130620 - Little Things That Matter

Last week I made a short visit to Solo to see a street photo exhibition called Genesis, held by three young photographers from the town: Aji Susanto, Gregory Rusmana, and Yohanes Prima (Yopri). I have known them for a while and enjoyed their good photos, plus Aji & Yopri would sometimes go to Jogja to attend exhibitions and other events, so it's only natural that I visit them in return and catch up with them.

The exhibition itself is very modest and really has that DIY vibes to it. The photographs are printed on linen papers, laid out in a 3 x 5 grid for each participant, which are then stamped directly to the wall.  And I love the fact that it is not a clean, pristine white wall. It's a greenish old one, complete with damp spots, nail marks, and chipped paints. That's because the exhibition doesn't take place in a 'proper' gallery, but instead simply in a house where they often hang out. All in all, I think the way the exhibition is being carried out really suits well with the type of photography being displayed. It's simple, unpretentious, unintimidating, and rather intimate. I would really love to see this kind of mini-show sprouting more often. 

I came from Jogja with Hardy 'Breck' by train, and when we arrived Arif Furqan was already there since the night before (through some kind of hilarious coincidence). Furqan is from Malang, though he has been staying in Jogja for about a month. The six of us knew each other over the years through the internet and various street photographer meet-ups. We, along many others, are not really in a group or collective or some kind of photographic movement or anything. We're more of a network connecting street photography practitioners who are spread out all over the country (though mostly in Java), even a few who are currently living abroad. So when some of us visit the others' hometown, these small gatherings often occur. We generally spend the time talking about what we've been up to, photos/photographers/books we recently look at, new guys who make interesting works, and recent developments that we know in street photography scene in Indonesia. Sharing new information, basically. 

I always love catching up with these guys, especially since it has become increasingly harder to find people who are doing similar things in Jogja. Though I do have my own photography niche I can have conversation with here, only a few do street photography. Even fewer still who have the same level of commitment and knowledge that the guys in my street photographer network have. And when I say commitment, I don't mean making a career out of it. It's actually kind of the opposite. The people I mentioned above, they already understand that they won't make a decent living, if any, doing street photography. Some of them have day jobs, some of them try to make money doing other types of photography. But they are still regularly out there photographing on the streets. Because they understand that there is great potential in it. Because they just know it's important to keep doing it. These guys do it out of love for the medium. That's the kind of commitment I rarely come across in the photography scene here. To do something you truly believe in even though you know it won't make you rich or famous and all that. There's a certain grace in it. 

What also makes me happy from that day was when we talked about how important it is to educate people about street photography, since it's still often misunderstood. Aji, Yopri, and Greg are making this exhibition (plus a public talk) to do just that, while Furqan and friends have also done similar discussion and sharing events in Malang. This is a good step, not only for street photography, but also for photography in general in Indonesia. While the number of photographers here are abundant, many of them still have a very limited level of visual literacy, which severely prevent more varied photographic approaches to develop and flourish. For me it's the number one reason why we keep getting the same kind of pictures all the time, even though we're living in a quickly changing time with new challenges and issues that need to be addressed. 

Of course, there are some genuinely talented photographers who make engaging works and have gained well deserved recognition for it. But for me the number is still too small. A couple of great photographers alone are not enough to make a difference in the bigger picture. And it certainly won't make much difference if we're just going after our own career and don't give back. Photography in Indonesia will still go nowhere. Instead of only a handful of talented individuals going on their own, what I think we need is a kind of bigger wave to gain enough momentum for change. But I feel like what many of us currently do now is basically just waiting and waiting until the next young talents step forward themselves. I think it's not enough. In order to see more of good local works I think we also need to reach out somehow. We need to learn to scout and spot potential talents and help them to go further by creating a condition where they're encouraged to create and develop. We need to inspire, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem on the surface. One of the ways, I think, is to spread knowledge through small but numerous and easily accessible communities, initiatives, and activities like the kind of humble show and talk that these guys in Solo do. The good news is there are more and more of this type of progress happening right now. I'm sure every little effort we do will amount to something, though perhaps we won't be the one seeing the result. If we do it out of love though, I don't think it would be a big deal at all. The feeling that "we've done our part" would be more than enough. 

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