As an Indonesian-born, Toronto-grown photographer, Mutia Taufieq is familiar with fractured identities. “I have been working in Toronto and New York, going back and forth for the past six years. Since last year, I’ve been back in my hometown, Jakarta,” Mutia tells It’s Nice That. Mutia exclusively works with Polaroids, collaborating with artists for their album covers and press shoots, preferring to capture them in their element rather than a constructed studio space.
Like many photographers, Mutia picked up an old camera as a teenager looking for a creative outlet. She initially started with dance, but the endeavour was cut short once she was diagnosed with scoliosis. “I even applied to the Martha Graham Dance Company,” she says. “I didn’t have an outlet for my creativity since the scoliosis news, but it was sparked back on once I got my hands on some Polaroids.” Starting then, she hoarded thousands of Polaroids for two years straight, and had those Polaroids turned into a dress, a project that eventually landed her a year-long internship with the Impossible Project in 2013 in New York City, currently known as Polaroid Originals.
Mutia’s collages usually feature hazy, fragmented portraits made up of four to six Polaroids. Each frame, capturing a different segment of the subject’s face, is taken separately and arranged to resemble a cut-up photograph; not unlike David Hockney’s joiners. The slight aberrances in the angles allow the viewer to see multiple facets and expressions at once, making for a deeper understanding of the subject’s personality. The fragments are reminiscent of scanning our memories for a past rendezvous, making the collages feel like dreaming about an old friend.
Her first serious venture into portraiture started in 2016 when she reached out to Danish singer Louis Rustum, who invited her to Copenhagen to take his portraits. Like many first encounters, it was a memorable meeting that taught her a lot about how to approach her practice in the future. While stumbling around Copenhagen with her gear and clumsily loading film into her camera, the overthinking took over. “There’s this amazing artist that I admire and he’s trusting an amateur like me to take photographs of him? So many things are going to go wrong! Obviously, things went smoothly once I got in my groove and the photos turned out great,” she recalls. “Since then, I always remember to chill out, and let the Polaroid do its magic.”
This intimate approach can be seen throughout her work. Mutia’s subjects, which include the likes of Virgil Abloh, Yaeji, Flume, H.E.R. and Tokimonsta, look particularly vulnerable in her compositions. “I love showing the artist’s emotions through their eyes,” she says. Although she tends to choose artists whose music she already loves, she feels like the shoots involve more listening and relaxing than directing. “It’s like we’re hanging out while shooting, so we can all relax,” she adds.
The permanence of the Polaroid is a big part of the charm for Mutia. “There’s no do-over, no Photoshopping or airbrushing. It commemorates my subject at that very moment,” she says. Mutia attributes her unique style to the materiality of the medium, as well as her shooting location, noting that the haziness and dream-like quality of her images come from Jakarta’s humidity. “Most of the colour that developed was totally out of my control, and that’s the beauty that I see in this medium.”
Despite these restrictions, Mutia does feel she can exercise a large degree of control through the mosaic format in the arrangement of the individual Polaroids. As to how she gets the alignment of the divided portraits so close together? “That’s just experience, I guess,” she jokes. With an accomplished portfolio of imagery already under her belt, Mutia is turning her attention to larger collages and taking on editorial work with Umfang and Sarah Bahbah. “Also, I’d love to shoot Solange. I’ll die happy if I can work with her.”