A Note & Postcards from Pacu Jawi

A picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, you've heard it, and I've heard it too. But now a picture is also worth a thousand dollars. If you're smart enough, in today's not-so-nice situation for emerging photographers, you still can sell a photograph for that amount. But here I'm not talking about that. Instead, by saying "a picture is worth a thousand dollars" I'm talking briefly of how a photograph can actually help a community to maintain their tradition. And they are the people of Tanah Datar, who held Pacu Jawi (you can read my description here). The famous Indonesian bull's racing in West Sumatra.

Yesterday, I visited Tabek to shoot Pacu Jawi for the countless times. This village is somehow really special for me since this was the place where I did the Community Development Participation (Kuliah Kerja Nyata or KKN) during my college years in back in 2005. Here, I experienced one of the most happiest moment in my life: shared a real life with villagers for two months. So when a good friend from Tabek called me few days ago telling Pacu Jawi will be held there, I felt like I was facing an offer I can't refuse (citing The Godfather). Departing from Padang, I accelerated my car passing the winding road that decorate the land of Minangkabau.

"If you're visiting, you're guaranteed a tasty local food and the sweet 'kawa' without having to be ripped off."

What I found surprised me. Pacu Jawi today, is being celebrated more than ever before. Three years ago, when I first shot Pacu Jawi, there were only very few outsider watching the raging bulls running through the wet unplanted ricefield. Most people were locals. But then, there were more and more outsiders came, especially after the photographs of Pacu Jawi were published widely (almost all were done by local photographers and you can see my first photo of the festival


). Yesterday there were two Indonesian national TV (with their beautiful hosts), a horde of photographers, and tourists. This is good!!

The more ousiders come, the more of the local economy will develop (it's pretty obvious, so I actually don't need to tell you this). In Pacu Jawi, locals sell anything from foods to toys. If you're visiting, you're guaranteed a tasty local food and the sweet kawa (like coffee but different) without having to be ripped off. And I can see that they are started making good business. By looking at this I couldn't be happier.

So be sure to spend some of your money here.

P.S: If you're a photographer, the local usually will also ask you to register as a guest. They will ask you for some donation too. Please kindly fill the box as you wish. Don't mind. This will go directly to the community and making sure the bulls keep running.

(Pacu Jawi is held almost every Saturday somewhere in Tanah Datar. The series in Tabek will be celebrated until early February 2012)


Last night, as me and a friend were driving down a crossroad in Padang,  we saw dozens of men gathered at the roadside.  They shouted out loud indicating a trouble. My Indonesian curiosity led me to park my car at a distance. Before long, I was there among them, sneaked in just to find a man, without his shirt, sprawling and begging for his life on the road. "It's an amok" I said to my friend. He nodded.

"The times when we have to deal with our own anger, we often show our most honest but barbaric features."

The word "amok" derived from a remark in Bahasa "amuk", which literally means a state of fury. But more to an uncontrollable form of it. Psychiatrist would be agree to address this state often occured towards a patient with


. Some people may find it's quite intriguing of how could an English word (by spelling) absorbed it from Bahasa identically. Most possible that was because they were unable to find a similar context within their society.

Looking back at history, there were enough account from the Dutch colony era, where the imperialist got used to see the native Indonesians doing the amok. If somebody got caught of stealing or involved in social distruption, then he is in a great risk, great danger. Even so, the act of amok actually wasn't only originated in Malay culture. It's no secret this also happened in many part of the worlds including in Europe.

Back to the man who's begging for his life, he was accused of stealing a bird. Indeed, a bird. He ran into trouble when he and his friend failed attempt came into light by the resident of (how unlucky he was) an Indonesian Armies residential complex. This is smelled not like a good place to steal. He fell from his motorcycle and got punches galore by a horde of amok's fans. His friend was lucky enough to escape the crowd.

The times when we have to deal with our own anger, whatever the causes, we often show our most honest but barbaric features. While the unlucky guy laid helpless, some people still manage to kick him hard. I also saw a muscular man stomped him on the face which likely broke his jaw. We did try to stop, but this step often as dilemmatic as we were hushed. There's always risk of those violent behavior would turn towards us in no time.

A sad, tragic, embarassing, but true post for a weekend.

Our Modest New Year's Eve

For you, what is the best experience of enjoying the New Year's Eve? Do you feel like to party? Do you feel like to fill yourself up with some beer? or may be driving along the coast while pushing your horn into the deafening decibel right at the 00.00? Well, as long as you're happy, there's nothing wrong with that. Last year, I spent the night before 2011 begun in Sikuai Island, off the west coast of Padang and left disappointed. The party was lame and poorly organized. Rather than experiencing some inspiring moments, I felt like I was putting a bad start for my 2011. I could've just stayed at home for a solitary moment.

So, when 2012 was approaching several days back, I was thinking about what to do. And I gave up the any idea about another lame party. Before long, I decided to go on a trip with few friends. The destination shouldn't be too far, but it had to be interesting and fresh. The only thing that crossed our mind was Kerinci, a highland in Jambi province famous with some of the best natural and cultural diversity. Actually, the initial plan was to go there mid-December ago. But I was getting back to Padang quite late from the date of our departure. So we'd better make it for our New Year's Eve. Since Kerinci would be too vast for us, we then picked Gunung Tujuh (Seven Mountain).  The plan was we would camp there, celebrate the incoming of 2012, and make some pictures out of it.


The trip to Kerinci from Padang took us about 6 hour. After some hundred kilometers and tons of winding lane we finally arrived at 2 a.m in Telun Berasap, a small village near the border of Jambi province and West Sumatra. The night was cold and the only person we met was a guy working for Indonesian Transportation Department who seemed didn't want to share the fire and space with us. Here, deep inside Sumatra, you really don't have much choice. We then pulled out our sleeping bag and try to sleep right in front of a closed shop under the threat of scattered duck shit.

High on the mountanious Kerinci, the sun shone earlier. To my surprise, I woke up at 5.30 a.m to find that Mount Kerinci was looming right behind the place where I slept. This was not my first encounter with Kerinci, but this was the closest I ever came across.

At 3,805m above sea level, Kerinci is the highest volcano in the South-East Asia. From Telun Berasap, I could see it rise up from the lush valley into a perfect cone. But what I admire the most is its massive size. Before Kerinci, I never saw a volcano that huge. By the time Kerinci coughed up its brown ashes that morning (30/12), I was both mesmerized and anxious.


At 8 a.m, we finally arrived at Pelompek, the last place where we can purchase anything that we forgot for the hike to Gunung Tujuh. After an hour or so, we then started heading to the gatehouse of Kerinci Seblat National Park few kilometers away. Thanks to Mario and friends from Kerinci Photography Community, we just need to sit at the back of motorcycle which saved us some valuable energy.

The hike to Gunung Tujuh was my first since 2009. After my trip to Everest Region in Nepal on October two years ago I almost never set my foot on any hiking trip. Mostly, time was the reason. I wasn't too busy, but it seemed that I've always had some problem organizing my time. By the time we ascended the path to Gunung Tujuh, I know that I missed mountain a lot.

"When the night was falling, our only friends were the stars, the slow ripple of Lake Gunung Tujuh, the packs of cigarette, and some old songs from Iwan Fals."

The path to Gunung Tujuh was quite easy. However, there's no shortcut to heaven. Like any other volcano, the path is mostly ascending. Compared to the trek in Everest Region which has a combination between ascending, some steep descending, and walking at the same level, volcano trek is virtually only ascending. The only way is up. That's what make it somehow somehow more sternous.


We finally reached one of the seven peak of Gunung Tujuh around 2 p.m. We then descended to the lakeside at the altitude of 1,950m. After some puff of cigarette, we set our camp and had some lunch with a great view: the deep blue water of one of the highest caldera in South-East Asia region. When the night was falling, our only friends were the stars, the slow ripple of Lake Gunung Tujuh, the packs of cigarette, and some old songs from Iwan Fals sung by Faiz. And there's only one thing we should patiently wait: the very first second of 2012. We had some packs of fireworks from our childhood to be burned, that was how we celebrated the New Year's Eve.

Under the Skin: Dwianto Wibowo

The night was hot and the sky was paled blue, what lay beneath was a horde of vehicles, car, bus, three-wheeler, motorcycle and whatever creatures consuming the gas. I was sitting on the top floor of a building smoking a handful of kretek into ashes. My right hand was holding a note which seemed to be no more than a wrinkled piece of paper. This note is a important part of this post you're reading. It was filled with several questions. Question that I would address to an emerging talent of Indonesian photojournalism in front of me: Dwianto Wibowo. Dwianto Wibowo, 20-something, works for TEMPO weekly news magazine. I started to know him just few months ago and soon we're becoming a good friend. But it's not because he's my friend that he can actually appear on this blog. This blog is photo-related, not friend-related. So I better have a good reason putting him in.

As some of you might know, Dwianto just won a prestigious award from Pewarta Foto Indonesia (Indonesian Photojournalist Association). He got the first prize in Photo Essay category and got some other photographs nominated in several others categories.  I was both happy and stunned. As a newcomer in Indonesian Photojournalism, his achievement amazed many. However, if you look at his works (you really have to), you will get some clue of why he took away the prize that was wanted by everyone. For me, it's actually not that surprising. I knew he deserve it though.

So, let's not put so much story in this. Dwianto Wibowo will speak for himself about several things (he usually doesn't talk much). Like the title suggested, this will be an exclusive interview. And this "Under the Skin" is planned to be posted continuously by the time I have a chance to "peel" every inspiring photographer I will ever bump into in the future. I hope this interview will invaluable to help us recognizing some less-exposed aspiring photographers and his work closer. Any suggestion and comments will be really appreciated.

And now, let's get under his skin...

(This interview has been translated from Bahasa into English for this blog purposes)

Q: Tell me, how was everything begun, how did you start taking pictures and end up becoming a photojournalist?

A: I love to look at something, for me looking give me a meaning in life. We learn when we look at something. My family is also a big influence. My father love to draw and visual art. But the one with bigger influence was my uncle, who was a journalist. When I was traveling as kid, there was always a camera in my uncle and father's car. And it inspire me somehow, as a kid, to become a journalist in the future. When I enter my study in the college, I once wished that by learning graphic design will help me much in my visual learning process, but that was printing process that i learned. But still it has done something for me. Then about photojournalism, I learned it mostly by making wedding pictures. I shoot frequently in the church. And it was my friend, the one who I learned from, who asked me to go with him. That's how I learned about how to put a story into pictures.  In the later years, I try to work for an Indonesian leading newspaper to pursue my learning process from some photographers that I adore. That's how I seriously wanted myself to become a photojournalist. And It was just recently, like 3 or 4 years ago.

Q: As a photojournalist, what is your personal photographic vision?

A: Basically, like all photojournalist, I have a good amount of responsibility to tell something to the others. And I keep learning since I feel I am not yet an expert regarding this matter. And further, I always try to bring some degree of my artistic vision into my photojournalism. The visual of a photographs is just as important as the story inside the pictures itself. It can be said that I want my photography to be both telling stories and visually engaging.

Q: And now, you have won a prestigious award by PFI in its 2010's award, tell me how do you feel.

A: This is actually my first award during my few years in photojournalism. Honestly I can't express how happy and grateful I am. I am totally happy being appreciated by some influential Indonesian photojournalist who somehow I rarely meet physically. And I need to tell that, in the last few years, I was always studying their pictures. One of them who I met during the awarding ceremony, tell me that he visited my blog quite often and likes my works. In short, I am extremely excited.

Q: You seemed to be quite picky in putting your story for this award. You submitted a photo series about Jakarta Transportation system, in this case it's about Transjakarta. And what I feel, there would not be many photojournalist will do it. Why did you choose it?

A: I see it differently. I am actually a beginner in making documentary photography. The reason why I picked it is because I felt that exploring something not human could be more challenging. I also inspired by some foreign photographers who I saw over the web. But what I also need to tell you is that, at the same time I personally still feel unable to manage myself to put a bigger issues into a story. It's more difficult and time-consuming. The research need to be deeper and need more courage. And about Transjakarta, it was something that I could afford. It need less time but at the same time, it's challenging. I'm happy I did that.

Q: Tell me your personal opinion about Indonesian Photojournalism.

A: I was just started working from the last couple of years. And it will be premature enough if I have to judge. But from what I heard from some respected Indonesian photojournalist, who also happened to be the judge of PFI award, the advancement of Indonesian photojournalism is not yet much changed ever. Most photographers simply don't have time to develop themselves by covering more special issues. They still keep working like machine.

Q: What do you think about the future of Indonesian Photojournalism?

A: I believe there are still so many chance if one really put him/herself to explore. Photojournalism, for many Indonesian, is still something need to be explored for more. We still have so many possibilities and there are so many things need to be discovered.

Q: As a photojournalist, what is your biggest challenge nowadays?

A: The biggest challenge, in my point of view as a stringer photographer, is equipment. I need to be self-sufficient in everything. And as Indonesian, financial is also a problem when doing a project. And being a photojournalist in Indonesia is also not an economically comfortable way to live. But I hope it will change in the future.

Q: Tell me some photographers who inspire you. and tell me why.

A: They are Paolo Pellegrin, Justin Maxon, and Trent Parke. But honestly, I really don't know what to say if you ask me why. And if I really have to tell, it's just they seemed to have interesting stories to be told in an interesting way. Their pictures are unique. They have their own way to explore the issues. Two Indonesian name also popped up in my mind, they are Oscar Motuloh and Donang Wahyu.

Q: Which one is suitable for you, image-maker or story-teller?

A: I am not yet in that step. But I want to be both.

Q: O.k, the last one, do you have anything to share for photography enthusiast?

A: Think out of the box, don't be afraid to try new things, and explore every possibilities.


You can see more of Dwianto Wibowo's works here and the Transjakarta series here.


Interviewing the National Hero

A quick post. An intermezzo from my European travel posts if you really tired of it. Last week, I had a chance to photograph Rudy Hartono, a former world champion badminton player for TEMPO. It was a special interview regarding nowadays Indonesian struggle for its long tradition in this sport. In the last few years, Indonesian reputation in badminton is getting worse and worse. Interviewing Rudy hopefully will give the Indonesian some idea why. And he did it. He eagerly stated his personal point of view.

Talking about Rudy Hartono, he's one of the few national sport heroes of Indonesia. More than a hero, he's a living legend. He won men's singles of All England Badminton Championship as much as 8 times, which 7 consecutively from 1968 to 1974. Making him a record of no one can beat until today. No wonder he is one of the most famous player in the history of sport.

And these days, if you are interested to know, he roles as a successful businessman.

Rudi Hartono, TEMPO.

Rudi Hartono, TEMPO.

You can read the whole interview in TEMPO 5 July 2011 edition.

Rudi Hartono, TEMPO, English

Rudi Hartono, TEMPO, English

Thank you for visiting :)

If Only I Think More....

Hey there :) Recently I am thinking a lot about building my own website. The reason is simple, I need it and it will probably will open some opportunity in the future. Also some friends asked me frequently regarding this matter. So finally I put my choice in a hosting service while at the same time I design my own web. Especially about the design, it is finished already (because I'm using a template :D). So what's the problem now? I can simply selects some photographs, the good selections for sure, put it in and there it goes.

However, it is not that simple. There are thousand of pictures in my hard-drive. Pictures from the last 3 years at least, not counting the shots from the earlier years. Here's the problem, aside from displaying my selections of single photos, I also want to put a section filled by photo-story and photo series.  But, what I have mostly is single photos, some stories that I want to publish remain unfinished while others are craps.

Compared to making singles, photo story is more difficult to be made. There's no guarantee for ones who are able to shot compelling singles can actually be able to build a good photo story. It is not different, but just more advanced. Just like comparing writing a sentence and writing a novel. You need more time. You need better approach. You need the ideas about what to cover. You need this and that. More and more, but above all you need to think more.

Yes, that's how we should work. We should think as much as we shoot. No good pictures are produced without a good thought within the process. That's what great photographers do. It is applied both to create singles and photo story.

And then, at this point, my mind goes back to the time when I travel to India & Nepal. I just feel that I wasn't there with full of ideas. Instead of thinking about what to photograph, I just made a check list of interesting places and lived with it. For sure it was o.k since my objectives during that time was 50% traveling and 50% taking pictures. But, if only I think more then I will have no difficulties of arranging better photo story. I got some, but I should have got some more. I was in those two countries for 4 months, so pretty much to do, if only I ever wanted it.

A lesson learned.

No regret.

And the website will be launched very soon, no matter what.

P.S: the photograph I attach has nothing to do with this post. It just a bit weird to see a post without any photograph. So I prefer to display at least one :)

Ali Topan: Revival

It's time for a little update.  My days in Jakarta are just fine. The job are just perfect for now; taking portraits, do some level of post-processing, captioning, and everything is done. My last assignment for TEMPO was to photograph the preparation of the musical theatre of Ali Topan. If you're an Indonesian at the age of 25 or more and don't know who/what Ali Topan is, then you're simply ou of league :). For any Indonesian below 25 you can ask your parents. Your father should know him, or even struggled to become another Ali Topan in his past. :)

O.k, so now you've known him; the iconic character of Indonesian past scene which marks the late 70s timeline. Although most of you might recognize hime from the mid 90s TV series, the story is based on the novel written by Teguh Esha, a bright star in the world of Indonesian journalism at that time. Some people assume the story is actually based on facts and Teguh Esha personal account. He, which we also paid a visit and interviewed, didn't deny it.

Now, in the form of musical theatre, both Ari Tulang, the famous Indonesian choreographer, and Dian HP, a musician, brought Ali Topan back into view. The key role on the stage is played by Dendy (Mike's Apartment vocalist) as Ali Topan and Kikan (ex-Cokelat vocalist) as Anna, Ali's pair. The performance lasted from 11th to 17th of April 2011 in Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta.

My focus for the assignment was about everything behind the scene so I didn't photograph the performance. I travel to Teguh Esha house twice and wait for both Dendy & Kikan in some boring hours just for 3 minute shooting chance. At the end, the photographs are just as good as I imagined. :)

Waste Universe

Being sick & laying myself on the bed for the last 3 days is terribly frustrating. I'm wondering what I can do other than reading over and over back issues of National Geographic and following the news about Japan's current crisis. Last week, me and Rafi Tanjung, both a colleague and good photographer went around for a photo opportunity. Some place came in our mind, but at the last we pick the garbage disposal located at the northern tip of Padang, a place that we hardly visit since a year ago.

The city of Padang is growing, and so with its garbage. I still can recall, upon our last visit, the area occupy smaller part of the mountainious landscape of Air Dingin. Now it is expanding. Why the authority decide to put all the city's garbage here remain a question to me. It's undeniable that the area around is one of Padang most valuable water resource.

What both amazed & thrilled me the most is the people; the scavengers. Some of them are too young. Some work so they can go to school while the others stop going to school so they can work. Well, I'm not in the mood of typing today, let's see more pictures. There's no specific issue that I captured, just a general insight to the waste's universe.