Year End Note

As the year comes to a close, I would like to make some note. 

First of all, I still don't understand why aren't there more Indonesian photography-related sites on the web which talk about photography more thoroughly. The only kind thriving is photo forums, but crowded as they are, the topics discussed inside these forums are mostly limited to the technical stuff. While I don't have problem with that (they're useful when you just begin learning photography), they don't offer much either for photographers who are in a more advanced phase and want to take it up more seriously. I know because I've gone through that route myself. I've been lucky enough to get to know people who introduce me to the photography world outside these forums, showing the vast possibilities photography has. From that point on, my own curiosity has been leading me to gather photographic knowledge bits by bits from here and there. But I think up to 95% (probably more) of all the things I've learned has been coming from outside the country. Aside from the occasional exhibition info, it's really really rare to come across photography related writings in any form, be it essays, reviews, opinions, or simple observations from my own countrymen on the web.

The way I see it, photographers in this country are very polarized, with very few in-between case. There's the hobbyists, who mostly learn photography as a mere side interest, with no further intention to develop their vision to communicate ideas. With the digital boom, I suspect this is the largest group of all. Then there's the professionals, who make photos because it's their job to answer the demands of the industry. I don't know how much photographers from this group who makes personal work of their own outside their commercial jobs, but it sure is hard to find one. And then there's artists who utilizes photography (often times in the broadest possible interpretation) as some raw materials for their visual art. Agan Harahap is probably one of the rare cases in Indonesia where a photographer can be successful (and popular) in both commercial and art-world, and generous enough to share stories on his blog --though sometimes they don't have anything to do with photography, but hey, as long as it's interesting. I think Paul Kadarisman is of this rare breed too? But it's more difficult to find what he's up to since he doesn't blog. 

Anyway, furthermore, each of the above groups seems to be so isolated from each other, working inside their own bubble without much contact (or care) with the other bubbles. I don't know if we're being secretive, or thinking our thoughts aren't worth sharing, or simply being lazy. Whatever the cause is, there's next to nothing on the web when we want to know what's currently happening in Indonesian photography scene. 

BUT... there are actually some pretty interesting developments. This year saw the births of several Indonesian sites, which, in my opinion, have promising potential to make Indonesian photography blogs scene more colorful in the future. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • INTAKEs, a blog affiliated to the photo agency Ru Images (also founded this year), tends itself toward the documentary/photojournalistic side of the spectrum, and is my personal favorite from this list. Even though its posts are rather infrequent (about once a month), INTAKEs make it up by always producing in-depth, quality contents. Posts like Jan Banning lecture transcript and interview with seasoned photojournalist Julian Sihombing give many insights and stories beyond the pictures, which are invaluable not just for photojournalists, but also for anyone who wants to extend their photographic horizon. INTAKEs is maintained by Okky Ardya and Rony Zakaria, whose superb works I deeply admire. 

  • Also on the documentary front there's Citrakostha who's helmed by my friend Karolus Naga. Citrakostha takes photo essay contributions from anyone, and lean toward a more personal approach of documentary photography. 

  • On the lighter side of things, there is duasatugram by Richie Pakpahan whose own quirky photos I always look forward to see. The concept of the blog is simple enough: You send a photo to duasatugram, mentioning to whom that particular photo is directed (or you could simply say it's for everyone). The photo gets posted on the blog, and the 'recipient' will get noted that someone has sent him/her a photo. S/he will then be able to reply the photo with his/her own. In short, it's a visual correspondence. Which is open for all to see and participate in. It might not be an original idea, but the 'mails' are completely unedited and seeing the pairs (original-reply) that people come up with can be fun and refreshing.

  • This year was also Cephas Photo Forum's birth year, founded by 8 photographers in Jogja including yours truly. The forum originally intended as an alternative gathering place for photographers to share and discuss their works, open for anyone to attend. Though at this point we're still struggling to build an audience (along with other problems of our own), we have ideas to utilize the blog to produce contents and attract more people. 

Though it would seem that all the above endeavors (aside from INTAKEs) celebrates the unknowns, the 'nobodies' of Indonesian photography world, I still think this is the right step for a more open discussion between all participants. Hopefully other, more established photographers will catch on the spirit of these individuals and create interesting venues themselves within this next year.

As for me, as you might already notice from the recent past entries, I'm also trying to write more on the blog (hopefully not at the cost of less pictures!) Bear with me as I clumsily try to organize my thoughts, 'kay?

With all that said, hope 2010 was a good year for all of you, and 2011 will be an even better one. Happy New Year, guys!

Sketchy Thoughts

©Ibnu Saud

The above sketch was recently posted by an architect friend of mine to his Facebook album. Funnily my first reaction on seeing it was, "that's quite an interesting photo!", and I could even imagine it in color. The bright colored prize scooter in contrast against the usual grayish corporate color of a bank interior, the lone potted plant giving a small patch of green, some colorful lines showing the currency exchange rate and other banking information in the monitor above... I guess what interests me the most from it is how it depicts a bank without actually showing any distinct banking activities (In fact the only clues are the sketch title and the writings on the scooter license plate; if those weren't there I'd guess it's a, say, auto showroom). And that's why I immediately thought of it as a photo: it's basically a snapshot in the form of a sketch, not really trying to explain something it shows so much as simply presenting a reaction of seeing a particular scene which somehow grabs your attention. Even the hastily drawn lines and shadings seem to prove the point. But like a good snapshot, when all the elements are neatly arranged, the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts. The placement of something gives context and clues to other things within the frame. And that's how my photographic mind works when I'm out shooting; I'm not really concerned at what I'm aiming my camera at --whether they're 'good' or not, but rather how those things in front of me could be correlated to other things around them from a particular vantage point. Whether it works or not I'll decide later during the editing.

Below are two other sketches from the same album, and there's something in them which is also parallel to the process of photographing (at least mine):

©Ibnu Saud
©Ibnu Saud

If you figure out both scenes are in the same place, you've got good eyes for noticing details. The two lamps behind the musician group in the second sketch are also visible in the center part of first one. 

It's similar with how I often find something interesting while photographing. I don't search for it. The problem with searching is you have to know beforehand what you're searching for. And when you have something fixed in mind when shooting, you become oblivious to other things around you, and in the end feeling frustrated because you can't find something you want. Instead, what I would do is scanning the general area of where I am, just like how the first sketch shows everything with the same importance. When I get a good idea of how a particular spot feels, I would then try to notice a detail within the area that grabs my interest. It could be anything random, a street sign, a funny looking shrub, that guy with a bright colored hat, etc... Sometimes they don't even have to be visual. Perhaps it's smell, other times a particular voice you hear. And then I would move in to that direction. I don't know how and why, but when I get there I will usually find something interesting which is barely seen from the spot where I was standing before, just like how the group of musician in the second sketch isn't quite visible in the first one. You won't believe how many good scenes and moments you would encounter just by repeating this process (though *getting* them perfectly in your frame is of course a totally different thing).

And the fact that I can relate these sketches to photography proves that this kind of seeing is something which is always switched on all the time for me...

Some Recent News

Two of my (rather old) photos are included in the fifth issue of Romka Magazine, which also happens to be their first printed issue. At an edition of 1000 it's a small publication, but some of the works shown in the excerpt seem pretty interesting (mine is at 0:35-0:34). Looking forward to receiving my copy.

In other news, if you're in Jakarta or planning to go there within the next week, you wouldn't want to miss Jakarta International Photo Summit | City of Interaction which opens tonight in Galeri Nasional and will be open until December 26th. Many photographers will show their works, including two of my favorites, Agan Harahap and Suryo Wibowo. Other highlight of the event is the launching of Jakarta: Estetika Banal, a book by seasoned Indonesian photographer Erik Prasetya, which I'm really dying to get but information regarding its price and how to order it is... well, next to nothing. (Do let me know if you have the info!) Erik Prasetya's photographs are hard to find on the web, I've only known about him from the catalog of the previous Jakarta International Photo Summit 3 years ago and they're so good I've been wanting to see more of his works. Moreover the subject of this newly released book (supposedly his first, cmiiw), a personal observation and statement of how he views the city he loves, is something I've been working on myself. Wishing I could get some insights to develop my own works from it.

Jogja Istimewa - 101213

You know how I'm not a good storyteller, so if you wanna know how it went just read it here. These are what's happening outside the building. 

Mois de la Photo 2010

As you can see, I am participating. And this will be my first exhibition too, so I'm pretty excited --and nervous. Especially since the event is in conjunction with the International Year of Biodiversity, so the the theme of the exhibition is related to environment, meaning my exhibited photos aren't something I usually show here on the blog.

Aside from exhibition and seminar, there will also be photography workshop (submissions are still open until November 10th. Read more here) and slideshow projections from many photographers during the exhibition. Read the full program here, or download it as PDF (approx. 5MB) here.

The Beautiful Accident

About a week ago my mom and a number of our neighbors went for a day trip to Pacitan, visiting the tourist spots around the area. Just yesterday she handed me the files of the photos from the trip, asking me to print them out. This morning I checked the files, and surely enough there were the usual tourist pictures; general sceneries, group posing in front of said sceneries, etc... But then this one picture stopped me in my track:

I dunno who took it, but I actually quite like it. The composition, the placement of the lone lamp and how the spherical shape really pops, the scale of it compared with the surrounding cave walls, how it could really show that the lamp is something that isn't supposed to be there... Those of us who have seen lots of photographs with a good content could see the picture as a comment on how human is tampering with nature for our own (questionable) benefits and stuff like that, but for all we know, perhaps the person taking this picture just want to capture and remember how the interior of the cave looks like, with the lone lamp included unintentionally. Another weird thing is, all the other files are set in the highest resolution of the camera, except this one. It's actually set in the smallest resolution. It's as if whoever took the picture thought that the picture was unimportant but s/he took it anyway. Or perhaps it's just for the sake of saving memory space, who knows. Anyhow, it reminds of this particular quote:
"There are no accidental masterpieces in painting. But there are accidental masterpieces in photography." -Chuck Close
It is even observable in Facebook photo albums sometimes. When I browse the albums of my non-photographer friends, every now and again I would find some really interesting frames they took with simple point n shoot digicams or even their phone cameras, yet these people always seem to be oblivious and doubtful that their pictures are interesting at all. 

©Heni Octoriyani Wijaya

And that's what I like about it, how they don't think about photography and aren't really concerned with how their photos will be viewed and still be able to produce something good, albeit unknowingly. Even without the intent, you can make a good photograph. I wonder if this accidental gem also happens in other creative fields and if it does, how often? Obviously I don't have the numbers but I have a feeling it's a much more common occurrence in photography. After all, some vernacular photography sometimes can make their way into the art realm. So at least some people must think highly of these accidents.

But is it all accident, though? Of the friends I mentioned before, some have a noticeably better hit-miss ratio than the others, to which I guess we can attribute to this thing we call "talent". If so, then, will it be beneficial for them to learn photography? To supposedly nourish that talent they have? Or will they be better off not knowing photography at all? Because I feel that sometimes our photography knowledge can actually hinder us instead of helping us in taking photos. Is this composition good? Am I standing on the right spot? Should I wait a bit more? I know that famous guy have made great photo with this formula, can I get the same result? The considerations are endless. And you'll always be haunted by all those good chances you didn't get, knowing full well you could have nailed it. People like my friend Heni above, on the other hand, just see something they think interesting, click, and move on blissfully with their life. 

Perhaps that's where the problem lies, the knowledge required to spot a good photograph is the very same knowledge required to know a potential photograph in the first place. It's the same thing, it's all about choosing. Making a selection. This one is more interesting than that one. Without the knowledge, you can make a good photograph but you wouldn't know you have made one. And this, for me, makes those accidents even more beautiful. Knowing that the makers don't know that they've created something good. Because that would mean the same thing could happen to us. We could have made some good pictures without realizing and they're laying around somewhere, waiting to be found when we have the knowledge to know that they are, indeed, beautiful accidents.