Turning Melancholia Into Portraiture — How ‘Beyond Grief’ Shows A Photographer Wrestling With Loss

INDONESIA | PHOTOGRAPHY

Reading time : 5 minutes

Photographs by Abdul Razzak Jauhar
Words by Vanya Harapan

Published on November 6, 2021

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Abdul Razzak Jauhar visualises how losing a loved one is experienced beyond the borders of the dead and the living.

After losing both of his grandmothers in the past year, Abdul Razzak Jauhar took his grief and turned it into a source of inspiration for his art. Initially started as a personal project, “Beyond Grief” was planned to be an artistic outlet for him to explore all the thoughts and feelings he experienced after his loss, specifically those regarding death, destruction, and related emotions.

The project was then developed into a photographic venture when fellow Indonesian photographer, Elizabeth Kezia, recommended Abdul to join a photographic exhibition set up by WhiteLuxe. The two then completed individual works that were thematically connected, with Elizabeth’s centred around birth, rebirth and gestation, while Abdul’s was centred around death, grievance and loss. During the research stage of the project, he delved into literature around death, specifically a journal by Nikos Kokosalakis and “Heidegger dan Mistik Keseharian” by F. Budi Hadirman. These sources helped Abdul further question our purpose and existence as humans along with notions of death that go beyond his grief. 

Given that these emotions and experiences are some of the most complex and abstract feelings to express or communicate, how exactly did Abdul work out how to convey this subject into portraiture? He explains that he began to conceptualise the project more fully through discussions with the project’s art director, Khalik Arif Thahara, particularly when they decided to break their interpretation into two main characters of the Human and the counterpart being the Death/Mothers. 

“Death/Mothers is a representation of the abstract idea of “Death” and at the same time it is a representation of my grandmothers’ death. There’s a duality of meaning in this figure because at first, it is hard to symbolize Death,” he tells LINEAL on the decision to combine these two symbolisms into one, “That’s why, in the portraiture, we want to create the impression of scary and out of this world, resembling our notion of death as an eliminating force of life and our negative feelings towards it because we lose someone we love by it, but at the same time [that it is] ethereal, beautiful, and motherly.”

Grief is a human experience that takes some time to settle, and Abdul divides his interpretation of grief into several parts,It is not a storyline per se, but rather a contemplation of the thoughts and emotions on what life and death is, based on my experiences, readings, and discussions that I had before.” 

The series begins inside the human’s internal thoughts as she sinks, maybe even drowns, in her thoughts regarding life and death, “That’s why the series started with Human In Bed (a place that for me can bridge the conscious and the unconscious, between reality and dream), feeling her grief towards the passing of her loved one as can be seen in a framed photograph near her,” he explains. Although the series is numbered, there’s no linear storyline to this exploration of grief, but instead a detailed exploration of the concepts and ideas that accompany you when you think of life and loss.

Abdul started his photography journey in 2014 when he gained a deeper interest in the field, after a lifelong love for movies and filmmaking. As Instagram became more and more popular as a platform to share photography, he started to try out DIY photography trends that were on the rise on the app with his friends as models. But his passion for conceptual photography dates back to 2017, when he discovered Mikael Aldo in his college days, “ I was mesmerized by how emotive and dramatic his work is, and how it can spark a story to each photo that he made […] Now, I think the reason why I’m interested in photography is that I love to convey emotions and stories, and that photography is one of the mediums that I could be able to do so.”

For someone who started his journey in conceptual photography less than 5 years ago, Abdul has already honed a signature style that you quickly recognise when scrolling through his portfolio of works. It’s melancholic, cinematic and imaginative. He says that this style was developed under the influence of two factors, “Firstly is from what I feel and secondly is from what I consume or look up to. Explaining the former, I often feel like what I want to tell is something hidden inside, like a part of the mystery that every human has inside, or life itself. That’s why I love to use darker visuals. There’s always something there to be observed that personally captures my heart.”

Art Director and Set Design: Khalik Arif Thahara
Art Assistant: Yulia Permatasari A. and Jihan Nurmaulida
Stylist: Mutia Hanifa
Makeup artist: Fitria Rahmadani
Floral Artist: Talula Azizah A. and Anna Ratna N. from Talula Florist
Model: Hayati Azis and Ranti Kusuma from Persona Management
Studio: White Luxe Studio
Wardrobe: La Douche Vita and stylist’s own
Accessories: MUNCHILD

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