News, Photojournalism


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 Schizophrenia. 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.

Amok © Muhammad Fadli

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.

News, Photojournalism, Portrait Photography, Street Photography, Travel, Travel Photography

2011: My Year in Review

After more than a month without any posts, this one will be quite long (I’m not so sure whether the content is important or not). It’s true that I’ve been quite busy lately with all the travels, pictures editing, and the writings. But near the end of this year; of our raged year; of our year where we witnessed tsunami in Japan; of our year with disastrous global economic situation which seems leads to nowhere; of our year with massive riot over The Middle East and North Africa; of our years where Ghadaffy and Kim Jong-Il or even Steve Jobs no longer in charge: I feel that I need to reassess myself, what I did and still manage to do this year. So I made a sort of list mixed between my travel, editorial assignment, and any other experiences.

Here they are:

1. Moving to Jakarta

As most of you already knew, I based myself in Jakarta since last March. My impression of the city remains the same. It’s big, ugly, infested with traffic congestion, which made it extremely boring for staying. However, this is one of the only few better place in Indonesia if I really want to expect more from my photography. So I started commissioned mostly to shoot portraits. As opposed to my earlier thought, this kind of photography is somehow really insightful. It helped me to broaden my view while it also put my communicating skill to the next level. I uploaded some of those works here.

Agnes Monica © Muhammad Fadli

Rhoma Irama © Muhammad Fadli

2. Visiting China

I finally visited China, I mean small fraction of it. Being invited by the organizer of Humanity Photo Award, I never thought that I would ever won that Grand Prize. It’s also because when I saw the contest’s entries, I was looking at some of the best photographs from around the world. So I wasn’t expecting much. Basically being in China would be enough. Apart from the ceremonies of the contest, the organizer also arranged the trip for us the winner and nominee. The 4 days trip was somehow frustrating, but now, when I look back, espceally when I’m looking what I am having in my harddrive, it was a relief. There are probably some pictures we couldn’t ever made without the help of the organizer.

The dancing Old Couple, Chengdu

I then extended my stay to almost a month. I traveled for a while to see if China has something more to offer. My last week in China just got better when my mother finally joined me in Chengdu. We traveled together ever since. One good question crossed my mind: when did the last time you travel with your parents? My answer would be like “ummm, well, I forgot”. So the trip with my mother really important to me.  It seems that we’re just renewing our bond. One thing that I will be really glad to do over and over again. Sadly my father couldn’t join us at that time for a funny reason: he is not yet having a passport. WHAT???!!

3. Glimpse of Europe

2011 is seemed to be my year of travel. Last May I was invited to go to Germany by my friend who were getting married. Who can refuse? Even basically this was planned long time ago. And to be honest I really wasn’t sure that I really would ever be in Europe or not until the last few weeks.

An afternoon at Planty Park, Krakow

Old Wooden mosque, Kruszyniany

The story was after the wedding I extended my stay for three weeks longer. From Wernigerode, where the wedding was held, I traveled to Berlin, passed Warsaw in Poland, and finally boarded the train as far as Kruszyniany, near the Belarus border where I found a old wooden Lipka Tatar mosque. The actual plan was to do a more specific project. But I screwed up my own schedule by the means of screwed up research. The project will remain unfinished until my next visit to Poland. But the travel pieces will be getting published this January.

Rynek Glowny, Krakow

A club scene at Rynek we Wrocławiu, Wroclaw

Moreover, from there, I made my way back to Bialystok where my friend Jedrzej (he’s a photojournalist too) made me feel like home in his flat. From there I made my way to Krakow to meet Anna, my friend who also the one who urged me to travel few years back. With her and Olek, her boyfriend, we went to Auschwitz (I posted some photos here). The trip wasn’t over yet until I made my stop in Wroclaw where I spent some days with the so kind-hearted Gosia. With some 50GB of photos, this one of my biggest trip. It’s fruitful

(Thanks a real lot to Yvonne, Knut, Anna, Gosia, Iga, Halim Shahab, Jedrzej, and Ozgun)

4. Singapore by the Street

For photography, I am a long time admirer of India, or China. But Singapore just never made my finger crossed. Well, I was wrong. Now I have to admit that it has its own charm, just like any other place. Sometimes you just need to be there to take a look at yourself.  At the end of last month, I was assigned to do the coverage about the grand opening of Transformers: The Ride in Universal Studio Singapore. Well, I was never a big fan of these autobots, so better talk no further about that. Then, I was also assigned to do a travel feature about Singapore (will be published early next year). But the topic required me to explore the place deeper since no one will ever want to hear about Orchad Rd again. In this chance, I mostly explore Singapore by walking combining with public transport. This was where I found that the city is so alive with its street scene. Need some good street photos? O.k, I’ll look no further.

Street Scene, Clarke Quay, Singapore

5. Ignoring a Decent Publication

WTF? I must be crazy. But that’s what I did. If you have followed this blog for a while, then you already knew the story. I’m glad that I ignored them. The past few years we are witnessing the declining numbers of good pubcliation for us photographers. The jobs are rare while the amount of us are more abundant. May be they thought because now everyone can get a new camera then everyone can shoot. Buy this body and buy that lens and they can make good photos. I totally have some difficulties to understand why such a decent publication values our work that low.  So that was a big NO. Period.

6. Building a Website

You may say that I am late, and I actually am. I should have built one long ago. For so many reasons photographers need a website, a choice which is not that popular in Indonesia. As far as I know, in other part of the world, like the US and Europe, even a starter in photography have his/her own website to showcase their work. It’s an important tool to publicize your works and your vision. I finally made this step last month, at the end of November. I did a quick design, oh sorry, it was modification from a flash portfolio template. I did aired it for two weeks before I decide that I don’t like it. The reason is simple: the design. I need a more intuitive and better navigation. Also what’s the point of making a website if you are hard to be found. For a starter in WWW world like me, that’s absulutely important. Doing the SEO is harder with flash. So, then I made my way back to a more traditional structure without having to sacrifice the look. And it’s finished here (you can also click on the picture to get there).

Screen Grab for the new Website

And then there’s something that I feel after building a web. It’s about quality. When I have my very own website, that’s also mean I have to be really careful selecting the photographs. I have to show the best I have. This kind of feeling is totally positive. I bet.

So that’s some update for the end of this year. This year might not perfect, but who want to be so perfect anyway. This year was good to me 🙂

See you again next year and of course HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012!!!

Photojournalism, Travel Photography, Under the Skin

Under the Skin: Agustinus Wibowo

For a person with rather small posture (sorry Mas Agus, no offense), he has big stories to be told. Agustinus Wibowo, now at the age of 30, has accomplished Tibet, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, all countries in Central Asia, as well as Mongolia. During his years of travels, he managed to stay away from the tourist crowd, explored, and photographed some of the most remote corner of Asia: Wakhan Corridor for instance.

Agustinus Wibowo, as I shot for TEMPO a while ago

Not long prior embarking on his journey years ago, he was studying computer science in China. But the lure of travel made him left his career before it even started. Based from his travel, he already authored two best-selling travel book, completed with series of compelling photographs. A remarkable achievement in Indonesian standard.

Two weeks ago, I met him for the second time in a travel writing workshop by Galeri Bogor. Between his busy schedule, I managed to interview him, asking several questions regarding his photography.

(The interview was translated from Bahasa and edited for better understanding purpose)

Q: You’ve started making travel pictures for a while. But then you’ve made turn into a travel writer, yet without lossing your passion into photography. How would you call your photography nowadays?

A: My photography has endured a great deal of changes. Earlier, when I just started my journey I was more into travel photography. That’s because I was deeply fascinated by the exoticness of the place I visited. Whether its the colorful tribal costumes or its strange architectures. But then, after 4 years of non-stop traveling, after Tibet, Nepal and India where I still did a lot of travel photography, still went to touristy place, I then made my way to Pakistan, where I stayed for 6 months. I finally realized that all of these exoticness often meaningless. So I focused myself more into photo story, more story behind the pictures, like once when I was volunteered in a earthquake affected area there. And for sure they were not exotic, but they have some strong and compelling story to be told from their life. From their pictures  we can see so many facets of lives  itself. I then also realized that the more I’m into photography, the more I became connected with the people, also the more I think that photography alone isn’t enough to tell the whole stories. That’s why I was also learning to write and transformed from travel photography into photojournalism. I believe these can bring a deeper reflection rather than disastrous image like what other photographers did in Afghanistan whot shot mines victims or opium addicts. I would like to take a deeper story: the life of the people. So basically now I am more into photojournalism and documentary photography.

An Afghan Boy Behind the Burqa, Copyright by Agustinus Wibowo

Q: Did you ever attend any photographic courses? or you merely learn everything on the road? Tell me about it.

A: I actually never attended any photography course, but once when I was sturdying in China, we this photography class. And that was next to nothing, most of all that was boring. For me, photography isn’t about the techinal things. So most of the time, I learned by experience on the road. Also I found that one of the most important thing is communication. I like to learn the local language. It opened  more doors wherever I go. Sometime, I could stay more than a week in a local family, which let me get a better perspectives.

Q: So learning local languages is very important to you?

A: For me, it’s part of my photography. It makes less distances (for me and the subjects).

Road to Pamir, Copyright by Agustinus Wibowo

Q: I heard some people commenting that your photographs is quite different from other photographers who visited the same place as you did. Do you think this got something to do with your background as an Asian?

A: Again, I think that’s because I’m no longer looking at the exoticness of a place. We can see that some people still tend to focus on cliche subeject. As an example, when I lived in Afghanistan, for me it isn’t fair just look at one perspective. I want to offer more. It’s true that the war is happending there, but that isn’t the only thing about Afghanistan. I’m always drawn to the reality of life.

An Harvesting Wakhi Women, Copyright by Agustinus Wibowo

Kazakh Eagle Hunter of Bayan Olgii, Copyright by Agustinus Wibowo

Q: You are seemed quite experienced going photographing to some remote corners of earth. Do you anything to share for budding photographer?

A: I have a concern that, as a foreigner, we always carry some sort of impact to any place we visit. We can see that many places are changing, and that’s also because travel becomes easier today. But we actually need to remember that people living in the remote area are rarely see the outside world, so by going there, with our modern gadget, most of the time we carry some sort of dream.  So like nomadic in Mongolia, they are quite fascinated by modernization when I was there. And that the impact we bring is not always positive. Also we need to always remember, as a photograher we are intruder. We need to keep that we’re not disturb anything. Many times when I visit a place, I feel that I really need to explain my intention. They need to know.  When they are agree then I can start taking photographs. We cannot go into a place and then start shooting. We’re not going to a zoo.

Q: Do you believe that photography can bring changes?

A: I always believe any writing or any journalism works can bring change, including visually-engaging photography. Many people now realized that afgan is more than just a country trapped in a never-ending war. Like the photograph of the Afghan Girl (by steve mccurry), it’s simple but hipnotizing. With her green eyes and sharp look, it give us some sort of imagination about people there.

War's Victim in Afghanistan, Copyright by Agustinus Wibowo

Q: Any future destination crossing in your mind nowadays?

A:  Well, It is not about the destination but about the learning process. There are actually so many places where I want to learn. Now I can speak Mandarin, so I want to travel and write about China. It’s yet undone by anyone else in Indonesia. Others probably Russia, thanks to my Russian, and  then Syria. I really want to learn Arabic, also for me, Middle East is so much exciting.

Q: Final tips about photographing?

A: Like what I told you before, please behave, dont think your object like animal in a zoo. We always need to know the limit. Be communicative and go closer. Sometime people tend go somewhere and just shot shot and shot. Also the technology advances today made some illusion when you can take as many pictures as you want. But it doesnt mean we just take pictures without thinking. And the last, be careful with your camera.


More of Agustinus Wibowo work can be seen here.

News, Opinion, Photojournalism, Travel Photography

The Crooks Around Us and How They’re Trying to Make Fun of Me (and probably you too)

“Well, O.K, this one is going to be published” said one of a Indonesian magazine (We name this magazine Stepping Stones for now) editor to me this week, and that’s a good news. I finished selecting the pictures, so with the writing, and it’s a travel feature from my trip a while ago. Now I am the last phase of the work; seeing the things in the newstand. But wait, since I know this editor quite well―however, this is going to be the first time my feature story getting published in Stepping Stones―I forgot to ask about the going rate.

A Chinese Newstand

Yes, here, now we’re talking about money. “This is how much you’re going to be paid, and we always pay everyone at the same amount” the editor said. And I was shocked, almost collapsed. I won’t tell you how much, but it was much less than I used to get in the other publication. It was less enough to make you stop dreaming of becoming either a contributing writer or a photographer. And what I also took into account, this is a decent magazine.

Some people tend to disregard what we’re actually doing, whether intentional or not, and that’s a bad news. These people are seemed born to this world, and out of nowhere, find themselves appointed as an editor. The bad one.

There’s a saying ‘if you want to be rich, then stop being a journalist (writer, photographer, or whatever)’. It’s bad, but it’s true. When I started few years back, money was the last thing I ever thought about. I need it so I could go on traveling, which more often I need to do something else too, let’s say wedding photography that I still do it frequently. And when you find an editor who put you on the edge by those tiny sum (even giving it for free will be better), it’s truly disgraceful. Nothing worse than that.

What’s worse is things won’t end this way. If I agreed the rate in the Stepping Stones (Let me tell you again, it’s far away too low), it’s not only me who’s going to suffer. Next time, there will be other fellow contributors submitting their works, and for sure they will be paid the same amount (or a little bit more if they are famous). We’re killing each other, and I don’t want it happens.

Of course, there are still so many good publications as well as good editors out there. They realize what kind of things we’re facing on the way. And what is most important, they realize that the relationship between them and us is mutualism. They know their publication won’t be interesting without good pictures and writings. And Us, we need to publish our work so we can continue living, wandering around and…(you fill this for whatever your reasons are). This kind of editors are willing to discuss everything, including an agreable fee. And a relief always they are.

I finally prefer to cancel my publication with the Stepping Stones, at least for now. Period.

Opinion, Photojournalism

The Number 66

Infested with corruption and social problems, that’s Indonesia today. It’s seemed that 66 years after its declaration of independence things just never get better. While the majority of Indonesian today are struggling for live, its leader are too busy thinking about what political maneuver to be done. A good recent sample; is there any reason behind the awarded Adipradana Medal of Service to Indonesian president’s wife if not something about the next election? Well you can guess.

The rising Indonesian flag at Makassar's Slum

And so now, most of the time I cannot help myself to avoid a developing pessimistic state of mind. I always have been wondered about a better situation, not only in 17th of August, but everyday. And It always let me down again and again. The 66 is seemed no more than just number which keep adding every year.

But anyway, bon (i hope so) anniversaire my only love (and my only reason today to keep posting even I’m not in the mood to do so) Indonesia!!!

Photojournalism, Under the Skin

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.

Habib, Jakarta, Copyright by Dwianto Wibowo

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.

The Merchants of Lamalera, Copyright by Dwianto Wibowo

Titiek Puspa, Copyright by Dwianto Wibowo

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.

Hanung Brahmantyo, Copyright by Dwianto Wibowo

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.


News, Photojournalism

And Then China Came Closer

During my not-so-usual busy schedule and the rush hour of this week, I found something to be really exciting in my inbox few days ago: an email from Humanity Photo Award 2011.

Suddenly my mind flew to few months back when I read the annoucement of this photo contest somewhere over the web. Just to make it short, this competition all participants need to submit two photo stories. So I decided to register and give it a try. Later on, I searched for a possibilites in my harddrive. I put two series into it and it was done.  I never looked back into the website even once. For sure, I really hope to achieve something. But by seeing the winners from 2009’s comptition, I thought it will be hard enough for me. And the best thing to do was to forget it.

And the good news popped up inside my email. One of my photo story about The Mentawai (as published in The Jakarta Globe) people won a nomination award. While another, my story about Pacu Jawi, a bull’s racing festival in West Sumatra, Indonesia,  now is entering the final evaluation to compete for the grand prize award.

The Final Evaluation List for Festivities Category

Although I’m totally happy, getting the nomination award in this competition is not that extraordinary by the measure of prize. I will only get an award certificate and a catalogue from all of nominated participants. But by entering the final evaluation, I will be invited to be in China next September for attending the awarding ceremony. And that’s really something.

Actually, I have planned to be in China, but not sure about the timing. Last week I also met a fellow photojournalist and tried to set a plan to land somewhere in China next year. And in all of a sudden, It came closer by itself. It’s like my travel addiction always find itself a way. Nothing to complain. Perfect.

The Nomination Award List for Living Customs Category

So I’m starting to sort everything out again. I have to dig more about China. Where can I go after Beijing? (the awarding ceremony is seemed to be there) and for how long? and what to do or what to photographs then? Going to China for only for waiting the final result will not be enough for me. What If I will not win the grand prize? So I have to plan my self a better prize: exploring China for a while.

Here I attached two photographs from each story.

A Homecoming Shaman, from The Mentawai series

Showing the bull's name, from The Pacu Jawi series


That’s a little update for this week.