Category Archives: Indonesia

Best Indonesian Photobooks of 2016

By Ridzki Noviansyah and Tommy N. Armansyah

[Editor’s note: Ridzki Noviansyah and Tommy N. Armansyah are founding members of The Photobook Club-Jakarta in 2013. Its aim is to discuss issues relating to photobooks published in Indonesia and beyond.]

2016 was atrocious.

We saw too many deaths. Donald Trump won the US presidential election. Indonesians (especially Jakartans) continue to deliberate over Ahok and the forthcoming gubernatorial election.

On the other hand, we witnessed the Indonesian photobook scene thrive as never before. There were publications, book tours, bookseller tours, photobook exhibitions, workshops and public interventions. We saw new voices and established practitioners publishing their latest work. We now have independent photobook publishers in Indonesia–Kamboja Press and Binatang Press. Kamboja published the books of Vira Talisa and Tampan Destawan respectively while Binatang brought out Anton Ismael’s.

Now that the bar has been raised, 2017 will hopefully bring more interesting publications onto the table.

Here are the best Indonesian photobooks of 2016 that caught our eyes. The criteria for selection are:

  • Published in Indonesia in 2016
  • Featured photographs made by Indonesians
  • The photobook should be able to captivate viewers to revisit the work.
  • The photographs should be able to make the viewers feel as though they are in the scene portrayed.
  • The publication should have physical qualities that support the above criteria.

In no particular order:

The New Sun by Rian Afriadi


Some people will loathe the design, others will love it. The book is born under the collaboration of Rian Afriadi and artist-designer Natasha Gabriella Tontey. It feels like a story book with a dark twist at the end, which makes sense, since we’re looking at Rian’s imagining of another world under a different sun. The design and text fit the book well, though I wish they would choose another paper for the photographs.


Flock Project Vol. 1 by Aji Susanto Anom, Kurniadi Widodo and Arif Furqan


This volume results from experimentation and collaboration, two things that we believe in as well. As a result, these books are quite tightly edited and highly produced. The Flock guys have also been pushing boundaries, creating bridges with other communities, producing zines, while maintaining their sense of humour–something that’s increasingly rare amongst photographers today.


After N by Gregory Rusmana


What’s with Surakarta (Solo)? Every year, we find a few photobooks from that city, which always feature contrasty, black-and-white images, creating an impression that Solo only offers dark, bleak thoughts. After N is no different. However, it’s also refreshing to see how Greg envisions the world (the book is his edit) since his marriage. Again, we believe that good photographs deserve to be printed on the best paper.


Honorable mention: #WISTAU by Flock Project


Pokes fun at people who take things seriously: check.

Self deprecating humour: check.

Social commentary: check.

Designed in the spirit that only a zine can convey: check.


Best Indonesian Photobooks of 2015

By Ridzki Noviansyah and Tommy N. Armansyah

[Editor’s note: Ridzki Noviansyah and Tommy N. Armansyah are founding members of The Photobook Club-Jakarta in 2013. Its aim is to discuss issues relating to photobooks published in Indonesia and beyond.]

These are our picks for the best Indonesian photobooks of 2015.

If you need a reminder, these are the criteria for selection:
– Published in Indonesia
– Published in 2015
– Feature photographs made by Indonesians
– The book should be able to captivate viewers to revisit the work.
– The photographs should be able to make the viewers feel as though they are in the scene portrayed.
– The publication should have physical qualities that support the above criteria.

In no particular order:

Ruang Bermain
By Sri Sadono
Reviewed by Ridzki Noviansyah

Sri Sadono - Ruang Bermain

Unlike 2014, when there were several long-term documentary projects being published as photobooks, we have had only a few in 2015. These include Yoppy Pieter’s Saujana Sumpu and S Rama Surya’s A Certain Grace. However, there are more personal projects (as distinct from street photography) that have become published as photobooks. One of them is Sri Sadono’s Ruang Bermain.

I would describe this book in the same way as I would describe the children who appear in the book—unpretentious and lovely. The photographs portray Indonesian kids at their “playground”—whether it is an open field or an apartment high above. While the photographs are lovely enough to view, the book can use a bit more sequencing work and better production.

By Fanny Octavianus
Reviewed by Ridzki Noviansyah

JKT - Fanny Octavianus

With the increased interest in street photography, there has been an increase in the number of people who call themselves street photographers, showing up on the streets of Jakarta on every car-free day to take some shots. On the other hand, there are people like Erik Prasetya and Fanny Octavianus who have worked quietly for years, covering the streets of Jakarta.

Fanny Octavianus’ approach in photographing Jakarta reveals a constant tug-of-war. As a photojournalist, Fanny produces frames that are good enough to run on the front page of newspapers. However he also creates pictures that imbue a certain degree of romanticism. For Fanny, Jakarta is a place that he loathes and loves at the same time. This can be seen in JKT.

Saujana Sumpu
By Yoppy Pieter
Reviewed by Tommy N Armansyah

Saujana Sumpu - Yoppy Pieter

First, let me say the one thing that I do not like about this book. It concerns the closing picture, the strongest image, of a boy, his body half immersed in water, holding the head of an almost fully immersed girl. As an individual picture, even though it creates an unease in me, I like it very much. However, as part of the book, it is too strong, making it a bad fit with the rest of the book.

Overall, the book is wonderful. Looking at the pictures, walking through the pages, you can almost hear a saluang [editor’s note: musical instrument of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra] being played. The pictures are poetic. Yoppy is the master in making such images. If his intention is to take us, the readers, to look at present-day Sumpu (or Sumpur), where most of its male inhabitants have left for the cities for better employment opportunities, leaving behind women and children, he has done it beautifully. Published by PannaFoto Institute, the book design is simple—complementing the pictures, making the viewing enjoyable. The work is also featured in the recent Jakarta Biennale 2015.

As I Was Moving Ahead
By Homer Harianja
Reviewed by Tommy N Armansyah

As I Was Moving Ahead - Homer Harianja

In some ways, As I Was Moving Aheadis an odd inclusion. While the rest of the practitioners featured in this year’s selection are all professional photographers, Homer is an amateur photographer with a keen pair of eyes. All the photographs in the book are taken in analogue format. The photographs are witty and vibrant, concerning family holidays, church visits and other mundane daily activities. There are also repeated images of people (mostly kids) peeking through something.

This is the only colour photobook in our selection for 2015, published through the newly established Semarang-based print-on-demand company, “Retrospective Journal”.



Draft Introduction to “A History of Photography in Indonesia: From the Colonial Era to the Early 21st Century” (2015 ) / Brian Arnold

From "High Hopes" Series, Courtesy Wimo Ambala Bayang
From “High Hopes” Series, Courtesy Wimo Ambala Bayang

By Brian Arnold

I was 22 the first time I went to Indonesia. I went simply on a college semester abroad. At the time, I was really interested in music, and went to study gamelan. The whole experience was eye opening, and the amount of personal and cultural discovery has lasted me a lifetime, or at least was enough to initiate a much longer study and interest in Indonesia. I was just there for about 6 months, but the impact on my creative and intellectual identity was enormous.

Just a few months before I left for Bali this first time, I discovered photography. I know it sounds like a cliché (though maybe less so in our current digital age), but the first time I saw a print come up in the developer, I was hooked. I immediately threw myself into photography with incredible enthusiasm and abandon. In just a few months, I did everything I could do to learn about photography, even landing my first professional experience as a photographer working at an important photographic archive in Colorado. Like my time in Indonesia, these first experiences with photography provided enough fuel to sustain a life long creative and intellectual curiosity.

When I discovered these things, it was an important time in my life, really a time with a strong emergence of identity. I think of it as no coincidence that I discovered photography for the first time just before departing for Bali. I still remember the feeling of engagement, creativity, and self-empowerment when I made my first photographs, really because I still feel the same when photographing today. I can say the same about my engagement with Indonesia; my time in Bali and Java always feels important, like an empowering time of creative and intellectual engagement.

For most of my adult life, I’ve pursued two distinct but parallel studies in the arts – as a photographer and artist of my own culture, and as a student and performer of Indonesian art and classical music. When I left college, I set off to begin my life as an artist. I moved to Denver, CO, to work with a group of musicians and artists devoted to studying and advocating for Balinese and Indonesian arts. I worked with a nonprofit organization called Tunas Mekar, both a gamelan orchestra and an educational foundation dedicated to the advancement of Indonesian arts. I made this group my primary focus, and worked with the foundation for several years out of college.

While I was working with Tunas Mekar, I initiated my own study of photography. I set up a small studio, and worked during all my free time pursuing my creative initiatives with photography. I did this for years, and eventually reached a point when I recognized it was time to my make my primary commitment to photography, and an engagement with arts of my own culture. Thus, I enrolled in an MFA program in photography at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

After completing my graduate degree, I began a teaching career, working in a well-known school for art education. Here, I taught photography and new media arts to graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world. This proved a wonderful opportunity to develop my own philosophies of art and creativity, and specifically their relationship to a greater cultural experience.

As my own identity as an artist and photographer became more concrete, I became increasingly interested in reconnecting with gamelan and Indonesia. I traveled back to Bali and Java a number of times, and began studying and performing with the Cornell University Gamelan Ensemble.

Over several years, my connection with Cornell grew into a research position, and I eventually had the idea to try and merge my interests in photography and Indonesian art. I used the incredible resources at Cornell to initiate a study of the history of photography in Indonesia. This began as a textual study, but over several years, I found funding to return to Indonesia, really with the intention of trying to learn about contemporary art photography on the islands.

These first discussions proved to be remarkably successful. While just spending a couple of months in Bali and Java, I visited a number of different universities and art academies, and met with a variety of curators, educators, critics, collectors and artists interested in photography. I spent the bulk of my time in Denpasar, Ubud, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, but made some important connections at that time, specifically in Java.

In Yogya, I spent an afternoon at Mes56, an artists’ collaborative situated then just outside the kraton. Long known as a center for dance and painting, Yogyakarta is also home to the Cemeti Art House, an influential gallery for the development of contemporary art in Java. Mes56 was developed by a group of artists interested in photography and new media. At the time when the collective came together, it was difficult for artists interested in these types of media to find exhibition opportunities, so they created their own. Amongst the original members of the collective are Wimo Ambala Bayang, Jim Allen Abel, and Angki Purbandono, all graduates of the state art academy in Yogya, and all part of the first generation of Indonesian artists interested in exploring photography and related media. Today, Mes56 remains an important part of the Yogyakarta art scene, hosting exhibitions and residencies for artists from Indonesia, Australia, and The Netherlands working in photography and related disciplines.

It was also in 2011 that I made my first successful contact with the ISI Yogya (Institut Seni Indonesia – the Indonesian Institute of Art), developing an ongoing relationship with Dr. Suawastiwi Triatmodjo, Dean of the Fine Arts Program. In connecting with the art academy and Ibu Suawastiwi, I got my first introduction to art education in Java. She provided me with the wonderful opportunity to meet with students and faculty from the program, to learn how photography is included in their education.

In subsequent visits, I was able to build on these first relationships, meeting more artists and curators across Java. With help from the American Institute for Indonesian Studies, I was able to connect with a variety of academic programs around Central and Western Java, and lectured and taught workshops in schools of architecture, communication, Muslim broadcasting, and art. I was also able to meet different curators and educators, and see photographic exhibitions both professional and amateur. Each of these experiences helped give me a broader understanding of photography in Java today.

As conceived as fine art, photography is still a very new thing in Indonesia, as it is in most of Southeast Asia. There are a couple of threads within larger, global history of photography that are essential in understanding the development of photographic art in the region.

In the beginning, photography represented tremendous privilege. It took education, leisure time, and most importantly, money to pursue. And thus in the early years of its invention, photography was really only practiced by the Western powers in Europe and North America (with some important exception in Japan and China – both relevant in looking at the medium in Indonesia). Immediately, these cultures recognized the power this new invention had for their economic and political adventures abroad, and thus photography became a primary tool for their colonial endeavors, really from the get-go.

Often with more romantic or altruistic intentions – to educate their populations at home about these foreign cultures and the wonderful work and civilization brought from the outside – the colonial powers sent photographers abroad to start recording the government work in these developing nations. Immediately, the social power of photography was in place, as photography quickly became an essential tool in defining the “other,” helping to facilitate economic and political supremacy. Among other things, photography provided an opportunity to further objectify the native population, and gave visual evidence to compare the differences of culture and civilization. As an economic privilege, it provided authority that wasn’t easily shared or translated, and that economic privilege quickly became an intellectual and cultural privilege.

The second thread within this greater global history of photography is photography’s relentless march towards democratization. Perhaps first manifested with the inventions of George Eastman and Eastman Kodak, the goal for the last hundred years has been to make everyone a photographer. The current digital age is perhaps the completion of this goal. There aren’t many adults today without a camera; or better put, anyone with a phone today also holds a camera. And they say there are more Facebook users per capita in Indonesia than any other country in the world. In her wonderful book, Indonesia Etc., Elizabeth Pisani observes the presence of digital and social media on the outer island of Flores:

The boy, bright, smiley and fond of geography, would climb a tree, pick a mango, throw it half-eaten to the ground because he needed his hands for catapulting. When he got peckish again, he would just climb another tree. The girl, with whom I had been sharing a bed, was in her monosyllabic post-pubescent phase; her purpose was to get high enough up the mountain to get a signal on her cell phone so that she could check Facebook.[1]

While originally discarded as a tool of the colonizer, Indonesians largely ignored photography for much of the second half of the 20th century. It was certainly part of family and village rituals, as well as an essential part of the press, but its dissemination across the culture was limited. That said, photography continued to spread rampantly in the build up to the digital era – one hour photo processors emerging globally – and photography proved an essential tool in reformasi, the revolt that led to the fall of Suharto. When control of photography was lost, Suharto lost control of the cultural. With the emergence of digital imaging, all that has changed. In Indonesia, as throughout much of Southeast Asia, photography is now fully emerging as a fine art medium, and this is largely the result of digital photography, the complete democratization of the medium.

Before fully addressing this new history, there is a bit more to say about the presence of photography in the colonized nation. There are two passages in particular. The first is from the great African American folklorist and novelist, Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old. Wouldn’t have found out then, but a man come long takin’ pictures and without askin’ anybody, Shelby, dat was the oldest boy, he told him to take us. Round a week later de man brought de picture for Mis’ Washburn to see and pay him which she did, then give us all a good lickin’.

So when we looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark chile as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’

Everybody laughed, even Mr. Washburn. Miss Nellie, de Mama of de chillun who come back home after her husband dead, she pointed to de dark one and said, ‘Dat’s you Alphabet, don’t you know yo’ ownself?’

Dey used to call me Alphabet ‘cause so many people had done named me different names. Ah looked at the picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so

Ah said: ‘Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!’

Den dey all laughed real hard. But before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just like de rest.[2]

There is a lot to unpack here, but before taking a closer look, I’d like to look at another quote from famed Javanese novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer in his great work This Earth of Mankind:

“You are fortunate indeed, my students,” he said, “to be able to witness the beginning of the modern era here in the Indies.

Modern! How quickly that word had surged forward and multiplied itself like a bacteria throughout the world. (At least, that is what people were saying.) So allow me to use the word, though I still don’t fully understand its meaning.

In short, in this modern era tens of thousands of copies of a photo could be reproduced each day.[3]

The main character in both these novels – Janie and Minke – is struggling to assert his or her identity, working against the confines of a dominating white or European culture. The passage from Their Eyes Were Watching God is both dense and beautiful, and has long attracted the attention of literary and cultural critics alike. Essentially, Hurston suggests that the photograph creates difference, and that the power of racial hegemony is solidified with the camera.

This Earth of Mankind tells the story of a young Javanese man caught between tradition, colonialism, and the expanding modern world. Minke tries to reconcile these disparate motivations to discover a true Indonesian identity, one that is both self-reliant and modern. Photography, in this quoted passage, functions as a metaphor for the magnitude, pace, and power of the developing modern world, at odds with Indonesian culture and traditions, but essential for Indonesia to understand as it moved towards independence.

In western intellectual and creative history, photography holds a history and presence independent of – indeed preceding – film, video, installation, and performing arts. In contemporary Indonesia, however, photography developed as an art form because of an interest in film, video, installation, and performing arts. In many ways, photography moved into the scene as a tool to document other happenings, and simply as a way to provide visual information for artists interested in working across media. There are a number of people who led the way to some of these changes – multimedia artists like Nindityo Adipurnomo, Mella Jaarsma, FX Harsono, Heri Dono, and pioneering video artist Krisna Murti. Many of the first photographic artists coming out of Java – particularly Yogyakarta – used visual and conceptual strategies to lay the groundwork for their photographic projects. Many of these artists – Wimo Bayang, Jim Allen Abel, and Angki Purbandono – explored photography with incredible freedom, borrowing from visual languages already in place within the creative discourse of their time and place.

In West Java, the Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB) provided a starting point for emerging discussions on photography. One of the oldest higher education institutions in Indonesia, ITB has long held a remarkable reputation in the arts. The institute was originally founded by the Dutch, and from the beginning allowed for more western models of education.[4] Here I met photographers exploring the technical and visual vocabularies inherent to the medium, both in traditional and visual formats, including photographers and artists like Henrycus Napit Sungaro and Deden Durahman.

Jakarta has long been home to many of the intellectual and cultural resources of the archipelago, including the Galeri Jurnalistik Antara, a small collective dedicated to teaching, exhibiting, and publishing photojournalism. Many of these photographers – such as Rama Surya and Oscar Motuloh – blur the lines between journalism and art, and pursue their work with a great understanding of time and culture. A younger generation of artists like Tino Djumini, Amran Malik Hakim and Arum Tresnaningtyas Dayuputri are emerging. Some of them are educated in the art programs of the city. They work with an eye for documentary photography, using the simple and poetic possibilities of the medium to record important social layers and counter cultures.

My approach to formulating a perspective on the history of art in Indonesia is indebted to the work of Claire Holt and Astri Wright. Both women developed a great insight into their subjects by starting with a foundation of clear cultural patterns, symbols and metaphors.

Claire Holt is entirely unique, not only for the depth of her achievements, but also for the recognition that her work has found in both the States and Indonesia. She has always been characterized as a remarkably sensitive, thoughtful, and intelligent woman, and clearly warranted great respect from her colleagues in both countries. Reading through her manuscripts and research archives, her patience and love of Indonesia have been contagious, serving as tremendous inspiration.

Holt’s text concerns a broad chronology of Indonesian art. Her work begins with the medieval Hindu/Buddhist architecture of Java and Sumatra, but also includes thorough investigations of Javanese court dance and wayang (shadow puppet) traditions, modernist painting and sculpture from Bali, and concludes with the emerging nationalism and how it affected the arts and art education.

In introducing her work, Holt writes:

Art in Indonesia correspondingly reflects an enormous diversity. Both geographical and historical factors have always precluded the development of a homogeneous art with a single line of evolution. Today a multitude of cultural phenomena coexist in the archipelago at quite different stages of their life cycles. Some are ancient but still very vital; others are old but are apparently dying or undergoing radical transformations; still others were born recently and are growing vigorously.

In the continuum of cultural growth, old and new elements overlap, fuse, or exist side by side. Dates are only approximate dividers marking the introduction of new ideas or techniques without necessarily implying the disappearance of preceding beliefs and practices.

Published in 1967, Holt’s words ring true today. While it is easy to find someone in Java who has never seen a wayang play, many artists still say that the essential foundation for Javanese and Indonesian art lies in understanding wayang.

Fundamental to Holt’s work are the ideas of continuity and change. This is a wonderful and complicated idea, acknowledging what is essential and unchanging about a culture and its creative expressions (however elusive), but also attentive to the relentless march towards evolution and change, perhaps best epitomized by technology.

Astri Wright’s primary text on Indonesian art – Soul, Spirit, and Mountain: Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters – stems from a similar foundation as Holt’s text, specifically the ideas of continuity and change. Influenced by Holt, Wright begins her study by asserting the foundational framework of soul, spirit, and mountain – recurring metaphors and symbols in Indonesian mythology and social constructions.

Also striking in Wright’s work is her perspective on an emerging Modernism, and the continued development of Indonesian culture and identity after the revolution and independence:

To ‘Indonesians’ of the early years of this century, modern experience was shaped by an accelerating influx of new ideas about education, language, history, and identity. With the introduction of new technologies, in part triggered by foreign occupation and war, an unprecedented self-consciousness about one’s place in relation to the past and a dramatically changing present began to develop.

This new awareness of other places, cultures, and histories, both past and in the making, created the need to question those structures and assumptions of one’s own world… Self-conscious reconstructions of the past have accompanied the search for a definition of the present. Fueled by an unprecedented urge to evaluate and compare weaknesses and strengths, Indonesians have attempted to create a better platform from which to meet the challenges of an increasingly complicated and anxiety-provoking future.[5]

From my experience in Indonesia, thinking of the development of photography and new media, as well as the historic election of President Jokowi, Wright’s observations still ring true; ‘Indonesian’ identity is a work in progress, negotiating not only the past, present and future, but also confronting global economic, political, and religious forces. Wright did the fieldwork for her book Soul, Spirit, Mountain before reformasi and the fall of Suharto. However, in many ways, the questions and struggles that she raised are even more apparent today, as the nation struggles to become a democracy, delicately balanced between a progressive, global economy and a strong conservative movement, and marred by the scars of colonialism and an oppressive dictatorship.

In drawing upon the works of these women, my hope is to continue the thoughtful relationships they developed with their colleagues in Indonesia, but also to offer a similar perspective on photography. Whether practiced by the earlier colonial presence or the contemporary artists today, photography provides a visual vocabulary and record for understanding the historical and cultural trajectory of Indonesia. And while the intentions of the colonial photographers and those working today may be quite different, in the end a critical comparison demonstrates an evolving record of Indonesian culture and identity.

Trying to work as a photographer in Indonesia has proven a much greater challenge than I have anticipated. In pivotal and yet elusive ways, I know I’ve discovered important parts of my own identity through my engagements in Indonesia, but this hasn’t always readily translated into a clear visualization. I initially instigated this study as a way to find a photographic voice for myself. This has proven to be remarkably successful. Meeting photographers and artists working across Bali and Java has brought a great deal of clarity to me. To see other people using photography to wrestle with their own questions has opened my eyes. And the chance to see the evolution of the medium in Indonesia over time has broadened my understanding of the culture, in ways that have made it easier to think both objectively and subjectively with the camera.

My intention for this book is to help develop a conversation on a subject that is still being discovered and explored. Hence, this is in no way a definitive history. That said, I do hope that the documentation and observations recorded here will be of value for others interested in exploring Indonesia, photography, and the complex evolution of cultural exchange and self-visualization.

[1] Elizabeth Pisani, Indonesia, Etc.

[2] Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.

[3] This Earth of Mankind, part 1 of the Buru Quartet, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, translated from Indonesian by Max Lane.

[4] Claire Holt’s wonderful book, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change, provides some great insight into the establishment and pedagogy of the different art academies in Indonesia, and how the debates of independence and nationalism influenced discussions of art and art education.

[5] Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit, and Mountain: Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters.


Brian Arnold is a photographer, educator, and musician based in Ithaca, NY.



Recollecting Memories of Tukang Foto Keliling (2014)

Recollecting Memories of Tukang Foto Keliling:
A Tourism Photography Project— From the Heyday of the Itinerant Photographer to the Era of Instagram

By Dito Yuwono

In July 2014, Dito Yuwono initiated a group exhibition for Kelompok Fotografi Kaliurang (Kaliurang Photography Group) as part of his ongoing project: “Recollecting Memories: Tukang Foto Keliling”. The project started at the end of 2013 through a series of interviews and discussion with tukang foto keliling (itinerant photographers). The show is first held in a hotel room at Kaliurang. The second exhibition is presented at Lir Space on August 2014. In the latter show, there are six photographers whose works are on display: Pak Dasri, Pak Triyanto, Pak Tukimun, Pak Slamet, Pak Wijiyana and Dito Yuwono. This project is still ongoing. The following text is an essay written for the exhibition in 2014.


exhibition view 3

1 / The Itinerant Photographers at Kaliurang

My interest in the itinerant photographers at the tourist destination of Kaliurang started when I first met Mr. Dasri, a tukang foto keliling who still works there. Kaliurang is a tourist area located on the slopes of Mount Merapi, about 25km away from the center of Yogyakarta. Located 900m above sea level, Kaliurang is known for its cool mountain air and beautiful scenery. The area was first developed for tourism in the early 19th century when the Dutch built several villas for their geologists’ family retreat. After independence, the ownership of these villas came into the hands of the natives. Since then, members of the royal family, companies and individuals started building their vacation homes there.

Kaliurang’s natural beauty attracts many tourists. Families, friends and couples typically take pictures in its natural environment, at its iconic playground, by the streets and at other beautiful locations. In the early 90s, owning a camera was still considered a luxury and the itinerant photographers often peddled their services at different tourist sites across Indonesia.

In 1981, a number of itinerant photographers started to congregate at Kaliurang. It began with the presence of Polaroid’s distributor (PT. Eresindo Jaya) in the area. A local resident was designated as an official representative of PT. Eresindo Jaya. He was assigned to distribute Polaroid’s instant film products. He then formed a partnership with some people who wished to work as itinerant photographers. The relation between the two parties resembled the kind of professional relationship between suppliers and consumers. Apart from being a provider of products while serving as the coordinator of the region, he also created a strategy to avoid territorial conflict amongst the itinerant photographers operating at Kaliurang. Even though a cordial relationship has always existed amongst the members, this itinerant photographer collective has never become a formal organization or a community. The amiable relationship manifests itself on a personal level amongst the photographers. It has not translated into organizational activities such as identity building, training and regeneration.

2 / Tourism Photography

In the past, tourism was one of the most important revenue sources for the Indonesian government. Postcards, travel advertisements and photo contests were used to boost the tourism industry. The main idea was to promote Indonesia as a destination of beautiful and un-spoilt nature. It was reinforced visually through several thematic elements: traditions, happiness (relationship between society and nature) and tropical exotics (flora and fauna, local habitats). One of the government’s initiatives in developing tourism was to organize photography competitions, which allowed amateur / non-commercial photographers to get their photos recognized. This systematic development of tourism undertaken by the government helped to establish the image identity of Indonesia. There are three perspectives that one may approach such examples of tourism photography.

First, the tourist perspective: This is already highlighted above. Some photographers will use images that already exist as reference to produce similar images. Reference images come from tourism promotion media (brochures, postcards etc) or from friends and relatives who have previously photographed at the tourist sites.

Second, the media perspective: The pervasive influence of the media can prompt people to produce similar images. In other words, the tourists no longer see the location as a tourist spot but as a site for image creation.

Third, the romantic perspective: While traveling, some people may recall memories and experiences in life, which may shape the tourist photos they make.

The role of an itinerant photographer is to capture a portrait of the tourist according to her or his references and fantasies. Their practice is not merely financial or promotional. It encompasses the romantic function of providing satisfaction for their customers by crafting the images of their dreams.

3 / Three Decades of Tourism Photography at Kaliurang

Around the 1990s, the number of itinerant photographers at Kaliurang started declining. After the eruption of Mount Merapi in 1994, the number of tourist arrivals at Kaliurang started to drop, which led to the declining consumption of tourist portraits. Partly in response, the photographers began peddling photos of the Mount Merapi eruption, garnering a pretty good response from the customers. Some of them began to expand their services by selling photographs of Mount Merapi as souvenir.

Since 2000, sales of the Polaroid instant camera products started to drop. PT. Eresindo Jaya decided not to provide Polaroid products as part of its business portfolio from around 2005. In the same year, the number of itinerant photographers at Kaliurang plummeted and the photography group that was once unified by the distribution network of PT. Eresindo Jaya ended. In 2008, Polaroid announced the termination of its instant film production. The termination was a response to the decrease in sales by 25 percent annually since 2000. Its decision was influenced by the proliferation of pocket camera technology at a more affordable price. Camera phones were becoming commonplace rapidly. As visitors started bringing personal image-recording devices to tourist sites, the need for itinerant photographers has become supplanted.

At the height of the itinerant photography business, there were around 13 photographers who worked at Kaliurang. At present, there are only two people who are still working as itinerant photographers around Merapi. One of them works in the Tlogo Nirmolo (the Japanese Cave) while the other is based in the area of ​​Kali Adem (the eastern slope of Mount Merapi). Both of them no longer use Polaroid. Instead, they use digital cameras and portable photo printers, allowing them to print their work on the spot. Other than the two of them, everyone who used to work as itinerant tourist photographer has switched professions. They no longer see the financial potential of being a tukang foto keliling. Some of them still practise photography, but more in the production of images for promotional media, t-shirts and souvenirs.

4 / Exhibition: In Search of Narrative

My first attempt to seek a narrative for these itinerant photographers is to create an exhibition for them. In search of physical artifacts and relics from the heyday of the Kaliurang Photography Group, I have come to realize that they have become similar to the photographers’ memories: a bit faded and vague. Photo materials are brittle. The humidity causes decay and loss. There was no catalogue system then and there was no awareness to properly store the photos to maintain their condition. The few remaining photographs that I gathered become the narrative of the stories for each photographer. The exhibition then evolves into a group show featuring the works of the Kaliurang Photography Group.

I use the term “Kaliurang Photography Group” to refer to those who worked as itinerant photographers at Kaliurang between 1981 and 2005. The connection that united them was unofficial, voluntary and organic. In the process of collecting oral stories based on their memories, I realize the confidence that people have in their memories.

itinerant photographer 1

The first series of work in the exhibition is presented in the form of old Polaroid photographs that belong to Dasri. These Polaroid prints were taken at several iconic spots in the famous Kaliurang park playground. The park is one of the favorite tourist spots, often seen in the background of photographs. At that time, Dasri was one of the itinerant photographers who worked there.

The second series comes from Mr. Tukimun’s old sample Polaroid prints that he used to promote his services to the tourists. Unlike Dasri’s images, Tukimun’s photographs are more “mundane”. He was more interested in capturing the fleeting moments and in making typical portraits, instead of focusing on including the iconic sights in his clients’ photographs. Given that analog cameras have no digital preview, these sample photographs were important in selling his work.

Mr. Slamet, another former itinerant photographer, devised a strategy to rescue his expiring Polaroid sheets. He used them to make photographs of his family. Not contented to allow his Polaroid stock to become expired, the remaining sheets were used for private purposes and as memento of his time working there as an itinerant photographer.

The next presented work is a blank photo with slopes of the Merapi as its frame. This is created by Mr. Wijiyana, one of two itinerant photographers still working today. He makes instant photographs of tourists with the customized frame and sells them as souvenir. This is how he dealt with the changes in order to survive. Personally, the story of how Wijiyana suffered the business downtown and re-emerged in his work is rather inspiring. In this exhibition, the blank customized photo paper is presented with an audio recording of Wijiyana’s story, recounting how the 2010 Merapi eruption destroyed his photographic equipment and photo collection that he accumulated since the 1980s. In the recording, he recalls the manner in which he started adapting to the technological changes, creating business strategies that focus on customer satisfaction.

Compared to his comrades, Mr. Triyanto adopted a different creative practice. When it became less rewarding to sell Polaroid portraits, he started creating photo collages in which religious symbols were juxtaposed against tourism icons. These collaged photographs were made in the 1990s when digital practice was not yet familiar to him. He would manually cut out photos of Mother Mary or Jesus and paste them on photos of iconic sights at Kaliurang before re-photographing the collages as new images. This niche product was his creative response to the frequent religious retreats taking place at Kaliurang.

The projects chosen here are created at the point of transition, when the business of itinerant photography started to wane. In this exhibition, I position myself as a curator who selected the works, creating the narrative and preparing the group exhibition for members from the Kaliurang Photography Group. This exhibition is not the end of my research about the group, or the practice of photography and its relationship with tourism. The show is an important stepping-stone to unravel the bigger picture of rapid technological change in relation to photographic practices.

5 / Tourism Selfie and Hashtag: @wisataselfie and @wisatatagar

Based on my observation, until a few years ago, the practice of tourist photography almost always involved three elements: the tourists (people who are photographed), photographers (the people who take the photos) and the landscape. The role of the tourist itinerant photographers suffered with the advance of technology, creating newer cameras that are cheaper and easier to carry/operate.

The development of digital photographic technology, which has been incorporated into camera phones, further displaces the role of the itinerant photographers. This technological advancement has created the selfie as the new portraying habit of today, especially in relation to the travel portrait. In the selfie, the photographer and the subject of the picture converge. It alters the position and presence of the photographer (in this case, defined as anyone else who photographed the subject), which can be replaced by a tripod, monopod, or even one’s own hands.

Selfie is a new term used in relation to self-portraiture, especially those made by the photographed using a hand-held camera (or camera phone). The term is often associated with social media. The term emerged in the early 2000s and has become increasingly popular after 2010. Although the act of creating self-portraits has been in existence since 1839, the term has become more popular with the increased popularity of social media.

In my current work, I appropriate travel self-portraits. I prefer to recycle self-portraits that are uploaded publicly onto Instagram. I replace the process of photographing with the process of “screen grabs”, re-publishing the images using @wisataselfie as a Regramming account. Wisataselfie (Travel Selfie) is the account I made to document selfie pictures taken at various tourist spots across Indonesia. This account is used to regram tourist self-portraits found by searching for popular hashtags like #wisata, #wisataindonesia, #wisatanusantara and others.

In the process, I realize how selfie and hashtag are now incorporated into a new form of popular tourist photographic practice. With the culture of real-time sharing in social media (Instagram, Path, TwitPic, Facebook etc.), tourist perspective and media perspective (promotion of travel destinations) converge. The role of individuals who publish vacation photos on social media acts as provider of reference images, creating the fantasy that compels people to visit the same places and produce the same photographs.

This phenomenon is supported by user-friendly applications. Instagram filter, for example, is capable of making postcard-perfect photographs. Instagram, one of the most popular photo-sharing social networking services, reveals the strong desire amongst people to share their experiences for wider public consumption. The powerful tourist gaze, in tandem with the media gaze, makes people think of the tourist spot as an object to create images, seen in the photographs shared by their friends and family members. Some of the tourists have shifted their interest from experiencing to documenting. This is followed/sustained by the urge to share their photographs to the wider public as proof of their visit/experience at these tourist sites.

Beautiful landscape photographs are now rapidly reproduced. Some of them display a similar visual aesthetics and function as promotional media for tourism—with emphasis on the exotic, natural beauty and happiness. To differentiate the locations, a few “photographers” started adding hashtags to their photographs.

Hashtag is the easiest way to categorize a certain topic. It was first popularized in 2007 via Twitter. Then, Hashtag functioned as a folder separator to facilitate engine search, leading to the ideaof trending topics (hot topics that are widely discussed on Twitter). This approach is evolved for other social networking platforms, including Instagram. The way people use hashtags has undergone a shift, in which a single upload is now usually accompanied by more than one hashtag. In the early days of its conception, hashtag is used, in general, only three times in a single upload. The function of most Instagram hashtags today is still informed by the need to categorize the images. However, the use of hashtags has become more descriptive, explaining what is not only in the photo but also things that are not visible.

wisata tagar 2

The descriptive turn in the use of hashtags affects photography itself (unphotographed photography). Each hashtag summons the memory of experiences accordingly. This is relevant to the romanticism in tourist photography. The hashtag is not only used to categorize the images in the virtual world. It is also used to trigger our memories of past travels.

Hastag is important for selfies. People sometimes fill the entire frame (of the photographs) with their visages, hence obscuring the landscape. In this sense, travel selfies need hashtags to mark the locations. The desire here is to seek a more tangible materialization of the situation and experience, presented in the form of photographs. People also started using hashtags as a way to illustrate the things that do not appear in the photos. Members of the public are encouraged to imagine these things through a romantic perspective that is directly tied to personal memories and experiences. My response to this phenomenon can be seen through my other Instagram account, @wisatatagar.

It is clear that the way people access tourist photographs has changed. While the images created by the itinerant photographers are used to recall fond memories of trips and are sometimes displayed in the living room or in the photo album, the photographs taken nowadays are to be shared with a wider public. Photographing has evolved from ‘recording’ to ‘owning’.



Larsen, Jonas. 2006. “Geographies of Tourist Photography: Choreographies and Performances.” Geographies of Communication: The Spatial Turn in Media Studies, ed. Jesper Falkheimer and, Andre Jansson. Goteborg: NORDICOM (p. 243 – 261).

Strassler, Karen. 2010. Refracted Vision: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java. Durham: Duke University Press.

Review of Suara Kota Tua Photography Workshop (2015)


By Ridzki Noviansyah

A few weeks ago, I attended the slideshow presentation of the participants of the Suara Kota Tua photography workshop, mentored by Ben Laksana and Yoppy Pieter (in collaboration with Erasmus Huis). The workshop took place on 4-6 June 2015. There are 12 participants in total, all of whom below 25 years old. There is no published reason why participants from this age group are selected. However I’d like to believe that this is an initiative to groom young talent.

There are many photography workshops that have been organized in Indonesia over the years, often in conjunction with other photographic events. However, it’s rather difficult to find workshops that looked beyond technical issues. Suara Kota Tua promises a refreshing change, providing younger photographers access to education that is mostly reserved for photojournalists.

However, the presentation on 6 June suggests to me that the workshop only delivered part of the promise.

Most people will agree that a three-day workshop is quite tight in terms of time.  However, the tutors managed to cram within the schedule insights on the theory of storytelling, shooting and editing.

Viewing the outcome of the workshop, the participants’ projects can be divided into two groups. One group uses photography to tackle personal issues, projecting their ideas on the setting of Kota Tua (Old Batavia) and creating projects in a very subjective manner. The other group portrays Kota Tua and its inhabitants in a more documentary approach. However, based on the presentations, I have the impression that both groups of participants consider themselves as agents of change in their usage of photography. This probably has something to do with the perceived role of photojournalism in the Indonesian society.

The presentations took place in a very hurried manner.  With the lack of preparation for the students to deliver public presentations, the session raised many questions from the audience. The Q& A ended too quickly, leaving no room for further discussion.

I managed to discuss the workshop with the mentors. It seems that the students have come with a predetermined view of photography. This proves to be unproductive because it does not allow for collaborations between the mentors and the students. In other words, both the students and the mentors have lost the best opportunity to challenge themselves. You may not agree with what others believe. But it does not hurt to listen and collaborate for once.

This brings us to the next question. What’s next?

What’s next for the participants and the workshop? I do believe that Suara Kota Tua serves as an important beginning. I hope to see further refinement in the participants as well as the workshop model.

Best Indonesian Photobooks of 2014

By Ridzki Noviansyah and Tommy N. Armansyah

[Ed: Ridzki Noviansyah and Tommy N. Armansyah are founding members of The Photobook Club-Jakarta in 2013. Its aim is to discuss issues relating to photobooks published in Indonesia and beyond. These are the four best photobooks from Indonesia, published in 2014, as selected by the founders.]

First, these are the criteria for selection:
– Published in Indonesia
– Published in 2014
– Featured photographs made by Indonesians
– The book should be able to captivate viewers to revisit the work.
– The photographs should be able to make the viewers feel as though they are in the scene portrayed.
– The publication should have physical qualities that support the above criteria.

In no particular order:

By Ng Swan Ti

From the many independently published photobooks that revolve around personal projects, Illusion is the only publication that meets our expectations. Not only does it offer a different approach (most of the other books adopt the approach of street photography), the work has also taken a long time to germinate—something that is rare amongst independent publications these days.

The photographs in Illusion offer a journey that can be enjoyed over and over again. There is good synthesis between photographs, layout and design. There is no particular image that is very captivating or strong. However, in its entirety, this is not particularly important because Illusion is able to obscure the context of each photograph and make the viewers interpret the images individually or as a series. Such an approach is not uncommon, especially among younger photographers. However, compared to Illusion, it seems that the younger practitioners are a bit hasty to release their books.

Illusion will become the standard for anyone interested to independently publish a photobook that presents her/his ideas. An intense understanding of the process of editing and designing, informed by clear ideas, is a must for every photographer, especially those who do not have a deadline to publish her/his book.

Tanah yang Hilang
By Mamuk Ismuntoro

Man should learn from every tragedy that happened. This is especially important in Indonesia, as we seldom take any lesson seriously. Because we keep forgetting the past, in turn, like what Kundera said, we often lose in our struggles against power. This book presents one instance of that struggle—it reveals the unconventional way Mamuk Ismuntoro portrays the Lapindo mudflow tragedy through his photographs of the landscape at the site in Sidoarjo, East Java. We do not know whether Mamuk has any political mission but his book tells us quite clearly that we should not forget our struggles against power.

Tanah yang Hilang-3
From Swan Ti’s Illusion and Mamuk’s Tanah yang Hilang, we understand that there is no one singular process in making a photographic project. We believe Mamuk struggled with his work, as it is doubtful he started the project by focusing on the landscape at the disaster site. In this publication, there is also a close collaboration between the photographer, the photo editor and the designer. In the end, they decided to appropriate the form of the Indonesian land deed as design for the book. This makes the publication interesting without additional gimmicks. The book clearly conveys Mamuk’s mission to struggle against forgetting.

Riders of Destiny
By Romi Perbawa

We first saw this project on Time Lightbox. We were captivated by many great pictures. However, the edit overwhelmed us. Subsequently, when the book was first published, we remained still slightly sceptical. However, since owning a copy of the photobook, we have to say that we have been blown away by its quality and edit.

Riders of Destiny-2_1
Riders of Destiny
is a classic documentary work. Romi Perbawa tells the story of child jockeys in Sumbawa—their upbringing and how their lives revolve around the risks that they should not face at such a young age. The book is special partly because it charts Romi’s transformation from a hobbyist to a full-fledged documentary photographer. Riders of Destiny is a testament of his perseverance and advocacy, which resulted in the reduction of the number of races from four times to once a year, greatly minimising the risks faced by these young jockeys.

On Street Photography
By Erik Prasetya

This publication is slightly different.  This is a guidebook on street photography but we believe it is worth inclusion here. In general, 2014 has been a good year for street photography with the rising number of enthusiasts, and the emergence of different communities and events related to street photography. However, there are many differing references about street photography, which sometimes provoke unnecessary debates amongst various practitioners.

Erik Prasetya is a name that cannot be ignored when discussing street photography in Indonesia. In this book, we learn about street photography from the person who has been shooting for decades in Jakarta, a city that is both chaotic and polluted. Over the years, practitioners of street photography in Indonesia have always referenced photographers from the west or from Japan, with Daido Moriyama heralded as prophet. This has led to many avid photographers mimicking the styles of their references without understanding the reasons why their idols made pictures that way.

On Street Photography offers a possible approach to pursue street photography in Indonesia, with simple illustrations and examples of powerful images made from the last decade, which help to explain Erik’s idea of “banal aesthetics”. The book introduces not only the practice but also the philosophy behind street photography. It can also be used to understand the so-called western and Japanese approaches towards street photography. For now, On Street Photography is the only book that offers a comprehensive guide for pursuing this particular photographic practice in Indonesia.

Curatorial Introduction for “Revisiting Bandung: 
Four Decades of Personal Approach in Photography”


[Ed: This is one of the main exhibitions in the inaugural Bandung Photo Showcase 2015, curated by Henrycus Napit Sunargo.It aims to chart the evolution of photographic practices in Bandung, West Java, over 40 years through the perspective of “personal approach”. This is the curatorial introduction, written by Sunargo, with minor edits by Zhuang Wubin.]

Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, Ruang Sayap, Bandung
Date: 7-29 March 2015

Curated and written by Henrycus Napit Sunargo

“… trusting the photograph was probably a huge mistake from the beginning.”
Arthur C. Danto

The medium of photography, which presents appearances and commands authority, creates a sense of self-entrapment in practice. This has led to debates amongst practitioners and critics since photography’s invention. As the equipment technology evolves, interpretations and appreciation towards photography have also become more complex and specific. Numerous theorists have put forth the idea that photographic images have a special authority in terms of objectivity and transparency. In the past, photography was valued for its documentary authority as proof of an event, which made it useful in ethnography and forensic science. In this way, photography serves as proof of history and research.

On the other hand, appearance is often understood as an absolute in every photograph. Documentary authority and the accuracy of appearances are two ideas that continue to inform the discourses of photography today.

“A photograph is a two-dimensional, bounded, still image, often in black and white, and the choice of lens, exposure, angle, and contrast, among their things, all have profound effects on the results. Through photography, appearances can be radically transformed…”
Barbara Savedoff

The statement above is a clear description of how photography has been used as a personal medium in Bandung. Much like other cultural practices, photography does not exist in vaccum. The medium relates itself within the realms of geography, geopolitics, formal/informal institutions, and social system, amongst others.

During the colonial era, the camera was only accessible to the bourgeois, which included the Europeans, aristocrats and rich merchants. The Dutch also set up a training centre for art teachers in Bandung, the predecessor of the present-day Faculty of Art & Design, Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB). The bourgeois and ITB provided the backdrop in which photography has been used as a personal medium over the last four decades in Bandung.


Documentary Authority After Accurate Duplication

The desire to use photography as a means of accurate description emerged early on in Bandung. The importance of technical accuracy has been heavily emphasised by Perhimpunan Amatir Foto (PAF), the oldest existing photo club in Indonesia. Over time, the convention of technical accuracy has become the convention of photo clubs across the country.

Meanwhile, the term “seni foto” (art of photography) also gained traction, allowing photographers to indirectly address the issue of aesthetics relating to art.

ITB played an important role in elevating the medium as a modern art form by responding to it seriously. Mochtar Apin, A.D. Pirous and Haryadi Suadi were artist-lecturers who were quite familiar with photography. They started using photography as a personal mnemonic tool. Subsequently, Apin used photographs as reference for his paintings. A.D. Pirous also used photography in a similar way. He acquired an intimate understanding of photography during his studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York (1969-1972). At the time, he learnt about darkroom techniques at Kodak Center. This experience prompted him to introduce photography to ITB students. Back in Indonesia, he recruited Prof. Soelarko, a senior at PAF, as lecturer on basic photography from the mid to late 70s.

This led to a new perspective of photography within the Bandung art community. “Seeing things differently” led to “new ways” of working, which diverged from the convention of photography as accurate duplication. It eventually led to the formation of Forum Fotografi Bandung (FFB) in 1986, with their first exhibition held in the same year. Chaired by Jirman D. Martha, who was educated as an architect and trained as a photographer in London, FFB had 25 members initially. Its members came from various backgrounds and pursued different ways of expression vis-à-vis photography. Apart from Jirman, the likes of Sjuaibun Iljas, Hari Pochang, Andar Manik, Ray Bachtiar and Marintan Sirait helped to cultivate a sense of diversity within the forum. Despite criticism from PAF, FFB persisted and held its second exhibition in 1988, with the inclusion of new members Tiarma Sirait and Krisna Satmoko.

In general, the photographic practices of the 1970s and the 1980s, initiated by A.D. Pirous, Sjuaibun Iljas and Krisna Satmoko, display two tendencies. First, they used photography to record personal memories in relation to specific places and time. Secondly, they used it as a medium for visual art experiments. Pirous’ photos of his hometown, Iljas’s panoramic images and Satmoko’s slides of his travels are different means in which photography is being used to record personal memories. On the other hand, Pirous’ sketchbook of photo collages, Iljas’ relief prints and Satmoko’s solarisation images clearly belong to the second tendency.

Both tendencies helped to move photography away from accurate duplication to documentary authority, which constitutes appearances as ways of “seeing things differently”.


“In fact, every photograph is a fake from start to finish…”
Edward Steichen

Memory and History Reconstruction

From the 90s to the early 2000s, the boom in fashion and advertising photography in Jakarta drowned out those who used photography in a personal way. That was the golden era of commercial photography, which benefited many photographers, including those from Bandung. However, there are individuals who persisted in creating personal work in photography.

Adhya Ranadireksa, who studied photography in Italy, is one notable example. His still life photographs often feature daily objects pictured in a controversial manner. Discussion of politics surrounds Adhya’s social and family life, informing his photographic practice. With advanced technical expertise, he creates satires of the sociopolitical life in Indonesia during the early stages of Reformasi.

Deden Hendan Durahman, a graduate printmaker from ITB who continued his study in Germany, employs a different approach. He includes or erases objects in his photographic images through digital manipulation. In the series After The War (2010), Durahman combines archival photos of the aftermath of WWII with images of human beings and advertisements from the same place but from a different era. The interventions of these two artists transform appearances beyond their current state with the intention of creating new meanings.

This process of reconstruction reflects a response towards post-modern and contemporary thoughts, departing from heroic ideologies in order to convey something more layered, reflective and analytical.


Most artists of the millennial generation… talk more about “personal and identity problems” and “personal wounds”… In Indonesia, in the midst of chaotic social and political conditions… Artists chose to remove themselves as well, more interested in building their worlds.”
Aminudin TH Siregar

Domestic Circle: Personal Narrative for “Being” in the Small World

The breaking of boundaries in the photographic practices of Bandung occurred through the opening up of the personal domain by individual photographers. This development has not come out of nowhere. In modern society, people are familiar with family albums, which strive to preserve distinct moments of their lives.

Afterimage (2000-10), a ten-year project by Henrycus Napitsunargo that has been exhibited at the intimate space of Ruang Depan Gallery-S14, is an example of how the photographer’s domestic environment becomes the small universe to build his personal narrative. The images are presented randomly to eliminate the aspect of time and the explicit meaning in the appearance of the objects. This approach of directing documentary authority towards the personal domain, fused with a sense of aesthetics, was quite noticeable in Bandung during the early 2000s.

The Orchestra (2011) by Sari Asih utilises the panoramic format and strong colours as means of personal expression. Guadalcanal Report (2009-2011) by Gyaista Sampurno, which takes the form of a photobook, reveals a different way of evoking and displaying memories through photography. Ari Syahrazad, a graphic novel illustrator who is relatively new to photography, also employs a similar approach. His seniors Adhya Ranadireksa and Henrycus Napitsunargo introduced him to photography in 2006. What is unique about Ari is his deliberate attempt to let go of the visual illustration approach that he is familiar in his work. His photographs often look rough, spontaneous and dark, revealing his personal character. He became the first applicant from Bandung to be accepted for the international workshop at Angkor Photo Festival, Cambodia, in 2008. It was a great achievement, given that he was very new to photography then.

Syahrazad then passed on his experiences at Angkor to his juniors and that helped Sandi Jaya Saputra, Meicy Sitorus, Arif Setiawan and Tandia B. Permadi enter the Angkor workshops.

Tandia B. Permadi is the last to pick up photography within this group of practitioners. Starting out in 2009, his dedication and productive nature, together with the help of prominent mentors like Zhuang Wubin and Magnum photographers Antoine D’Agata and Jacob Aue Sobol pushed his work to maturity. His Self Portrait (2011) series breaks yet another boundary in terms of addressing the personal through photography. On the receiving end of psychological pressure since childhood, Permadi uses a strong sense of narration in his representation of the self. He places himself in front of the camera, playing both the roles of object and subject in his personal narrative.

For an extended period after FFB had become dormant, there were few communities/collectives that encouraged the use of photography as a personal medium in Bandung. In 2005, a group called KOMVNI was established, based on the desire to accommodate the diversity of individual and personal approaches towards photography. Initially, the platform attracted lots of interested individuals. Nowadays, its main members remain: Adhya Ranadireksa, Deden Hendan Durahman, Henrycus Napitsunargo and Sari Asih. At the same time, in terms of photo publication and highlighting photography from Asia, Blackmanray Project has been somewhat successful. Founded in 2011 by three photographers Eric Setiawan, Budi Sukmana and Dicky Juwono, who have been actively fostering communication on the Internet, they started showcasing the work of photographers from various Asian countries. That became the catalyst, which brought Deden Hendan Durahman, Henrycus Napitsunargo and Sari Asih to Singapore to exhibit their works. Curated by Zhuang Wubin, A Certain Grace: Photography From Bandung (2012) highlights the diversity of photographic practices in Bandung, which cannot be categorised reductively. The phenomenon sparked the idea to form Bungkus! Bandung Photography Now, a public initiative-zine that hosts a recurring open call for publication according to specific themes. The aim is to map, publish and expand the photographic practices that privilege the content, context and concept of each individual.

Henrycus Napitsunargo, 2015