Dewi Natalia, also known as “ForAsiaCheers” online, is a travel photographer from Indonesia. Her work focuses mostly on journalistic-style portraiture, capturing raw moments of people’s everyday lives across Asia. She aims to use photography to transform the way we see each other and is currently on a mission to photograph in every Asian country.
In our interview with Dewi, we glimpse into her creative community, meet other photographers who inspire her, and learn about the impact she hopes to make through her photography.
(Note: Dewi’s answers were edited for clarity with her permission, as English is not her native language.)
Where did the title “For Asia Cheers” come from?
I was in China, in the city called Nanjing, visiting a vintage store. I saw an old-school Chinese mug that said: “For China Cheers,” so I thought that would be cool for my Instagram name. After some time, though, I began not only traveling in China. I started to travel through South Asia and Bangladesh, so I changed my name to “FOR ASIA CHEERS,” so that I could post about more than one country. Plus, I have a dream to conquer all over Asia.
In which countries have you photographed?
Southeast Asia: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia
South Asia: Nepal, Bangladesh, East India
East Asia: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan
Describe the moment you realized you were a photographer.
The moment when I got my legit Sony Alpha A6000 😀 and people trusted me to shoot for work. And someone said I am extremely talented. I still just have that one camera and two lenses, a 19mm Sigma and 35mm Nikon.
What is the creative community like in Indonesia?
I am a pretty independent artist and photographer. Very rarely do I go to big photography talks or meetups, but I try to connect with different photographers all over Asia. Sometimes the people are cool, and other times they are hard to get along with. There is a photography and art community here, but I’m more interested in one-on-one hangouts and sharing my thoughts and experiences in that way.
I do collaborate with different artists in Bali. I collaborated with a tattoo artist who did the cover for my foto zine project and exhibition flyer. Most artists are pretty stoked if I just give them my foto zine and don’t even ask for money for their artwork in return. Well, this is because we are all homies. 😀
I don’t really promote my work in Indonesia that much because I get more opportunities sharing my work outside of Indonesia. For example, my foto zine gets more sales overseas than among Indonesian people. Indonesian people aren’t really into photography books that much. Only certain people are interested and appreciative of the art of a photography book.
What country or culture have you most enjoyed connecting with through photography?
Myanmar and Cambodia. People were pretty open to making portraits with me. Most of the time I got to keep all shots from these two countries. I also liked the cheap beer here. The best moment is when you finish street shooting, get keeper shots, and then go drink cold beer with another photog friend.
How often are you traveling and photographing? Are you doing it full-time?
Traveling and photographing is part of my life, so yes, I do this full-time… living the dream, haha. Most of the time I stay home for two months in Bali, earning money from freelance jobs and selling my foto zine, then I leave to new countries.
When you think of the word ‘successful,’ who comes to mind?
Eric Kim’s words. He writes in his blog that if you are proud of your own photos, you are successful.
For me success is when you can be content with yourself and not compare yourself with others. Success is never comparison. Success is judging yourself by your own ruler.
What inspires you?
I will tell you about a few different people who inspire me:
There is a photographer named Eric Kim. I love all his wisdom, and his blog and writing about photography. When I feel uninspired I just read through all his blogs and download all his writing. He really encourages me to have faith in myself and my photography work.
A friend from China named Eric Lai. We became friends when we met up for real in Shanghai – it all started from a social media meeting. I had stumbled upon his Instagram account through the hashtag #Xinjiang and I saw his film photography work on his profile; some were street life photos and portraits of people from India and China. After I saw his work, I thought, “hmm, yeah, I should shoot people’s faces, too, like him.” 😀 Eric really inspired me to shoot street photography and make portraits more and discover my own style.
Jeremy Snell. I like the way he edits and his use of color. Though I haven’t met him yet, I follow his social media account as my inspiration for my own photography work.
The last one is my friend from Canada, a filmmaker named Rob Mentov. I’m inspired by his life as a filmmaker because he has encouraged me to see what’s going in the world more and figure out how to take part in helping others through one’s talent.
Do you have any particular habits that are a part of you creative process?
Brewing coffee before shooting and editing photos.
Traveling to new countries is how I get into my creative process.
And getting a better perspective of my own photography by hanging out with other photographers.
What is your favorite image you have shot? And why? Describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, context, etc.
Holi, Yaosang, the festival in North East India. I really love portraits and have a strong interest with color, which is why I went to India just to photograph the Holi Festival. Everyone at the festival was full of color. Also, India is heaven for street photography, but it’s not easy to shoot in India, especially as girl who’s solo-traveling through the country. Still, the photos turned out awesome, and I think the challenge and experience of photographing in intense countries is a highlight for me; it’s good preparation for me in visiting other more intense countries in the future.
If you could open a door and go anywhere, where would you go? Why?
Central Asia (the “stans” countries) and the rest of South Asia, like Afghanistan and Bhutan.
It’s pretty expensive to go to Central Asia, and it’s not easy to apply for visas. Most of the countries I want to visit are ones that most people don’t know much about. I think it’s cooler to be in the places where it’s really dangerous and hard to get in. The challenge and the process of getting into these countries where travelers don’t go makes it more epic and interesting to me.
What impact are you trying to make through your work?
I am trying make a photo zine every time I come back from new countries. I also want to share about my experiences through stories submitted as photo essays to different travel blogs or magazines. It’s also important to me that I connect with local photographers in every country I visit and go street shooting with them and get to know them.
Dane Johnson was the former Editor of PHLEARN Magazine, where he helped creatives share their stories. Dane currently is the co-founder of Clementine Coffee Roasters and he accepts most assertions of his hipster-ness and millennialism without flinching.