Category Archives: Tommy N. Armansyah

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

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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.

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

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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.

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After N by Gregory Rusmana

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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.

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Honorable mention: #WISTAU by Flock Project

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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.

JKT
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”.

 

 

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:

Illusion
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.

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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.