Featured Storyteller • Erwin Darmali - Fundy Designer

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Featured Storyteller • Erwin Darmali

As part of our new Storytelling series, we sat down with Erwin Darmali, a photographer based in Jakarta, Indonesia and Pasadena, to learn about his personal project focusing on the resiliency of a particular family.

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As I followed their journey through photography, I found it to be a story about love, strength, selflessness, and hope

Can you tell us more about your project?

Sure! It is a pure documentary style project about a family that stayed strong together in the face of adversity. Micah and Megan had twin boys, Noah and Levy, and when the twins were around two years old, the family found out that Levy is on the autism spectrum. As I followed their journey through photography, I found it to be a story about love, strength, selflessness, and hope.

Why did you choose this project?

This personal project started as a typical photoshoot. As I mentioned, my friends have twin boys, and although they are both photographers, they have never had a picture of their whole family in one frame. I was really itching to shoot stories again, and I offered a lifestyle style shoot to them. We scheduled a Day in the Life session.

On the shooting day, I arrived at their house at 5:30am, right before the boys woke up. In the quiet moments with Micah and Megan, I learned that they had just found out that one of their boys, Levy, was diagnosed with autism. That news hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember not knowing what to say and what to do but having such a feeling of empathy.

I could immediately see it in their faces that they were still struggling with their situation, but at that moment, they had come to a place of acceptance, and they were resolved to be strong for both of their boys.

I had a few moments to think about how I wanted this day to go before we started. This, which initially started as a lighthearted project, now posed a few different ways to approach it. I had a choice to make: Show them as-is (with all of the challenges that they are facing), show that everything is ok, or find a different point of view.

There were (and are) so many great things about this family that I wanted the world to see.

I ended up choosing the latter: Shooting the realness of the family, their situation, and how they cope with it, and also giving Micah and Megan the one thing that they needed the most: hope. Levy’s type of autism causes inability to respond to most normal human interaction, and it can be very painful and frustrating to his parents and his twin, Noah. Knowing this, I searched to find those fleeting moments where he was responding and showing his emotions. His laugh is amazing and contagious, and I wanted to showcase that. His closeness to his mother, Megan, and how dedicated she is to him is exemplary.

There were (and are) so many great things about this family that I wanted the world to see.

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How did you hope to represent it through your photography?

I wanted viewers to feel something and be inspired by it… Love shines so much brighter in the face of adversity.

In life, we have two choices: step up or step down. Stepping down and giving up is the easy way out, always. You can be dealt with a very difficult hand in life and you can just be angry, hating the world, and blaming everything. This was not the situation here.

I wanted to show the positivity of this family, how this made them stronger as a unit, that while it was not easy and did change things, they chose to rise above it. Their love did not change one bit; it actually grew stronger.

I wanted to display to see the positive aspects of this. I wanted viewers to feel something and be inspired by it—that there is always hope and a way to be a better person despite of all the challenges. Love shines so much brighter in the face of adversity.

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How was this different from the photography that you do normally?

It challenged me to dig deeper and pour my heart and soul out for a purpose that is different than what I am used to. This project changed my life, literally.

I have been shooting weddings for over 10 years, and I am used to seeing happiness and fun activities. There are also always some quiet, heartfelt moments, and they are different from one wedding to the next. My approach was still the same, but I felt this particular project has a bigger purpose.

At times at weddings, I would try to do some cool pictures for my clients, but in this project, my only goal was to tell their story. No tricks, no gimmicks, just the depth of the story. It challenged me to dig deeper and pour my heart and soul out for a purpose that is different than what I am used to. This project changed my life, literally.

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Did you accomplish your photography goals within the project, or did you have additional insights/changes as it was ongoing?

Initially, I felt that I did accomplish the goals with my photography by itself. Then, upon review, I felt that something was still missing, and I needed an extra element. I didn’t want to write paragraphs of their backstory; I felt that would take away from what they were feeling. So, I asked Micah 5 different questions, recorded it, and that became the narration of a video slideshow portion.

I am so grateful for the trust and openness that Micah and Megan gave me. Micah held nothing back in his answers, and it helped make this project become what it is. Adding his voice-over made this the most difficult slideshow I’ve ever done at that point. Sequencing the story, matching images to the narration, and the process took a hundred hours to complete.

In addition to the slideshow, why did you choose to display it in a printed product? 

Specifically, for Micah and Megan, the prints and the album are a reminder of a good time that is possible. Not in the general norm per se, but possible. I want them to remember that there is always connection from Levy, even for a split second. Having that hope to remind us is important.

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What printed product did you choose? 

I chose 3 canvas prints of images that I felt transfer the feeling of closeness and connection, and I also chose Renaissance Album’s Bowery book to display the set of pictures in. It is sleek, modern, and simple; but also elegant by itself.

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Luckily… Fundy [has] removed that time-consuming process and made it so much easier for photographers to be true storytellers.

Fundy software helped me create the album in speeds I’ve never come close to before. The ability to automatically cluster images, and to save layouts so I can reuse them, makes my job of album designing a breeze. The option of sending the designs directly to Renaissance albums is also amazing. Normally, it would take another 30 minutes to an hour just to upload albums. Luckily, the brainiacs at Fundy have removed that time-consuming process and made it so much easier for photographers to be true storytellers.

Thank you, Erwin, for your beautiful story of this amazing family! You can find Erwin at his website and Facebook page.

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