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IMAGEMAKERS OF THE FUTURE!! (part1)

Since that day a few months ago, when I sat down with some friends from the Bali Creative Community to see if anyone was interested in doing a major photo festival for Indonesian photography in Bali in 2010, things started rolling fast. Fairly quickly the board established itself: Rudolf Dethu of Suicide Glam, Ayip of Matamera design, Marlowe Bandem as well as Robin Malau (who came on temporarily to help us out with IT). Soon some of my fellow “senior” Indonesian photographers, Firman Ichsan, Oscar Motuloh, Tara Sosrowardoyo, and Darwis Triadi were on board as co-curators.

From overseas Raghu Rai (Magnum, India), Linda Connors (who teaches photography at San Fransisco’s School of Fine Arts and works with 8×10″), and John Stanmeyer of VII expressed serious interest in participating. All three are very inspiring photographers and we are thrilled to have their support!

We did a little teaser at the digital forum event, FGD, in Jakarta at the beginning of August 2009, and then Alila hotel Ubud generously offered us a venue for our first pre-event, Imagemakers of the Future, an exhibition featuring young upcoming Indonesian photographers. That event will take place this coming 10th of October at 5 pm at the Alila Ubud.

In the coming weeks I will feature some of the photographer’s involved on this blog. Today we’ll start with Andika Wahyu. (the original Indonesian is featured below)

RUPIAH MENGUAT TIPIS

I, Andika Wahyu, was born in Kebumen, Central Java on the 14th of July 1983. I first became interested in photography because of my admiration for the photos
I saw in newspapers when I was primary school. I had so many questions running around in my mind. Slowly the answers revealed themselves when I
Became more involved in photography during my time in the student activity unit,
FCC (Fisip Fotografi Club) at the Universitas Sebelas Maret in Surakarta
In the beginning of 2001. While I was completing my degree in comunication sciences at UNS I had the opportunity to do on the job training at the sports
Tabloid “Bola” and also at the Aantara news agency. After completing my studies I joined Antara Foto-Indonesia Press Photo Agency as a photojournalist
In 2006, and continue to work there now.

PHOTOGRAPHY for me is a miraculous tool, the stopper and freezer of time, and a media for contemplation. Regarding photographyt in Indonesia I would just
like to emphasize that we shouldn’t just judge photography from the esthetic point of view. The debate and discussion about the esthetic aspect is over. We are waiting for photography to play abigger “role” in Indonesia so that it can bring more benefit to the people.

Saya, Andika Wahyu lahir di Kebumen, Jawa Tengah pada 14 Juli 1983.
Ketertarikan pada fotografi berawal dari kekaguman pada foto-foto yang
terpampang di koran-koran waktu saya masih di sekolah dasar. berbagai
macam pertanyaan berkecamuk dalam diri waktu itu. dan perlahan
jawabannya mulai terkuak ketika saya mulai terlibat lebih dalam dengan
fotografi di unit kegiatan mahasiswa (UKM) Fisip Fotografi Club (FFC)
Universitas Sebelas Maret Surakarta di awal tahun 2001. Selagi
merampungkan studi di jurusan Ilmu Komunikasi UNS, saya berkesempatan
melakukan on job training sebagai fotografer di Tabloid Olahraga BOLA
dan Kantor Berita Indonesia ANTARA. Setelah merampungkan studi saya
bergabung dengan Antara Foto-Indonesia Press Photo Agency-sebagai
pewarta foto mulai tahun 2006 sampai sekarang.
FOTOGRAFI bagi saya adalah alat ajaib, sang penghenti dan pembeku
waktu, serta media kontemplasi. Tentang fotografi di Indonesia, saya
hanya ingin menekankan bahwa janganlah fotografi hanya dinilai dari
aspek estetis saja…perdebatan dan perbincangan aspek estetis telah
selesai…menunggu fotografi di Indonesia lebih “berperan” dengan
segala kelebihannya agar lebih bisa membawa manfaat bagi masyarakat…

Memories of the Sacred

An exhibition of my photographs picked from the last 30 years in Bali, Memeories of the Sacred, opens at the Amandari in Ubud, Bali, on the 2nd of October 2009, and runs thru the whole month.

inviteaman09fin1

FORGIVENESS

It is once again time for all Muslims, as well as those of us who have close ties to Muslims and are so inclined, to beg for forgiveness from those around for all misdeeds of body and mind. The Indonesian phrase “Maaf Lahir Bathin” is the formula of the day during Idul Fitri, which marks the end of the month of fasting and restraint. Presumably, during Ramadan Muslims have reflected deeply on their faults and sins.

Muslim readers permitting, if we broaden the context a bit to include most of humankind, the psychology of apologizing is often merely associated with a desire to rid oneself of ‘guilt’ rather than really accepting responsibility for one’s mistakes and being determined to repair one’s ways.

Take a couple of examples which have somehow appeared on my radar. In Thailand there is a chronic trend of politicians (and military men) to pull off the most reprehensible of actions, then to kneel in what seems to be faux abjection before the King to ask to be forgiven and absolved. This is a recurring phenomena – be it a coup or whatever. One gets the impression that this has somehow become institutionalized as a parallel political system. Little of substance changes.

More recently, I was sitting in one of the few outdoor cafés in the Mayfair area of London watching a steady flow of shiny Rolls Royces and gleaming Bentleys purr by. What came to mind was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent rebuke of bankers who are now going back to the business of greed as usual, condemning the “failure to name what was wrong”. In the case of most bankers and financial speculators involved, apologies were rare even after their practices bankrupted so many people around the globe. What is also interesting in Dr Rowan Williamson’s statement is his interpretation of ‘idolatry’ as that of “projecting of reality and substance onto things that don’t have them”.

To jump off the Abramic wagon for a moment, in Buddhism that definition certainly rings a bell. According to Buddhism, being taken in by something which has no intrinsic value certainly is the perennial road to disaster. In fact in those branches of Buddhism which advocate confession (or more precisely admission and repentance) it is important to recognize the falsity of this aura of permanence and reality which things acquire in our minds, laying the groundwork for greed, hate, and so forth. For ‘confession’ to be effective it is first necessary to recognise our faults – which in turn have their root in our “idolatry” of the impermanent etc.

It is also necessary to be determined to try not repeat the mistake. In the end our self serving ways don’t serve us well. That is the crux of seeking forgiveness. If we just do an annual “brush off” it doesn’t contribute much to a better world.

And apologizing effectively requires a good sense of timing. We need to know not only what our faults are and regret them, but we need to be sure that those of whom we beg forgiveness are also ready to accept. Hopefully this Lebaran/Hari Raya/Idul Fitri we will be truly aware of why we are apologizing, and truly ready to accept each other’s apologies. Maaf Lahir Bathin.

SINGAPORE’S FM MUDDLES IT UP IN TIBET

I have to admit being slightly irritated by Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo’s fence sitting blog article about his visit to Tibet, also published in today’s Singapore Straits Times, ever so subtly ‘substantiating’ China’s supposed rights over Tibetan affairs. There is even a distortion of the so-called right of “approval” that the Chinese court supposedly had over the nomination of high lamas in Tibet. Historically this was simply a diplomatic process which had virtually nothing to do with the actual decision making process – and let’s not forget that China too in it’s day was indirectly vassal to Tibet!

Basically his only interest is whether Tibet is a wedge or a link between China and India. Forgive me for thinking that the Foreign Minister of this small “Switzerland in Asia” would like to play the Great Game.

There are various instances in his article which purport to be ‘reasonable’ which in fact are simply endorsements of the PRC’s claims of backwardness etc such as pointing to the lagging economy of the Tibetans compared to the Han in Tibet. No kidding – there is ample evidence of the discrimination along ethnic and political lines since the so-called liberation of Tibet.

Then there is a very contentious line which states “During the Cultural Revolution, Tibetan youths, following Chinese youths in other parts of the country, engaged in an orgy of destruction.” Where have you been Your Excellency? Tibetan youths willingly engaging in destruction of their own culture, inspired by Chinese youth? A handful perhaps inducted and forced may have joined, but it is hardly evidence of a voluntary movement on the part of the Tibetan youth. Accept the fact it was the Han Chinese, the PRC. the PA who were responsible.

Regarding his view that the Tibetans are still medieval, in this world there a lot of people who are.. But in the Tibetans case, ironically, those who are still in that situation are there because of PRC dominance over who gets the benefits of their economic ‘injections’, not because monasteries are still holding serfs in slavery (something which even historically was not so clear). Perhaps it would do George Yeo some good to examine the quality of life in China at the turn of the century, in the mid century, and even in the 80’s.

I am not sure what your mission is Mr Yeo, but it clearly is not about getting the facts straight.

Another Bloodstained Round for Karzai?

Very recently the US President praised the Afghan elections, citing the fact that they pulled it off in the face of the Taliban threats. This despite the fact that a figurative half of the voters never really made it to the polling booths – women are a special target for violence when ‘they forget their place’ in Afghanistan.

An assessment from BBC’s report on women in Afghanistan indicates that Hamid Karzai’s gov’t has really done nothing for the sorely oppressed women of this country but flim flam and perhaps make things worse by letting things slide: “His government is weak and corrupt”.

And now he is trying to claim victory. If that happens things might even get worse. Meanwhile his wife, a highly educated woman never appears at his side at public functions, not even overseas. In that BBC documentary, one of the extremely few women in the Afghan parliament, in a thinly veiled comment regarding some Afghan women with prominent social standing who do little personally to take up the fight for their rights: “…some women seem to just want democracy for their neighbours only…”

Karzai has been the western alliance’s darling. A smooth talker and dresser, at first he played well to the cameras. Not only have things not really improved during his term; of late he has been tainted with some rather off-putting compromises made, it seems, to curry votes from the medieval conservatives that are the bastion of Afghanistan’s current oppressive political and social climate.

In the New York Times’ story on the election (afghan elections) one reads about men voting for the women in their family by proxy vote, and women in government being special targets of assasination.

Meanwhile everyone is busy praising this election (don’t get me wrong, I am not outright condemning it despite my reservations) yet the reality is that while on the one side the Taliban has been unsurprisingly terrorizing everyone involved, the other side has been accused of fraud, corruption, and very compromising politics. I really am not sure which one is worse: the predictably destructive Taliban or the totally ineffective, self-serving government which survived mainly due to Nato’s patronage. This government has, by virtue of it’s weakness and corruption, given the hardliners some kind of claim of moral high ground – however spurious that claim may be.

Karzai’s closest contender is his ex-foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Another dapper dresser, he does come with some excellent credentials. He has a long association with resistance to the Soviets and to the Taliban (Karzai at one time was a Taliban supporter, believe it or not). His contribution to the formation of democracy in Afghanistan was crucial. And he is suposedly bent on moving away from traditional powerbases such as the warlords towards a more unified nation.

Though Abdullah has criticised Karzai’s divisive style of government (playing one party against the other from a barricaded capital, President Karzai was known as the “Mayor of Kabul”) if he did get into office he would still face major opposition from the Pashtun south, Karzai’s powerbase. And that’s a big ‘if’.

If Karzai does win a second round, and the western alliance continues to support his style of governance, there seems little prospect of change. The women, and the men, of this once beautiful country have little but more misery to look forward to.

There are three things which link me to this in a personal way. In the early ’70s I spent a couple of months roaming this country, the impressions it left on me of a proud independent people, of breath taking beauty and harshness, of a history of an indomitable spirit and an incredible melange of silk route culture, stay with me to this day.

The second, much more relevant to the current mess dates, back some 8 years now to a few days before the US led invasion. I was chosen. almost randomly, for a live BBC radio interview of different people from across Asia regarding their views on an invasion of Afganistan. In that interview I stated flatly that there was no way that the US led forces could win a war there. When the incredulous BBC journalist sputtered on about hugely superior firepower, I cited history – how many countries have tried to subjugate this country? I conceded there would be battles won, but the war no. The interviewee directly following me, and Indian gentleman living in Australia, put it even more succinctly: “How do you bomb an idea?”.

The third thing is even more immediate. I know for a fact, that despite all odds, at least some of the women of Afghanistan are determined to fight on. A friend of mine, a French woman working there with the UN, told me she had tears in her eyes watching the women who did dare to come and vote personally despite the Taliban threats. (I might add that the other day this same friend of mine decided to have lunch instead of join a UN convoy – the same one that got blown up, killing 10 people and injuring many more. The twists and turns of fate).

It’s a very sad mess, and there are no certain solutions in sight. If Karzai wins a second term, will he reform? Will he stop dividing the country along whatever seems expedient lines? If Abdullah wins, will he hold to his promise to unite the country? Will he be able to win over the south? Will the western alliance support him? Will that support undermine him in the long run? Will there be an effective Afghan security force?

And much more crucially, will the women (and the men) of Afghanistan at least get their basic human rights? The war is not for military victory, the real war is for the hearts of the Afghan people.

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.