The Jakarta Post
For Adhi Kusumo, photography is a hobby and at the same time therapy to cope with his introverted character that has been ingrained in him since childhood, making him one of the few photographers in Indonesia specializing in the portrait category.
“I’ve purposely chosen portraiture because in this category, inevitably I have to interact with the subject being photographed,” he said when met at SK Coffee Lab in Kediri, East Java, on the sidelines of a photo exhibition called “Beauty Is You”.
After earning an advertising diploma from Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta, in 1997, he went on to study photography at the New York Institute of Photography while serving as a migrant worker in the United States from 1999 to 2003.
He picked the genre of environmental portrait photography as a visual approach to his photographic works.
“It’s the art of photographing a subject in a daily location such as the residence or place of work along with the relevant property,” he said.
The Kediri-born photographer puts more emphasis on the ambience besides the pose of the subject, while the property and background become important information about the portrait. “The location and property constitute an integrated whole capable of reflecting the character as well as emotion and thought of the subject,” he added.
Adhi gravitated towards this genre after attending an advanced journalistic photo workshop in Jakarta in 2007 that featured Dutch photographer and artist Jan Banning, a winner of the World Press Photo award for the portrait category.
“This type of photos requires intense collaboration of ideas and imaginations with the character of the one to be profiled and is thus suited to the therapy of my introversion,” he said.
His works have previously been put on display at exhibitions curated by famous names on the Indonesian photography scene such as Oscar Motulloh, Ray Bachtiar Dradjat and Deny Salman. His latest exhibition, “Beauty Is You”, explored 20 artists in Yogyakarta as its theme. They comprised visual artists, actors, musicians and literary figures as the subjects of his portraits.
Among them were Gunawan Maryanto, Heri Pemad, Laksmi Shitaresmi, Budi Kustarto, Bob Sick and the daughter of noted poet WS Rendra, Naomi Srikandi.
“I’ve selected them because their unselfish artistic devotion and their strong influence on the world of arts not only in Yogya, but also in the country,” he said, adding that the project took two years to complete.
Adhi described these artists as quite cooperative during the photographic sessions, with the support of visual artist Laksmi Shitaresmi who had provided access to the Yogya personalities.
Gunawan Maryanto, an actor who played the role of missing poet Wiji Thukul in the film Istirahatlah Kata-Kata (Solo, Solitude), had no objection to changing poses and backgrounds, although he finally appeared in a seated posture with a pile of books beside him. Adhi had difficulty in photographing Gunawan because they both are reticent. “He lives in Bantul in seclusion with books only, no television, music or radio,” he said.
Meanwhile, Naomi Srikandi was posed in a red Muslim costume in contrast to the green leaves of banana trees in her garden at home, in macro terms reflecting the function of her head scarf and banana leaves as a cloak of a specific identity.
“With or without the scarf, Naomi remains critical in her artistic works, spotlighting gender issues in the context of prevailing power in society,” he assured.
Heri Pemad, the founder of annual contemporary art event ARTJOG, had no idea how he wanted his picture to be taken.
“He felt relaxed to be photographed in the toilet, where he frequently gets inspiration,” said Adhi who was born in 1978.
He also made a portrait of Bob Sick, a painter, in modest fashion without exposing his tattooed body and face too much. Bob was sitting bare-breasted on a bamboo chair with a ray of light entering through an open door as the background.
“He seemed to embrace the divine light because in his present condition he could finally go on umrah [minor pilgrimage],” Adhi said.
This project, he added, enabled him to record the artists’ unique lives.
The photos already exhibited at Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta and SK Coffee Lab Kediri featured artists who had reached the age of 40, a time of life characterized by emotional and spiritual maturity enabling them to add color to Yogyakarta as a city of culture.
“The beauty therefore isn’t limited to their works only, it is also reflected in these creative celebrities themselves,” he stressed.
For Adhi, each of the stages in life has its own dynamics and the Beauty Is You portrait collection manifested his creation to present his special photographic accomplishment by the age of 40.
“In the future, I wish to take the pictures of artists who have accomplished artistic achievements in East Java,” he said.