Brooklyn, New York-based Hamzeh Zahran grew up in the capital of Jordan, Amman. As an emerging photographer, Zahran takes pride in the use of his Leica M6 by shooting in film, something he has continually practiced for the past 3 years. Using photography almost as a healing and soothing practice, Zahran admits it was his only outlet during a prolonged illness. Now he shares with us a set of vibrant and compelling images from West Java, showing daily life of Indonesians captured with his Leica M6.

How would you describe your photography?

My photographic processes consist of capturing my subject in their natural state. This process usually consists of interacting with people initially, creating a comfortable atmosphere, that allows me to take photographs of my subjects. To further explore the cultural and slowly overcome the language barrier by using my camera as a tool to record these interactions.

How did you first become interested in Leica?

I started off with a point and shoot film camera that my uncle got me, then switched to Digital SLR’s, but did not like how big the camera’s are. They weighted a lot and were difficult to carry around all day. I wanted something small and more reliable then a point and shoot camera that I can carry with me at all times. I had a couple of friends who actually use Leica film and digital bodies, and from the time I saw how small the body/lenses are and the quality of the images that it produces, I fell in love, and had to get my hands on one.

The images you share tell a story by themselves. What was the purpose of your trip to West Java?

I was invited by a friend of mine to go on this trip with him while he was doing some research about the antique market in West Java. So, my purpose was to explore the region and get a better sense of what West Java is like.

I didn’t know what I’d find, but once I landed in Jakarta, I knew that I needed to capture images across the language barrier that would speak to contemporary culture.

The almost vintage, grainy look on the pictures make the whole viewing experience almost as if it was a documentary. What’s your experience in shooting with the M6 and film?

Honestly, that’s why I use film for all of my projects. I love the old grainy look that I can achieve using color or black and white film that I cannot achieve with a digital camera. I’ve shot photos with other 35mm cameras, and medium formats. But, never had the same experience like I do every time I use the M6.

I love how small and compact the camera is. It is great when traveling around places like West Java, People aren’t that intimated by the size of the camera and they don’t give to much attention to it, which is always a great thing to have as a photographer.

You shot the entire project with Portra 400 film. The vibrant skin tones and green of the landscapes in the backgrounds are very well achieved. Were you considering other film, what led you to use this one?

When this trip was first planned I was considering using Tri-x for the entire project. But, while researching the region and reading more about the tropical zone, I realized that I needed to capture the vibrant colors of the region. That’s why I chose Portra 400 film, which offer great, high-speed exposure latitude and an extremely fine grain and balanced saturation that works well in different situations.

Many of the shots depict a day-to-day activity of the people in this region. The train, the market, the restaurant, etc. How did you immerse yourself into the community and document their lives?

I grew up in Amman, Jordan, which is a culture that is based on collective lifestyle. Indonesian culture has some similar dynamics, so, in way I felt very comfortable traveling around and connecting with people even thought I did not speak their language. This of course, made it much easier for me to work while using my camera to documenting the community and their lives.


© Hamzeh Zahran

This image shows an impacting photograph of a hand with amputations and finger deformations. Is there a story behind this image?

The guy behind this photograph was one of the guards at the national park in Pangandaran, which is a small fishing village on the south coast. He was born with this hand deformation, which he credited to his father’s reluctance to free a large crab that was in his fishing net and broke one of its Dactyl (movable fingers) while his mother was pregnant with him. The spirit of the crab returned and took his finger as a revenge. Prior to sharing this true story he cracked a few jokes about his wife cutting it off for a variety of reasons!

Rural and agricultural labor is very common in this region. What is your perception of this now that you have been there and explored the humid jungles of the area?

Farming and fishing is part of the Indonesian culture. These seem to be the jobs most men and women do for living in the countryside where I was traveling. My perception of that region is that people in West Java live a very simple life. They are much less dependent on technology, maintain a more collectivist lifestyle. This is familiar to me as a Jordanian, but very different than the individualistic culture of New York City, where I now live.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline you’d like to share with readers, or anything else you’d like to add?

I’m currently working on two different projects in New York City and planning for another trip overseas. One of the projects in New York City that I’ve been working on starting at the end of last year is called “Motion”. It is a skateboarding based project. It is up on the site with other stuff for readers to check out.

To know more about Hamzeh Zahran’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.