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The precocious lens of rookie photographers

Tunggul Wirajuda
Tunggul Wirajuda

A media practitioner for over 10 years in both TV and print.

Jakarta  /  Mon, March 20, 2017  /  01:32 pm
The precocious lens of rookie photographers

Hotel Melawai by Tom Dhipa (Atreyu Moniaga Project/Tom Dhipa)

The tenement presented a forbidding facade, an effect accentuated by the windows that dotted each floor. Titled Hotel Melawai, the edifice and its open windows still command the viewers’ attention, which was exactly what its creator, fledgling photographer Tom Dhipa, has in mind. 

“I want to show beauty that is hidden behind impersonal structures, symmetrical lines and ordered windows,” the Bunda Mulia University student said of Hotel Melawai, which is part of his photo essay Highscape Romance. “It is like meeting somebody for the first time. We find that they still have much to hide, so we have no idea what makes them beautiful or unique”. 

Tom is just as deft in his take on Jakarta’s cityscapes. Shades of pink interacted neatly with windows in one building, reflecting much about Jakarta’s diverse ethnicities and the norms or rules that bind them together. 

Highscape Romance is among the photos featured in Phoneme, a photo exhibition featuring the works of Tom and his fellow photographers Stephen Lie, Debbie Lysander, and Nathanael Moss. Held by the Atreyu Moniaga Project at That’s Life Coffee in Jakarta, the photo exhibition takes its name from an eponymous term on units of sound that distinguishes one word from another. The premise proved just as valid visually, as the photographers managed to stand out as strong, distinct personalities. 

Urban Affair by Debbie Lysander(Atreyu Moniaga Project/Debbie Lysander)

“The static buildings in Tom Dhipa’s photographs seamlessly go side by side with the movement depicted in Debbie Lysander’s images of urban transportation,” noted “Phoneme” curator Janeeve Timora. “These contradictions and others like them make for a unique collection [of photographs] that tell various stories which are open to interpretation.”

Debbie’s take on Jakarta’s commuters, as seen in her photo essay Urban Affair, is impelled by the necessity of taking Transjakarta buses to get around the capital’s worsening traffic. “[Riding] on the Transjakarta bus made me feel like a microorganism in a vast foreign space. I sensed [the commuters’] loneliness and a sense of repetition,” said the architect major. 

The commuters in Urban Affair are immersed in their respective affairs while they adjust to the bus’ movement, just as they would adapt to traffic, rising prices and other pressures that make up the daily grind. “Yet the Transjakarta is a microcosm of Jakarta and its people. Individuals of all ages, ethnicities and all walks of life represent the capital’s true face,” noted Debbie of her photo subjects.  

The Voodoo Mistress by Stephen Lie(Atreyu Moniaga Project/Stephen Lie)

While Tom and Debbie stood out because of their subtle take on the urban psyche, Stephen Lie’s flamboyant works like The Lady Steel and The Voodoo Mistress might seem like fanciful flights of fantasy. But their dark, ominous shades and solitary figures indicated belie their musings on the nature of power. The Lady Steel describes a queen with a similar curse to the Midas touch. In her case, everything she touched turns to steel, rendering her friendless” said Stephen. 

The Voodoo Mistress and its themes of love lost through power is just as poignant. “[The Voodoo Mistress] described a woman who’s capable of destroying her enemies with her mystical powers,” he said. “Instead she unintentionally killed the man she loved, rendering her introverted and fearful of the outside world until the end of her days”.

His fellow photographer Nathanael Moss is more soulful, as he based his work on the premise that ‘there are always two sides of a story, so just because someone tells you one thing it doesn’t always make it true.”

Promiscuous Woman by Nathanael Moss(Atreyu Moniaga Project/Nathanael Moss)

Nathanael’s photo essays Lady of Sorrow and Promiscuous Woman meditated on his Christian faith, the duality of his religious beliefs, and individuals coming to grips with their destinies or society’s preconceptions. “Lady of Sorrow showed how the Virgin Mary must have felt when she woke up one morning to find herself pregnant],” he said. “The photo also showed how she struggled to overcome her confusion”. 

The figure’s anguished body language just as aptly showed her anguish at losing her son Jesus later in life. On the other hand, Promiscuous Woman describes the much maligned Mary Magdalene. The dark, defiant shades showed her notoriety and the public’s preconceptions of her, a feature offset by the plaintive pleading in her eyes. (kes)

Phoneme Photo Exhibition

Date: Until March 26

Place: That’s Life Coffee, Jl. Gunawarman no. 24, 2nd floor, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta 12110

Open daily 3 p.m. - 11 p.m.


A media practitioner for over 10 years in both TV and print. Tunggul Wirajuda found a niche in the latter, particularly as a features writer. He often writes about visual or performing arts, but just is at home in writing about automotive, culinary and film, among other things. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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