Monday’s Photography Inspiration – Kassian Cephas

Kassian Cephas was a Javanese photographer of the court of the Yogyakarta Sultanate. He was the first indigenous person from Indonesia to become a professional photographer and was trained at the request of Sultan Hamengkubuwana VI (r. 1855–1877).

As a youth, Cephas became a pupil of Protestant Christian missionary Christina Petronella Philips-Steven and followed her to nearby Bagelen, Purworejo. He was baptised there on 27 December 1860 at the age of fifteen and took the name of Cephas, the Aramaic equivalent of Saint Peter’s name, as his baptismal name. He began using Cephas as a family name following his baptism.

Upon Cephas’ return to Yogyakarta in the early 1860s, he began training under Simon Willem Camerik, a member of the civil militia and court photographer of the Yogyakarta Sultanate. His training was conducted at the request of Sultan Hamengkubuwana VI, who noted his talent for photography. He became the appointed court painter and photographer as early as 1871.

The crown prince of Yogyakarta, circa 1919
The crown prince of Yogyakarta, circa 1919, Photographer Kassian Cephas

Cephas’ studio was located on the second floor of the building where he and his wife lived in Yogyakarta’s Lodji Ketjil Wetan area, now known as Major Suryotomo Street. His photography business was not the only one established in the area during this time period. Aside from portrait photography, Cephas also produced many works on buildings and ancient monuments. This included photographs of the Taman Sari Water Castle (1884) for the Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences.

Young Javanese woman in the photo studio of Céphas at Yogyakarta, circa 1900
Young Javanese woman in the photo studio of Céphas at Yogyakarta, circa 1900, Photographer Kassian Cephas
Javanese woman, circa 1900
Javanese woman, circa 1900, Photographer Kassian Cephas
Young woman massaged by a child in Java, 1901
Young woman massaged by a child in Java, 1901, Photographer Kassian Cephas

After becoming a court photographer, he began working on portrait photography for members of the royal family, as well as documentary work for the Dutch Archaeological Union. Cephas is recognised for his contributions to preserving Java’s cultural heritage through membership in the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and an honorary gold medal of the Order of Orange-Nassau.

Tjandi Prambanan, 1889
Tjandi Prambanan, 1889, Photographer Kassian Cephas
Tjandi Prambanan, 1889
Tjandi Prambanan, 1889, Photographer Kassian Cephas

His work first appeared for a wider public in 1888 in the publication In den Kedaton te Jogjåkartå by Isaäc Groneman. The book included 16 collotype prints of the art of HinduJavanese dances. Groneman wished to generate interest in this culture in the Netherlands and requested permission from Sultan Hamengkubuwana VII for Cephas to photograph the dance scenes. The publication was originally prepared by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, but the high cost of collotype prints forced the institute to abandon it. In keeping with the technological advances of photography, Cephas bought a new camera in 1886 which enabled him to capture pictures in 1/400th of a second. This allowed the subjects to be photographed more quickly rather than having to remain still for several moments. These pictures were often presented as farewell presents to European elites when they left Yogyakarta to return to Europe and to Dutch civil servants.

Beksan Bondoboyodans at Yogyakarta, circa 1895
Beksan Bondoboyodans at Yogyakarta, circa 1895, Photographer Kassian Cephas

In 1889, the Archaeological Union (Archaeologische Vereeniging) began efforts to study and preserve monuments of the Hindu Javanese civilization in Central Java. One of the locations having high priority in the union’s efforts was the temple of Prambanan, part of the larger complex attributed to the legend of Loro Jonggrang. Cephas was assigned to photograph the site, while his eldest son Sem drew the buildings’ profiles and ground plans. Groneman submitted the photographs and descriptions made by Cephas to the Royal Institute in 1891, but it would not be published until 1893 because of the high reproduction costs. The final publication included 62 collotypes depicting Prambanan and the surrounding temples.

1889-1890, Photographer Kassian
1889-1890, Photographer Kassian Cephas

Cephas was also credited with photographing the Borobudur temple complex after its hidden base was discovered in 1885 by the union’s first chairman. The base was briefly uncovered in 1890 to be photographed and then covered again in 1891. Because Cephas only received one-third of the original subsidy from the government, he was not able to complete the 300 photographs calculated to be needed for the project. Each photographic plate would have required one-half hour to develop with the dry gelatin process for a total of 150 hours. In all, only 160 segments of the base’s reliefs were photographed, and an additional four photographs were made to provide a general overview for the site. The series was published 30 years later by the Royal Institute in a collotype collection.

Carpenters, presumably at Yogyakarta, circa 1880
Carpenters, presumably at Yogyakarta, circa 1880, Photographer Kassian Cephas

Cephas retired from photography around the age of 60. He died at the age of 67 due to illness. The family’s photography business ended several years later when his son Sem Cephas died on 20 March 1918 in a horseriding accident. Although both Cephas and his son were accomplished court photographers, Cephas was the most important of the two and was the first Javanese person (and therefore first indigenous Indonesian) to become a professional photographer.

A weaver, presumably at Yogyakarta, circa 1880
A weaver, presumably at Yogyakarta, circa 1880, Photographer Kassian Cephas

pammyv02

I am a photographer currently living in London. Most of my work is in black and white because which I've found to be the best outlet to express myself. With patience a rather unique way of seeing the beauty around me, I enjoy creating a world that is unique to me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s