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Short profile

Hengki Koentjoro was born in 1963 in Semarang in Central Java, Indonesia. He received his first camera, a Kodak Pocket, as a gift for his eleventh birthday. From that moment on, photography was his passion and he trained first in Jakarta and then at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California.

After returning to Indonesia, Hengki settled in Jakarta as a freelance videographer and video editor for nature documentaries and corporate profiles. An international award winner - including first place finishes at the PX3 Paris Photo Competition, Worldwide Photography Gala Awards, and IPA Photography Awards - globally exhibited artist, and Hasselblad Master, he sees black and white photography as his true purpose. He explores the boundaries of light and shadow and celebrates complexity in the minimalist.

In this interview, he reveals more about his love for the underwater world of Indonesia and why black and white photography fascinates him so much.  


Please tell us about yourself.

I was born in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. My first exposure to photography began when I was 11 years old. My parents gave me a Kodak Pocket and I never look back since then. This camera helped to jump-start my imagination, which I think is the most important aspect in being an artist in general. I then went to Brooks Institute of Photography in the US to study more about Black and white photography. The legendary Ansel Adams was the first idol that inspired me to do the monochrome world. Ansel Adam’s Zone System has taught me to see BW in more detail especially with the ability to “play” with the tonality of the medium. I is not only 2 colour; Black and White, but totally different spectrum that consist of infinite shades of greys. This knowledge has allowed me to do many things in order to create atmospheric photography that accentuate the mood and nuance. It is an art form because you are what you photograph. You must insert your personality to your work so a style can emerge that is uniquely yours.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you became a photographer?

I loved the idea of freezing and preserving the moments for later viewing. It was such a new technology for me at that early age and it was very intriguing thus captured my imagination. At that time in 1974 colour film was very rare and difficult to develop so BW was the only choice for me. I did much BW photography for years to come and along the way I trained my eyes to see in monochrome fashion. When I was in my senior high school that I was exposed to the masterwork of the great Ansel Adams and I never look back. I became captivated with the way he played with tonality and the dynamic range of BW photography, I was immediately hooked.

Photo: Hengki Koentjoro

Please share something about your images. What is your special interest? How do you choose the colors, composition, themes etc.?

I look for certain atmosphere and sometimes I also search for graphical composition, lines, details, and interesting texture. Anything that is perceived as beautiful, surreal, mystery and atmospheric.

My photographs with the title ”Liquid Garden” and “Fertility” portray the beauty of underwater world in a surreal way, very atmospheric. “Fertility” is more about composition and details, the underwater world dance into synchronize movement to create beautiful rhythm in nature.

Where does this interest come from?

I’m a fine art photographer, by default it means: A genre that is done in a personal, deeply subjective way; it expresses the perceptions and emotions of a photographer. We capture more than a merely realistic rendering of the subject, and try to convey a personal interpretation. The great Ansel Adams once said not to take a picture but to make a picture. This approach give me freedom to express my spirit and my interpretation has taken me to the atmospheric rendition of the surrealist, mystical or mystery of the world under the sea.

Photo: Hengki Koentjoro

How do you get inspired? And what inspires you the most? Films, books, or magazines? Or what surrounds you?  

Nature inspires me. I love nature; it helps me get my sanity back. The ocean and mountain in particular have that mystic and mystery values that I look up deeply/highly. Living in Indonesia is a blessing. Boast with 17,000 islands and known for their “rings of fire” where there are more active volcanoes per islands thank any other country on earth. I’m blessed with these playgrounds and I’m free to go wherever I please without problem. It’s only normal that I love landscape photography.

The ocean is a significant element in my pictures and it also plays an important role in my life itself. The east of Indonesia is well known for its marine biodiversity and perfect for underwater exploration. Many of the islands there are still virgin and the beaches are just excellent. I do not need to research the locations; I just go and get lost.

The equatorial line makes a transverse cross right in the middle of the nation and consequently makes way to strong tropical lighting that creates dramatic shadows, especially in the morning and evening.

Photo: Hengki Koentjoro

Why did you choose to take black and white pictures under water?  

With BW you need to pay more attention to shapes, lines, and texture. Since I don’t have colour, I try to make an atmospheric photography down the ocean, the strange ,weird and wonderful biodiversity can be presented in a total different point of view with just black and white. The mood and ambiance are aspect that I try to portrait.

A book publisher from Indonesia Afterhours publication approached me with the project. They are interested in the photographs because it’s an underwater photography done in black and white format. To me these works represent my love of diving as well as photography. It gives me a change to explore a genre that challenging to do especially when colour is not present. My approach is more to an atmospheric photography that stressed on the graphic elements like various shapes, lines, and also composition. This book is not trying to document the biodiversity of the ocean but more to as a means of self-expression. We titled the book Monohydra. Monohydra is a fine art photography book that pictures the atmosphere and nuance of the underwater realm. The word water is Hydra in Greek and since the approach is in the eye of surrealism and mysticism, I think it only fits if I borrow the word from the Greek mythology.

What are your plans for the rest of the day?

Continue my passion in photography and traveling. The opportunity to explore many beautiful places in Indonesia and with 17,000 islands at her disposal, my journey is a life-long love affair with mother nature. I feel lucky to live in Indonesia.

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