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SANTA MUERTE, Mexico City 2016 |© Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017
SANTA MUERTE, Mexico City 2016 |© Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

Meet the Tepito Photographer Playing with Perceptions

Picture of Lauren Cocking
Lauren Cocking
Updated: 22 February 2017
We recently interviewed the Hamburg-based German photographer Anja Jensen about the experience of shooting her Ciudadanas. Caminamos a Oscuras series in one of Mexico City’s most notorious neighbourhoods, Tepito. Following on from her Visto Bueno series, which depicted the day-to-day viewpoint of young people in this North American metropolis, Ciudadanas similarly dealt with reframing Mexico from its residents’ point of view – this time from that of the women of Mexico City’s barrio bravo. Here’s what she had to say.

What was it about Mexico City that inspired you for your two most recent projects, Visto Bueno and Ciudadanas. Caminamos a Oscuras?

In my artistic discourse I am working a lot with the topics of surveillance, control and power. Mexico is a country where you can find a very interesting combination of the three; depending on where you are in the capital of Mexico City you will always find social structures that indicate power, control and a loss of over-the-top surveillance. If you move around Tepito you won’t find a lot of police. However, it has its own control and surveillance systems. In Visto Bueno I was interested in the perspective of young people. How do they perceive Mexico City? How do they move around and what does this also tell us about the security and liberty of movement in this city?

LOURDES, Mexico City 2016 ©Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

LOURDES, Mexico City 2016 | © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

DÕNA ELVIRA, Mexico City 2016 © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

DÕNA ELVIRA, Mexico City 2016 | © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

Did you find it difficult to convince people to have their photos taken for the series?

Not really. I think the key is always to build up a personal relationship and confidence. And with these women in Tepito I was lucky to find strong and very open-minded women that were curious and at the same time proud of their culture and ‘their Tepito’.

MAYRA DEBAJO DE LAS LONAS, Mexico City 2016 @ Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

MAYRA DEBAJO DE LAS LONAS, Mexico City 2016 | @ Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

What was the experience of photographing in Tepito, a notoriously dangerous Mexico City neighbourhood, like?

It was surely dangerous, although we didn’t always understand that. We had a fantastic access to this neighbourhood through Mayra, one of the women who basically guided us and looked out for us. She would tell us where not to go and what not to do. We always sensed that it was not normal to walk around in this neighbourhood just like that, with a camera and carrying lights around. That we have to be on the watch all the time, have a 360-degree perception of our surroundings all the time; ‘estar al tiro’. I tried to capture this feeling in the installation of my exhibition here. It’s like a labyrinth, a small path where you can go, [creating a sense of] darkness and insecurity but also light in the strength of the women.

MAYRA II, Mexico City 2016 © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

MAYRA II, Mexico City 2016 | © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

Do you think Tepito deserves its reputation?

I don’t know. I think it’s always difficult to judge that. Surely it is not an easy neighbourhood and we experienced some things that leave you with this notion that you can’t be naïve about it.

However, the women I visited and photographed are fighting a lot against this stigmatisation of Tepito in order to give their children better chances in the future. And that’s always important. Not to stigmatise.

SANTA MUERTE, Mexico City 2016 © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

SANTA MUERTE, Mexico City 2016 | © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

If you had to choose one photograph from the Ciudadanas series as your favourite, which one would it be and why?

I couldn’t choose. These seven women belong together and so do their portraits. Only together I feel they are as strong as they can be.

VERÓNICA, Mexico City 2016© Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

VERÓNICA, Mexico City 2016 | © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

What upcoming projects do you have? Will any of them take place in Mexico City?

We are thinking of touring ‘CIUDADANAS’ but besides that I am working on projects in Europe and Africa.

LETI, Mexico City 2016 © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017

LETI, Mexico City 2016 | © Anja Jensen, VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2017