Behind the Lens: The Journey of Leandro Quintero

Through his lens, Leandro Quintero captures the essence of intimacy and honesty, making him one of the most talented photographers with captivating works. Amidst a coffee break after his morning run routine, Leandro Quintero, an Argentine photographer based in Indonesia, shares with Grafis Masa Kini about his artistic journey and the process behind his works.

Leandro's encounter with photography began in 1994 when he was still a teenager, spending his leisure time skateboarding on the streets of Buenos Aires. In the bustling streets of the city, every day was an adventure for him, leading him to a chance encounter with a friend's camera at a farewell party. "Everyone was having fun and I had to take responsibility for the memories of that day, hence that was the first time i remember occupying the viewfinder. From that very moment, there was no return," Leandro recounts. The photographer believes that his life cannot be separated from the practice of photography. "Initially, it was just for the pleasure of collecting memories, but eventually, I discovered that the camera is an incredible tool for storytelling and creating objects. Pictures are objects encrypted with energy to me," he adds.

Before this, Leandro had been introduced to the art of photography through poetry. "My mum was trying to introduce me to reading, and first she started with heavy things like science fiction books like Ubik by Philip K. Dick." For Leandro, those books were too complicated due to the multitude of worlds and characters to remember. Eventually, he turned to poetry and studied the works of French surrealist artists, which served as his gateway into the world of visual arts. "For me, André Breton's Surrealist Manifesto was a before and after experience. Then, I landed on Man Ray's works, then I explored art generally speaking, but poetry was undoubtedly the trigger to images and art," he says. In 1999, just before leaving Argentina, Leandro's interest in the art of photography grew. This was triggered by the arrival of an acquaintance from Europe who brought the first edition of Purple Magazine. "I was mind blown, everything was so fresh, so artsy, and the fashion was the epitome of anti-glamour, definitely I was seduced by all the editorials the sense of storytelling, narrative, and much more," Leandro expresses.

After residing in Berlin, Germany, in 2014, Leandro arrived in Indonesia. Observing the photography scene in the capital city then, Leandro felt that his work was too straightforward and raw punk for Jakarta's minimalist aesthetic, completely "colonized" by Western aesthetic influences—the artistic style that led Leandro to leave Berlin. "On one hand, I found the 'dinosaur generation' style: the negative side effects of the outdated aesthetics of the 90s; the aesthetic of the nouveau riche filled with fashion delusions and luxury; on the other hand, there's the aesthetic influenced by Kinfolk magazine. It was very depressing for me to be in between those poles of mediocrity and a cultural shock," he recounts. Coming from Berlin, Leandro was accustomed to street art and photography, while in Indonesia, it was challenging to find a way to initiate photography exhibitions, compounded by an anti-fashion aesthetic. "So, everything was terrifying. However, because of that, there was a great opportunity to open the channels (street photography)," he adds.


The first project Leandro undertook in Indonesia was a collaboration with renowned fashion designer Sherly Hartono, with wardrobe styling by Karin Wijaya. "The collection was inspired by how ordinary people dress on the streets," Leandro explains. From a photographer's perspective, Leandro believes that the project is a visual summary of Indonesia as it is. Instead of following Western aesthetics, the project injects substance from Indonesia's everyday culture. For Leandro, the authenticity of everyday reality is important and worth celebrating. "I remember a moment in the car with a talented young photographer. We were chatting, and I mentioned how inspiring street life in Indonesia is. He then said that everything looked bad in Jakarta,  what can we take pictures of? In my heart, I said, 'Literally, everything!' Fortunately, a few years later, he left that mentality behind," Leandro recalls.

Leandro's collaboration with Sherly Hartono opened up even wider opportunities for Leandro to work and collaborate with local and international fashion brands. With a bunch of achievements and works in the world of photography, Leandro never sees a project as "monumental." For Leandro, his achievements are gratitude for the opportunity to earn a living doing what he loves and being open-minded with a high sense of curiosity, allowing him to continue doing and enjoying what he loves. Like everyone working in the creative industry, moments of highs and lows are often encountered. The lowest point for Leandro was when he felt "chronically dead", lacking the desire to observe his surroundings, and letting his camera gather dust. "Fortunately, those moments are necessary for us to appreciate them more, and the lowest point never lasts long." Coming from a middle-class family, Leandro acknowledges that he has never experienced depression. "That's a problem for rich people who have time and money," he jokes.

According to Leandro, many people from the creative community in Indonesia have greatly influenced him and his work. "In general, the fashion and creative communities, as well as people I respect, ranging from stylists, creative directors, graphic designers, fellow photographers, writers, artists, or just individuals," he reveals. Leandro then mentions several names that have helped him throughout his career in Indonesia, such as photographer Nadia Razak, his first contact with Indonesian people. "She was my flatmate during my stay in London and the person who recommended me to Sherly Hartono," Leandro reveals. Leandro also expresses his gratitude to Karin Wijaya, whom he considers the best stylist and the most humble person. "Then, I admire the works of Try Sutrisno, Lilian Ng, Jonathan Andy Tan, who make me happy to work with them because we see fashion with a sense of humor that is not too serious," he adds. Leandro also admires Rahajeng's work, which he finds full of sensuality. "The entire Pear Magazine team, I think they are doing an incredible job: Torik Danumaya, Andrea Reza, Yosefina Yustiniani (my wife), not only do I like her work, but she definitely supports me every day for the last five years," Leandro says. Many more names have supported Leandro's work: creative director Stacia Hadiutomo, Christine Fenty Lafian and her brand Suku, Michael Killian, and a series of graphic designers; Jordan Marzuki, Fandy Susanto, Januar from Further Reading, Artivora, illustrator Debbie Tea, Arswandaru, Deborah Wangsaputri from Rubber Time Journal, Martin Westlake, Davy Linggar, Anton Ismael, Reuben Tourino, Muhammad Fadli, and the group of youngsters; Vicky Tanzil, Thomas Danes, Hilarius Jason, Ikmal Awfar, Sharon Angelia, Arief Ointoe, Dennis Arthurm, and his favorite artists; Natasha Tontey and Angela Judiyanto. In addition to the world of visual arts, Leandro also mentions names from the fashion world such as Toton Januar, Sherly Hartono, Galuh Anindita, and Patrick Owen.


Leandro's photography works, both self-initiated projects and collaborations, are highly intimate, allowing anyone who views them to feel the conveyed emotions and immerse themselves in the interactions depicted in each frame. For Leandro, his works feel so close and intimate because his observations are deeply internal despite working on the surface. "I want to live my life without special effects, without glamorizing or excessively beautifying things around me," Leandro reveals. This idealism is reflected in his honest, simple, yet captivating works. "With a sense of incorruptible honesty, with the integrity of living in the same way I take pictures I guess, tip-toeing the edge of banalities looting silences with certain subtle yet poetic visual vandalism," he adds. The process behind Leandro's creative concepts is driven by the urgency to convey specific messages through his camera. His inspiration comes from various sources, ranging from cultural discussions, reading, cinema, and art as a whole, to conversations about politics, sociology, philosophy, dissatisfaction with various things, debates on new ways of thinking, and much more. In his work as a photographer, Leandro balances between projects for clients and passion projects. When working on projects for clients, Leandro's primary focus is to delight clients by making their brands more appealing than before. As for passion projects, for Leandro, it's important to maintain a certain synergy with the team and to preserve mental well-being and sanity, akin to going to the gym or exercising. “Especially in a society where the main source of inspiration is consumption,” he adds.

When asked about future projects, Leandro reveals that he is developing two zines and one book that require deeper research. "Fortunately, this takes me out of the house to do more pictures,  lots of them." Ideally, in the future, Leandro envisions himself as the happiest old man who can live off printing and selling artworks or anything related to the visual world, ranging from curation to general production. Leandro continues to explore collaboration possibilities, with a note: "Especially with people who are not seeking validation and those who are eager for creative therapies." Leandro aims to continue developing himself and growing in the world of photography. It's hard for Leandro to explain how his love for photography has evolved. However, he feels the evolution and growth in his artistic journey, as he explains, "I guess for me evolving is being able to shoot pretty much everything with absolute freedom without losing my individuality." Leandro's interest in visual arts, especially photography, is a path to liberation from taboos. Art, for him, is a natural act of intervention and appreciation for life, connecting with the present, and breaking certain status quo. "I felt the same way when I started raving, seeing people without phones on the dance floor making eye contact, no one cares if you're 15 or 50 years old, or how you look. We were liberated through the sound of techno, the dance floor was a playground that felt like a mad kindergarten for all of us. The society was repressive enough already. We didn't want to be someone or being validated," Leandro shares. In concluding the conversation, Leandro states that art and expression are incredibly liberating platforms for continual transformation and growth. He emphasizes the importance of these mediums in fostering personal evolution and societal progress. For Leandro, art and raving are not just platforms for self-expression but also catalysts for change and new beginnings.

About the Author

Alessandra Langit

Alessandra Langit is a writer with seven years of diverse media experience. She loves exploring the quirks of girlhood through her visual art and reposting Kafka’s diary entries at night.