In Paris, an Indonesian photographer on the edge
The Jakarta Post
The opening of the fourth biannual Photoquai festival was drenched in rain as it began on the banks of the Siene River in Paris last month. The crowds, however, were undeterred, flocking to see the images captured by 67 photographers from 31 countries displayed outside the museum.
The Indonesian who was the independent curator of the Southeast Asia section of Photoquai 2013, Alexander Supartono, was upbeat about the two-month event. 'At least ' and at last ' young photographers from Asia were given a chance to exhibit their work here in a European context.'
Born in 1972, Supartono has held various positions as a scholar, lecturer, photo editor, curator and researcher in Jakarta, the Netherlands, Germany and France, as well other parts of Southeast Asia.
Supartono, a graduate of the Driyarkara Philosophy Polytechnic in Jakarta, is also pursuing a doctorate in the UK ' which helps him to contribute a rigorous intellectual viewpoint to the visual world of photography.
However, he feels that the choice of images at Photoquai might have been hampered by the organizing committee's endless discussions.
About a year-and-half ago, Supartono selected 30 Southeast Asian photographers for the museum's show. Only four were retained after a series of meetings with art directors and other members of the committee.
Rony Zakaria was one of the four lucky Indonesians chosen. 'I immediately noticed the in-depth approach that Zakaria brought to photography, besides the striking black and white images themselves, in the series Men, Mountains and the Sea,' Supartono said.
In fact, Zakaria first caught Supartono's attention when he viewed the photographer's color work during an exhibition about transportation in Jakarta at the Goethe Institute in 2008.
Zakaria, who is of Chinese-Indonesian origin, laughs when he says that he has been more thrilled to visit Europe himself than with the fact that some of his images were displayed prominently on the Photoquai's walls.
The young photographer, born in 1984, also attended the Visa pour l'Image, the premier international festival of photojournalism, recently held in Perpignan, France. He said that he was avidly visiting as many festivals and galleries as he could pack into his stay in Europe.
Zakaria began his studies with more traditional technical subjects, but soon realised that he was drawn to photography after his mother gave him a simple Sony pocket camera with which he continually experimented. 'Math and computer science were not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!'
For his parents, who Zakaria said were shopkeepers and not artistically inclined, his decision to continue photography professionally came as a shock, as they thought it was simply a hobby. Impressed by his determination and courage, they have since given him their full support, he said.
Zakaria sold his first prints at Bina Nusantara University after becoming a computer course tutor as well as a teaching assistant, and completed a course offered by the Antara Gallery in Jakarta that focused on presenting traditional hard news.
However, he discovered that he preferred a more documentary style and won a scholarship to study in Manila, the Philippines, where he learned to develop his own proposals and projects.
On his favorite photographers, Zakaria mentions Sebastiao Salgado and Eugene Smith, as well as Andrea Star Reese, who he cites for her compassionate approach in following mentally disturbed patients in Indonesia.
He said that he received a grant from the government to undertake such a long-term photographic project but handed it back as he could not face the task emotionally.
Since then, Zakaria has produced unusual projects comprising hundreds of black and white images over the last five years, mainly focusing on various types of pilgrimages in Indonesia.
He has shot the Asada ceremony at Mount Bromo in East Java, where the volcano is appeased by offerings and the presence of shamans, who evoke a strong atmosphere with animist connotations.
People come from far and away to catch the offerings for themselves, he said. 'There is nothing those making the offerings can do but accept the fact that others grab them for themselves.'
Zakaria has climbed volcanoes such as Mount Merapi in Central Java with a physical vigor which belies his stature. 'I managed to capture Merapi erupting from a viewpoint that was high up, but then had to run for my life with some others. The next day the spot was gone forever, burnt to ashes ' but I did get an image of the cone bursting open.'
He also climbed up to the peak of Mt. Semeru in East Java ' the highest on the island of Java ' and has gone to the rough seas off of Parangtritis in Yogyakarta
Supartono praised Zakaria. 'Besides being an excellent autodidact, he shows courage, luck and stubbornness in pursuing his themes.'
Zakaria said that he was always searching for exhibition space in Jakarta to show his images and was lucky to have displayed at the galleries at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Cikini, Central Jakarta, where he was assured of a more or less neutral audience and where he is hoping for a solo book launch.
'The best solution is getting bored with one subject and then being forced to move on,' Zakaria said. 'I find that I suddenly think, oh dear, I have no job at the moment, but then suddenly something comes up to make my dreams translate into reality.'
'It is hard living on the edge at times,' he continues. 'I know that I can only manage to live like this because I am on my own. Of course, I can also count on my fellow photographers for support.'
Courtesy of Rory Zakaria
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