After N – Gregory Rusmana

Gregory Rusmana asked me to do a review of his book “After N” which, of course, I didn’t want to do. As an escape plan I tricked him to do this small interview to let him tell the book himself. The conversation itself is being done through emails so there are plenty of holes that should be open for discussions and responses.

Anyway I translate it freely myself (which should be far from perfect), Indonesian readers should scroll down if you want to read the unedited Bahasa Indonesia version. Here you go:

Greg, can you tell us the reason behind “After N”, a vomit of the feeling of loss, to be your second book?

It began in November 2015, I lost seven dogs and an uncle consecutively, and in that particular month I felt that there are no sunny day. I love animals, especially dogs. Many people said, “Dogs are man’s best friend.”, more than that these dogs that I took care of and met on my way, they are like angels to me. My uncle who left me is a Catholic Pastor, a holy man who is also believed in angels too. At that time I really lost the important figures in my life.

During that time too, every time I woke up from my sleep I always prayed that today will be better than yesterday. But what happened is the opposite of my prayer, I kept on finding more (dogs) dead. That is why I cannot forget November 2015, so I put an “N”, November, in the title of the book. After N is a monument. On the inside you could find a collection of photos, I called it a “vomit”, of all the displeasures I have gone through, especially on that particular month. Have you been drunk before? If your head already felt too heavy and you want to end it soon (to feel fresh and conscious), the fastest way for it just to vomit it all out.

How is the book making process and do you have any problems while working on it?

Basically, I have worked on few points for this project since I finished my first book “Outtakes” in October 2014. The big theme is how this cycle of bad luck and good luck always turns, by turning out photos which are strong in both feel and atmosphere. During that time I started to collect old photos and also took pictures with the same intensity. My first title for it is “Black Clouds”. Two months from that, there’s a Trent Parke’s book “ The Black Rose”, so I scraped that title because it is too similar and I don’t like it. I then progressed it without a title until finally I came up with “After N” after that November 2015 events.

The book making process I started in mid 2016, starting from editing, layout, design, and making a few dummys, until finally I felt that it is done at September 2016. I don’t feel I have a real problem really but that’s probably because I have been so absorbed in photography, I don’t really notice and remember any problems. It just flows. Like when you fell in love, you’ll do anything for the girl you loved. Although since 2011 I worked as a factory labor, which took a third of my daily time and has nothing to do with photography, it somehow form a random life pattern which actually made me felt more creative and a bit cunning with my time management. Also during the making of After N, I am married, her name is Ria. Plenty of people said that married life will hamper the creative works. I don’t believe so. Ria is a woman who put more fire in my life.

Based on the lack of information on the book, I assumed that you made this book without collaborations, such as with a designer etc. After twice self publishing your own books, what have you gain from that process? Are there any room for improvements or things that you wanted to avoid making in the process of making your next photobooks?

I don’t know whether in the future I will work with a designer, editor, or other publishers, I don’t know and doesn’t want to limit myself for that kind of things. In working on my two books, I only work with Aji Susanto Anom. He helped me in making sure something that I am not sure of yet, especially in the editing process, such as choosing similar photographs. As a photographer, it is very important for us to have a trusted sparring partner who could honestly tell us whether the work is enough, too much, or need something more. I prefer when someone told me “man, what kind of garbage is this?!” instead of, “this is good, lets publish it!”, when instead the work itself is still weak. Sometimes we get too confident with work that actually is still premature.

I worked the design and layout of After N myself. Since I was a little boy I liked to draw. In 2006-2008, there’s a boom of graffiti and mural in Solo. I like to take photos of it from Solo to Yogyakarta. The experience introduced me to the world of street art which is very cool for me. There’s art everywhere. For my two books I tried to experiment with design, yes it is overconfident from my side, because I never went to an art or design school. I learn about it myself. I am very happy when I could design my own books. For me it is an valuable art lesson.

Regarding the book itself, the urgent thing is about production. I envy the production in Jakarta which, for me, has far better quality than in Solo. When I get the chance to be an observer in Pannafoto’s photobook workshop with Markus Schaden (The Photobook Museum), I am surprised with the book dummy results from the participants which all are being printed in Jakarta. In Solo, there is no printing place who can print that good. Jakarta also have more paper choices. That is one of my homework until now in Solo.

You are also active in Srawung PF community in Solo. There’s a tendency for people who only knew you guys from your works that you guys have a similar visual approach. Is the approach is Srawung characteristic or is it something else?

The guys in Srawung, they all very passionate. I am happy to have a dynamic with them, because they are so open with anything new in photography and art. So our conversations does not stop in only photography, but anything! Last week me, Aji, and Ian talked about the music group NDX AKA which is a rapper and DJ collaboration, playing Dangdut Koplo mixed with Hip Hop, which for us is very cool.

Plenty people said that Solo has its own characteristics. We are happy to hear that because it means that our works has reached them well.

Personally, I dont want to pin my works to a certain characteristics. I think it will limit myself and make me suffer. I liked it better when someone else told me that my photos felt A, B, C, etc. In my first book I played with street photography, in my second one I create a sense from a group of photos, next for my third book I want to tell about my little family. In short I want to stay wild. Not being limited and or limit my love affair with photography.

As one of the photobook maker in Indonesia, which are not many yet but the numbers keep rising, what do you want to see in Indonesia photobook scene?

Last year I have predicted that in 2017 the Indonesian photobook scene will be growing. In January we already saw more than two new photobooks being released. It’s a very good sign. As I told you in Goethe last year Dit, we need a pool of Indonesian photobooks. We already have the producers, sellers, and buyers. Which we need right now is the market. Lets say “Indonesian Photobook Market”, in it there are space to sell, discussion, review, and interview about anything regarding Indonesian photobooks.

Markus Schaden told me, “You don’t need to follow photobooks contest or exhibitions out there. They are the same as you guys here. You also have to send your book here and there which will cost a lot and still have to compete with hundreds of others which already has easier access. Why always refer there? Now you have a bright future for photography in Indonesia which I am sure one day you will show it to the world.” The words left a deep mark on myself and I don’t think there’s anything wrong to fight for it.

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