Monthly Archives: July 2009

Photography Masterclass with Rio Helmi

Bali, 25-27 September, 2009

Travel and Reportage

The 3-day workshop is aimed at giving participants the opportunity to work one on one with Rio. Take part in discussions, go out on assignment on the beautiful island of Bali and learn from over 30 years of his experience as a professional photographer.

info@riohelmi.com

capture1

COME OUT OF THE SHADOWS!

The bombing of the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriot in Jakarta on July 17th reminded us again of the endless obsession of certain would-be-players in Indonesian politics for lurking in the shadows. As in the Javanese or Balinese tradition of Wayang/showplay, the pupeteer is never seen by most of the audience. But we know he is there, fanning the flames of his torch, manipulating the puppets to his will. The similarity ends there.

In traditional shadow play the pupeteer plays a constructive role of reminding the community of their common values: in fact he (or she in some cases) is openly educated, initiated and ordained to do so. The flames and shadows reveal a resolution for all.

The political puppeteer is only interested in his own gain, and uses shadows to create fear and confusion. Terror is his weapon, but it’s also an expression of his own inadequacy. The flames he fans in truth have no sacred or noble end, no matter what god or political ideal he claims to serve.

It isn’t yet clear just who did this, though certain foreign media have barely stopped short of foregone conclusions pointing to Al Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiyah. In the shadow world of Indonesian politics deception is the underlying modus operandi, yet within an hour or so of the bombings we were being told by a CNN “terror” expert that this was “almost certainly” Al Qaeda/JI – with no evidence beyond speculation. Perhaps he had read a recent article in Australian media which seemed to be self fulfilling. Who knows, because hardly anybody in Indonesia including those at the scene did.To me it looked much more like this so-called expert and the anchor had taken the shadow-man’s bait.

At this point in time it is difficult to speculate with any clarity as to who exactly did this. It could be certain political disaffected people copying JI’s style, it could be JI allowing it to look like a political faction doing it, it could be rogue military – and on and on. President SBY’s speech yesterday alluded to certain possibilities but from my uninformed point of view why bother stirring up the mud? You can point or beckon in the direction of various factions all day long but that proves nothing. Go that way and you end up being another player in the shadows.

All that is clear is somebody wants Indonesia to look unstable and economically unviable. That I am afraid that’s the only thing I am really interested in. A stable, peaceful and economically viable Indonesia. We should not and will not succumb to fear because we have already proven that we are ready to move out of the shadows.

Indonesia has made significant progress in the last 5 years. This last presidential election proved that. People voted directly for what they want in governance, and not along party or religious lines. People can yell all they want about election fraud, but it was overall a fair event. Sure there were questionable instances and practices, but this was only our second direct presidential election. It’s a huge country with 13000 inhabited islands. (And it wasn’t anything like Zimbabwe for goodness sakes!)

So come out of the shadows already. Enough with the “read-between-the-lines” New Order stuff. Turn on the light, join in, build a better place. If you have a gripe, bring it out into the open, use the legitimate tools that are available. Lurking in the darkness just proves that you have nothing to offer. Indonesia is moving forward. There will be no hero’s welcome for anyone trying to bring it down, no place in the sun.

WHERE’S THE LINE?

Puffing away in the gym in Bali this morning, I caught a segment of the BBC’s Justin Rowland’s visit to the Amish on the elliptical’s built in tv screen, with audio via bluetooth headphone. At one point there was an ongoing discussion with different members of the family as to what was ok for Amish or not. Television came up as a no-no (this was on camera!!!), though “green” (solar, wind etc) electricity was a thumbs up.
Among other headscratching moments was a scene with the intrepid reporter (who wore a suit and tie even while shoveling on the farm) and the bearded head of the family inside a horse carriage on the way to town. The horse carriage looked like a refitted mobile home, complete with aluminum windows. A one horse-power Airstream.
One could cynically conjecture, while your fancy exercise machine tells you how many calories you’ve burned, that if you really were to be “not of this world” you should be out there digging holes with a pointed stick. But, like the old Amish father who was sick of being in the cold wind on his traditional horsebuggy, at some point you might want an upgrade. Sticking (sorry) to your beliefs is not something to be ridiculed, but it does get tricky when it involves a family or a community. And it gets trickier when these beliefs are hand-me-downs the wisdom of which haven’t been wholly digested.
What was revealing was that several children in this Indiana family (contraception being presumably worldly) stated point blank that they were not “Amish” in the strictest sense of the word. In a poignant moment, the father tells Justin that he thinks that the Amish way of life is doomed and that “Soon there won’t be any plain folk anymore, just established people. Everyone under my age is now working in a factory.”.
The question of just where the line is of what is a threat to a tradition or what is not, comes down to the universal viability of its principles. Trite platitudes or grand sacrifices are fine if you live on your own on a tiny island. But we live in an age in which, more than ever, survival means sharing. Culture is not preservable, culture is life and growth. Tradition is not stagnation, tradition is continuity and adaptation. If your children leave your isolated culture, what’s left? Selling souvenirs?
Embracing connectivity as a community is a slippery slope, yet there don’t seem be to any other routes. I can understand the fear of the exposure that these kind of communities around the world experience. But surely if your principles are the sharp and viable crampons they need to be in this day and age, and if you hold on firmly to the rope of universal human values, your people can make it to a new land.

DON’T DROP THE BATON – BUT DO PASS IT ON!

In an era that puts so much emphasis on stardom over wisdom, the spectacle of messy transitions has become commonplace. A few days before the Indonesian presidential elections, I could be talking about politics, but it doesn’t stop there: the problem permeates to all aspects of life.

If you spend a lifetime getting to where you are, then work all out to give it your best, thereby lifting everyone up to new heights: hats off and we are behind you! But if you stop and just try to keep your seat, that’s the first sign that it‘s time look for replacement. In Indonesia we had a bad case of this during the New Order, and those in power did little to substantially increase the quality of governance (quantity is another story). If anything they set the scene for even more degeneration by cultivating and breeding political lies.

But we as citizens do share a little complicity in all of this. How did a relatively uneducated soldier hold us all in thrall for 32 years? Imagine: after nearly four and a half decades, we still are not completely clear on what happened the night of the 30th September. Somehow, we all share a bit of the blame. Somewhere inside us, we seem to like to hold on tight to the comparatively safe same old same old. The end result is that we don’t have any arms free to embrace the new.

Yes it is time to move on. But moving on means not repeating the same mistakes, which in turn means understanding 1.what the mistake was, and 2. what the mistake means to us. When it is convenient, Southeast Asians like to do a little repression whilst claiming a faux social tolerance for the good of all: it usually ends up in flames, to the detriment of many. Thailand, land of smiles, is the latest example this.

In the case of the New Order, time marched on – even the strongest castles fall to the siege of time – and regimes changed. Yet there are still a significant few players out there from that era, clinging to old ways and getting a way with it. Some have even been major actors in past transgressions of human rights. A friend of mine said during an online chat session: “We Indonesians have amnesia”. Do we really have to be The Republic of Indoamnesia to keep things peaceful? And is it only pols who are displaying this despotic behaviour?

Where do we find these residues? For a start, everywhere there is bureaucracy. Take culture: there is still a strong tendency to have bureaucratic mechanisms of approval that tell us what is culture and what isn’t acceptable. Most of what gets approved is pretty safely ‘traditional’ or within fifty meters of it. And most of us just nod our heads and murmur assent.

It is extremely rare that you get a government official like the current mayor of Denpasar who actually contributed to the expenses of a local “rockabilly” band (The Hydrant) who had been invited to tour in Europe. Yet it makes perfect sense – after all it’s not just Legong happening in Bali*. Thinking outside the box doesn’t happen frequently enough.

It comes back to wisdom over stardom: knowing when you really can still contribute, and knowing when to hand off the baton while things are still running well. Allowing for young blood to rise through the ranks and develop their own capacity is paramount. To do this there is a need to give them extraordinary opportunities and responsibilities. If they don’t learn, then who are you going to pass the baton too? And if they don’t know their own strengths and weaknesses, how are they going to hold on to the baton?

Bali, 4th July

*sidenote: another local band, the punk group “Superman is Dead” is currently touring the USA.

DON’T DROP THE BATON – BUT DO PASS IT ON!

In an era that puts so much emphasis on stardom over wisdom, the spectacle of messy transitions has become commonplace. A few days before the Indonesian presidential elections, I could be talking about politics, but it doesn’t stop there: the problem permeates to all aspects of life.

If you spend a lifetime getting to where you are, then work all out to give it your best, thereby lifting everyone up to new heights: hats off and we are behind you! But if you stop and just try to keep your seat, that’s the first sign that it‘s time look for replacement. In Indonesia we had a bad case of this during the New Order, and those in power did little to substantially increase the quality of governance (quantity is another story). If anything they set the scene for even more degeneration by cultivating and breeding political lies.

But we as citizens do share a little complicity in all of this. How did a relatively uneducated soldier hold us all in thrall for 32 years? Imagine: after nearly four and a half decades, we still are not completely clear on what happened the night of the 30th September. Somehow, we all share a bit of the blame. Somewhere inside us, we seem to like to hold on tight to the comparatively safe same old same old. The end result is that we don’t have any arms free to embrace the new.

Yes it is time to move on. But moving on means not repeating the same mistakes, which in turn means understanding 1.what the mistake was, and 2. what the mistake means to us. When it is convenient, Southeast Asians like to do a little repression whilst claiming a faux social tolerance for the good of all: it usually ends up in flames, to the detriment of many. Thailand, land of smiles, is the latest example this.

In the case of the New Order, time marched on – even the strongest castles fall to the siege of time – and regimes changed. Yet there are still a significant few players out there from that era, clinging to old ways and getting a way with it. Some have even been major actors in past transgressions of human rights. A friend of mine said during an online chat session: “We Indonesians have amnesia”. Do we really have to be The Republic of Indoamnesia to keep things peaceful? And is it only pols who are displaying this despotic behaviour?

Where do we find these residues? For a start, everywhere there is bureaucracy. Take culture: there is still a strong tendency to have bureaucratic mechanisms of approval that tell us what is culture and what isn’t acceptable. Most of what gets approved is pretty safely ‘traditional’ or within fifty meters of it. And most of us just nod our heads and murmur assent.

It is extremely rare that you get a government official like the current mayor of Denpasar who actually contributed to the expenses of a local “rockabilly” band (The Hydrant) who had been invited to tour in Europe. Yet it makes perfect sense – after all it’s not just Legong happening in Bali*. Thinking outside the box doesn’t happen frequently enough.

It comes back to wisdom over stardom: knowing when you really can still contribute, and knowing when to hand off the baton while things are still running well. Allowing for young blood to rise through the ranks and develop their own capacity is paramount. To do this there is a need to give them extraordinary opportunities and responsibilities. If they don’t learn, then who are you going to pass the baton too? And if they don’t know their own strengths and weaknesses, how are they going to hold on to the baton?

Bali, 4th July

*sidenote: another local band, the punk group “Superman is Dead” is currently touring the USA.