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Inspirations >> Photos & People

Bang Dzoel: No Hands, No Legs. Just an Indomitable Spirit to Excel


Achmad Zulkarnain is a 25-year-old professional photographer from Indonesia. Better known as Bang Dzoel, he has made a name for himself, despite being born without hands and legs.

disabled photographer in indonesia

Please tell us about yourself.

I was born in 1992 at Benelanlor Village in Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia. This is where I grew up, where I still live until today.

bang dzoel the disabled photographer from indonesia

How did your interest in photography begin?

I worked in an internet café which offered photo services. Sometimes when my friend (the owner) was not around, I helped him out by taking passport photos for the customers. At the same time, I learnt to operate a basic DSLR, and soon I was hooked!

How did you learn photography?

From internet articles and video tutorials on YouTube e.g. lighting and ISO. Because of all the information available on YouTube, I became more aggressive on learning more about photography. Based on what I read and watched, I tried to practice them in the field. I was saving all my salary for 2 years to buy a Canon EOS 1100D. After purchasing the camera, my interest in photography intensified.

Why are you so interested in fashion photography?

Firstly, I like the hands-on group dynamics of director and photographer (that’s me!) along with talents, lighting assistants and others working to achieve great results.

Secondly, fashion photography made me who I am. My jobs now include wedding photography, a boat cruise event and even a speaking engagement at a photography workshop in Hong Kong (in 2018).

With landscape photography, I am often alone, restricted by terrains that are often inaccessible for disabled people.

fashion photography canon bang dzoel
fashion photography canon bang dzoel

Some photos taken by Bang Dzoel

Do other genres interest you?

I started with landscape photography. After falling from a cliff during my photography outing, it got me thinking whether I can continue with this genre or not. At the end, I chose to work with models instead. At the same time, I am also exploring food and product photography.

Please share your favourite photo or project that left a lasting impression?

It was with a model in a rice field, wearing a tiara and a Batik outfit over 150 years old. Using natural light, I managed to capture her “princess” aura.

bang dzoel, disabled photographer from indonesia

Bang Dzoel's favourite photo

What camera do you use now?

It’s a Canon EOS 6D.

What difficulties did you encounter while learning to use a DSLR?

I learnt to stabilise my body to avoid blurriness when using heavy lenses like EF-S18-55mm. So ISO-200 and 1/250 sec speed became my standard. With ISO-100 (or less), I use a flash. Even with ISO-50, I am now confident of using a telephoto lens.

disabled photographer bang dzoel

Bang Dzoel in action

How long did it take you to hold the camera calmly?

Almost two years.

How do you overcome any difficulties at a shoot?

It is difficult to move among crowds. My size makes it hard to attract someone’s attention, so I have to stand in front of them to be noticed!

How do you feel about your interview with Aljazeera TV which garnered substantial local and international social media attention.

The interview was unplanned and purely by accident. A friend told an Aljazeera reporter about me, as this reporter was looking some interesting news outside Qatar. After the article and the video aired, overnight I became a social media celebrity. I hope I will inspire others to overcome their disabilities. You can watch the interview here.

bang dzoel disabled photographer from indonesia

How do you avoid boredom?

I am only bored when not taking photos!

Renowned Indonesia photographer Darwis Triadi  invited you to learn more about fashion photography in his own school. What did you learn?

The first thing is professional ethics, and inspiring and directing my talents, whether they are models or company directors, to give their best. I am now more committed to executing my concepts faithfully, and achieving maximum impact with lighting.

How long have you been in Darwis School?

Initially it was for two months, with trips to Banyuwangi for my own projects. Later, Darwis asked me to stay for six months.

Who has influenced your photography style?

It is AOS, the photography community in Banyuwangi. In local dialect, AOS means brave, despite any challenges.

You studied law, and worked in a legal firm. Will you ever return to it?

I am not suited to office work, so I will focus on photography, where I am more comfortable and unrestrained when directing the action.

What is your photography style?

I mix landscapes and models to create fashionscapes. I am leaning toward traditional fashion where I can bring back stories from the past.

bang dzoel disabled photographer

Bang Dzoel with friends during Canon PhotoMarathon in Jakarta (November 2017)

What do you hope to achieve in five years?

A solo exhibition to showcase disabled friends doing normal activities. I want their inner strength to speak through my pictures. 

You visited the Ijen Crater in East Java, What was your experience?

I felt small and insignificant at the top. When we are above, we must not forget what is below.

Will you ever hike up mountains again?

I plan to climb Ranu Kumbolo or Rinjani Mountain in Lombok in about a year. I need someone with first-aid knowledge to journey with me. A friend said trekking is very tiring but once you reach the top, you will want to do it again.

Any message for readers and photographers out there?

Whether your camera is entry level or old, it is only a medium. What matters most is how you use it. So focus on technique to achieve your vision.

At Canon PhotoMarathon 2017, Merry Harun, Canon Division Director of PT Datascrip presented you with a Canon EOS 6D camera, an EF lens and battery grip. How do you feel about this?

Thank you for Canon Indonesia and PT Datascrip for your appreciation and belief in me. From the beginning of my interest in photography I have been using Canon and this camera will also bring me to Hong Kong in 2018 to teach about a photography workshop (invited by PT Datascrip).

bang dzoel disabled photographer from indonesia

Canon Division Director (PT Datascrip) presented Bang Dzoel with a set of Canon equipment

What do you wish for after receiving the new EOS camera from Canon?

I want to travel the world.

This interview took place at Canon PhotoMarathon 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia on 4 November 2017. You can see Bang Dzoel's photos on his Instagram

Read also the story of Ibu Rusidah, on how she overcomed her disabilities to become a roaming photographer to support her family.

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