Shattering the Stigma Around Mental Illness With Intimate Bedroom Portraits

Photographer Dwi Asrul Fajar is going behind closed doors to capture young people living with mental illness at their most-real.

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Nov 30 2017, 10:27am

What's mental health look like in a country where even the suggestion of a psychological illness is taboo? Jakarta-based photographer Dwi Asrul Fajar set out to document the daily lives of young adults living with mental illness through a series of intimate bedroom portraits, candids, and environmental still life.

“For me, bedroom pictures give me a wider perspective on my subjects, how they live, what they do, their moods, et-cetera," Asrul told me. "They also help me and other people to dive into the subjects’ world. It’s that sense of familiarity that I wanted to capture, when someone is familiar with something, they’d find it easier to read into my work.”

The series is called A Stream Under the Table, and it presents an eye-opening look at the people affected by something most Indonesians would rather pretend doesn't exist. There's a casualness to Asrul's portraits that shows a mutual trust between the photographer and his subjects—one that was earned by treating them as collaborators and extending them equal control over how they want to be photographed. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the people Asrul photographed for his project and I write about mental health for VICE)

The photo series was recently shown at the Obscura Festival, in Malaysia, and it was included in a photo book released by by Dienacht Publishing, along with works from other participants of the exhibition. He told me the book also includes still life, city shots, and little slice of life scenes that capture his attention.

“I love photographing something that’s strangely beautiful," Asrul said. "I don’t know if there’s pattern or not in the pictures i take. So my pictures are like a cabinet of curiosities, collection of things that interest me, but perhaps mundane to my friends. It’s very random. Perhaps the pattern is that randomness.”

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