My community in Ubud (Banjar Ubud Tengah) has been after me for a more than a month now to help them out with pictures and publicity for their all new Women’s Kecak performance. Last week they performed at the Denpasar Art Centre for the Bali Art Festival and are very excited. Unfortunately up till now I haven’t been able to free up a wednesday evening, so last night I put off everything else and went to Pura Batukaru (across from me on Suweta) to check it out. Lots of old friends, some of them performers others their wives who were performing. The men busied themselves with tickets etc. I ran into Rucina Ballinger again, who is a serious hand at Balinese performing arts and cultures, having made a lot of breakthrough performances herself. Along with a small handful of western performers who have immersed themselves in to the world of Balinese performing arts over the last two or three decades, she and the likes of Cristina Formaggia are passionate about it all. Though the performance is billed as “Bali’s first women’s kecak”. Rucina was actually part of the real first women’s kecak a couple of years ago. —-The Cak starts, and it is a fantastic setting under the old banyan in front of the steps to the entrance of the inner courtyard. The choreography is a tad saccharine but the ladies make a pretty good show of it considering this only their fourth performance, and most of them aren’t professionals by any means. It was a bit ironic to see that the by-now-traditional appearance of a “baddie” who dominates the chant for part of the inset story is played by a biggish man. In any case I definitely recommend the show, especially if they work on a bit of “editing”. The only thing that spoilt the evening a bit was the appearance, at the end of the women’s cak, of a “Sanghyang Jaran” or fire trance. A stunned Rucina caught on at first jingle of the bells and moaned: “Oh no, why do they have to do that? This is a Srikandi thing (a female warrior of legend)!” and promptly stood up and left in protest.After the performance is over I bring it up quietly with some of the organizers. An old friend ruefully tells me that they are not that comfortable about it either but it seems to be a big selling point. So much so that if tourists find out that there is no trance they balk: “No fire? No ticket thank you…” Hmm, should tell my sociologist brother-in-law about this! A classic (and sadly oft repeated) scenario. Not to mention my opportunistic taking dramatic pictures…
Normally Sunday is my day off, when i try to rest and contemplate. Old friend Michelle Han showed up as planned for a coffee, but then she showed me an article in the Financial Times, actually an interview with Ashley Bickerton, whose art I love but he seems to have the artist’s curse of not getting the facts quite straight. You can read the article yourself here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/50675b4e-3d9b-11dd-bbb5-0000779fd2ac.html I did shoot off a letter to FT, but am posting it here anyway:Re: “I’m not living a lie anymore” (!) (interview w Ashley Bickerton by Mark Ellwood) I am an Indonesian living in Bali for the Iast 35 years. I happen to know Ashley Bickerton personally as he is currently married to a family friend. I admire his art, but perhaps because of his bohemian lifestyle in the expat near-enclave like Seminyak, his grasp on facts about the island are somewhat tenuous. Or perhaps he was interviewed over the phone with a very bad line after a party. To start with he says there are no museums in Bali. This despite the Museum Bali in Denpasar having been established many decades ago, and the current tally of officially recognized and certified museums on Bali continues to rise (to name a few, in order of seniority, Museum Bali, Puri Lukisan Ratna Warta, Neka Museum, Museum Gunarsa, Museum Rudana). I appreciate his concern about “they are selling off everything in this country..” which is partially true for many cultures in the world, but it is only partially true. Then there is his statement that Bali has not produced any great expatriate artistic characters. May the spirits of Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Antonio Blanco and so on not come back to haunt Ashley for not knowing them. There were also artists from other parts of Indonesia who made their mark, such as Affandi and so on. Meanwhile I suppose the great Balinese artists like Lempad et al will just have to accept that expat artists are ‘much more important’. And as to where he is building his home, it isn’t Penang-penang, it’s Padang-padang (but maybe it was just a bad line). Then there is the famous quote from Nehru, “Bali is the morning of the world”, being attributed to Miro (LOL!). I am willing to attribute some of the near misses (e.g.Penang-penang and Miro) to a bad phone line, but the rest can only be attributed to ignorance. I am not sure about FT’s policy with interviews, but a little fact checking would go a long way.Rio HelmiUbud, Bali
Back on the job with Jerome, we decide to get some pics of his favorite people for the book. One of them is an old acquaintance of mine, the one and only Bona from Kaya Gaya in Seminyak who still has her little boutique on Drupadi. Her studio is filled with all kinds of knick knacks, modern and old. Bona is also the only Italian ex-mother-in-law of Amir Rabik, currently the honorary consul of Spain in Bali (it was about 20 years ago, and was admittedly pretty brief….And we also took in some of Jerome’s favourite haunts, one of which is a place on the bypass which is a mad mix of megalomania and classic old chinese kitsch. The crowning glory of this Republik of Aneh-aneh (Republic of Strange Things) is this pram. Notice the motorcycle parked next the back wheel, it kind of gives the whole thing scale.Fact, in Asia, is much weirder than fiction. My kind of place! I have another one of those “twilight zone” moments (see “fav haunts” June 10th entry) when we go around to Nunung’s (next to Daeng’s place on Tangkupan Perahu) to take a picture of her. That morning Jerome had been talking to me about David Manfredi (I think thats the spelling) who was Helmut Newton’s agent, and is now often in Bali. We park, go inside to see Nunung, and she is chatting with this westerner. Jerome introduces me to her, and the guy pipes up “Oh I know your work..” and then he introduces himself: it is David M in flesh. Hard not to be flattered when the agent of the one of the world’s most famous photogs knows you, but I quickly remember it is a small island!——-On to family matters:Meanwhile my sister Rana took off today for a long study spell in India. She has quite the courage, and we will miss her. Hats off to her for her courage, at 57, to take on an intense scholastic study course in Tibetan Buddhism that would scare most 20 somethings I know! (both shots by budding photog Lyn Shwaiko)
Gubernatorial campaigns in Indonesia are always a bit tacky, and lots of shenanigans are part and parcel of the vent. But this time the royal cremation in Ubud is taking a questionable turn, at the very least in terms of taste. I am not going to even speculate as to the spiritual repercussions of using a cremation tower to hang gubernatorial election campaign banners (so what if the candidate in question is related to the deceased?), others more versed can bandy that about. Here it is:I am sure there is some excuse as lame as a racehorse with 4 broken legs, but then again it’s not my cremation. Just trying to figure out who the third face is ……….
Meriem of the Mimpi Bali exhibion posted a comment to my original post about the exhibition, and though it is still there, in all fairness to her and Maurizio, I have decided to post her comments as a post along with my answers:
I would like to answer your comment a bit more in detail, yours comments in blue italic, mine in plain.
The first one:
Since the first day of the opening (June 13), each of the photograph exhibited have it own caption. These captions mention the name of the photographer, the year of publication or the year the photograph has been taken, and the provenience, with sometime a description that have the aim to retrace the context in which the image has been taken and/or to replace it in its historical context too. The information we provide are sometime more complete than the original ones provided by the Museum, as they are the result of a research made, on the field, here in Bali.
Regarding your first point, as this is an exhibition of mixed ( mostly deceased) photographers it would have been interesting to know: 1. not only how they were obtained, but 2. also how they were reproduced (scanned from print? From film? From plates? etc) and what they were printed with, the medium and so forth.
You mentioned that most of the “images” displayed belong to public domain. This is not always true. As you know, artistic works and photography belongs to this group, enter in the public domain 75 years after the death of their Authors (copyright is protected during the life of the author and for 75 years after his/her death- Berne Convention-Copyright Law), so for the photographs taken for example in 1930 this is scarcely the case. The photographs belonging to museums has been duly bought to the museum itself and permissions have been requested. The heirs of the photographers, when it was possible, has been contacted and informed about our intention and aim which you did not mentioned and which is, in my opinion, the most important: to give back to the people of Bali what has been taken abroad and what they have never even though it was existing. When the photographer is still unknown, we declare it clearly and the names of the families, who kindly make available their! private family archives to us, are quoted.
I didnâ€™t say that most of the images were in public domain, I said (with tongue in cheek) that most likely most of them are in public domain. Thank you for your standard explanation of copyright â€“ though unfortunately it varies from country to country , despite the Berne Convention. I am glad to hear the permissions were given.
However my point is that this would have been a good occasion to educate people and show that these had been reproduced with the permission of the various institutions etc. (e.g. reproduced with the permission of such and such). That the heirs were contacted is a good thing, and I commend you on that. The Blanco family was mentioned explicitly at the exhibition, and I did mention that. It is true that I didn’t mention Ni Polok’s family.
You mentioned that the photographs are on sale, and this is true, the price
you indicate is correct Rp. 2 100 000 which means more or less 140 Euro including the “passe-partout” and the frame.
You wrote also that it is not mentioned where the proceeds will finish.
In fact, what an interesting thing it would be if all sales (including the ones made by the photo galleries) would like to declare where the incoming is going!
On all “communiquÃ©” we issued it is clearly mentioned that the earning will be used to organise other exhibition of this kind during the year, open to the general public:
Quote” Reprints of the exhibited works are on sale and the proceeds will be allocated for further forthcoming exhibitions, similar to this one, opened to the general public of Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia, as well as in foreign countries”. The copies of our main announcement, both in English and in Indonesian languages are, since the first day of the opening, on the black board located at the exhibition report it too. All can read it.
As to where the money was going wasnâ€™t clear from the hastily pasted up signage, but if you say so I am sure it was there â€“ I stand corrected. However I have to say that on the opening night the posted â€œcommuniquÃ©sâ€ as you put it were bits of paper stuck to a board in the most random manner, and it certainly wasnâ€™t clear to me at least, but I accept that if you had put it in these pieces of paper then it must have been. Perhaps an (better) organized bulletin board or announcement board would have been better.
As an owner of a gallery yourself, you perfectly know that organising an exhibition have a cost.
In our case, the “repairing” of most of the photographs, negatives or glasses damaged by dust, moist, water, time and other as well as the printing on a of high quality paper (bought abroad), the framing, the marketing and advertising have to be taken in consideration. We have not included in the total amount of the expenses made the time given by Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni, Arti foundation and myself who have worked on this project some for a full month other for years and the old documentary material we acquired or loaned from all around the world.
Yes obviously exhibitions cost. And if you want to put on an exhibtion you find the money, no need to discuss that. Now that it is clear to me that the money is for that, I donâ€™t have a problem with it. As to your efforts, If you are going to do it of love for it then do so. My criticisms are not meant to belittle that effort, so apologies if you feel that way. I just feel strongly that the finishing touch would have been to have made it very clear to the public regarding the issues I discussed. It is important for the public to be educated on this, thatâ€™s part of the purpose of this kind of exhibition. And particularly in Indonesia it is also important to get people used to transparency. p>
It could be that most of the photographs were already known to you who are a photographer and a long time “connaisseur” of Bali. I can affirm that they were not known (and even not dreamed) by the almost 7300 visitors who have attended the exhibition during the past five days. I sincerely doubt you have ever seen before, for instance, the photographs directly issued from the archives of the family of Ni Pollock or the Blanco’s family, the Thienemann’s family and the Prince of Saba family too.
And I am sure there are many more photographs out there that you and I donâ€™t know about. Thatâ€™s great that it comes to light. And I did menton that there are some prints which are â€œnewâ€ to the public, and I did say that was interesting.
I personally spend more than five hours a day to the exhibition, every evening, and I am very pleased indeed to feel the surprise, the joy and the proud the visitors demonstrate when looking at the photographs and reading with such an interest all the captions from the beginning to the end. It is for me the most interesting experience I am living since long time ago which give me, let say, the certainty that the soul of Bali is still alive.
I am glad to hear that you have discovered that the â€œsoul of Baliâ€ is still alive. To be honest I think that anything of this genre would create interest for Balinese. What I am saying, Meriem and Marizio, is that it could have been done much better. But I will say that it is a great concept, and that you did put a lot of effort into it, especially as you apparently are in the publishing business you and have been involved in publications of such materials. As I said in my earlier reply, I have heard that you have done much better exhibitions (though I personally have never seen them my sources are good ones) so I base my comments on that.
Good intentions are vital, and I take your word on that. Execution however is vital too. So this â€œcritiqueâ€ of mine is not meant to discourage you, quite the contrary, I would like you to encourage you to do better next time.
Mimpi Bali, Dreaming Baliâ€¦ is, I believe, a very appropriate title for such an exhibition that plainly illustrates its purpose, its aim and its spirit.
Subjectively you are within your rights to claim that.
Thank you for your answer and attention to this personal blog. Shanti.
Things are building up good and proper for next months royal plus mass cremation in Ubud. Two of the older generation princes are being sent off, along with 60 other deceased, and once again by royal decree (so much for the Republic) Jl Suweta is blocked off. Though you can’t drive past my gallery for at least 6 weeks, and every shop on that street except for Ibu Oka’s suckling pig stand is haemorraghing business, I am at least better off than poor Jean Francois, whose boutique is completely (as in not even visible) blocked off by the ‘petaks’ or temporary family shrine enclosures for the ceremony. But it is interesteing to see them building the main tower in the old classic style of using split bamboo bound together in bundles as the structural supports instead of the much less flexible wooden beams used on smaller towers as of late: it gives the whole structure much flexibility and hence strength when it is being carried. Ubud is a real sociologists paradise. Such interesting interactions and conflicts and moving allegiances. At least for a while. more later!
So back in Bali to find lots of things to do, my road is again blocked for the big mass cremation next month and so on. I get an invite in my mailbox which intrigues me:An exhibition of classic old photographs organized by Meriem and Marizio Rosenberg Colorni, under the auspices of the ARTI Foundation. Wow, sounds great. It is scheduled for the day before the official opening of annual Bali Arts Festival (PSB). I drive into a completely chaotic parking cum night market scene at Denpasar’s Art Centre. There are stalls being set up on the driveway, there is no signage, no official personnel to guide you. A classic Denpasar mess. I finally find the little building in the corner and see old friends Rucina Ballinger, Garret Kam, Suteja Neka, Pino Confessa – all old Bali culture hands. The mayor of Denpasar is on hand. We stand in the courtyard eating gado-gado, and finally Maurizio makes a little speech about history, and finally we walk in. I have to be honest, it’s all a bit of a disappointment. The prints are so-so, some I would venture look like they have been reproduced out of old books, the rooms is small and hot with all the halogen lights, the prints are hung double on the wall (not my favourite), there is nothing about the provenance of the prints (OK, they are all most likely public domain now but still..).It’s all very slapdash, and somehow it fits with the title “Mimpi” which means dream. Somebody was dreaming here and not really putting it together. I am saying this not to be bitchy but because this could have been something really important for the Balinese and it just falls a bit flat. It is interesting to see some images which are “new” to the public: the prints from the private collection of the Blanco family. Apparently (as advertised) you can buy some of the prints too, for Rp 2,100,000. No mention of where the money is going though. Even for Bali it is a little amateurish.——-Saturday I spend shooting with Jerome Abel Seguin, the sanguine Frenchman who has been doing very amazing furniture out of huge pieces of wood and iron scrap for years before it became fashionable in Bali’s villa circuit. Originally based in Lombok and Sumbawa, he has now moved the operation to Bali. —–On the way there is heavy traffic: the President, Mr SBY is on his way to open the annual Bali Art Festival… Have to say I am not so happy with my president after he came out with his quasi ban on Ahmadiyyah, caving in to FPI supporters and throwing a sop to the opposition (not that it worked) by not making it an “outright” ban, vaguely trying to avoid being unconstitutional. If it really is meant to reinforce the current law against evangelism, why make a decree? Why not just enforce the law across the board? How hopeless all this tightrope walking is.
On the last weekend before shuttling back to Bali, we decide to take a look at an apartment that Monica’s real estate agent is very pumped up about. The building itself isn’t great but the views were! One side you looked out on the river, the other was this:This was of course a day when there was little traffic, and the skies really open up. It reminds of the day in Delhi when the public transport changed over to compresse natural gas – there was a radical change in the sky. But most days in Bangkok it is of course more like this: I do wonder sometimes if there is any possibility of us ever bring the earth back to what it was in, say, in the 1960’s. This months WIRED magazine basically says we shoudl just worry about carbon emissions and go nuclear, forget all the super green thing. Apparently organic famring (or to be more correct organic cattle raising) creates more green house gases… Hmm seems we are in a trap. —-Speaking of skies, that same weekend we are the pool and I look up to see a full circle rainbow, which for some is an auspicious sign. I haven’t seen one for about 8 years since the Kalachakra with HHthe Dalai Lama in Key Gompa in Spiti, which happened right at the most important part of the ceremony.
There are two places in Bangkok (amongst others really) which i haunt regularly with a camera when I have a bit of free time – one is chinatown and the other is lumphini park. There is always something quirky going on, and if the light is good something usual pops up. Today the light is great in the mornin so I sling my camera bag over the shoulder and head out. As I get to the MRT station I am faced with a choice: Lumphini or Chinatown. I think, I should just let the situation decide. Often we are dictated with such conceptual drive to get somewhere that as photographers we miss out on stuff that presents itself. So I opt for the park coz the outdoors looks great. I wander around, nothing really exceptional today, but a sweet scene where some retirees (well I think they are) are doing some ballroom dancing. It definitely looks like some of the women are trying to loosen up the men. Everyone seems to be having fun. It kind of juxtaposes in my mind with a shot I did last year of two kids in Khon Kaen. Life zips by. I wander around some more and really appreciate how this park gives many people an affordable daily escape – somewhere to hang out with friends, work out etc. As I ruminate joggers pass me by, and I suddenly remember someone who I met at a friends wedding a couple of years ago in Jakarta, she had moved to Bangkok to work on some media projects, and now has been promoted to DC. Another jogger passes me, a western woman in red. I turn off to walk out the gate when someone taps me on the shoulder – it is the jogger and yes it is the same acquaintance, Kathleen! I think we actually are processing all kinds of things in our minds (and brains) that we don’t pay attention to most of the time, and when we do ‘hit upon it’ we get excited and call it ESP. In Buddhism the sixth sense, mental perception, is taken for fact. Most of the time it is busy processing stuff from the other senses all mixed up with concepts. But every once in a while a simple sense perception gets processed in an ‘unconceptual’ manner and we get a glimpse of what a pure mental perception could be like (technically a purely mental percepton doesn’t necessarily rely on the other senses but lets not get to technical here!).Forgive the rave, but I think it relates to how documentary photographers operate. A lot of the time concepts and images get in the way of things which are just there, at other times there is a subtle interplay. But so often we almost consciously ignore premonitions. Something to think about.Meanwhile after my morning excursion I get back to my laptop, and some images I am uploading to an ftp site are taking ages… The digital era just sucks up all our time!
at the documentary photo festival a week ago I was asked to give a speech about photography. In the light of that, and how inspiring people found Yann’s images last night I thought I would post the speech here. Its a tad long for a post but maybe it might make sense:
THE MAGIC OF IMAGES
Rio Helmi / Miyazaki City, May 2008
I have been asked so many times why I got into photography. Looking back 30 years, I see that actually what â€˜made up my mindâ€™ was something I wasnâ€™t really conscious of in the normal sense of the word. It was something deeper that drove me and became clearer to me as I grew into photography. So I look at it from the perspective of my own history, and the history of photography – of the way our world is now.
For most people, sight is the most important of the senses. We orient ourselves according to it, and we are affected intellectually and emotionally by what we see.
The old saying â€œto see is to believeâ€ is true, even if what we see is not what we think it is. It is a fact that this is probably the most exploited of all beliefs. Photography is the most powerful visual media in human history â€“ once upon a time we used to say that a photograph never lies. For a short time, we believed that the purity of the process of light recorded unto photo sensitive materials could not be manipulated, that it would record exactly an objective truth. For a short time, as a boy, I believed this too.
But then this illusion about a true â€œobjectiveâ€ form of expression started to fall apart. Even the most banal photo represents a decision made, a point of view if you like. Even when someone copies anotherâ€™s pictures it is a choice they make.
It would be impossible to calculate how many photographic images have been shot since Niepceâ€™s first photograph in the early 1800s. Imagine trying to calculate how many paper negatives, glass plates, daguerrotypes, how many rolls of film have been shot just by professionals alone since photography began. And then the number digital files shot in the last decade would probably be even more than all that!
Yet certain individual images do stand out.
People talk about style. The inner mental and emotional condition of the photographer is what creates style. And it begins with what the photographer chooses to shoot, how he or she chooses to shoot it and process it, how he or she then presents it. He or she may be a product of his or her era, but the fact remains that the photograph is not objective.
Even just the medium has a big influence on what we see â€“ for example, compare the â€˜look and feelâ€™ of the primitive, monochromatic emulsion Niepce used to make the first photograph with the RGB digital capture of today.
I remember when, as a boy, looking at early images of street scenes shot at very slow speeds – many minutes at a time. I remember reading how that was the reason the streets looked empty â€“ everybody had been moving too fast for the emulsion to record. That was when I realized there are many â€œtruthsâ€ in photography.
Then there is the â€œtruthâ€ the photographer sees, and the â€œtruthâ€ the viewer sees. For the viewer, oneâ€™s emotional response differs according to the effect, oneâ€™s era, and so on. There is nothing fixed about how an image touches us – except for the fact that it does inevitably create some kind of reaction.
Here in Miyazakiâ€™s Art Museum you have a painting by Man Ray. But Man Ray was actually much more famous for his photography, and especially the photographic images he manipulated. So much so that a term was coined: â€œRay-o-gramâ€. These were images which clearly sought a deeper response from the viewer, obviously Man Ray recognized how powerful it can be to express the â€œrealisticâ€ in a very personal way. This was in the early 20th Century.
When I discovered Man Ray I was electrified. When I discovered Henri Cartier Bresson I was hooked.
Now, in the first decade of the 21st century, photography is still the most powerful visual media, and therefore one of the most exploited â€“ think propaganda, advertising, media campaigns and so on. It is the sharpest of double edged swords. Indeed the photographer is literally one of the most exposed of all professions. And of all photography, documentary photography is perhaps the sharpest of all.
Generation by generation, we share a certain visual lexicon. We remember magazine covers, we remember images on the internet. Even the moving image â€“ tv, video, film â€“ hasnâ€™t replaced the still photo. A moment captured and presented, imprinting itself on our consciousness.
We respond, across cultures and linguistics, to an international visual language. While it is true that not everyone reacts the same way to the same image, but iconic images force their way into our shared communication and perceptions. There are images which make us uncomfortable, there are images which make us feel sad, there are images which us feel happy.
And there are images which stay with us: the mushroom cloud of atomic bombs. The Fabulous Four Beatles. Marilyn Monroeâ€™s skirt blowing away. Che Guevara and his cigar. Mao Tse Tungâ€™s shiny face. New Yorkâ€™s Twin Towers beginning to crumble. And much more.
In addition, each of you has a personal list as well. My own list is pretty long. I spent hours as a boy looking at photographic images in magazines and boo
ks â€“ Life, National Geographic, etc. I still love looking at images from all eras, from Steiglitz to Liebowitz, and from all walks of life, from published to family albums. Inevitably, without thinking, I draw inspiration from what I have seen.
In truth all creative work has an aspect of unconscious collaboration, it is something which comes into being in dependence on others as well as its creatorâ€™s vision. If anything this provides depth of meaning as well as an historical context for the work
When I taught photography to Communication Science students, the first thing I would do at the beginning of the course was to ask everyone to close their eyes and to imagine the world without photos. First eliminate all id, license, and passport photos. Then eliminate all family photos (including anything of grandparents and for those young enough great grandparents). Then erase all photos in newspapers. All advertising photos. You are beginning to â€˜get the pictureâ€™.
Another question I am often asked: â€œWhat makes a good photograph?â€ I understand why someone would ask this question. There is so much out there. There are so many theories. The answer is a question: Where does it take you?
It has become clear to me now that images form a bridge between the outside world and our inner worlds. Images are the modern magical symbols. Like it or not, every photographer who shows his or her images to others has some effect on what is happening in the world.
To make that work in a meaningful way, to make the pictures really touch the heart, you have to know what it is you are shooting â€“ at least what it is for you. There has to be a readiness to be involved in some way. There is no room for â€œobjectivityâ€, for distancing yourself.
Speaking from a practical point of view, documentary photography can be the worst paid of all photography. And I have done my share of commercial work. But pay isnâ€™t what drives the authentic documentary photographer. It is the desire to touch what is in front of him, to take it in, to share it, and to have others touched by it. I have always been drawn back to the magic of this process.
The documentary photographerâ€™s art is to become the mirror, the looking glass through which the viewers can step, finding places in their hearts they have forgotten or never knew.
There is no perfect camera, there is no perfect lens, no perfect technique. There is only the perfect moment, and the perfect heart for it.