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.

Street Photography, Travel, Travel Photography

Kunming: The Random Scenes

Yesterday, early morning, I just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province was my last stop in China. Just like usual, travel is always hurt at its parting moment. I’m sort of missing China. No matter how difficult it was (because of my language problem) or how, after almost a month, I barely could understand what it was, China deserves more of my time and I believe it will be worth of it.

Here I posted some of my shots from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Most of them I took during the second day upon my arrival.

The Bamboo Curtain

A Shopping Scene

The Kunming Green Lake

A View from Kunming Library

The Lazy Cooks

Just Another Shopping Scene

Tai Chi at the Green Lake Side

Up for a Burger Anyone?

The Chinese Lanterns

A Scene from the Southern Bus Station

Another Bus Station Scene

Hope that you enjoyed it 🙂

Will post more later.

Gear & Equipment, News

The Shitty Things About Fuji X100

Well, as the title suggests, this is not a review. Or at least, not yet. For now, it’s more of my personal disappointment toward Fuji X100 which I happily purchased about (or a little less) two moths ago.

Here I wouldn’t like to talk about its pictures quality which is surprisingly fantastic (even for a DSLR standard). I pushed quite often into ISO 3200 and the result is amazing. Even 6400 still usable for some case. Of course it will never surpass the 5D markII in term of picture quality. The X100 is still far in the game into this. But for street photography, for the discreet and being unobtrusive (for the cliche & pretend to be the pricey Leica), this is a small beast. Oh wait, I just went too far. So where’s the disappointment?

My Jaded Fuji X100 & a pack of Chinese cigarette

The shitty thing about Fuji X100 (the one mine) is it started to fail since a week ago. I was traveling in China and for some cases I need this compact monster. The China trip was also my reason forcing myself to get one. And yet, for the first two weeks, X100 was combat proven. I managed to shot some of my favourite image of the trip with this camera. But suddenly it started to shoot inconsitently. I could get three very different exposure at the same setting (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture). At first, I thought the bracketing was turned on. But that wasn’t. The control was in full manual. Without Auto ISO nor auto-else. What the hell was happening?

I then started to analyze some of my photographs. My habit of shooting in the street , I usually stop the lens down to f8 or f11 in order to gain wider depth of field. But some pictures ended up nasty blurry while over-exposed at the same time. And there was another trial. Shooting portrait at f11 will never get you a perfect out of focus background. But it did happen. By then, I knew that the aperture is stuck.

Sample: Unconsistent Exposure during Motion Panorama Mode

(The unconsistent exposure is also seen from panorama of the Leshan’s Giant Buddha. I adjusted the contrast to see the problem more clearly. Click to see it larger. Notice the left corner and the Buddha’s head. This problem occured in all shooting modes)

I started to browse about this problem over the web. I found this and that. And this means I’m not the only one who experienced the very similar problem. So what I have (hate) to do is waiting to get home and send this monster back to Fuji Indonesia. I will not be able to use it perfectly until it is fixed. Shit does happen when you travel!!!

However, there are some positive comments regarding how Fuji responding to this situation. Let’s see.

Anyway, I will try to compile a deep review about Fuji X100 later, complete with its service report.

News, Street Photography, Travel, Travel Photography

China: A Short Retrospective

Preparation of 62th PRC Celebration

Within 3 days, China, or oficially the People’s Republic f China (PRC), will celebrate its 62th establishment. Yesterday, while wandering below the grey sky of Chengdu and its crowded street, I saw its on-going preparation. Some huge flower bouquet were stacked near Tainfu Square, while at the same time, hundreds of workers were deployed.

62 years after its establishment, PRC is one of nowadays world’s major power. Looking at it today left me wondering, how could a country that decades ago were considerably poor (not mentioning its record of Great Chinese Famine) lately turned into an economic powerhouse, military power, and an important player in world politic.

By looking even deeper into its people, decades ago, they hardly could afford more than a small radio. Don’t ask about cars because washing machine was once a luxury. But today, many Chinese drive the latest cars possible; Mercedes Benz, BMW, Buick, or even a Lamborghini that I saw the other day. Many Chinese today enjoy an amount of money that could be never imagined by their own parents before. It’s not to mention its cities parking lot which always full and shopping center in almost every corners. PRC is living to its fullest.

Chairman Mao Statue at Chengdu's Tianfu Square

Of course, what’s written above is not probably all true. Far from its teeming cities, in its rural part, many Chinese still live for less than a dollar a day. Making life seemed impossible. However, by comparing it as a whole, 62 years after proclaimed by Chairman Mao, PRC has never been so bright.

News, Travel, Travel Photography

Chengdu On China Railway

Departing from Kunming to Chengdu, I started my first experience on China Railway yesterday at 10.11am. Earlier, I was a little bit nervous. At 7am I was still in Kunming South Bus Station, half asleep in a comfortable night bus couch which transported me back from Yuanyang (will post about this one later) to Kunming. Luckily, I was with Santa, an accomplished photographer from Hungary, which became a very good company for the last few days. So we could work out a mess for those last 3 hours; my luggage was kept in my former hotel in central Kunming 15km apart and I had to deal with several taxi drivers who don’t get English even for a word.

Reading on the Train

To my surprised, everything went quite well. At 9.30 We were on Kunming Train Station. Santa decided to go to Guilin. At this point we said goodbye to each other.

The China Railway yesterday wasn’t as busy as I expected. And I found my coach less than one minute‒thanks for being there right below the staircase where I walked down. So I jumped on board, put down the bone-cracking luggage, and wandered around.

A Sleeping Couple

On Board Restaurant turned to Attendants' Quarter

I always love being on a train. For me it’s much better than buses, or even flying high on an airplane. It’s because both have missing one important thing; a colorful social life on board. During my travel in India of 2009, train has transported me for thousands of kilometers with comfort and ability to meet some of the warmest individuals during my trip.

China Railway wouldn’t be far away from that. With some basic Chinese I started to learn after the mess with taxi driver earlier, I was able to communicate for a few times. Not bad. And yes, Kunming to Chengdu trip also offered something more, a 1048 km of nothing but stunning scenery between Yunnan & Sichuan province flashing from my window.

Train Ride with a View

Now I’m in Chengdu 🙂