The Story is (not) a Click Away

It was one fine afternoon in Jakarta when Vociferous talked with a talented young man in grey vest. His lenses have captured the city regulars and altered them into pictures that speak. Meet Agas.


The world of photography has given birth to endless list of notable editorials with ever-developing camera sophistication. Little do we still remember the era back then when photographer weaponize themselves with film rolls, flash lights, and ultimately, the analog camera. This time Vociferous catches up the good old days with a photographer who does not take photos for a living, but rather shoots the everyday objects in a conventional way out of passion. He is Agastya Alfath.

I notice that your describe yourself as a film shooter, rather than photographer in your 500px profile. May I know why?

It is actually simply because most of my frames are taken with a film, instead of digitally. In photography, film is a mere media, now that we have everything digital, the quality of a photo can be enhanced. My choice of using a camera film is obviously not based on the quality or technicality, but instead because I fall in love with the process. I enjoy it. It is unlike using digital camera where all you do is pressing the shutter and then you’re done. Exploring the analog one requires further process until you get the end result.

Now…let’s get into the technical details first, what camera do you use? Are there any histories behind it?

The camera I use is Canon AE 1, it was produced in the 80s. The focus is manual and the light matter cannot function anymore. If you ever know about sunny 16 rule ( a method that estimates how much light exposure needed without light matter), I rely on it. Aside from that, I also take photos using other camera such as lomo camera and rangefinder.

How was your affair with film camera started?

Around three or four years ago I developed an interest towards photography and found out that a lot of people in the field were discussing about gear. For instance, they say that the result is good however the lens needs an upgrade or the body needs to be replaced. From that point on I started thinking that, when you depend on gear to come up with breathtaking result, it is no longer about the technique or object, but rather the equipment. The art of taking photos is thus decaying.

“My affair with analog then blossoms as I feel pleasure taking photos with limited number of shots.”

Later I found a camera called Canonet, which is referred to as poor man’s Leica—a camera designed for people who thirst for a camera as good as Leica but cannot afford one, and begun shooting with it. My affair with analog then blossoms as I feel pleasure in taking photos with limited number of shots. It makes the process valuable and thus experience, rather than compliment or even cash, is what I am currently aiming for.

It somehow seems that you have this ability to turn mundane objects (and places and people) to be “photogenic”, in black and white. How is the process?

To elaborate how I determine one scene is worthy to be photographed, I guess, I need to refer to my favourite photographer, Henri Cartier-Besson who is considered as a father of photojournalism as well as the one who initiated the act of taking photos on the street. Beforehand people do not think that the street is one interesting scene to shoot yet he proved it differently. I take notes from the similarity and characteristics of his work which later lead me to shooting by considering the contrast and composition of my object(s).

“Beforehand people do not think that the street is one interesting scene to shoot.”

To come to finding the moment to shoot, I usually wait at one spot for a scene. The analysis whether I should shoot or not goes from the point of interest—what makes a photo interesting, to the right timing. Some of the photos I have taken are simply good because of the right timing. I prefer to use black and white only because I can explore the contrast, contour, and lines. The distraction can also be far reduced when the colours are lacking.

Though it is clear that you are inspired mostly from the street, do you develop some senses of liking towards certain photographed objects?

Currently, none. I used to shoot old people, however, it gradually becomes cliché. Other than because of their textured face that works well for black and white photography, there is no story to be told unless in that frame there is other supportive object.

What characteristics do you have when it comes to photographing?

My 50mm lens. In photography, this lens is neither too long nor too wide. Additionally I always try to add a balancing element to the frame, which is, in this case, human presence. Or other living presence. I guess that is what differentiates the street photography and still life photography.

How different will you explain the real city life compared with what you see behind the lens?

It is surely different. What I capture behind my lens is only a small fraction of life. Nevertheless I own the power to decide what story I want to tell. For instance this photograph:

The reality was this man was scolding his kid but it isn’t what you see, right? I shot it because the circumstance seems appealing—a man and his son sitting on a bench under a breezy afternoon. Yet the reality is absolutely the opposite.

“I do not take photos for documenting reality, but rather creating a story from the event I encounter.”

I do not take photos for documenting reality, but rather creating a story from the event I encounter. The concept of serendipity applies to me, like this photo where the lighting was totally unexpected. Through the lens I can capture what the eyes miss to see, such as this lighting that will simply pass without us realizing it.

It feels like a subtle wake up call for me, honestly, seeing how the ugly everyday objects can possess certain fragile beauty in your photographs. Do you have concern on social issues, especially in Jakarta? Does that concern become your drive to shoot?

Again, I used to shoot poor and old people on the street since they are indeed contrastive with the surrounding. A hobo can just sit in a busy street where everyone is walking hastily, thus he is noticeable when photographed. Yet it slowly feels cliché to me, exposing the poverty and harsh reality that treats people as object, not only for photography but also for social issue.

On the other hand, finding beauty in the “ugly” side of the city is what I am doing. If you ask whether I put effort to compose a scene that seems mundane to something that seems beautiful, yes I do. When I wander in the city, I continuously look for certain “beautiful” moment to be captured. Yet, it can also be the opposite. This photograph, as an example, was taken in Pasar Baru, Jakarta.

My friend was confused why I was waiting in front of the mannequins since there was nothing photo-worthy there. I remembered what Henri Cartier-Besson said, that a photo has a quality when it can make people think. Thus I was waiting for an old lady to pass through and created contrast between the “pretty” and the “ugly” there.

Lastly, as this issue is about journey, what is journey for you?

Journey should be something that makes us move from one position to another. Not only in terms of place, but also experience. It means freeing yourself from the routine. I do think that when you embark on a journey, you should not go to familiar places. You ought to do something different, with destination unknown.

Images: Agastya Alfath
Text: Gabriela Yosefina