My girlfriend and I spent our 2015 New Year’s holiday in my father’s hometown. It’s a little town that my family annually visit during Eid-al-Fitr holidays. I always love it there because the air is cool and clear and the locals are nice. Located 48 km south of Bandung, it’s far from any distressing sound and sight of traffic and you can let your urban eyes drink from the picturesque views like these: During our time, we had lunch in this little empty warung nasi (hence warnas). The anonymity of the warnas and how empty it was reminded me of Edward Hopper’s painting.
I came across Automat (featured above) when I stumbled upon an article in which the contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton discusses about the sadness relief that anonymous places can offer when the comfort of our own home has failed.
Automat is a picture of sadness – and yet it is not a sad picture. There can be something enticing, even charming, about anonymous diners. The lack of domesticity, the bright lights and anonymous furniture offer a relief from what can be the false comforts of home. It may be easier to give way to sadness here than in a cosy living room with wallpaper and framed photos. Home often appears to have betrayed Hopper’s characters; something has happened there that forces them out into the night and onto the road. The twenty-four-hour diner, the train station waiting room or motel are sanctuaries for those who have, for sound reasons, failed to find a place in the ordinary world of relationships and community.
I liked both the painting and the commentary and had hoped ever since that I could re-create it someday with V, film and my analog camera.
Back to our holiday story, there was no one besides us dining in the warnas that day so we were free to move anywhere we liked. When Automat crossed my mind, I immediately asked V to sit on the table in the corner. Then I got her on the right pose, and took a single shot (yes, a single shot, because it’s film we’re talking about).
Months passed, the roll stayed undeveloped. I even started to forget what’s on it. I’ve mentioned before that film developing cost is not really friendly here, especially during our personal financial crisis. But I determined to get at least one of my undeveloped rolls to the lab.
So, on one Saturday late afternoon, I took the fresh Fujicolor Superia 200 to Seni Abadi, had it developed and picked up the result the next day. (On a side note, they restock their Kodak collections and raised the film developing price by IDR 27K (normal resolution) and IDR 37K (hi-res) per roll. It breaks my heart to pieces)
I must say I’m satisfied with the result. I’m also surprised that I got the exposure just right, considering the light meter on my Yashica is long dead and I have to adjust the settings by hunches. The tone that Superia brings to this photo is so remarkable that it perfectly sets the mood I aim to achieve.
So, it came out quite resembling Automat I guess, except it took place in a warung nasi, with the iconic Lion Star chairs, kerupuk rorombeheun, and Coca-cola-Fanta-Sprite-Teh Botol bottles decorating the window sill. It’s okay if you can’t agree, but in my defense at least it’s in the same ballpark: a lone figure in an anonymous eating place in some strange town.
But my fondness for the photo is beyond that. There is one thing that makes it resonate greatly with me. Despite it’s my sweet girlfriend who’s featured here, this is me, you know? It’s like looking at me, myself: reserved individual who prefers a company of a book to a person yet sometimes, strangely, longs for human touch a.k.a social interaction. But this so called human touch is always out the window, leaving me as an observer not the participant because I’m always on the other side of the glass that is my shyness. It feels sad sometimes *sob quietly*.
Either way, this is by far the most personal piece I’ve ever produced *pat my own back*.
Featured image courtesy of Edward Hopper, taken from the artist’s official site, edwardhopper.net.