I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. I am twenty-three years old and a fresh graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. I spent time in 2018 living in several cities across Germany – Ilmenau, Erfurt, Hamburg and Hannover – for my research semester and an internship.
In June last year, I had to go back to Indonesia in order to finish my study. After I graduated from university and after a lot of self-reflection, I came to understand that, sadly, coming back home to Indonesia is not actually home for me, and I don’t think it will ever be one. It is more of a burden than something that brings joy. I was losing my sense of self and it was destructive for me. So, I decided to go back to Germany by joining an Au Pair program, and I flew back to Germany on February 22nd 2020.
My first encounter with photography was in 2016. I have no background in photography, and it was my lecturer in university who is now a good friend and a mentor of mine, Ben Laksana, who introduced me and some friends to visual storytelling outside the formal class setting.
Since then I found that photography is a very honest medium that fits my personality and enables me to express myself and my surroundings. I love how photography lets me freeze and record a moment. I’ve never thought that photography would be my main job due to a limitation of technical resources, but it will not stop me from making photographs and applying to every job ad that I could get my hands on, to the extent that I will work in my spare time as an Au Pair, or whatever I will be, after this program ends.
However, working as an Au Pair in a tiny village in Germany with a population of around one hundred and fifty people means it’s a struggle to work on my photography. It’s hard to find people to photograph and to meet new people, and I’m still trying to work through this.
What’s your story? Share with us your journey to photography.
My very first photography workshop was with French photographer Klavdij Sluban. I was very nervous back then because I had no idea how photography workshops were, what story I should have explored and what kind of photographs I should’ve made.
Yet the workshop was not about technical photography itself; Sluban shared a lot about his personal philosophies and photography journey. He shared how photography could be very personal, how photographs that you share could be different from what other people see. And one thing I learnt from him is that photography can be very deep, but it takes time to be made and to be looked at.
This idea of photography that he shared during the workshop I always have in my mind. Sluban’s perception of photography impacts how I personally see and use photography as a medium.
I like to make personal work, where I can see myself in it and use my imagination to explore a topic. For example, my second photography workshop was with Arkademy Project in 2019 and this one was more journalistic as it was about land conflicts, or to be precise, it was about people and their land.
The assignment that was given was not an easy one as I committed to working on a story about marginalised people living in government-subsidised flats in Jakarta. It was challenging because from day one of my assignment, my photographs weren’t great. However, I tried to put myself closer to the subjects; I undressed myself and showed my vulnerability, so that I could understand their vulnerable situation better and be able to express that in the photographs I made.
It made me realise that photography is not merely a cheap tool in itself – there is more beyond it if you have the capacity to let it in. You could be an active actor to represent who you photograph.
Let’s talk about your series. What’s it about? What was your motivation behind making the work?
I don’t know where I should start, but I guess starting with some of my childhood memories won’t hurt. When I was around eight years old, I knew I was different. I always dressed like a boy, I didn’t like to play with dolls, most of my childhood friends were boys and I always had protective feeling towards my female friends. I did not choose to like or to do those things, it was just natural.
When I was in eighth grade, I fell in love with a girl. She was my best friend and we had romantic feelings for each other. We did what couple usually do, but we realised what we did was wrong, and so we decided to end it.
I grew up as a Christian and had this mindset that what I had done was sinful, so I decided to go to a boarding school with hope that I could change. I did what I was taught and without realising, I became self-loathing, internalising homophobia.
I was unconsciously suppressing my sexuality; every time “the other side’”of me longed for softness and care from women, I would instantly feel fear creeping up on me. I was worried because if someone found out about it, it meant that I could lose everything – family, friends, reputation, education and job.
During the first total lockdown of this year, I was – and I am still – trying to find and understand meaning in others and in me. My mentor once told me that life is suffering and happiness is just a temporary feeling.
During lockdown, I did a lot of self-reflection. There is one thing that I learnt from this time, that the tragedy of growing old is that we unwittingly fill our life with regrets. This is the beauty of life – the endless choices that I have to help me find, construct, and forge my very own meaning in life.
So, I made the decision to embrace my true self and my inner-child. I finally had a chance to actually listen to myself, and I found that I do not want to reject myself anymore because I knew I wouldn’t be happy for the rest of my life. I have realised that visibility matters, and to document these complex feelings is really important for me, so that my subconscious can try to translate the struggle that I’ve been through into something that it is familiar.
Has using photography to document yourself and your experiences – leaving behind a life and starting a new one – helped you?
Definitely. Photography is a medium that helps me to slow down in life from this wild and noisy world. To think again what I have done in my life, to never stop questioning myself.
I do not know how other people relate themselves to their camera, but in the months after I moved here, every time I am alone with my camera, whether I go for a walk or just sitting in my room, I like to “undress” myself and express how I feel. Maybe I am lonely and have no one to talk to, but it does not matter to me because through my photographs of myself and my surroundings, I can learn more about my own self.
Were there any moments or experiences that stood out to you?
I think without photography I could have never had a chance to freely talk about myself, like how intimate it can be when there is someone around you and you just want to undress and share your vulnerability, which in this case is me and myself personally. I don’t know if it makes sense for you, but I hope you understand what I mean.
Elsewhere you say “Now I don’t want to live in a shadow anymore” – what made you realise this? How does it feel to be able to accept yourself?
During my semester abroad in 2018, I became depressed because I did not have the courage to accept the fact that I like women. Very few friends knew this about me, and one of my closest friends (pictured above) pushed me away because of it.
I was afraid of being rejected so I dated a guy. I did it because I wanted to be known as “normal”. But, as I am growing up, I know that I do not want to live with these standards and I had to find a way to be able to live as myself, without worrying about my identity. I knew that if I stayed in a toxic place like in Jakarta, I would not be able be my true self. That was why I decided to go back to Germany – it was not only about letting people know the real me, but I also want to live freely.
It is very liberating. I can express myself as I want to, I do not have to worry about persecution or going to conversion therapies if I date a woman. I even feel more human because it is also about coming to terms with myself about the kind of person I am, as well as letting others in the same situation know that they are not alone.
Is this project on-going?
It is definitely an on-going project and I cannot tell when it will be finished. I might have accepted myself as queer, and some people know about it, but there is another obstacle that I have to deal with; my family. They have no idea about this and I know in some way that I have to tell them the truth. So, I guess this will be a long-term project.
Finally, recommend us something?
I am currently listening to Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. I always love theit music because I can feel them and see myself in their songs.
At the moment I am reading ‘Kafka on The Shore’ by Haruki Murakami.