Running into 2018

Another year has passed, another one awaits. I started the new year with a rather quick assignment that I just finished. In the past three years, Indonesian Red Cross Society (PMI) has been implementing a community development program in seven cities that are flowed by three major river systems in Java, assisting three communities in each city. The assignment took me to Ciliwung River (Bogor Regency & South Jakarta City), Citarum River (Bandung Regency & Karawang Regency), also Bengawan Solo (Wonogiri Regency, Surakarta City, & Bojonegoro Regency).

The program had previously been kickstarted and developed since two years prior to its implementation, by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as the international coordinator and Zurich Insurance Group as the funder. Other than Indonesia, similar program has also been implemented in Nepal, Peru, and Mexico, each by local implementing partners. The goal of the program is to build resilience in the communities affected by flood, which is considered as the biggest issue in natural hazard, causing the biggest destruction and effect worldwide.

My assignment was to visit the communities where the program is implemented and to make a narrative report on how the program has been improving the resilience (among other aspects) of the assisted communities. In January, I visited Tugu Utara & Pasir Angin in Bogor Regency; Pengadegan in South Jakarta City; Bojongsoang, Citeureup, and Dayeuhkolot in Bandung Regency; Purwadana & Parungsari in Karawang Regency; Gedong, Ngadipiro, & Gumiwang Lor in Wonogiri Regency, Sewu, Sangkrah, and Semanggi in Surakarta City, also Tulungrejo, Trucuk, and Sumbangtimun in Bojonegoro Regency. I spent February writing the report, which is going to be published as a book shortly by IFRC.

Here are some behind the scenes photos.

Interviewing program volunteers in Bojongsoang Village, Bandung Regency. Photo: Lala Jalaludin

Photojournalist Suryo Wibowo, whom I worked with for the assignment, taking pictures of Citarum, said to be the most polluted river in the world. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

An often flooded house has been abandoned by its residents in Citeureup Village, Bandung Regency. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Residents installing pipes for hydroponic planting in Pengadegan, South Jakarta City. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Community based action team (SIBAT) volunteers in Bogor Regency, including Pasir Angin Village Head’s wife (in white trousers) and Cipayung Village Head’s wife (in green dress). Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Bogor selfie
Yours truly in Puncak Area, Bogor Regency. Photo: Suryo Wibowo

Street scene in Purwadana Village, Karawang Regency. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Rearview mirror selfie at sunset passing rice fields on the way to Parungsari Village, Karawang Regency. Karawang is the second largest rice producer in Indonesia, making it effectively a national rice reserve. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Interview with Mrs. Ester, a SIBAT volunteer in Sewu urban village, Surakarta City. She is the coordinator for aquaponic planting program in Surakarta City. Photo: Wanto

Taking a portrait of Mr. Tavip, a SIBAT volunteer in Semanggi urban village, Surakarta City. Photo: Wanto

A construction on Gajah Mungkur Reservoir, Wonogiri Regency. Constructed in 1976 and designed to function for as long as 100 years, the reservoir’s life time is predicted to last only until the next 15 years due to rapid siltation. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

A pine forest in Gumiwang Lor village, Wonogiri Regency. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Yours truly in the field, interviewing SIBAT volunteers in Tulungrejo Village, Bojonegoro District. Photo: M. Nur Hamid

I am now back in Yogyakarta, as the assignment is mostly done. In addition to working on this assignment, I’m running into 2018 with more activities in teaching photography. Looking forward to more opportunities and experiences. Happy new year! ∎


Participation in “Membongkar Bingkai – Membuka Sekat” exhibition at PKKH UGM


Next week I am taking part in an alumni exhibition organised by PKKH UGM to commemorate the dies natalis (anniversary) of my alma mater Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta. Titled Membongkar Bingkai – Membuka Sekat, the exhibition runs Monday through Saturday, 11–16 December 2017 at PKKH gallery.

I will be presenting a photo series about special school for deaf students in Wonosobo, Central Java I made three years ago. The series was actually intended for something else but the project has been left undone, so this exhibition is its first public showing. Come and see if you are around.

Exhibition view of my work at Membongkar Bingkai – Membuka Sekat, PKKH UGM. ∎

Speaker on documentary/art photography discussion

Budi Ostkreuz KKF

This Wednesday I will be taking part in a panel together with Karina Roosvita and Vivien Poly to talk about the development of photography from its documentary function to its more artistic uses and the influence of social media, and how the three influence each other. The discussion is held in conjunction with the screening of the film Foto: OSTKREUZ (Maik Reichert, documentary, 2015), about the German photo agency Ostkreuz, founded after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1990.

Term of reference for the discussion is as follows. Art or documentation: Can everybody become a photographer? Only little more than a decade ago, young Indonesian photographers started to develop photography as art form that now is also recognized by galleries and curators. Like once Ostkreuz they started taking pictures of daily life in streets or private homes that before would never have been considered worth to be shown to a public audience. Today everybody can experiment with photography on instagram and other social media. Where is the boundary between art and simply catching a moment? And what is the role of professional photographers in this new media world?

The film is in German with English subtitle; the discussion will be held in Bahasa Indonesia. The film screening and the following talk are held at Kedai Kebun Forum, open for public and free of charge. Come and join us if you are in town and have time. ∎

Essay for Octo Cornelius’s solo exhibition “Unpredictable Scenes”

WhatsApp Image 2017-10-01 at 17.55.53

While we are busy with plans
by Budi N.D. Dharmawan
Essay for Octo Cornelius’s solo show Unpredictable Scenes
Jogja Contemporary, 10–26 October 2017

Octo Cornelius came to me with the phrase “random life”. We then talked about it while sipping coffee under the not-so-bright light of the bookstore-side coffee shop. That phrase which he brought was so irksome that Octo felt that he needed to materialise it into artworks, into an exhibition. The idea was so obnoxious that Octo thought he needed to talk about it—with me. Since we had that conversation many months ago, I got intrigued myself, both by the idea of an exhibition as well as the idea of random life itself.

A series of short meetings with Octo since that evening had once become a phantom that haunted me. At first, I found it difficult to spare my time and thought to respond to Octo’s gargantuan energy. Why Octo came to me in the first place was to collect what I had promised him. I once asked him to do an exhibition together many years ago, but it never materialised. Events and incidents that took place around us since have enabled me to slowly absorb the narrative behind the idea of random life. The passing of time has also made Octo’s enormous energy to tone down—not vanished or extinguished, but like more regulated and not as bursting as it was before. His big idea has become sharpened and more focused as well.

The theme random life offered by Octo reminded me of a famous quote from Albert Einstein, “I do not believe God plays dice with the universe.” Einstein said so because he was unhappy with the randomness of the universe. This view was later known as hidden variable theory—because of this hidden variable we could not accurately calculate the exact position and velocity of a particle at a certain time, so it appeared random. It was firts thought to be in line with Werner Heisenberg’s Principles of Uncertainty, until few decades later John Bell’s experiment managed to prove otherwise. There ara no hidden variables. The universe is random.

What is left, then, according to the Principles of Uncertainty, are estimates. Being random and unpredictable does not eliminate structure and order. In fact, this state widens possibilities, that an event does not occur from a single cause and is not independent, but a part of a series of chain reaction that affects and affected by other things and events. From a given string of events, I can find a pattern and make estimates, but that is that: estimates. Approximates. Unpredictable. That is random life.

Incidents and affairs that I experienced lately have also contributed to my point of view in understanding Octo’s random life narrative, which in our initial exchange was like in a frenzy. Experiences, with all its sour and bitter taste, have equipped me with understanding. Many are not yet unraveled, but I will let those moments be remembered randomly without me needing to predict what the next will be. Meanwhile, I must face my phantom and come full circle with Octo through this exhibition.

Octo Cornelius in this exhibition presents a number of works that try to bring a conversation about those random and unpredictable moments. About the improper timing, about keeping the faith in the midst of doubt, about searching and waiting within limitations, about courage that sometimes come from ignorance.

These random moments in life come from Octo’s contemplation and reflection, which then embodies into his workmanship and materialises into his works. This exhibition, Unpredictable Scenes, offers to us a pause from our daily obligations and takes us for a short while to enjoy the randomness of life. Because life is what happens while we are busy with plans.


Photo courtesy of Jogja Contemporary ∎

Alumni professional sharing at John de Britto High School Yogyakarta


Earlier today, I was invited to share my professional experience in photojournalism to the senior students of John de Britto High School, from which I graduated more than a decade ago. The purpose of this professional orientation is to give the students an idea of what it is like in real life to work in a certain field that they may find interesting to pursue as a field of study or even future career.

I shared my session with my senior who is now a photojournalist for Kompas, one of the top national daily newspapers here in Indonesia, P. Raditya Mahendra Yasa (Wendra). I knew Wendra since I was a sophomore and he was still studying Communications at Universitas Atma Jaya Yogyakarta, almost fifteen years ago. During the session, I shared some basic and general principles and knowledge in working in photojournalism, while Wendra emphasised that though we both work in the same field, our work natures are different: him being a national daily newspaper staff photographer while I am a freelance photographer working for magazines, both national and foreign.

Thank you, Pak Widi Nugroho, my English teacher who contacted and invited me. I hope what I and Wendra shared are useful for the students.


Photographs courtesy of P. Raditya Mahendra Yasa ∎

Judging photo story contest Arjuna 2017

I will be a jury member of a photo story contest for students, organised by students of Communications Department, Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta. The photo contest, Arjuna, is part of a larger event called Ajisaka. Submissions are open until 7 October 2017. Short-listed finalists will get a coaching clinic with seasoned photojournalist.

More information here:

or follow them on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Group photo with Ajisaka UGM’s Arjuna contest team members (clockwise): Saras, Theo, Hanif, and Tami, at Ajisaka UGM Awarding Night in Yogyakarta, 28 October 2017. Photo courtesy of Ajisaka UGM. ∎