Luca Desienna is the brains behind the recently relaunched Gomma and a hugely talented photographer. The pictures featured here are from his My Dearest Javanese Concubine project, an intense and personal vision of the lives of two Javanese people - Tira and Dayang.
I followed this project from its beginnings in a Trans-Islam story: its blend of intensely personal images, sense of commitment from Luca and mix of the emotional and documentary hit the spot for me. It's on the edge of several different things, but somehow Luca's very passionate and personal commitment keeps it from tipping over.
With that in mind, I decided to ask Luca a few questions. Here are his answers.
How did you start the project?
I was working on a commission in Central Java when I met Tira and Dayang. As soon as I saw them, as soon as I sensed their relationship, their world, I felt I needed to show their story.
How did you meet Tira and Gun?
I was following the local transgender community of Jogjakarta together with my local fixer when one afternoon I met them in the courtyard where they were living.
What were your first impressions of them?
That they were two very courageous people. Two people that saw something above all the surface and the scars. That saw something deep inside the other person beyond the form. Beyond the accepted form. These were two people that were living in their universe and it was a universe that I wanted to see, to touch, to document.
What did they make of you?
How did you gain access to their lives?
At first I was a stranger, maybe also an enemy. But as I was trying to see beyond my preconceptions so they did too. I left my photographer’s uniform and behaviour behind and I started to spend time with them…and with the time I became a known face…then a friend. My camera was always with me ( my Contax G2 is always with me). In those situations the line between documenting and living becomes so thin that you almost don’t feel you are actually documenting. You just flow with it.
Then things start to get intimate and you enter someone else’s world more and more. You keep peeling and peeling. Step by step.
Your pictures are very intimate including Tira and Gun having sex. Was there anything you didn't photograph? Was there anything they didn't want you to photograph?
Tira always told me from the beginning to avoid staring at the surface like everyone else always do with her. At one time after a while Tira told me “Now you are welcome to photograph everything…always”.
This was something new for all three of us…and I reckon it wouldn’t have happened this way if any of us had had any sort of experience of this kind of things…this kind of documenting. There was always a kind of fun and playful edge to it, even under the most dramatic moments.
Why did you photograph them in such a blurry, black and white manner? Who are your influences and why didn't you shoot them in colour?
I think it is to do with your first spark. With your first idea…and from the beginning I saw the story in black and white.
I didn’t want some images to be so descriptive, I wanted them to be open,
like a poem… open to personal perceptions. Photography should allow that sometimes…that space where the viewer can lose himself in his own understanding and his own experience.
Why are Tira and Dayang important subjects? Why should they be photographed?
When I happen to spend time with such human beings - yes with those human beings that we labeled as ‘on the edge’ of society – I taste a sort of freedom that we, average westerners, have completely forgotten about it. It’s a mixture of primordial freedom and instinct of survival.
I admired them. I admired Tira and her day by day fight against the outside world. Against its preconceptions and its rules…her fight against her illness. She was against it all but she kept surfing.
You mention that you are going to make a book. Why is it important to have the work in book form?
Because the best way to achieve all of the above is through a book.
The work is very personal, intimate and direct? Was it a collaborative work or was it your vision? What is the purpose of this kind of personal work?
it is not a collaborative work although I have few people helping me on this project.
Tira and Dayang were two people that had only themselves for each other. They have no proper job, no savings, no bank account, no relatives, no car, no computer…by our own perspective they had no future, but they kept on going!
Kept on fighting, kept on laughing and enjoying and kept on praying until their right last day. And what was their fuel if not their love?
What did Tira think of the pictures?
Unfortunately Tira has passed away recently.
What are you going to follow up the work with?
Have no idea right now. At the moment I’m preparing some images of this work for the exhibition at the ElysiumGallery , a contest that was judged by Richard Billingham.