When Hengki Koentjoro makes pictures, he relishes loneliness. Being solo with only the rustle of the wind and the rolling of the tides isn’t painful; it’s reassuring and life-sustaining.
Koentjoro cites the teachings of Zen Buddhism as a primary resource in composing his elegant black and white frames. “They look at this world in a most uncomplicated way,” the artist says. In 13th Century Japan, Zen monks painted in ink, and indeed, faint echoes of their aesthetic can be detected in the work of the contemporary Indonesian photographer.
The real magic, Koentjoro suggests, lies less in the subject than it does in the negative space surrounding it. He uses long exposures, he says, to erase all that is non-essential; the tides, once uneven, become unified and unvaried.
Each picture comes only after a great deal of patience. The wilderness of Indonesia, the artist explains, can’t be tamed or directed. His role is to watch and wait. He allows the elements, the breeze, and the birds to take the reins. “So far, nature has been good to me,” Koentjoro writes, “She rarely disappoints.”
The photographer identifies as a minimalist, but that’s not to say his photographs are absent of tension and complexity. Here, emptiness becomes abundance, and a whisper is louder than a cry. Yes, Koentjoro’s photographs are lonely, but their loneliness isn’t sharp-edged. Solitude, it seems, is something to be treasured.
Upon his return to Indonesia, Hengki settles in Jakarta as a freelance videographer and video editor for nature documentaries and corporate profiles. Delving into what he believes to be his true purpose in life’s journey of expression, he indulge himself in the art of black and white photography on the side. Exploring along the borderlines of light and shadow, yin and yang. Celebrating complexity in the minimalist. Diving into the spiritual in the physical.
“Photography can never be separated from the aspects of making the common things unusual, welcoming the unexpected, indulging and embracing ourselves with the joy of photography”—Hengki Koentjoro, 2013
Hengki Koentjoro is one of Indonesia’s most respected fine art photographers. Drawn in by his sultry black and white landscapes, fans from around the globe have praised Hengki’s work, including legendary English photographer, Michael Kenna. Capturing the magic and mysticism of Indonesia, Hengki has worked closely with Katamama since the beginning, heading the pre-opening campaign with his stirring, tropical images.
Here, Hengki shares some insight on his artistic inspirations, the impact of the digital age on modern photography, and his long time muse – Indonesia.
How did you get started with photography?
My parents gave me a Kodak pocket camera as my 11th birthday present. I used it mainly to document activities around the house: guests that came and went, the sun setting and rising, our family pets and many other objects that caught my attention. I fell in love with the concept of freezing time at that point.
Then it got deeper. I began to study people’s expressions and the nature of lighting around the house, and I was intrigued. I played with a desk lamp to illuminate subjects in various different ways. Exploring the interplay of light and shadow, I began to understand what effects they develop on certain subjects or scenes. Nighttime was my favourite time of the day to experiment. Even when the electricity was off, I learned that candlelight could be a beautiful source of dramatic lighting.
Were all of your stunning tropical images shot in Indonesia?
Indeed, I’m very lucky to have been born and bred in this archipelago of 17,000 islands. The equator runs right across the middle of the nation creating strong tropical lighting and dramatic shadows, especially in the morning and evening.
The oceans and the many scattered islands also fascinate me deeply. With its endless possibilities of enchanting odysseys, Indonesia has brought me closer to nature above ground and underwater.
You always choose beautiful locations. Is a lot of your time spent researching areas?
One does not need to search too hard for stunning locations here, not when such rich culture and beautiful scenery surrounds us. The best thing is, each island is completely different from the next. Each of the areas that spread across Indonesia – which spans 2,800 km from west to east – has its own unique landscape. There are an amazing array of options. One needs a lifetime to explore this vast and beautiful country down to her deepest, tiniest alleys and trenches.
Michael Kenna has praised your new book – so much so that he has written words on your work. Do you see Michael Kenna as an inspiration?
I have two main inspirations; Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna. Their ability to create beautiful tonality in black and white has deepened my love for the medium and pretty much paved the way for my photographic vision. Never have I seen monochromatic works so beautiful. Their works have motivated me to pursue a higher education at Brooks Institute of Photography to study their trademarked styles.
I believe we must have idols in the process of developing our own unique style. In my case, it is Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna who have brought me to where I am right now.
Which works are closest to you and why?
I love Kenna’s style of composition and the way he captures little nuances. He plays a lot with atmospheric photography that simplifies the world around him without dismissing the complex beauty that lies beyond sight. Simplicity captured in his distinctive fashion is a truly masterful approach that I look up to.
How do you see the Indonesian photography scene? Any new talent coming through?
The arrival of digital technology has really pushed the boundaries of the photographic world in Indonesia. More and more people have access to cameras and are able to express themselves digitally. Many new young artists are sprouting, creating different styles that would only have been a dream ten years ago. I’m very happy with this progress. I do hope that one day we will have a much richer photographic culture in Indonesia.
Wider access to the internet has also opened the gate for every photographer — both professionals and hobbyists – to share their work with the world. Landscape, portraiture, fine art, conceptualism, expressionism and photojournalism are photography genres that can grow much more rapidly with this trend of sharing and caring.
I suppose the golden era of digital photography is about to emerge, if it hasn’t already, and young Indonesians are right there taking full advantage of the affairs.