Lombok Wallflowers: We talk to the photographer behind a surreal, colorful series of portraits shot of Lombok farmers, fishermen, schoolchildren and island workers

American fine art photographer Jonah Meyers is not afraid of color. 

This is extremely evident in his project “Lombok Wallflowers,” a collection of vibrant, highly-stylized portraits shot—as its name suggests—in Bali’s neighbor to the west, Lombok. 

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

The portraits are of Lombok locals: farmers, fishermen, schoolchildren, and island workers. 

The images are so bright and vivid that the subjects in Meyer’s photos seem to jump off the screen. 

Meyers, who is based in both Singapore and New York, says he wanted to tap into the overwhelming sensory effect of being on the island that so many of us who have traveled in Indonesia can relate to. 

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

“The smell of burning coconut, the frenetic energy of the outdoor markets, the intense colors of the architecture and clothing, the 4 AM call to prayer,” the photographer explains, painting a picture in his artist statement. 

Meyers says he blurs the line between documentary and fiction to, as he puts it, “capture the sense of magical realism one experiences when they find themselves so far removed from what they know.

What brought you to Lombok? How long were you there for?

I was raised in in New Jersey, spent the bulk of my life in New York City, and moved to Singapore two years ago. I travelled to Lombok Island about six years ago on vacation and was blown away by the vibrant intensity of the island and the kindness of its people. I knew I would return one day and did. I shot the project on an off for a year during 2016. There is a distinct rainy season in Lombok. I took this time to come home to Singapore and edit, and returned to island when the sun came out again.

Why did you decide to call this project Lombok Wallflowers?

The island architecture is strikingly colorful. There’s also an abundance of wildflowers growing on the road sides and against the walls of buildings. I found myself drawn to this unique combination of intensely colorful walls and exotic flora and I imagined the subjects as human flowers dressed in contrasting colors perched against these walls. Again, I was after a more sculptural and surreal feeling as opposed to tradition portraiture.

How did you pick your subjects for Lombok Wallflowers? Was there something wallflower-esque about the people you chose to photograph?

I was looking for people with sculptural physiques and striking facial features to act as human sculptures and cast the subjects based on a combination of gut and interviews. For me it’s important see a person and be fascinated by them at first glance. It’s equally important that the subjects understood what I was after and could communicate that through their expression and body movement. For example, in one case I came upon a crew of ten or so coconut farmers who were all very eager to be subjects. So we staged an impromptu audition at the farm, where they each mimicked my body movements and expression. Most of the farmers acted in a very robotic way, except for one, who performed with such ease and natural expression, it was astounding. It was as if he had been doing this all his life.

What went through your mind when framing a photo for this project?

I would say that stylistically, I am not interested in revealing the essence of the individual as a documentary subject.  Rather, my goal is to present a more abstract surreal and sculptural representation of each subject while still maintaining their cultural identity. I’d rather not impress the viewer with a specific message, but rather to allow the viewer to approach the material with their own interpretations.

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

How much work would go into each portrait?

For each portrait, I spent about a week researching locations, looking for subjects and then shooting it. I then spend about a week editing each photo.

Were people pretty receptive to you photographing them?

Half the process is looking for subjects and convincing them to work with me. I spent weeks at a time walking the remote villages of the island, meeting with people and talking to them about the project. Some were very receptive while others were extremely shy. I always carried my tablet to show them the type of work I was developing, which helped. 

And can I also ask you which photo is your favorite of the collection? And which photo did you enjoy taking the most?

I cannot say that I have a favorite image. What I can say is that I most enjoyed shooting the portraits when I collaborated with the subjects creatively.  The woman in blue standing on the chair against the yellow wall was particularly rewarding as we worked together to design the shot.

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

What camera/lenses did you use to shoot this project?

I shoot digital, with a Canon 5D Mark III and a 35 mm lens.

Do you have any plans to have an exhibition?

I don’t have an exhibition planned yet as I just finished the series and it’s my first project. I definitely hope to exhibit them sometime soon.

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Lombok Wallflowers by Jonah Myers

Photos: Jonah Myers

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