Teaching photo story workshop with Pewarta Foto Indonesia Yogyakarta

PhotoStoryPFIYK2017
Photo by Hendra Nurdiyansyah

I am teaching a photo story workshop together with photojournalists Boy T. Harjanto and Gembong Nusantara, organised by Pewarta Foto Indonesia (Indonesia Photojournalists Association) Yogyakarta, in conjunction with our collective exhibition “Di Mana Garuda” at Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta, 5–13 September 2017.

There are eight participants in the workshop, three are in my class, another three with Gembong, the last two with Boy. The workshop begins on 8 September and will end on 13 September. Each participants are required to produce a photo story during the workshop that they will present at the final day, which is also the exhibition’s closing. ∎

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Teaching photo story workshop at Combine Resource Institution Yogyakarta

 

BudiPhotoStoryCOMBINE2017
Photo by Budi N.D. Dharmawan

I am teaching photo story workshop for the staff of Combine Resource Institution. This workshop is not result-driven but more process-oriented, as it is some sort of an internal training for the staff’s capacity building. The workshop is not intensive (compressed into a week like similar workshop), as the staff have work to do during the week. This workshop is a follow-up from the discussion we had last May. ∎

Photojournalism workshop at Universitas Gadjah Mada

woksop

I will share my experience on photojournalism and photo stories in this workshop, organised by Clapeyron student press publishing of Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta. Also speaking in this workshop is photojournalist Taufan Wijaya.

More information here. ∎

Narrative journalism workshop at Universitas Gadjah Mada

equality-2016

I will be sharing my experience on narrative journalism and visual narrative in this workshop, organised by Equilibrium student press publishing of Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta. Also sharing their respective experiences on photojournalism and photo stories are Dwi Oblo and Arum Tresnaningtyas Dayuputri.

More information here. ∎

Looking at frames and looking through frames: Essay for Yudha Kusuma Putera’s exhibition

This would be my very last post on this blog, if doomsday really happened today, Friday, 21 December 2012. But I’m not going to write about apocalypse.

I was recently asked to write an essay for an exhibition by Yudha Kusuma PuteraMeminjam Mata dan Melihat Ruang (roughly translates Borrowing Eyes and Seeing Spaces). Yudha, or Fehung as his friends call him, is a young artist from Temanggung who now lives in Yogyakarta. He is a member of a photography-based artist collective MES 56 and has recently graduated from Institut Seni Indonesia Yogyakarta’s Photography Department. Curated by MES 56 member Akiq A.W., the exhibition is Fehung’s first public solo show—and this is also my first exhibition essay. The exhibition opened last night, 20 December 2012, and is on view through 14 January 2013 at Kedai Kebun Forum.

As part of the exhibition, Fehung and MES 56 will also conduct a workshop that discusses about the ways we see things (our points of view), a theme that Fehung observed for this project. The workshop will be held 6–8 January, and the result of the workshop will be exhibited too at Kedai Kebun Forum, 16–21 January. My essay also talks about our ways of seeing, although quite shortly, using Fehung’s work as example to explore more about frame and point of view in photography. In the essay, I only offer different views and not provide any immediate solutions, to leave the conversation open, so it can be a platform for the workshop to embark from.

Yudha Kusuma Putera "Fehung" preparing his exhibition (top left), during the opening (top right), also the exhibition view (bottom). Photos: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Yudha Kusuma Putera “Fehung” preparing his exhibition (top left), during the opening (top right), also the exhibition view (bottom). Photos: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Here is the essay in Bahasa Indonesia.

Memandang bingkai dan memandang melalui bingkai
Budi N.D. Dharmawan

FOTOGRAFI ADALAH PERKARA MEMBINGKAI: Apa yang ada di depan kamera direkam ke dalam bidang bersisi empat. Jurufoto memilih, sadar atau bawah sadar, sebagian saja dari apa yang tersaji di hadapannya dan membingkainya di dalam sebuah foto; menentukan apa yang hendak ditampilkan di dalam sebingkai foto dan apa yang tidak.

Di dalam komposisi fotografi, kita mengenal istilah “framing,” yaitu pemanfaatan unsur pada latar depan untuk membingkai unsur lain pada latar belakang, di dalam sebuah foto. Sementara itu, foto sendiri adalah sebuah bingkai untuk melihat dunia, sehingga teknik framing ini dikenal pula dengan istilah “frame within frame.” Penggunaan teknik ini biasanya perlu memperhatikan keterkaitan unsur latar depan dengan latar belakang, karena jika keduanya tidak nyambung, kehadiran latar depan sebagai pembingkai tadi malah jadi mengganggu.

Teknik pembingkaian di dalam bingkai foto inilah yang digunakan oleh Yudha Kusuma Putera, seniman muda yang biasa dipanggil Fehung, di dalam pameran Meminjam Mata dan Melihat Ruang ini. Di dalam setiap foto yang dipajang, Fehung kemudian menghilangkan bagian latar belakang yang dibingkai oleh latar depan, sehingga hanya tersisa unsur pembingkai itu sendiri.

FEHUNG ADALAH SEORANG ANGGOTA kelompok seniman berbasis fotografi di Yogyakarta, MES 56. Fehung lahir dan besar di Magelang, Jawa Tengah, dan telah tinggal di Yogyakarta sejak 2005 ketika dia masuk Jurusan Fotografi di Fakultas Seni Media Rekam, Institut Seni Indonesia Yogyakarta. Dia telah memperoleh gelar sarjana seni dari kampusnya tahun ini.

Fehung mulai bergabung dengan MES 56 sejak berproses bersama kelompok ini di dalam pameran bertajuk New Folder (Ruang MES 56, Yogyakarta, 2011). Di dalam pameran bersama tiga seniman muda lainnya itu, Fehung memfoto anggota keluarganya di tengah zona nyaman mereka masing-masing. Ibunya, seorang ibu rumah tangga, di antaranya difoto di dapur dan di kebun. Sementara itu, ayahnya, seorang jurufoto studio yang sudah tidak aktif lagi, difoto memegang kamera di depan barang-barang dari bekas studionya, seperti reklame merk produk fotografi.

Menjelang akhir tahun itu juga, Fehung ikut memamerkan karyanya di Beyond Photography (Ciputra Artpreneur Center, Jakarta, 2011), sebuah pameran kelompok yang dikurasi bersama oleh Jim Supangkat dan Asmujo Jono Irianto. Di sini, Fehung menampilkan tiga foto yang diambil secara berurutan, menunjukkan proses larutnya suatu zat berwarna di dalam air berwadah kaca, dengan latar belakang sawah. Merespon tema beyond photography—apa pun maksud dan maknanya, yang memang dibebaskan oleh tim kurator untuk ditafsirkan oleh peserta pameran—Fehung coba menunjukkan rentang waktu melalui rangkaian foto ini.

Pertengahan tahun ini, Fehung menggelar pameran tunggal sebagai tugas akhir studinya, berjudul Patung Humor dan Terpal Plastik dalam Staged Photography (Lobi FSMR ISI, Yogyakarta, 2012). Di dalam pameran ini Fehung bermain-main dengan sisi humor di dalam fotografi, dengan mengambil inspirasi dari karya-karya seniman Austria, Erwin Wurm. Sesuai judulnya, Fehung membentuk “patung” dengan cara menutupi sosok orang di dalam fotonya menggunakan terpal plastik.

Di dalam karya-karyanya yang terdahulu, Fehung kerap menggunakan pendekatan performative dan staging. Hal ini cukup lazim, sebagaimana banyak seniman fotografi kontemporer Indonesia juga menggunakan pendekatan yang sama. Kelaziman ini diakui pula oleh Akiq A.W., seorang anggota lain MES 56 yang berperan sebagai kurator pameran ini, di dalam wicara seniman pamerannya di sebuah ruang seni di Bandung, beberapa pekan lalu.

Untuk pameran ini, Fehung memfoto sejumlah pemandangan (scene) di Kota Yogyakarta menggunakan teknik framing. Kemudian, seperti tertulis di atas, dia hilangkan bagian latar belakangnya, sehingga perhatian kita—mau atau tidak—tertuju pada unsur latar depan yang menjadi pembingkai di dalam bidang foto. Saya kira ini cukup berani, karena kali ini Fehung berkarya memakai pendekatan yang berbeda dari yang biasa dia gunakan.

PROJEK FOTO SOAL BINGKAI ini berawal dari keikutsertaan Fehung di dalam projek buku foto MES 56—secara individual, bukan sebagai kelompok. Buku-buku hasil projek Melawan Lupa ini lantas dipamerkan di Galeri Nasional Indonesia, Jakarta, pertengahan tahun ini. Di dalam projek bukunya, yang kala itu dia beri judul Realise the Frame, Fehung melihat bahwa rutinitas turut menentukan sudut pandang kita, dan dengan demikian, menentukan pula benda-benda yang dapat dan tidak dapat kita lihat, dari sudut pandang tersebut.

Seorang pemilik atau penunggu toko, misalnya, selama bekerja hanya dapat melihat ke luar toko melalui pintu atau jendela, yang sering tertutup pajangan barang-barang dagangan, entah itu pakaian dalam perempuan, buah-buahan, maupun batu nisan. Atau juga penumpang becak dan penumpang andong, yang selama perjalanan pandangannya dibatasi oleh jendela dan tenda becak dan andong itu sendiri. Dari pengamatan ini, Fehung kemudian mengajak kita melihat bingkai, serta menyadari keberadaan dan konsekuensinya di dalam cara kita melihat ruang.

Saya melihat beberapa hal menarik di dalam seri ini. Pertama, pembicaraan soal bingkai itu sendiri. Secara pribadi, sebetulnya saya sering mengabaikan kehadiran bingkai di dalam kehidupan sehari-hari, karena dia begitu biasa dan tidak penting. Selama perjalanan darat menyusuri aliran Bengawan Solo setahun lalu, pandangan saya terbingkai jendela kendaraan yang saya tumpangi. Selama duduk makan di warung Mbak Wanti, di sebelah Ruang MES 56 lama, pandangan saya ke arah salon Mbak Uut di seberang jalan terbingkai jendela warung. Akan tetapi, bingkai-bingkai itu tidak hadir di dalam kesadaran saya.

Bingkai-bingkai tadi saya anggap tidak ada, karena bagi saya, yang penting untuk dilihat adalah apa yang terbingkai, bukan bingkainya. Fehung membalik anggapan ini dengan menghapus yang terbingkai dan, dengan demikian, memaksa kita untuk memperhatikan yang membingkai. Pembingkai kemudian menjadi lebih penting daripada yang terbingkai.

Lebih jauh lagi, Fehung juga menekankan soal intensitas waktu: Pandangan saya terbingkai jendela warung Mbak Wanti hanya selama saya duduk makan di situ, sementara pandangan Mbak Wanti telah terbingkai jendela warungnya sejak pertama dia membuka warung itu bertahun-tahun lalu. Tepat di sini pernyataan Fehung lalu memiliki gema: Sadarilah, pandanganmu terbatasi oleh jendela warung—baik saya maupun Mbak Wanti.

Kedua, hal yang juga menarik adalah sudut pandang. Tidak hanya membalik hubungan di antara pembingkai dengan yang terbingkai, Fehung juga membalik sudut pandang subjek dengan objek. Kebanyakan orang yang lalu-lalang di jalanan Yogyakarta saya kira kurang akrab dengan pemandangan-pemandangan yang ditawarkan Fehung di dalam seri ini, karena biasanya kita mengalaminya sebagai orang luar yang melihat ke dalam (subjek melihat objek). Melalui karya ini, Fehung meminjamkan kepada kita sudut pandang orang dalam yang melihat ke luar (objek yang tadinya dilihat kini menjadi subjek yang melihat).

Namun demikian, ada juga hal yang kurang saya sukai dari seri ini. Secara pribadi, saya agak terganggu dengan cara Fehung menghilangkan bagian latar belakang setiap fotonya, karena penghapusannya terlihat dilakukan dengan kasar. Hal ini pernah saya ungkapkan kepada Fehung secara langsung. Saya mengira karya ini belum selesai, karena pengerjaannya yang demikian kasar.

Fehung menjelaskan, potongan kasar di dalam karyanya itu berawal dari anggapan bahwa benda-benda yang menjadi bingkai di dalam foto tersebut akan terus bergerak, bertambah, atau berkurang. Jadi, potongan yang tidak tepat mengikuti garis luar benda-benda itu memang disengaja; untuk memberi ruang bagi kita agar dapat melihat kemungkinan-kemungkinan lain di dalam pergerakan benda-benda itu. Moga-moga maksud ini juga dapat dipahami oleh para pemirsa (pengunjung pameran).

APA YANG DILAKUKAN FEHUNG terkait soal meminjam mata dan melihat ruang ini dapat dipahami sebagai salah satu cara untuk memperbincangkan soal cara pandang. Sekurang-kurangnya, itu yang saya dan Akiq A.W. rasakan ketika mengobrolkan karya ini. Pembahasan mengenai cara pandang tentu masih luas dan bisa dibicarakan melalui cara-cara lain. Gagasan tentang bingkai dan sudut pandang ini juga agak menggelitik saya untuk memperluas pembahasan hingga sedikit keluar dari visualisasi yang ditawarkan Fehung di dalam pameran ini.

Dunia ini tidak berbatas, sementara sudut pandang kita terbatas, demikian pula dengan medium yang kita gunakan. Sebuah foto selalu hadir dengan empat sisi pembatas bingkai. Ini membuat fotografi menjadi medium yang problematis. Sebingkai foto hanya merekam apa yang ada di depan kamera dan tidak yang di belakang, atas, bawah, kiri, ataupun kanan—serta apa yang ada sekarang dan bukan tadi atau nanti. Karena fotografi hanya dapat merekam sebagian saja dari kenyataan, ada yang kemudian mempertanyakan keabsahan kenyataan yang direkam di dalam sebingkai foto.

Ada pula yang memperdebatkan keabsahan sudut pandang yang dipilih di dalam merekam kenyataan tersebut; mana yang paling mewakili kenyataan yang direkam. Ini ada hubungannya dengan bagaimana fotografi telah dirayakan sebagai medium yang konon mampu merekam kenyataan secara paling mirip, sejak penciptaannya di Eropa pada abad kesembilan belas. Di dalam melihat kembali kenyataan yang direkam di dalam sebingkai foto, konteks pembuatan foto itu sendiri semestinya penting juga untuk ikut diperhatikan.

Bagaimana seorang jurufoto membingkai gambarnya dengan sudut pandang tertentu, bisa dilihat sebagai tindakan memisahkan objek yang dipilih dari konteks aslinya di dunia yang kacau-balau. Dengan demikian, memandang sebuah foto dapat membantu kita memusatkan perhatian pada objek tertentu di dalam foto itu; kita tidak perlu melihat hal-hal lain yang mengganggu perhatian kita. Bayangkan seorang gadis cantik, yang difoto dengan memasukkan pula puluhan orang lain di dalam bingkai foto, tentu sulit bagi kita untuk memusatkan perhatian pada gadis itu.

Di sisi lain, pembingkaian ini kemudian juga dapat memberikan konteks baru kepada objek tersebut. Ini terjadi karena pikiran kita lalu membangun makna baru bagi objek yang telah dipisahkan dari konteks aslinya tadi, baik konteks ruang maupun konteks waktu. Bayangkan gadis cantik tadi, kali ini difoto secara close up, lalu kita mulai memperhatikan rambutnya yang mengombak, senyumnya yang tanggung, matanya yang berkantung, gincunya yang entah memang tipis atau sudah mulai terhapus, dan kita mulai membayangkan siapa dia, apa yang dia lakukan, di mana dia berada, atau bahkan mengira-ngira kualitas lensa yang dipakai untuk memotretnya.

Ini contoh saja, karena makna memang tidak ada di dalam sebingkai foto; makna hadir di dalam pikiran pemirsanya—ini subjektif sekali. Subjektif pula, cara pandang yang ditawarkan oleh Fehung dengan cara meminjam mata orang lain untuk melihat ruang yang mereka alami.

HAL-HAL INILAH YANG BARANGKALI dapat saya tawarkan kepada para pemirsa (pengunjung pameran) sekalian di dalam melihat foto-foto Fehung yang terpajang di sini. Saya tidak bermimpi untuk dapat menyingkap makna-makna di dalam masing-masing bingkai foto yang dipamerkan. Biarlah makna-makna itu terbentuk di dalam benak para pemirsa masing-masing untuk kemudian dapat kita obrolkan.

Untuk mengakhiri tulisan ini, saya tuliskan beberapa kutipan yang terkait dengan obrolan kita.

“Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture.” Stephen Shore, di dalam buku The Nature of Photographs (Phaidon, 2010)

“You take 35 degrees out of 360 degrees and call it a photo. No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium.” Joel Sternfeld, di dalam sebuah wawancara dengan Guardian, pada 2004

“Photography is about the frame you put around the image; what comes in and what is cut off. And yet the story doesn’t end. It’s told beyond the frame through a kind of intuition.” Joel Meyerowitz, di dalam serial The Genius of Photography (BBC, 2009)

“What is true of photographs is true of the world seen photographically.” Susan Sontag, di dalam buku On Photography (Penguin, 2008)

“Ketika kamera yang digunakan pada dasarnya mewakili mata manusia yang memotret, niscaya realitas atau pengetahuan itu adalah subjektif.” Seno Gumira Ajidarma, di dalam buku Kisah Mata (Galang Press, 2005) ∎

Budi Dharmawan, Yogyakarta, Desember 2012

My essay on the exhibition catalogue. Click for larger view.

My essay on the exhibition catalogue. Click for larger view.

Notes from Colonial Photography workshop with Alexander Supartono, Yogyakarta, Nov 2012, part 2

Notes written by Colonial Photography workshop participants posted on the wall so others can also notice. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Notes written by Colonial Photography workshop participants posted on the wall so others can also notice. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Earlier this month I participated in a workshop that discussed the concept and practice of colonial photography at Langgeng Art Foundation in Yogyakarta. The workshop was initiated by photography historian Alexander Supartono and held in conjunction with the exhibition of Noorderlicht’s The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar project at LAF Gallery.

In the previous post (you might want to read it first before continue reading this post) I wrote about how the workshop interested me in different way than it was planned by Alex. We were supposed to make something based on or inspired by the colonial photographs that he had shared with us prior to the workshop. The collection he shared consisted of almost a thousand photographs made during the colonial period (late 19th century to early 20th century) that he borrowed from four museum. I found it more interesting to discuss about these photographs rather than actually making something out of them.

One of the things that intrigued me was that we didn’t really discuss about the figure of Kassian Cephas (1845–1912), the first known native professional photographer who worked for the Sultan of Yogyakarta. As a native photographer who worked professionally during the Dutch colonial period in Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), I thought we should talk more about this person when we discuss about the so called colonial photography—but we didn’t.

The meaning of the term “colonial photography” itself had made me curious and also confused. “What is colonial photography?” I asked, “Shot in the colony during the colonial era? Taken by the colonizer, of the colonized? Made in the interest of and to support the agendas of colonialism?”

Photography historian Alexander Supartono during a discussion session in Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Photography historian Alexander Supartono during a discussion session in Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Alex replied with an explanation that he himself could not establish the exact definition of colonial photography, as the concept is fluidly used to describe the uses and practices of photography during the colonial period. It was the same reason that made him invent the categories into which he divided the archival photographs that he shared with us (see previous post). There was a two-volume encyclopedia of 19th century photography just released recently, but there was no “colonial photography” term in it, which Alex said, “only shows how complicated this field of study is, that even those experts ‘refused’ to define what ‘colonial photography’ is.”

In the 1980s for example, “colonial photographs” were defined as those that include the colonizer. While those showing local population (the colonized), in this case in the Dutch East Indies, were categorized as “Indische photographs.” Those definitions soon changed that both were then combined into one understanding of “colonial photographs” which were taken in the colonial period by white photographer. Even this newer definition was still problematic: How then do we look at the photographs made by photographers who are not white (be it native like Kassian Cephas or Chinese photographers)?

“Which is why I did not include the works of Kassian Cephas into our discussion,” Alex said. “It is complicated.”

Dow Wasiksiri, one of eleven participants of Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Dow Wasiksiri, one of eleven participants of Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

During a lunch break, I had a little discussion with another participant Dow Wasiksiri (see previous post). He told me that he found an article that stated family photographs were not included in colonial photography discourse, even though made in the colony during the colonial era and showing white people (the colonizer). I think Alex had a rather unclear standpoint on this matter, as he included some family photographs in the collection that he shared with us (in folders Colonial portraits 1 and Colonial portraits 2) though less of white families but more of local population families. But it was understandable, as it was just impossible to define what “colonial photography” is—and what is not.

During the next two days of the workshop, 5–6 November, all participants were given time of their own to work on their projects. It was hoped that the discussions might help to their understanding towards the archival photographs, thus help them in creating new work out of those colonial photographs. On 7 November, all participants would present their progress in a group discussion, then on 9 November—the last day of the workshop—they would again present their progress to the public.

Adytama Pranada, or Charda, for example, made some drawings out of the colonial photographs he selected—he traced the photographs onto paper using a projector. For him, it was his way to better understand those photographs and a process he had to go through to understand what work he wanted to create. In the end, those drawings might not even be in the work. So the act of drawing was more like his contemplation, I think.

Adytama Pranada, or Charda, working on his drawings during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Adytama Pranada, or Charda, working on his drawings during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Dow kept going around Yogyakarta in search of the images he needed. I suggested him some places he could try visiting to find what he wanted to photograph, like the crowds of Beringharjo market, the ruins of Tamansari water castle, etc. He planned to put new elements into the old photographs he selected, so he had to find matching elements to put together. And he had to get as many as he could while he was in Yogyakarta, because he wouldn’t be able to come back and reshoot.

Other participants worked in front of their computers as they looked and looked again at the archival photographs and did their magics on screen onto their selection of photographs. Embarking on a similar idea with Dow to put the new and the old together within single frames, Abednego Trianto had photographed some still operational sugar factories in Java from similar vantage points—and using a similar old-technology but newer tool, a Linhof 4×5 camera—with the colonial photographs he selected of the same factories.

The difference was that while Dow put new elements into old photographs, Abed cut elements from the old photographs and pasted them into the new ones. But of course both worked on different subjects and had different statements, only implemented similar approach.

Robert Zhao Renhui (L) and Abednego Trianto (R) working with their computers after a discussion session during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Robert Zhao Renhui (L) and Abednego Trianto (R) working with their computers after a discussion session during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Yee I-Lann chose photographs of surveyors, topographers, cartographers, measurers, etc. then turned the background into plain white. By doing so, I-Lann left those people doing their things on what now seemed to be a white stage/space, as she erased the time and place contexts of the scenes. She wanted to show how measuring [by the colonizer] was a violent act towards the land [of the colonized].

Stephany Yaya Sungkharisma had a different opinion towards the Dutch colonization, that it was not all bad, but also brought positive things to us, like education. She tried to show it by displaying sets of two same images that she selected. The ones on the left-hand side were color-inverted as if they were negatives. The ones on the right-hand side were left as they were, but duplicated three times, each rotated 90, 180, and 270 degrees, then all four were flatened, so they became difficult to see. Her point: It was easier to look at the negatives than the positives. (It is good to be simple, but I think the issues Yaya addressed were really too complex, while the visualization was too simplified.)

Agan Harahap (L) presenting his idea as other participants pay attention: Stephany Yaya Sungkharisma, Setu Legi, Adytama Pranada, and Dow Wasiksiri (L–R). Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Agan Harahap (L) presenting his idea as other participants pay attention: Stephany Yaya Sungkharisma, Setu Legi, Adytama Pranada, and Dow Wasiksiri (L–R). Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Agan Harahap also tried to think simple, as he only joined the workshop on the fifth day, so he didn’t follow our early discussions. He tried to make work from the simple idea that sugar is sweet. His idea was to select a number of colonial photographs that show sugar plantations and the workers, both white and local. He would then print the images on a tea set, and invite people to drink tea together using the set, as the images might spark a conversation. The people invited, he said, must have been descended from sugar plantation or factory workers, be it white or local. He imagined that no matter their ancestors’ bitter (or sour) past, they would now enjoy the sweetness of sugar together, drinking tea and chatting.

As you can also imagine, this would result in a performance work. This was not how Agan usually makes work—he usually exhibits printed works—and he knew it. He also knew that this very simple idea had some weak spots, the weakest of all was his own discomfort in working out of his usual method. He just thought to give it a try and see how other participants would respond and comment. He then told me that he would later think of another idea that would implement his usual method and approach, as he would be more comfortable.

During the public presentation on 9 November, I noted two interesting comments from the audience. The first comment came from Nindityo Adipurnomo, a founder of Cemeti Art House. He said that the works that we made felt like an exoticization of old photographs. He thought we were to comment on the exoticization of the colonized by the colonizer. But by exoticizing old photographs, we were more or less doing the same thing. But I think, this could be understood as we now live in the post-colonial era. We never felt the colonization ourselves; we never felt the lives pictured in those old photographs. So I think, it was natural that those old photographs became exotic objects to us. But anyway, Nindityo’s comment was still a good point to think about.

Alexander Supartono (C) listen to a question from the audience during Colonial Photography workshop public presentation. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Alexander Supartono (C) listen to a question from the audience during Colonial Photography workshop public presentation. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

The second comment was given by artist Titarubi. She said the problems shown in the works presented by the participants were old [colonial] problems, which she thinks are no longer there now as colonial period had ended. She asked whether there were new problems to be shown or to discuss. For me, this question could also be explained as mentioned above. I think, as young people of new generation, we never felt the colonization ourselves, so the problems related to colonization were anyway new to us. But then again, Tita’s comment was also a good note to discuss further.

(I would like to also note that the works presented by the workshop participants were all still in early stages and in progress. Things may change as discourses growing and discussions ongoing among the participants and also with Alex. The final results were expected to be exhibited next year in Yogyakarta.)

The workshop was closed that day as the exhibition of The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar was opened. Personally I would like to thank Alexander Supartono for the opportunity to join the workshop and for him to have shared his knowledge with us. Antariksa was also really helpful in the discussions, both on technical support (he is the Mac guy) and intellectual support (he has done numerous research on or related to colonialism in Indonesia). Also thanks to F.X. Harsono for sharing his insights and experiences. Last but not least, thanks to Aisyah Hilal, Ignatia Nilu, and Langgeng Art Foundation for hosting the workshop and the exhibition. ∎

Group photo of Colonial Photography workshop participants after the opening of The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar exhibition: Abednego Trianto, Ismal Muntaha, Yee I-Lann, Wimo Bayang, Rangga Purbaya, Adytama Pranada, Robert Zhao Renhui, Alexander Supartono, Budi N.D. Dharmawan (L–R). Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan/Irma Chantily

Group photo of Colonial Photography workshop participants after the opening of The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar exhibition: Abednego Trianto, Ismal Muntaha, Yee I-Lann, Wimo Bayang, Rangga Purbaya, Adytama Pranada, Robert Zhao Renhui, Alexander Supartono, Budi N.D. Dharmawan (L–R). Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan/Irma Chantily

Notes from Colonial Photography workshop with Alexander Supartono, Yogyakarta, Nov 2012, part 1

Earlier this month I participated in a workshop that discussed the concept and practice of colonial photography at Langgeng Art Foundation in Yogyakarta. The workshop was initiated by photography historian Alexander Supartono and held in conjunction with the exhibition of Noorderlicht‘s The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar project at LAF Gallery. During the workshop, researcher Antariksa of Kunci Cultural Studies Center acted as facilitator and artist F.X. Harsono came to inspire us about visual research. LAF’s board member Aisyah Hilal also joined our discussion sessions. In this post, I will share some notes I made during the workshop.

The workshop went on for nine days (1–9 November) and 11 participants were invited to join: Yee I-Lann (Kuala Lumpur), Dow Wasiksiri (Bangkok), Robert Zhao Renhui (Singapore), Agan Harahap (Jakarta), Stephany Yaya Sungkharisma (Jakarta), Abednego Trianto (Semarang), Adytama Pranada (Bandung), Ismal Muntaha (Jatiwangi), Setu Legi (Yogyakarta), Rangga Purbaya (Yogyakarta), and Budi N.D. Dharmawan (me). Wimo Bayang of MES 56 joined in group discussions, but he left the workshop earlier to help prepare the Sugar project exhibition with Akiq A.W., other MES 56 member who curated the Yogyakarta show. (I will write about the exhibition some other time.)

Ismal Muntaha, Stephany Yaya Sungkharisma, and Robert Zhao Renhui (L–R) in group discussion during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Ismal Muntaha, Stephany Yaya Sungkharisma, and Robert Zhao Renhui (L–R) in group discussion during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

I actually have heard about the workshop since last year, when LAF’s former Executive Director Grace Samboh contacted me to help her setting up the workshop. Back then, the workshop was planned to be more about lectures and discussions, or as Alex put it an “academic workshop.” But now it was more a “creative workshop” during which we were supposed to make something, based on or inspired by colonial photographs that Alex had shared with us a few months earlier.

That collection of almost a thousand photographs made during the colonial period (late 19th century to early 20th century) was the basis of the workshop. Alex borrowed the photographs from the archives of Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, KITLV Leiden, and National Gallery of Australia. He shared them with us in categories that he made himself: Colonial portraits; Colonial sugar; Landscaping; Prototyping; Miscellaneous; three folders of photographs each from an album from Surabaya, Jatiroto, and Yogyakarta; and an extra folder titled Stereophotograph. He told us that he “invented” the categorization based on the practices in which photography was used during the colonial era. The categories are not in fixed order since he couldn’t find a reference to base his categorization upon.

On the afternoon before the workshop started, 31 October, most of the participants had gathered at LAF for a brief introduction to each other and to the workshop structure. Alex proposed a number of terms we should follow should we use the archival photographs in our works. He compiled them from the terms of use of each museum he borrowed the archives from. Most of us agreed that we must mention the source of the archival photographs (name of photographer, name of museum, etc.), but we debated on whether we should also put the original caption or description in full and whether we should even include a small thumbnail of the original photograph.

Antariksa (R), founder of Kunci Cultural Studies Center in Yogyakarta, acts as a facilitator in Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Antariksa (R), founder of Kunci Cultural Studies Center in Yogyakarta, acts as a facilitator in Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Antariksa argued that putting the full captions and even more including small thumbnails of the original photographs could limit our creativity and could also limit the ways viewers might see the work. On the other hand, Yee I-Lann argued that if the viewers were provided with the original photograph though just a thumbnail and the original context of the photograph in the caption, it could create even broader interpretation. “You put two things together [the original photograph and the new work based on that photograph] they’re instantly engaged in a dialogue,” she said.

Another term that we argued about was that we should only use the archival photographs in respectful way. Now what is respectful or disrespectful? How respectful should we be and what kinds of use are considered disrespectful? Can we modify [appropriate] the archival photographs and if so, to what extent? And it was the afternoon before the workshop had even started. And we would get back to those debates and discussions in the coming days along the workshop.

On the first day of the workshop, 1 November, each of the participants presented their previous work, so others can better understand the methods and approaches they usually incorporate in working. It became clearer how different this group of people was. Most were artists using photographs as their medium, some had previously worked using old photographs, while some others used to work in documentary style.

Alex explained, “The reason I invited such varied people to the workshop, including Budi here who has strong documentary background, is to see how these people with different approaches would respond to these colonial photographs and the concept of colonial photography itself.”

Dow Wasiksiri, for example, back in Bangkok is a successful commercial photographer. But he has also been doing street photography for many years (and is preparing a book that I really adore). And he has participated in numerous exhibitions of Southeast Asian contemporary art. Adytama Pranada is a graduate from Bandung Institute of Technology’s Art and Design Faculty. He often incorporates projection of old photographs in his work to allow communication between the past and present. Setu Legi doesn’t really take and exhibit photographs, as he is an installation artist who has shown works at Biennale Jogja 2011 and Art Dubai 2012. You can imagine how different we all are.

Setu Legi (R) tries to look at stereo photograph using a special eyewear as other participants become curious (L–R): Robert Zhao Renhui, Alexander Supartono, Dow Wasiksiri, Antariksa, and Yee I-Lann. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Setu Legi (R) tries to look at stereo photograph using a special eyewear as other participants become curious (L–R): Robert Zhao Renhui, Alexander Supartono, Dow Wasiksiri, Antariksa, and Yee I-Lann. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

The day after, 2 November, we discussed more about the concept and practices of colonial photography. Although Alex had shared the archival photographs to all of us before the workshop began, he gave some more time during the workshop for us to once again take a look at them, only this time as a group. Alex gave more insights about the photographs and the photography practices during the colonial era. “What we are doing right now is what I call post-colonial reading of colonial photographs.”

A common practice of showing photographs at that time was to put them together in albums simply titled “Souvenir.” Photographs were made at the colonies to be sent back to the families (not of the photographers but of the buyers) at the motherland in Europe—a souvenir. It was also common to see an image appeared in different albums produced by different studios, as popular images tend to be pirated. This raised the question of authorship: Who actually owned an image; the buyer, the album maker, the photographer, or the subject? (Read also: Geoffrey Batchen’s essay “Dreams of ordinary life: cartes-de-visite and the burgeouis imagination” in Photography: Theoretical snapshots, ed. J.J. Long, A. Noble, and E. Welch. Routledge, 2009, pp. 80–97.)

Alex also showed us how photography had become an industry during the colonial era in Indonesia, or then known as the Dutch East Indies, where more than 500 studios were known to operate, mostly owned by the Chinese and Europeans. There were four native (professional) photographers operated in Dutch East Indies between 1850–1940, Kassian Cephas in Yogyakarta, A. Mohammad in Batavia (now Jakarta), Sarto in Semarang, and Najoan in Ambon.

However there are no remaining photographs made by these native photographers known to exist, except those made by Kassian Cephas which are kept mainly in the archive of KITLV in Leiden. According to Alex, such loss of archives was quite common. When a photography studio went bankrupt they usually sold their glass plates, and when bought by other photography studios, these glass negatives were usually cleaned for reuse.

During his research on the history of photography in Indonesia, Alex also found a photograph that shows the interior of the Kurkdjian photo studio in Surabaya (owned by Armenian photographer Onnes Kurkdjian) and another that shows the whole staff working for the studio, each with specific assignment to do. This indicates the scale of the work done in the studio photography business at that time. Judging from the size of the studio and the staff, Kurkdjian was probably one of the most successful photography studios in the Dutch East Indies, other than Woodbury & Page.

A man gets into a waiting car in front of the Kurkdjian Photography Studio in Surabaya, circa 1910–1940. Photographer unknown / Onnes Kurkdjian. Collection of Tropenmuseum.

The next two days, 3–4 November, we presented our ideas and discussed about what we wanted to do during the workshop. Some came with more-or-less fixed ideas, as some others had already clear ideas but would later change as the discussions grew and sparked new ideas, while some others came only with raw ideas and wished to develop them during the workshop. Dow Wasiksiri belongs to the first cluster, that came to Yogyakarta already armed with specific idea of what to do—and what to shoot. He often left the group discussion sessions as he needed to go around Yogyakarta with an assitant to get the shots he needed to make work.

It was interesting for me to see how Dow responded to the colonial photographs as his country has never been officially colonized by any other countries. It was quite unique as other participants’ countries had witnessed (and suffered from) colonization by the Dutch (Indonesia) and by the British (Malaysia and Singapore). For Dow, those colonial photographs mean nothing more than old photographs. However, he still tried to read a bit about colonialism just to get the idea of the historical context of why such photographs were made in the first place. (This would later lead to an interesting personal discussion with me.)

Yee I-Lann was one of those who had an idea but would change as the discussions grew. For I-Lann the land of the colony has female characteristic, as indicated by many native wisdom (like Ibu Pertiwi of Mother Nature). On the other hand, the act of colonizing through all of its manifestation has male characterstic and seems to be a violent act. But she didn’t know much about the Dutch colonization in Indonesia and of the colonial photographs shared by Alex, she was only interested in the visual elements of the photographs. When the group discussed about the Dutch colonization, those new information sparked other things in her mind. “I actually had something in mind but I may change it after the discussions,” she once told me on a lunch break.

I would like to admit that I belong to the third cluster, who had only raw idea and wished to develop it during the workshop. When Alex invited me to join the workshop, I didn’t realize that the participants were expected to make something from the workshop. I only realized it a month before the workshop when Alex sent me another email asking for my proposal (Yep, at first I thought, What proposal?). I began to look again and again at the colonial photographs and read again and again the reading materials that Alex had also shared with us before. It was really interesting process, but to be honest, I just couldn’t find a focus to make work out of those photographs and readings.

In Singapore, I was reminded to the figure of Oei Tiong Ham, a Semarang-born Chinese businessman who lived in the colonial period and became the wealthiest man in the region. He later moved to Singapore and passed away there. He was dubbed as The King of Sugar of Southeast Asia. Now things started to make sense to me, as I began to try connecting the keywords: colonial, sugar, Dutch East Indies, the Chinese, and photography. Some ideas started to pop in my mind, such as photographing the remaining sugar factories and compare the new photographs with the archival photographs, tracing the Chinese businessmen who then run the sugar factories as the remaining factories are now mainly run by government enterprise, and some other ideas.

Aisyah Hilal, a board member of Langgeng Art Foundation, joins our discussions during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Aisyah Hilal, a board member of Langgeng Art Foundation, joins our discussions during Colonial Photography workshop. Yogyakarta, November 2012. Photo: Budi N.D. Dharmawan

However, it was to my surprise that when Abednego Trianto from Semarang presented what he had in mind to do during the workshop, his idea was similar to mine—and his turn was before me. Later on, when we spoke, he jokingly told me, “As a Semarang-born Chinese, the figure of Oei Tiong Ham must naturally have been thought of first by other Semarang-born Chinese like me [big grin]!” Yeah, I missed that, Abed [also big grin]!

But anyway I had another problem. The discussions about colonial photography, the history of photography practices in Indonesia (or Dutch East Indies), the work of Kassian Cephas, the sugar industry in the Dutch colonies, the role of the Chinese in the Dutch East Indies, etc. through these colonial photographs had been more interesting for me rather than making something out of them. My energy had been totally shifted to the discussions; I was really exhausted in trying to make work.

When it was my turn to present what I wanted to do during the workshop, I only had questions. I first asked these questions to Alex on a lunch break and he told me to raise the questions for group discussion. “Nobody can force you to make work when you are more interested in discussing. However, I am glad that this workshop has inspired you. And it’s a good start. Maybe you will start thinking of a project three months from now, I don’t know. And you have inspired me. I didn’t expect that this workshop would generate a discourse, as I planned the workshop to generate new work from the colonial photographs.”

I also told Alex that I had expected to see the work of Kassian Cephas in the archival photographs that he shared, but there were only a few. I also had expected to discuss more of his work during the group sessions, but his name was only mentioned as one of the first native photographers in the Dutch East Indies. These facts intrigued me deeply. Kassian Cephas lived in the colonial period, he was born in 1845 and died in 1912. He was a professional photographer working for the Sultan of Yogyakarta and occasionally also working on commission for a number of book publications. Wasn’t he an important figure to talk about when we discuss about colonial photography? Alex nodded as if he was waiting for me to pause so he could reply.

The discussions proved to be overwhelming. I recall sometimes Dow smiled to me and told me how he found such intense discussions to be mind blowing. Some other times, it was I-Lann who said to me how the discussions were really exhausting but really interesting at the same time. More notes and discussions coming up next. End of part 1. ∎