Portraiture for Rambatan - Saddhadhika, a design studio specializing in humanitarian design and stories.Read More
Last month, I was able to visit the city of Ubud, Bali, in search for stories to cover. What I found was an interesting dichotomy between art preservation and means of living. I wished I had more time to work on the story, instead I had to return before long. I visited one of the performance space, Ubud Palace, to see if I could get access to the behind the scene of one of Bali's most famous dances; tari Barong. The show was on almost every day in the Ubud Palace; that night was Sadha Budaya Dance studio's turn, who kindly allowed me access to behind the backstage.
I crept my way on the wooden floors towards the room, stopping silently by the door. Beyond the wooden frames, lit by the morning sunlight filtering through the window were the sounds of chanting. Earlier in the day, a woman came to give offering to Buddha through the monks. Other than the sounds of the chants, the room was completely silent as the sunlight shifted and gave way to rain clouds - soon water started to trickle down the temple roofs.
"Within the walls of the Prayer" is an ongoing work, stemming from the interest in the confined space upon which faith and culture blooms. In the big cities like london, where culture and religion are largely a private matter, it found itself confined in the physical walls of stones and steel. It is in those space, however, another wall was erected, a wall of prayers. Growing within the walls of the prayers were faith and culture, bloomed, and flowered into a microcosm of its own - a completely different universe from those outside of the walls. This work attempts to take a peek into those microcosms, and make sense of its place in the largely cold city of London.
I managed to visit three different places of worship; a Hare Krishna (ISKCON) temple, Buddhapadipa Temple, and the East London Mosque - all of which contained not only the most pleasant people I had met in London, but also a solemn air unlike those outside. Teachings were told, some in english, others in their own native language, or both, and prayers were said to their own faith and for some reason, the warmth provided by each institution had always contrasted the cold rainy weather of London streets.
I long to continue working with the people in each institutions, and perhaps along with others to continue this work. Having always been interested in faith and culture, I long to understand more of each faith.
I had the honor to work along a great photographer and a great model last Tuesday; Andrea and Petalie. The two of us - Andrea and I - decided to put LCC's studio to good use. Andrea managed to invite a great model who stood, sat, and pose around for a three long hours. Thank you, Petalie. Along with Petalie, Andera himself became a model for my shoot - the results of which I was rather happy with. This would be the first time I ever work with such wonderful studio light (graduating from a 'speedlight on a tripod stand' strobe) - and more than one at that.
With Petalie, I decided to go black and white; the theme being longing and waiting - for some reason. Petalie was being very helpful with the amount of poses she suggested.
And finally one where I wanted to accentuate her gorgeous looks.
At the end of the day, it was a lot of learning done in a couple of hours; not to mention great pics. Again, Thank you to Andrea and Petalie for your time, help, and participation!
The morning sun crept slowly, coloring the cold blue morning a trace of yellow. I made my way towards the spot indicated by my Google maps, a red pointy dot pointing towards a Goulton road in the Hackney borough of London. Looking around for signs, I noticed the residential area surrounding me - no signs of a shop, much less a workshop. My map led me to a cast iron fence guarding a compound of a couple apartment units; a little search revealed a buzzer on top of a red brick wall, marked 'unit 2, Kennedy city bikes'. Within minutes, I was walking inside an apartment, revealing a workshop with giant windows by the side; tires and tools by the walls; and a bicycle in the middle of the room - much like a trophy. James, a tall, gruff man wearing a work apron, greeted me, offered some tea, and started working on the unfinished bicycle chassis.
Started as a hobby, James had been making bicycles for a couple of years. "I wanted to travel cheaper, so I decided to make a bicycle," He said, stopping for a while to drink his tea; "It ended up not being that much cheaper," he said before continuing his work. Soon after, he quit his job to open Kennedy City bicycles, and started hand building bicycles for sale. James worked almost two hours straight, almost never once moved his eyes from the bicycle - except for a couple sips of tea.
The Bicycle he was working on was a teal chassis with a honey leather seats; simple, classic, and lovely. At the end of the two hour long process, he declared the bicycle to be done, stood back, and marvel at his work. The sunlight poured through the windows giving the bicycle a yellowish tint, and for once, I have never wanted to ride a bicycle as much as I did then. James shook my hand, and informed me that they are moving to a new - better - workshop. As I walked outside the workshop towards the cast iron gates, I wondered if James, the work that he does, and the kinds similar to his, are the rising modern counter-attack towards industrialization. Young artisans, producing hand crafted, high quality masterpieces; if it truly is the way of the future, I am behind it all the way.
The plastic bag rustled as I put it on top of the wooden table; I reached inside,grabbing some sandwich and a bottled water. I had just arrived early at the campus, we were supposed to meet at 10; it was 9.50. Eating the first couple of bites, I noticed a man running towards the large campus glass windows, and looked inside before smiling a large smile at me - he soon joined me at the table. The man was Andrea, one of the many who joined the group of people pursuing the path of photojournalism in my college. Later that day, we spent close to six hours huddling in the darkness for our first portfolio presentation - it was then when I truly realized how high the bar is for the class. 32 people in the class presented, all of which had wonderful works, many of which were very well thought and organized. "Full manual," paul, the magnum photographer - course director said, giving us our first assignment. "35 mm lens, 400 iso, full manual, and pay attention to everything in your frame," he continued. So i did.
The next couple of images were all in full manual (except for one picture - I was holding a giant book, and could not use my hand to focus, so I set to autofocus) iso 400, manual exposure. The only difference is that I was using a 50mm instead of 35, since it's the only prime I have.
First off, pardon the long tite. As we all know, the end of 2013 is approaching. A year ago from around this time, many believed that the world was going to end; regardless, I kept shooting photos just because. Hundreds of days have come and go, and we have yet to perish, which means it’s time for a year-end review! At the start of 2013, I started to take photography much more seriously, and purchased adobe Lightroom – this purchase opened the floodgates to many hours of reading on LR editing. Coincidentally, I created my first B&W look at the start of the year after doing some landscapes in Ohio. Below are the works I did over the years, selected for one or other reasons – whether it’s due to its novelty, quality, or merely due to the fun involved - ordered chronologically. 1. Into Chicago (Original post here)
At the start of the year, I had purchased (and later returned) a Leica M9. I took it to Chicago on a trip to visit my cousin, and ended up falling in love with it. The size, the weight, the feel, and oh my God the picture quality - I loved it all. I took "Into Chicago" in the O'Hare airport, despite the looks of the tens of people passing by. This picture will always remind me of the astonishment I had when I first edited all the pictures I obtained from the Leica M9.
2. "Faces of a sister" (Original post here) While I was in Ohio, I visited my sister in Cleveland quite some times. Almost in all the occasions, she'd ask me to snap a picture. This one was taken a little before she was married, and was the first time I ever did a 'posed shot'. The pic ended as some of my better portraits.
3. "Handwriting Analysis" (Original post here) "Handwriting Analysis" ended up in my portfolio, and became one of the paving stones for my interest in street photography/photojournalism. With the help of a friend, I developed a preset that until this point I still sometimes use as a starting point, along with a split toning color that seemed to work for everything Californian.
4. "I do" (Original post here) A couple of weeks after the "Faces of a sister" picture, my sister finally got married. Her marriage alone should grant this picture in this list. I, however, loved the pic due to the framing and the moment; both of them captured something I always look for in my photography - a split second of a once in a lifetime moment. I also liked the photojournalism look of the framing, along with the tinted monochrome look (the "golden monochrome" preset I developed at the start of the year)
5. "The thousand yard" (Original post here) I had been looking for a collaborator upon which I can practice my photography. After much talk, I ended up working with a talented, movie major student of OSU; Mike. Mike was working on a final project on the OSU football team, and was wondering if I wanted to include my photo in his project - to which I replied wholeheartedly: Yes. Not exactly a big fan of football, nor an athlete myself, I lacked the many skills a football photographer requires. That said, I could definitely capture the timeless moment - this was perhaps one of them.
6. "Two Good Reads" (Original post here) There could be many reasons why I love this picture; it being my sis' prewed picture, the framing, the oddity, the planning, the mere fun of the day, the surprisingly good end result - the list goes on and on. In the end, I loved the pic because It's just a good one. I developed the idea along with a good friend of mine, scouted for places to shoot, and spent half a day frantically shooting the whole set with my sister, her husband, and another friend of mine. It was totally worth it.
7. "Columbus Theatre" (Original post here) Columbus theatre was beautiful - nuff said. To do continue, it was the graduation day of three close friends of mine - all of which were of art major (one of them later converted to nursing - good for him, either way). I loved the architecture inside the theatre, the color, the drama, and fell in love with my own 17-40 f/4 after taking this picture. The reason might be circumstantial yet again, but I still love this picture for the composition.
8. "The fishermen of Matador Beach" (Original post here) Another picture that found its way into my portfolio. I loved this picture when I took it, and still do now. I have had an ND filter, but haven't used it very often - this picture was the first usage which I truly love. Granted, technically it is highly flawed - spots everywhere, mostly from the seawater splashing into the filter, and there are some glares from the sides. That said, I loved the composition, the context, and the lines. I truly believe this picture earned its place in this list.
9. "Stars and Stripes" (Original post here) Something about this picture hit my nerve in every right kinds of way. Among many photographers that I bow my head and heart upon, Eliot Erwitt is among them. Is it the stare? the flag? his stance? or many other things currently brewing in my head? Perhaps it's all of them. This picture also happens to be among the last one I took in the States, making it a little more special.
So there you go. The first 9 of the end-of-year-review list which spanned from January to July 2013. The second half of the year took me to my home country, Indonesia, and I have decided to create another list for that. Keep your eyes peeled open for Pt.2 of the list!
Following thunderstorm on the previous day, was a morning with heavy, shadowy clouds; a double edged sword to a photo journey. It was a gamble; without rain, we'd get dramatic clouds and gentle lighting, but rain - depending on the intensity - could potentially hinder some plans, and the day seemed like it could easily lean towards either one. Our day started a couple of hours away from the city, on a state park called Bantimurung. Dubbed the 'Kingdom of Butterflies', Bantimurung had been a tourism spot for as long as I can remember. The area itself boasts a massive biodiversity of butterflies; I remember people telling me to wear red in order to attract butterflies. Its conservation status, however, held no power in Indonesia - trash were scattered everywhere, signs broken, and to make matters much worse, butterflies were captured and sold by the dozens right by the entrance. Aside from the butterflies, the main attraction for the area was the waterfalls, from which the national park obtained its name from. Arriving at the waterfalls, we realized that the previous day's rain had made the waterfall massive. Standing close to the falls one could feel the enormous force behind the waters, rushing and twisting throughout the river. Near the base of the waterfall was a stone steps, used when the waterfall is usually gentle, so that the visitors could descend and swim in the waters. That day, however the current was overwhelming, and the steps were rendered useless.
After a quick lunch in a neighboring town, we decided to wait for a while before heading to our next destination - Rammang Rammang; an area in the regency of Maros, whose name means "clouds." Rammang - rammang was supposedly a part of the sea millions of years ago, leaving hills of giant cloudlike formation of bedrocks. Arriving there, however, the day had taken the turn for the worse - thunderstorms came heavily, and the paths into the seastone formations themselves were almost non-existent after being nearly submerged in water. I, however, was happy enough to meet a local; he was working in his rice paddies when I came over asking for permission to take pictures. The man smiled and granted me his permission before continuing his work.
Shooting in a thunderstorm proved to be difficult. I did not have any raincoat for my camera nor myself, and had to resort to an umbrella. I ended up half kneeling, holding my umbrella with my thighs as to free both arms to take pics. In the end, I loved rammang rammang even more - more than bantimurung, in fact - due to its remoteness. It was relatively unknown, and thus was left untouched by people, cept for the locals. I long to return, and see if I could make more pictures.
Life takes you to places, that will always be true; by car, by train, by plane or on foot, we will be somewhere, sometime. Life took me to Tana Toraja, and showed me that sometimes being somewhere you don't care about going means more than being somewhere you actually do. I visited the land of the kings years ago, on a school field trip and it did not amount to much memories in my head - I wasn't eager to come back. But I did - and I am glad I did. I came back with a new set of eyes, and see the King's earth differently; I saw it from the people, instead of from the locations. I loved doing portraits, and I had found wonderful people in Tana Toraja, which drove my fingers and my heart to where it's supposed to lead. It was a wonderful experience.
Tana Toraja is a land of craftsmen; of wood, of clothes, of dances and music, and they are eager to show it. Walking past some rice fields, we encountered a lone hut, standing in the middle of the daylight. Shielded from the heat, was a man deeply engrossed in his woodcraft. Surrounded only by hundreds of his creations - from small statues to those as tall as a grown man - he did not notice our appearance as he continued carving the wood he held with his foot. Moments after, as he noticed us a little way from him, he looked up and smiled, "feel free to look around," he said. I asked if I could take a couple of pictures, to which he again smiled and agreed.
We did visit the renowned places in Tana Toraja, where they showcase the people's culture. One that piqued my interest was Londa, where the remains of the departed was placed in caves. The caves itself, was thought of by the people as houses for the departed, my guide explained to me, and are therefore called the house where smokes don't rise; named due to the absence of cooking in said 'houses'. We walked into the winding roads of the caves lit with only a small gas lamp in the hand of the guide, as he led us deeper into the cave, giving as much explanations as he could along the way.
What did Tana Toraja gave me? a firmer outlook on my photography, perhaps; that and the willingness to be drifted by the currents of fate, as willing as possible. Wonder lies in our backyard, or in our neighbor's or in our neighbor's neighbor's, we just have to drift there.
My journey to the Land of the Kings took me to an off beaten path by the side of a nameless road - small, unkempt, and seemingly leading to nowhere. The end of the road, however, did exist, and it ended with a grave - that of a dear family member of mine, Bokko. Bokko had been a housekeeper in our family for 52 years, taking care of my mother and her brothers since their births. She ended up being as much of a mother as her own to my mother, and a dear family to ours. She passed away a couple of years ago, a year after I promised to visit her in her hometown through a phone call - a promise that was never fulfilled. What happened, on the other hand was us visiting her grave, saying last words to the departed years after she passed away. Bokko's family, Arma showed the way to her family's grave, then to the last house where Bokko had stayed, and there I saw one thing that could forever put Toraja in the maps of my mind.
Over the last 52 years of Bokko working in our family, she apparently had been saving money, and sending much of it home to help building her family's house; a traditional wooden raised house, which showed the amount of work that had gone into the house. I went up the wooden stair to enter the main part of the house - a living room lit only by windows, surrounded with unpainted - but new - wooden walls. As I sat down cross-legged on the floor along with Arma and Bokko's brother, I noticed in the corner of the room, a TV set with what seemed to be a stereo and a DVD player, looking out of place in the plainness of the room, and my mind began to wonder if Bokko had also purchased the TV set with her money. Looking around the living, room, in fact, I could see the wonders of the person that was Bokko; an old mechanical sewing machine that she had been using, a big Chinese tapestry given to her by her sailor brother that he had presumably gotten from overseas, a carved piece of the last supper, and what seemed to be either a Chinese or Korean ornament hanging from the ceiling. It was a comfortable small home, that she had built, and rebuilt for her family, over 52 years, with a piece of her own sewn into each part of the house. "This is so like her," my mother said to me as I looked around, "she had always been very clean and neat." For the next half an hour we sat and chatted with Bokko's family, surrounded by pieces of her world that she had brought home from her travels and work, and it gave me a certain peace of mind.
Before we head out of the house, Arma showed us the room where Bokko had been sleeping in her last days. A small wooden room reflecting the rest of the house, it had a small mattress laid out, and a couple of random objects - Bokko's brother had been using it as a storage. As I looked around, I noticed a wooden cupboard, which turned out to be Bokko's, and still held her belongings. I opened the cupboard to find clothes, accessories, and other items that I did not give much attention into, and we stood there, where time seemingly stopped. Here was the Cupboard where Bokko last grabbed her clothes from, a place she kept all of her belongings in, inside the house she had rebuilt for 52 years. This was all we needed to see, and exactly that was given to our family, the treasure of understanding, of knowing, of nostalgia and love - that of Bokko.
Our family will always miss you, Bokko, thank you for your companionship all throughout the 52 years. My family; my grandma, my parents, my uncles and aunts, my sister, along with myself, will always have you in our heart, wherever I go, along with your house, along with your cupboard, and your family.
thank you. 2013/10/18
It was the same scene I had seen over and over again all throughout Indonesia; in the lands of FLores, in the highlands of Malino, and now, In the land of the Kings - Tana Toraja. Golden lights filtered through the cloudy afternoon, falling carelessly upon the greens of the rice fields - and I was, fortunately, there with my camera. Like much of the famous cultures of the world, however, Toraja is enveloped in a cocoon of tourism, with signs for touristic objects can be seen all throughout the city of Makale and Rantepao. Looking for a glimpse of truth into the culture, therefore, could be a little difficult - or is it?
Perhaps the truth is that being so closely in touch with tourism and the rest of the world, is a fragment of a culture's last means of survival; this is definitely true for Toraja's dying art of traditional cotton threading. Located by the river of Saddang, lies an area - upon which the river takes its name from - where the last remaining cotton threaders work; Grandma Ippang was one of the two last ones, according to herself.
Grandma Ippang introduced herself to me as she performed said dying art of cotton threading. Surrounded by cotton tapestries - all dyed with natural products, such as redwood and leaves - she spun hundreds of years old wooden wheel, which, combined with the pull of her left hand, somehow turned a lump of cotton into a thread. "This thread will then be used for weaving to produce these tapestries," she pointed at the tapestries behind her, "this one is approximately two million rupiahs (approximately two hundred Dollars)," she continued. Throughout our conversation, Grandma Ippang never once ceased her threading, the art which is as much chore as theatrical diplay nowadays. "The art is dying," she said, "the young prefers to practice weaving instead of cotton threading - it's much easier."
At the age of 84, the only other person she knew could do the traditional cotton threading method, was her daughter, making her bloodline the last Cotton threaders in Toraja. The rise of mechanized cotton weaving in factories drove traditional cotton weaving to the brink of extinction; this is only right, due to the low cost of production. The only people that could afford - and appreciate - traditional cotton threaded weavings, therefore, were foreigners. "They (the foreigners) love these kinds of stuff - natural and handmade," Grandma Ippang told me; she went on to explain the natural dyes used in each threads. Perhaps, Grandma Ippang's daughter will pass on the skill of cotton threading to her daughter, to ensure the survival of her people's art. Even if passed down, however, at this point it seemed as if it's merely prolonging the inevitable.