We had the good fortune of connecting with sharon joetama and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi sharon, what’s the end goal, career-wise?
Working is a lifelong journey, we are created in this world to work. That is why, often when seniors retired, their health tends to decline. I want to say that in the end, what you work on matters less, as you learn to value other things. Such as the friendship and support you’ll get from your coworker and the continuation of growth in skills, attitude, and mindset. A lot of people got hooked and trapped into the cycle of working and that is the least of what I want.
Having graduated from Art Center College of Design, I then got recruited to work at WET Design. A world-renowned design company. There, I was a photographer under the branding team. After that, I explored building my own small design agency. Now, I work at a CTO company called Rebelworks, as a business developer. Never have I imagined that I would work in a company full of developers and coders. This experience made me realize that you can never predict where you end up or what you enjoy, that is until you try it. I have shifted from being just a photographer into an entrepreneur, exploring the things I’d like to build and exposing myself to the space where I can acquire the skills that I need to build it. The ‘it’ being a company that aims to elevate design in Indonesia through mentorships and working on projects for non-profit companies who otherwise may not be able to afford good design. While also continuing to dream that one day I can be a full time documentary photographer, being sent out to rural areas to document life and its unique diversity.
Recently, my friend said, “I don’t want to work, we don’t have to work right? We can just retire.” I think the answer to that is “No.” So the goal for me working is not to retire, but to find a balance in my work. I work to enjoy life and enjoy the relationships that I have with the people that I’m surrounded with at work, as we journey together. Although, my dream and passion is to be a documentary photographer, it is the relationship that I’ll have with the people that I document that’s most rewarding to me. To be the voice of those who need and desire it. Perhaps, my end goal is not the position or a specific job, but a situation in which that relationship goal of mutual need and connection can be achieved.
In all steps, we have to continue to build it towards that goal that you have. I’m excited to share that I’m currently working on publishing my photo documentary on the concept of “home” and “seniors that are 80+.” I have always hoped that my photography can be a medium to help people reflect back on their life. To not be caught up with the automation of our life, especially when work and routine take over. Despite my profession, I will always work on what’s priority for me. That is to work on my passion, relationship with my family, friends, and those that I love. And of course to work on my confidence to share my thoughts and my perspective in life, through the lens of documenting people’s stories.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Many who have viewed my photo stories often say, “it looks like a screenshot from a movie.” As much as I try to tell the story, I find photography as the best medium for storyteller because it allows the viewer the freedom to take part in the making of the story. To interpret the sequence of images based on their background, experience, and knowledge on the topic. I use my photograph and the people in it merely as a tool to evoke the emotion and thoughts of the viewer. That is why, I am most proud and ecstatic when someone viewed my photograph and say, “this reminds me of … so and so…” It feels very rewarding to remind them of their underlying emotion toward something or someone.
The topic of my personal projects have always been about humanity. Its about how human similar routines and diverse outlook of it. We all breathe, sleep, eat, and feel in a different way. I find it fascinating how a household can be side by side and yet have very different dynamic. Hence the topic I’ve dealt with on my projects are always coming back to the basic questions. The first project I was proud of is when I investigated on the seniors who’s still active and joyous in their life. In order to find people to document, I had to approach strangers and say, “hey I find you interesting, may I document your life?” It was very hard to find people who were willing, let alone finding their secrets, but I believe I’ve overcome it.
Now, I am onto the next hurdle, trying to find a producer to produce a small photobook filled with 5 different photo stories that express the mind of people on home. A project born from feeling of homesick. I really enjoyed doing this project because it helped me understand that people’s concept of home varies a lot. The question that guide this project was “If there is a place or a space or a situation or anything that makes you feel most at home, what, when, or where would that be?” To list a few of the answer, some say: “When I enter read my comic book and enter into the fantasy world,” “When I see the sunset in this specific spot,” “When I work,” “When I’m within the physical walls of the place where I live,” and so on… Through those answer I tried to capture them in those situations. And with that I understand that HOME is different for everyone, to some it is a place of comfort, to some a feeling of security, to some it is a safe space to dream, and to some a walk down memory lane. I truly hope I can make this into a photobook and it can make people react, think, and reflect back on their lives.
As a visual storyteller, I struggled a lot with handling people’s confidentiality and trust. The people I’ve photographed are now like family and friends to me, but prior to the project almost all of them were strangers. I have worked hard to gain their trust and to publish or show their vulnerability to the public’s eye was something that I truly struggle with. Lynn Johnson, a national geographic photographer advise me that “when they let us enter into their life, it is as if we have an invisible promise to bring their story to light.” It took me a long time to have her word sink in and to truly have peace in sharing their story with all its vulnerability. What I’m trying to say is that there is the outside battle; to make things happen, to make projects, to find publishers, to find venues to have your work be published, but there is also inner battles within yourself to keep your intention in check and to honor the trust that has been given to you.
In short, I’m still on my journey to figure out how to make my passion my income without polluting my core intention. The intention to help people look back and reflect on their life, through the images that I put out. I want people to be filled with emotion and trips to memory lane with my photographs as the trigger. Sometimes, career and passion don’t mix, and with photography, the genre is vast that it is hard to focus. But I am determined to find joy and balance in the work that I dreamt of, that is to be a documentary photographer. Little by little, I’m heading there.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The best way to experience LA is to embrace the culture and the people of the city. To go to a local bar near your place, play some pool and chat with the locals. I would definitely bring my best friend on a hike, my favorite is Eaton Canyon trails where you can also enjoy the waterfall. I will also bring my best friend to the community gathering that I have, like the social life in LA is what makes it special. You really have to experience the people. I came to this place as a foreigner, but I’m now surrounded by friends and people that I can call family. I’m not much of a foodie, but I’ll definitely bring my best friend to Afters Ice Cream and Chick Fil’A. Also to walk in Downton LA street near where you get to see the city hub and go around the hipster area as well. Not to forget to go to my favorite dessert and workspace area at Go Cakes in Huntington Drive. I don’t usually bring people to touristy places, but Huntington library is a must. Six Flag if they’re up for the thrill. If you’re into retro gaming, definitely check out this old arcade place in downtown Pasadena called Neon Retro, and also the crazy hype game place in Downton LA called Two Bit Circus. I also love exploring thrift shops because there is just so much interesting stuff you can discover there. Each item seems to have a history of its own, and it’s fun to imagine its story, you always find odd stuff there. And to top it all to go have fun snowboarding is a must if it is winter. If it’s summer, I’d go to Santa Monica beach as well as Venice beach as they both have such a different vibe. Oh my, almost forgot! For those of you who love books, definitely explore Vroman’s book store in Pasadena, they have such an amazing collection of books. And for those of you who love art, going to the Getty Museum is a must. My favorite museum is Norton Simon Museum. You can enter there free as a student, and you get to see a lot of Van Gough, Edgar Degas, and work from various periods. It never fails to inspire me. If you’re into Photography, please go to Fahey Klein Gallery, and all-around La Brea, there are so many interesting galleries near there, as well as cute shops. The list just goes on, remember to just have fun, download apps like Lyft or Uber to make your travel easier, explore and stay safe. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Maneuvering work is not easy. It is not easy especially as a creative person where passion and ego are just calling you on the side all the time. I am very thankful for my sister, Grace Joetama who introduce me to the book “Every Good Endeavour” by Tim Keller. It really opens my eyes to the real purpose of working. Aside from that, I am always thankful for the mentorship of faith and photography through several people that God has put in my life. To list some, Resource Global, SPH Mentorship, Nikon Eddie Adams Workshop, and Panna Mentorship. The learning just never ends. I especially want to shoutout to Grace Liu as well for being such an amazing mentor and friend as she opened my eyes to the importance of mental health and living life in communities and to not journey alone. Too often we all feel alone, especially when we are journeying a path that’s not structured. The creative world is often like so, and it’s ok to not be ok or to not know where to go next. Just be sure to be surrounded by like-minded people who can challenge, push, and support you in figuring out your journey.