New writing for Cephas Photo Forum, on photojournalist Regina Safri

I posted new writing to Cephas Photo Forum website yesterday (read here, in Bahasa Indonesia). It is my second article, after this first article.

This time, I wrote about young photojournalist Regina Safri. Rere, her nickname, just recently finished a wonderful project about orangutan in Indonesia’s Kalimantan. The project took eight months and seven trips from Java (either directly from Yogyakarta or via Jakarta) to either Samboja in East Kalimantan or Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan—not to mention all of her savings—to finish. Then, with help from Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara’s Oscar Motuloh as curator, Rere turned the project into an exhibition and a photobook, titled Orangutan Rhyme and Blues.

Regina Safri (2nd L) at her photo exhibition opening and photobook launch in Yogyakarta, 27 January 2012. To her left, holding the book, is the princess of Yogyakarta, G.K.R. Pembayun. To her right is an officer of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Iwan Pribadi. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Regina Safri (2nd L) at her photo exhibition opening and photobook launch in Yogyakarta, 27 January 2013. To her left, holding the book, is the princess of Yogyakarta, G.K.R. Pembayun. To her right is an officer of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Iwan Pribadi. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

The inspiration to do this project, she admitted, first came from her curiosity as a journalist. In late 2011, she heard from TV news that numerous orangutans in Kalimantan had been killed, in some cases for cash offered by oil palm plantations. She wanted to find out for herself, so she set out to go to Kalimantan. On her first trip there, upon looking at an orangutan’s gaze, she was deeply touched that she decided to do more than simply reporting. That was how the project started.

However, neither the exhibition nor the photobook is her goal in doing the project. For her, both are means to disseminate her photographs so hopefully more people will know about the terrible deforestation and the horrible conditions of orangutan in Kalimantan. Her goal, then, is to make more people care about the endangered species; that the heavy deforestation in Kalimantan will affect people not only in Kalimantan, but also in Java, even the whole world.

Once a school kid asked her about why we should care about the forests and orangutans in Kalimantan, since we are living in Yogyakarta. The question frustrated her, and made her realise that the issue is not popular. So Rere is also planning to bring the issues of deforestation, oil palm, coal mine, and orangutan into classrooms, so school children will know the fact, that if don’t care about the forests in Kalimantan, there won’t be enough oxygen for them to breathe when they grow up.

Rere (C) discusses about her project during her exhibition in Yogyakarta, 1 Feb 2013. On the left is Novan, fellow photojournalist who moderates the discussion. On the right is Anton, program manager of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Rere (C) discusses about her project during her exhibition in Yogyakarta, 1 Feb 2013. On the left is Novan, fellow photojournalist who moderates the discussion. On the right is Anton, program manager of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

However, personally I am not satisfied by the exhibition nor the photobook. Listening to her, I realise this project conveys a very sad story. But I don’t feel the story is well told through the photographs—you will only know if she is there and she tells you. For example, she underlined the heavy deforestation in Kalimantan for opening massive oil palm plantations has caused the orangutans to lose their natural habitat. And when orangutans enter the plantations, the plantation workers hunt and kill them. But in the exhibition, also in the book, there are significantly more photos of cute orangutan babies than photos of oil palm plantations.

Intending to discuss this with her, I told Rere my opinion. And she gave a very positive response. She told me that she also realises that she is not the best photojournalist and maybe someone else could do better. But the most important thing for her is that she has done it. People tend to wait and wait until they are recognised, but end up not doing anything. She doesn’t wait; she just goes there and does it. On a personal level, she sees this project as fulfillment of her promise to the orangutans. She also wants to prove that even with so many limitations (lack of funding for instance, that she literally spent all her savings to do the project), she can do it and she has done it. I admire her spirits.

Regina Safri has been a photojournalist for almost 10 years now. She started her career in 2004 as an intern at Indonesian news agency Antara in Jakarta. Still new to photography, she learnt many of the skills there from a senior Antara photojournalist Saptono. After she graduated from university in 2005, she started working as a contract photographer for Antara Photo in Yogyakarta. She still lives and works in Yogyakarta. ∎

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