Being put in a box has never been Kenya-Jade Pinto's forte. Growing up in Mombasa, Kenya and Calgary, Canada as a Goan-Kenyan-Canadian, Pinto is no stranger to the multiplicity of humaneness. A trained and practicing lawyer, Pinto uses her creative skills as a photographer, filmmaker and audiovisual producer to better understand and document the systemic inequities and mechanics that allow social injustice and human rights abuses to carry on. She combines her legal foundation, creative instincts, and constant curiosity to listen and apply a lens of activism through her work.
PWB recently sat down with Pinto to unpack how her intersectional identity and multi-cultural upbringing informs her approach to storytelling.
PWB: What makes you more than a photographer?
Kenya-Jade Pinto: Part of what makes me more than a photographer is very practical: I just am. I am also a lawyer, a filmmaker, and an audio producer. I’m a half-sister, an auntie, daughter, friend, wife, learner. To be sure, being a photographer—and particularly a documentary photographer who is a woman of colour—is a distinct privilege in that I am often invited into very sacred, quiet spaces, and I don’t take that privilege lightly. But I am more than a photographer in the many other ways that I exist and claim space in this world.
PWB: How has your work as a photographer connected you to your community? To the world?
KJP: My projects often force me to look deeper and stretch farther than I think is possible. Outside of the professional projects that I’m involved with right now, I’m working on personal projects that are in literal and metaphysical ways, close to home. They pull me inward towards the experiences that have made me who I am today, and I’m looking forward to hopefully sharing these soon. I’m excited about pursuing these stories, these images, in new and exciting ways.
PWB: How does your work expand on or dismantle existing narratives of gender and identity?
KJP: I think my work is evolving right now. I don’t think I’m ready to answer this question fully, but I am working on projects that challenge perceptions of identity that perpetuate the idea that we are ‘one’ thing. Our identities are complex, and I’m excited about the opportunities that I have to unpack these different elements with people who are gracious enough to sit in front of my camera or microphone.
PWB: What does storytelling mean to you?
KJP: I think we’re at a critical point in time where storytelling is changing because storytellers are changing – and that’s a good thing. I haven’t heard my story told yet – because I haven’t told it. And that is the case for a great many folks. I’m just now stepping into the courage of turning the camera towards myself and exploring what it means for me to be here. What my place is. It’s what Carrie Mae Weem’s did with her Kitchen Table series. It’s what Vivian Maier did with self-portraits. And, in many ways, I think it’s important (and difficult) work to do if we hope to be able to turn the camera towards others.
It’s a journey. And claiming space is challenging. But for me, working through the nuances of “who am I to tell/facilitate/share this story” is important. And that starts with me.