Anton Kollo - Camera Connections
The Canberra-based photographer connects to others -and to himself- via his craft.
Indonesian expatriate Anton Kollo arrived in Canberra seven years ago with a desire to see and be seen. Back home, he felt constrained by pressures -societal, cultural, familial– to fit into one column or another, and it was thanks to his early experience in the nation’s capital that both his personal and artistic identities began to bloom.
While studying at university and earning a crust through manual labour, Anton explored both the still and moving image, breaking open his artistic eye and building up his portfolio. Along the way, he has gained considerable experience in many industries such as commercial, fashion, travel, wedding, and lifestyle.
Anton has since realised his affinity with and knack for the personal, expressive and artful. His work is big and dramatic yet intimate and idiosyncratic. Artist first, technician second – Anton might come at his highly shareable work from different angles using different mediums, but always from a deeply felt place.
We sat down with Anton to talk about the relationship between photography and personal history, genuine artistry, and themes of masculinity.
What is your earliest memory of photography?
I grew up in the 90s. Back then, I remember my parents had this...I don’t remember the brand...but this very small camera. What I remember most, though, is the little black film roll. I didn’t know what they were at the time, but we played around with them. Then after seeing the roll developed into actual photos, I thought "this is cool".
You’re talking about the actual little black cannister you load into a film camera?
Yeah. It was because some of them were broken or you couldn’t use them, so my parents would just chuck them around the house. And we as kids, we’d play around with them.
The first time I actually tried taking photos was in 2016. At the time, Instagram had just started becoming a photo app. At the time, I saw this guy and he was from Bali. I’m from Indonesia, by the way, and seeing someone who looked like me, had the same skin as me, the same hair colour as me, get published on this big platform...
...There was this page at the time called ‘Beautiful Destination’ and they featured him as an upcoming creator. I thought, if an island boy can make it, I could probably try this too.
And were you in Australia at the time?
I arrived here in October 2016, and saw this article in November or December. So yes, two months after.
What brought you over here?
I came here to do film production at the University of Canberra, for three years. I fell in love with videography at first, it was my main thing. But then out of nowhere, because of the article on the guy from Indonesia that I saw, and how I related to him, I thought I could do something about photography too.
How did your love of videography develop?
I always considered myself an artist. At the time, I didn’t know which platform to best use my artistic eye – where I could apply my creativity. I love music a lot, and I think music was good but too hard. Then videography came along and it sounded a bit easier to do – or at least, I could express my feelings better. I could tell more stories with it, and later, with photography.
So, in Indonesia, were you doing some videography?
A bit. Just some home videos. Random things of me and my friends hanging out. We’d go to the city and shoot stuff. Nothing very interesting. I had a camera, and I just went and did something with it.
You can look back now and say what you shot was not very interesting, but you were probably learning at the time.
Yes, that’s very true. I was. I think I just wanted to get into the industry, but back then I wasn’t as skilled or as knowledgeable as I am now.
What attracted you to Canberra? Was it always the plan to come to Australia?
I think one of the most important things in photography is editing. At the time, I had very limited skill in that area. After seeing his work, while back home for a holiday for a month, I spent almost every day – five to six hours every day – learning to edit. I wanted to edit the way he edited his photos.
I feel as if you could tell stories with colours and textures that could relate more to the people that you wanted to tell the stories to, if that makes sense. It enhances the story. That’s why in the beginning of this journey I really invested in editing because everyone can take good photos – but with editing and layering you can do way more than taking photos.
So now, when you take photos, are you thinking about the editing before or while you take them?
Before taking photos I usually prepare a mood board. So, I sort of know where I want to go and what kind of edit I want to apply. But I think for me, it is good to have a direction of where I want to go with the photos or an idea of what kind of shot I want to get. But at the same time, I’m just letting it flow because sometimes the photos that you don't prepare for come out the best. So, it's a combination of both - preparation but then just live in the moment.
After teaching yourself to edit and coming back to Australia – did you start looking for work or start a social media account? What did you do to get things started?
At the time, I had about 300 followers. Just random stuff I posted on Instagram and my followers were all friends from high school, or family. After coming back to Australia, I made an effort to go take photos after uni or work, just taking my camera with me and practice my eye, more than practice the technical side. To train my eyes.
Did you see an immediate improvement in the quality of your photos?
I would say yes, because I was aware that this was something I could do. I was aware that, okay, if I want to be good at this, I have to go out. Not every day, but when I have free time. When I started posting the results, I saw people were interested in my work and it gave me more confidence, it made me want to go out and take more photos.
You now have over 20,000 followers. That’s a big jump. What was your first paid job?
In videography or photography?
I think the first came from videography. I was still studying at the time and there was this club here in Canberra. I used to work in construction and we were building this club and I got to know the owner. Once we finished the building, the owner asked me if I wanted to make a promotional video for them. That was my first bit of video work.
I didn’t know what to charge because I was so new. I called a really good friend of mine and said “is $300 too much for this?” And she said just to take it because it was my first gig.
Did the owner provide the equipment?
No, it was all my equipment. I already owned it. While I was working in construction, I was preparing to do videography and photography full time. I could save money along the way, so I bought a gimbal and a camera and other equipment.
So, once I got the video to them, they were really happy. I was really happy. But that was it. There was no video work for a bit after that. Now, looking back, it’s because I didn’t even try to promote my work.
You didn’t take advantage of the opportunity?
Exactly. I guess I was just…waiting? For what, I don’t know. I didn’t know how to market myself like I do now. I was completely green.
And with photography, when did you start creating your ‘work’ rather than just training your eye and posting on social?
One of the biggest things that happened to me with photography is that in 2016 or 2017, I joined a collective exhibition.
It was a kind of exhibition for like 20 artists - different kinds of artists from graphic designers, musicians, videographers and each artist would have their own area. It was in a big gallery, well not a gallery, a big space – like a hotel or something. I don't remember exactly.
But yeah, you have an area where you could bring your photos and just hang them on the wall and have people come and look. Maybe some people buy stuff, maybe not. And that was the first time I was getting my work out there. Although it wasn't like a paid gig - it was an opportunity to let my work be seen publicly for local people here.
How did you find that collective?
I had a friend who had exhibited with them already, the previous year. You apply with them on a website. You send your work and they decide whether or not you can exhibit with them.
And how did it go?
Really well. I didn’t sell anything and it was really humbling. But I think there is just something about sharing a room with creative people. It’s inspiring and makes you want to do more creative work in your industry, or to collaborate more. It pushes you to go further in your creative journey.
I think it’s a really good point that being around other creative people can inspire more creativity.
Then around a month after that I had a friend who has a friend who just finished uni. And she was looking for a headshot for her LinkedIn profile so she could apply for a job. It was the first photo gig I had done and I was very happy.
But I think back now and there’s so much more I could have done.
She was happy, though?
She was very happy. She got the photo she wanted.
Okay, so as a little experiment, what do you think you would have done differently if you took the photo now?
First, I would change the location as the one we used just wasn’t interesting. It didn’t add anything to the photo. I would also tell her to use some clothes that were a bit more professional – I would ask her for inspiration photos and send her photos too. I’d figure out the kind of vibe I’d want to go with and run it by her.
Also, there was no lighting at all. I kind of knew how to compose an image so thought I could just click the button. But you live and you learn.
You talked about training your eye. How do you think it has developed over time. Can you even put your ‘way of seeing’ into words?
That’s a good question. I get excited by things sometimes. Like, for example, when I'm driving with my friends – they drive and I’m in the passenger seat. Sometimes I just yell in a way because I see something that excites me. Because I see it through the lens of a camera. For them. It's a normal thing. But for me, it's like, we have to stop here. We have to park the car because I see something that's unplanned.
Can you think of an example?
When we were in the South Coast, driving to Narooma. And we are driving to this hill and there were three white horses on top of it – just this green Hill and these three white horses in front of a blue background and some white clouds. In my head I think that this could be like one of the best photos I have ever taken.
And did you take it?
I didn't, because my friend didn't want to stop. Granted, we were in the middle of a road that you cannot stop along.
Haha. Okay, fair enough. I’ve noticed with your work that there's a bit of a gravitation towards the sun and the moon?
What's going on there?
I’m a big energy person. I gravitate towards good energies and people with good energies. And I don’t know about you but there’s something about the moon that’s very calming. I think you can sit there and just talk to the moon if you want to. There’s something so calming and serene about it. It brings you back to nature in a way.
You can get clarity.
Yeah. Also, with the moon, you could take many photos of it and each would tell a different story depending if it’s a full moon or half-moon, or what’s happening with the foreground or the background. I feel like it’s just cinematic. It’s cool.
There’s definitely a cinematic, dramatic, big emotional quality to your photos. Is that a conscious thing?
When I started taking photos and making videos, I made a conscious decision that I would like whatever work I put out there to move people or touch their emotions in some way. To grab their attention. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer. I want to grab their emotions and make them actually stop what they’re doing for three seconds.
There is something about emotion that I’m very connected with.
Are you a dramatic person, do you think?
I’m an emotional being.
You have big feelings.
Yeah, and I have to feel things about my artwork. If I don’t feel something about it, I wouldn’t be posting anything.
I’m curious about The Sound of Water project on your website.
I went to visit some of my friends in their apartment and there was this artist - a local artist here. Her name is Tarini. And they were talking about her music. About doing mixing or something about the music and I got to hear it. And I just felt really connected to the music.
I’d wanted to do collaborations with a Canberra artist using her music, and some sort of like dance. I contacted this person named Nicolas and I said “hey, this is my idea. I want to do a dance video with a chair in a lake near where I live". And he was like “cool”. We didn't rehearse anything. One afternoon, I just came with my chair, and he came, and we started shooting. And The Sound of Water became the final video.
Did you have the song playing on set?
No! That’s a good idea! [Covers his face in shame]. We had another song playing in the background. I know, I know! I don’t know why. It was completely random. Nicolas brought a speaker with him because he needed something to dance along with...
Well, it worked! It synced up quite nicely...
Yeah, I think we chose a song that was a similar tempo.
Does that project make you want to do more of that kind of thing? It seems to suit you...
Yep! Absolutely! That’s my vibe. I like the music video feel but not the typical music video.
If for some reason every photo you’ve ever taken was going to be destroyed except for one, which would you keep?
That’s a great question! I have two. The first one is on my Instagram from September 2021 – it’s the collection with the man and the yellow Australian flowers, I don’t know the name.
What’s the significance of that photo?
I love to play with gender. The theme for these at the time was masculinity. I believe that masculinity comes in different forms. You can be a man and dress and be however you want. As long as you are confident in yourself – you could be working in construction, or you could be working as a model, or as a designer, and it doesn’t take out the man from who you are.
Growing up where I grew up, there was an idea that you had to be a certain kind of a man to be respected.
It’s the same in our society – what makes up a ‘typical bloke’. But masculinity is an individual thing.
I don’t want to speak for other men, but in general, men don’t express their emotions very well, or at least, they don’t do it loosely. You can play with flowers and that’s okay.
I think it’s a very masculine photo.
Exactly. I wanted to show something that is artistic but also speaks to people.
I think it can be quite problematic or even dangerous for men to repress their emotional side.
The peer pressure is dangerous. Most of us keep our feelings to ourselves and because of that – mental health issues, suicide, all these problems. There’s a stigma around expression. It’s considered a feminine thing to do. I think the movement in the opposite direction, that conversation, has already started, and I want to contribute to it.
Do you think that younger men are starting to feel more comfortable expressing their emotion?
Absolutely. I feel like it's a generational thing and that younger men are more exposed to the media and social media and people being themselves without being scared of others. I play beach volleyball, semi-professional, and trained with 20-year-old guys, and they are very comfortable in sharing their thoughts, their feelings about themselves, their point of view of things. What I’m trying to say is that talking about that stuff is less detrimental now than before.
Do you have any concrete plans to further explore what constitutes masculinity going forward?
One of the reasons I showed that image is because my biggest plan for the year is that I want to have an exhibition. I’m in the pre-production process. I want to have an exhibition where the main concept is masculinity. I want to really explore it, make art out of it, and have it seen by people.
I want to make a series of maybe 10 or 15 images with male models of different races. I’m doing a casting process with those who feel very comfortable sharing and being emotional and using their body without worrying about being judged. One of the main requirements was that I want you to be as expressive as you can be, as you want to be. The plan is to do it in November. I’m not sure exactly what it’s going to be but that’s where I’m at with the idea.
Do you mostly work with those who are already confident or have you had to help some come out of their shell in front of the camera?
I usually work with those that are already confident. People mostly reach out to me because they already like the vibe that I’m giving out in my creative work. Those people are usually already expressive.
With those that are not very expressive, or those where expression is a new area for them – it would be very hard for both sides. I would be a bit uncomfortable telling them to do things that they’re not comfortable doing. It takes time for someone to open up about all those things.
If someone starting out in photography was struggling to find their own unique perspective or artistic voice, what would you tell them?
I would say that sometimes it’s helpful to look deeper into your life - through your family, through your childhood. I think when you try to copy someone's work, people can see that it is not natural to you. It could be great, but you won't feel like the proudest of it, because it just doesn't connect to your personal life.
Take a break, if you need it, just go for a solo trip. Looking into yourself is more important than creating quantity. A bit of copying is fine, but I think at some point you'll get so tired of producing things that you don't even know if you like them, you know?
For me, it’s easy to see how my connection with to my parents, to a family where we don't really share our feelings, or hug each other, that I want to create an environment for myself and others that says “it could be better”.
Do you think your experience as a photographer has made you understand yourself more?
Absolutely. At one point, I was too scared to see myself in front of the camera. I didn’t think I was an attractive man or even photogenic at all. And that was because in the world I grew up in, we weren’t complimenting each other. We never said “oh, you look great today”, or “I like your smile”. I grew up in a society where my skin colour is not considered beautiful, you know? After what we are talking about, I think, photography isn’t just my job, it helps me to become a better person... in a way?
It's your therapy.
Exactly! That’s why sometimes I go with my camera to get my therapy session. I’m happy that I’ve found my voice. I feel that you can spend years copying others and trying to look cool, but that’s all just part of the creative journey.