Shattering the Stigma Around Mental Illness with Intimate Bedroom Portraits

Indonesian 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 29 2017, 10:00pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

What does 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, etcetera," Fajar told me. "They also help me and other people to dive into the world of the subject. It’s that sense of familiarity that I wanted to capture; when someone is familiar with something, they 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 didn't exist. There's a casualness to Fajar'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 Fajar 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 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," Fajar said. "I don’t know if there’s a pattern or not in the pictures I take. So my pictures are like a cabinet of curiosities—a 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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