Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Pantoja.
Jessica, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was born in Queretaro, a small city in Mexico. This city is well known for its gorgeous colonial architecture and for its religious and conservative society. As I was growing up, I somehow was forced to understand that people are different and that not everybody fits the same mold; I was one of those. I was different from the other kids in the way I learned as I have ADD. I was different from the other girls in the way I like to play as I like cowboys better than Barbies, I loved playing soccer and hatted jazz dancing class, and mostly I adore my pants and hated the identical dresses my mom used to buy for me and my sisters. Therefore, my childhood was not easy socials-wise as I was bullied. Lucky enough, I have a very supportive family which focussed in teaching me that differences make individuals special and that those differences should be embraced not punished. That is why it was never a problem for me to accept that I am bisexual.
Since Queretaro never really offered much for me intellectually and socially I dreamed since a very young age to travel the world and get to see places, animals and cultures I learned about while watching my dad´s National Geographic VHS tapes. Documentaries became a passion and an educational tool, that helped me cope with my ADD and curiosity. They became a real motor for me. Once in my late teens and early twenties, I travel through Europe, South America, Australia, and Asia, and while doing so, I noticed I became a more tolerant, sensitive and mature person. While sharing other people´s realities and societies, I also understood more of my own background, country, and surprisingly enough, I was able to cope with unsolved emotional issues from my childhood.
Mixing my personal learning experience, how I connected with others and my personal belief that human conflict lays on intolerance to what is different, I decided to focus on non-verbal communication while studying Science in Communication in College. I developed particular sensitivities and skill to understand how humans give meaning to things or concepts which impact them in a social, personal, and most importantly, at an emotional level. This path led me to focus on film as it basically encompasses every single thing I am passionate about: people, emotions, and non-verbal communication.
After graduating from College, I decided to focus on Cinematography. I wanted to use my skills designing visual language and my passion for people and their stories, but I knew I lack the technical skill to apply that to film. Therefore I set my mind to study my Masters in the best Cinematography program available, AFI. I moved back to Mexico City to start working in the industry, but I knew almost nobody. I end up as Camera technician in the biggest rental house in Latin America. I was the only woman back then amongst 300 men. It was not easy to get the opportunity to work there nor to prove myself and to earn the respect of my male peers, but once I did it open the door to work as Camera Assistant for some of the most talented Directors of Photographies in Mexico and the world. After two years I Mexico City I was moving to Los Angeles to study my MFA at AFI Cinematography program.
Since then, I have had the change to broaden my passion for the visual expression. I have come to understand that not only documentaries are impactful to human and emotional development. That is why I always treat every one of my projects as an individual and work hard to design a personality to it. It doesn’t matter if I am working in fiction films, abstract artistic pieces, music videos, or even commercials. I always work hard to create a powerful channel to allow people to connect.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I believe that film brings people closer together by sharing stories. It allows individuals to go places and experience emotions they will not be able to experience if not by the stories filmmakers tell. This is not only meaningful for the two hours the movie last, but by allowing people to become empathic with somebody living a different reality to theirs or by opening a different panorama, we potentially impact positively in their perception of themselves and others.
As a Director of Photography, my job is to get to know the characters and their stories so well that I can conceptualize their emotions and interpret them with visuals. I use the quality and quantity of light, the proximity, and angle of the camera, the clarity and the colors within the image to design a visual language that the audience will learn to interpret while experiencing the story. In consequence, they will connect with the characters and develop an empathic relationship with them. In other words, my job as the DP is to help the Director to take the audience to an emotional journey different from what they know and to experience a different reality.
As each person is different, every project is as well. The goal and the purpose changes from a piece to another. Therefore the techniques I use should always be changing with the only purpose to tell the story and make others feel.
My workflow consists of reading the scripts as many times as possible, until I feel I know the characters, as well as I, know my friends. I then talk to the director to get as much as he does of the background story and the purpose of each scene. Once I have comprehended the emotional arch of each bit of the story, I start to design a visual language. Mixing icons people already have programmed in their heads with my abstractions of the story, I can give meaning to concepts that once together creates a visual language. This language will tell me the characteristics of the image I need to create and in consequence, the tools I need to achieve that look.
Some people say that as an artist, you have a style or aesthetic that you imprint in everything you create. I believe that as a person, I can only create so much based on my capacity, but I don’t believe that as a DP, I am allowed to have a style. I strongly believe that a good DP works hard to create something new every time because no two stories require the same workflow nor the same aesthetic. To respect the craft, I must treat each project as an individual with its own personality without the expectation that one will fit in the mold of another. In a way, I think that my perspective about art and film is the same as with people. We should embrace differences as those are what makes each one unique and beautiful. And by trying to experience as much as possible with openness, they might impact on our perspective of what is around us.
Have things improved for artists? What should cities do to empower artists?
I think that today it is way easier for artists to share their work and for people to access a broader variety of content and art. These have allowed for more people to become filmmakers, freelancers, and artists. Technology has allowed the process to be faster, but somehow, I don’t see the same progress with how cities in America support these creative communities.
For example, as a foreigner, I understood that I had to hire health insurance in the US. Otherwise, it is too expensive to even get a cold. Most people get health care from their jobs, but not freelance filmmakers unless you are part of a union. In LA with increasing numbers of self-employed individuals, I see an opportunity from the government to improve the system and to adapt to the changing working wave.
Same with housing, as it is becoming more and more expensive. I read that only somewhere around 20% of the people living in LA are unable to buy houses in the city, as most of the real-estate is above the life-long capacities of the population.
In other words, I don’t think that cities such as LA, which are basically populated by freelancers, self-employed or creatives is working enough to break down the system to allow those individuals to be productive and fully independent members of their community.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
Most of my work is shown on different platforms. Some in theaters and film festivals but also digitally.
My webpage is www.jessicapantoja.com.
- Website: www.jessicapantoja.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Other: https://www.instagram.com/jl_pantoja/
Stills from projects:
-The Longest Night
-Nylon to the authentic
-Phoenix by Renogy
-Hustle by Daphne Willis
-Manners of Dying