right with my clients, who at that point are artist partners-in-crime. Collaborations. I’m over doing work that I’m not passionate about. I have too many loves and talents for that. On the other side of that, part of being an independent photographer/artist is figuring out what it is that you do do. I know I love shooting women of color, queer and trans people, queered fashion, colors, textures and patterns in black and white and I want to be a part of a movement to make visible images that help radical progress. Some people think that this is a super specific, limited niche, but that’s because they aren’t in this boundless, heterogeneous “community” or are having pride issues. Right now I’m in the pre-production stage of a project directly related to my massage therapy practice. I don’t want to say too much. =)
How did you begin working as a Massage Therapist?
When it was brought to my attention that I have a natural ability (or a well-honed interest that started early on), I began taking clients in my home for a couple years in Brooklyn. I had tons of support from friends, but there were a couple of brown queer women who were regular clients. At the time, I was working at the Audre Lorde Project (alp.org) trying to create safe environments for queer and trans people of color and I really began seeing huge and necessary connections. Radical work has to be done on a community level and on an individual level. This is my approach to create a safe place within the body. We need to know ourselves, love ourselves and be healthy.
Massage therapy helps me, too, as the therapist. I wish I could find the page right now, but there’s a great passage in Alice Walker’s novel The Temple of My Familiar, where one of the characters is a massage therapist and basically says that she needed to change to a profession – she was in education – where she didn’t feel like killing people. Ha. Some part of working with others in this way is really healing for myself. I love it. I really connect. I can say I have touched, literally touched, such a variety of folks. A client comes in, lies prone on my table and trusts me with their body. It really helps me think about how I interact with people otherwise.
I practice Integrative Massage Therapy which means all sessions are tailored to the specific needs of my clients and include some if not all of the following modalities: Neuromuscular Massage (Trigger Point Therapy), Deep Tissue, Swedish, Hydrotherapy, Aromatherapy, Hot Stone Therapy, and Yoga Stretching and Breathing. Fees are based on a sliding scale model and I aim to make the experience queer and trans inclusive. I’m always learning more.
Why do you think a holistic lifestyle is important to women of color in particular?
We’re already whole people. We just need to rediscover, rework and learn how to consciously and actively live as whole people. Why leave out parts? We can handle it.
What inspires and challenges you?
Oh man. So many ways to answer this! Imma go with my Facebook wall. Why? Because every day I see links to Colorlines articles (colorlines.com), Little Dragon’s newest songs, photos of my friends REALLY making it as singers (sophiaurista.com) and choreographers (bydavi.com) and SO much love and support. The challenge, while I’m on it, is to disconnect, get off my computer, talk to people and connect there. I’m such a computer nerd. I always have been. I’m always coding for my websites, cramming my brain with knowledge, reformatting photos, plugging my work, etc. Right now my right arm is all trigger pointed up from using this damn mouse and Wacom pen. Maybe if I say it publicly, I’ll have another incentive to git up, git out and git somethin.
Where can we see your photos and/or set up an appointment for a massage?
ajahannes@gmail to arrange private viewings of printed and digital work
facebook.com/wildseedwellness for information and appointments in Oakland