Alexander Supartono 


Postcolonial Photo Studio

This series explores the interface of photography and colonial history by examining how photo studio concepts and techniques of the colonial era influence the world of images in a postcolonial age.

Contemporary South and Southeast Asian artists participated and reconfigured mannerisms, patterns and commonplaces of studio tradition in their respective countries.

They merge the colonial past with the postcolonial present by subverting and interrupting the integrity of the (colonial) archive, as well as appropriating the use and truth-value of studio portraiture. Their works propose an expanded postcolonial archive that moves from archiving the past to re-imag(in)ing a postcolonial future.

In Marginal Trades, Suparanav Dash recreates the 19th century colonial ethno-photographic project in India with 21st century social and technical contextualisation. He systematically records the rapidly vanished trades, businesses and professions in India and presents them in the manner of the Victorian-era book, The People of India (1868-1875).

Dow Wasiksiri mimics the 19th century outdoor backdrop practiced by amateur and itinerant photographers when they charted the “unknown” deep inside “unfamiliar” colonial terrains.In Street Fashion, instead of a flat and neutral backdrop that isolated sitters, Wasiksiri opts colorful, patterned backdrops that embrace his subjects’ personas and therefore presents the triviality and fluidity of their everyday life.

Abednego Trianto describes the typology of the Javanese aristocrat’s family portrait in What Am I Going to Be When I Grow Up? Raden Ayu of Course series. He unpacks how studio portraiture maintained and formalized gender inequality among local elites.

In May It Be, with Purpose and Desire, Liana Yang challenges the documentary realism claim of colonial photographs, which is also technically manifested in her risograph prints. She “blindfolds” the deadpan portrait of natives with landscape photographs of volatile volcanos to question the use of these two photographic genres in representing colonial inhabitants and land, and appropriate their use and truth-value.

Agan Harahap merges the colonial past with the postcolonial present in his Mardjiker Photo Studio, a fictional indigenous commercial studio operating in the colonial era. Operating within the archive’s mnemonic function by using the language of appropriation and parody, Mardjiker Photo Studio specialises in inter-mixed portraits, where westerners wear and pose like locals, and vice versa.

Assam, the Language of Tea: A Familial Repurposing, by Colin Cavers, is a postcolonial investigation of his colonial past by revisiting his portrait of tea pluckers project in the context of family history. In doing so, Cavers examines the synergies, antimonies and points of rupture between the personal of the colonial and the vision of the postcolonial.

Arpita Shah’s Vasant Ritu (The Birth of Spring) is a series of studio portraits of Asian women living in Edinburgh, UK. The series appropriates the painted backdrop tradition in Indian vernacular photo studio practice. Vasant Ritu was also inspired by 18th century Mughal miniature paintings that depicted scenes of women heroines standing under flowering trees.