Kassian Céphas was the first Indonesian photographer of note. He served the sultanates of Jogjakarta and was court photographer and painter from the early 1870s. He also operated his own studio in the city, providing portraits and views for local clients and tourists. Céphas had a long and successful career assisted from the 1890s by his son Sem. He had major commissions in the 1880s and 90s from the sultan’s Dutch physician Isaac Groneman, an amateur archaeologist-ethnologist, to photograph the ancient Hindu temple at Prambanan in central Java, as well as a complete performance of central Javanese dance drama at the Jogjakarta palace in 1884. He photographed Borobudur for the Archaeological Union of Jogjakarta in 1890–91. Céphas was honoured in his lifetime by the Dutch colonial authorities for his work in recording Javanese civilisation. His studio work is elegant and dignified, even in the range of native beauties sold as prints and later as postcards from around 1900.
An unusual feature of Céphas's work is the way he positioned himself in a number of images he marketed of sites of Javanese cultural significance. The image of Céphas, possibly taken by his son, with his hands gently resting on one of the smaller Borobudur stupas, seems to quietly assert the rights of the indigenous builders of the monument and is one of the first known portraits of an Indonesian photographer.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014