The Expat: Jocelyn Mandryk

Jocelyn Mandryk.
Jocelyn Mandryk.
From: The Kootenays, Canada
Age: 33
Profession: Photographer and co-director at Foto-Ruta
Education: Political Science at Queen’s University
Last book read: Marching Powder
Last film seen: Searching for Sugar Man
Gadget: Studio App

In need of real change from her native “boring” Canada, photographer Jocelyn Mandryk jumped in at the deep end when she moved to Buenos Aires, with neither the language skills, contacts nor even having previously visited the continent.

Jocelyn recalls: “It was the end of January, 2010 and I’d never even been to South America. I didn’t come for a love interest or for a job at all, in fact I came to escape both those things. And it was a recommendation from a friend who had lived around the world, who said: ‘you’ll think you’ll be in love with all these places but there are very few you could live in and you should definitely try Buenos Aires.’

“I’d been working on the West Coast for an agency doing design and photography, and doing a lot of contracts on the side that had enabled me to travel, and every time I had to go back I’d whimper and cry a little as I didn’t want to be in boring Canada any more. All my friends were getting married, getting mortgages and having babies, and that was all great but I felt like an alien in my own country. I’d lived abroad a ton growing up and I wanted to be in an arts centre, it was a goal of mine to learn a new language, I like nice climates and vibrant cities, so it was between Barcelona and Buenos Aires.”

With just three days to organize matters, Jocelyn booked a one-way flight, gave her furniture to her sister, got rid of her apartment and sold her car. It was to be a fresh start.

“My family thought: ‘she went through a break-up, she’s going through a phase, she’ll be back,’ but in my heart I knew I needed to build a life somewhere else. I found somewhere to stay in Belgrano and I took a month of Spanish lessons. And it seemed easier from a work perspective to be here than in Barcelona because of the time difference, three hours instead of eight so I’d have some semblance of a life. I’d already been to Barcelona and was familiar with it culturally and this time round, I wanted a jolt in my life.

“Part of me had already decided before I came that I would love it as I’d just got rid of my life to be here! Not in a sacrificial way, just in a fresh-start way so it had better damn well work! It was the right time.”

The photographer within always spends a large chunk of time pounding streets, walking neighbourhoods to get to know a new city, and Buenos Aires was no exception. Jocelyn says: “I got on a bus on my second day and ended up in Parque Patricios. I remember thinking, ‘this isn’t very European.’ I was expecting Recoleta but I walked around until someone noticed I was lost and asked where I wanted to go. I said the water, got on another bus and ended up in San Telmo and Puerto Madero. I had nothing on me, no guide book, nothing. I was coming from 17-hour working days, remembered I had this plane ticket and had to switch gears. So my first impression of Buenos Aires was basically Barracas in summer on a Tuesday afternoon, of topless old men reading books out on the street. But I loved it straight away.”

After so much order and structure, Jocelyn needed to let loose and one way she could do so was through the relaxed time scales.

“My time wasn’t just valued on money. That was a big thing for someone who has always been ambitious career-wise and even if you’re at the top of your game here, you still take the weekend off. Plus I really love limitless conversation — you might start talking to a friend and nine hours later you’re still hanging out talking. People have the time and the curiosity to hang out and talk. That’s really nice.

“It’s a different way of thinking. I went from being really future-oriented and planning four weeks in advance to people dropping by and saying: ‘what are you doing tonight?’ That was really refreshing and I needed that. However, I do go back to Canada once a year for a dose of capitalism and to see my family and everything seems a lot more structured but that’s good for me otherwise I’d bohemian my way through the day.”

After three months living in Belgrano, she flat-shared briefly with an actress from Patagonia in Villa Crespo (“She was totally crazy, playing drums at four in the morning on psychedelic drugs”), then moved to Palermo with a Colombian friend. While she had always continued working remotely, and part-time, it was at this point that the foundations for a local enterprise were laid.

“I did some photo tutoring and all kinds of crazy contracts. One was a horse trek across the Andes, the first time I’d ever ridden a horse; another was for Cirque du Soleil, a Canadian company; then I was hired by a Spanish school to shoot their home stays and student life in Buenos Aires. That’s when I really got to know the city as they ping-ponged me between a 15h birthday party to a folklore dance show. I got a good dose of Argentine culture while writing a business plan for a potential tourism company over that year and it’s also when I met my now business partner of Foto-Ruta.”

Although Jocelyn takes clients on specialized tours, there’s one square that really represents Buenos Aires for her.

“There’s a book market in Parque Rivadavia that also sells vinyl but it’s a really quintessential Buenos Aires neighbourhood. Everyone knows each other, school children are playing, people gab away. You can walk in there as a stranger and come away with five new friends. It has very little to do with how visually pleasing it is and a whole lot more to do with how easily accessible it is as a culture. It’s not about selling. It’s really serendipitous.

“When people go to a new city with their camera, they often have an agenda or postcard snapshots in their head, and when you take them to a place like that, it totally derails them as people actually want to talk to them. And it’s totally different to shooting in another big city like Paris or New York where there’s a lot of security and paranoia around people’s personal space and approaching their personal space. People don’t care here. You can walk into a playground and start shooting photos of kids and most of the time they’ll pose for you. It’s not a big deal. It’s really refreshing.”

Given that she came to BA to move on from a relationship, among other things, Jocelyn’s foray into the dating scene has been slow. She says: “My dating life here has been pretty pathetic and I don’t have many dramatic rich stories. As I spent the entire decade of my 20s without a day of being single, I never learned to be on my own. But I dated a couple of people in my first year here. One was in the circus. That was very weird for me as there were no social norms with which I was vaguely familiar; the other was an expat. Another lived in my apartment building. Imagine the drama that goes with that. When that ended, I spent four months using the fire escape.”

As for pastimes besides photography, eating and drinking, she particularly enjoys going to the Borda Hospital in Barracas.

“Going there feels likes another country. It’s the men’s psychiatric ward that is now a cultural centre. It was stripped of everything and you can go in there and do whatever you want. You could walk in there with a blowtorch and some empty bottles and do an art project. I find it really liberating as so much of what I do artistically is for commercial purposes, and so to go somewhere, with no painting skills and no agenda, is really nice. I usually print out huge black and white drafting plans, of something I like, then I paint over it. Most of my works are really bad. I might take some medialunas to share and drink mate with whiskey while I’m there. I won’t run into anyone I know and I’m not any good at painting but I really like it.”

Buenos Aires Herald, September 21, 2013
Ph: Jocelyn Mandryk

If you enjoyed reading about Canadian Jocelyn, meet Mancunian teacher Sonya.

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