Back to Java

I am not interested in the concept of ‘shooting’ pictures, I find this idea far too intrusive; I make images. My aesthetic curiosity is driven by the need to learn something new about a person or a culture. This desire keeps me exploring. I don’t consider myself a journalist or documentary photographer as I believe in a humanity that unites all people. Capturing this concept in an image is my ongoing challenge.

Next week I will return to the small village of Jatisura in West Java, Indonesia, to continue my photography project on the local rice farmers.

Jatisura, West Java, 2013SONY DSC

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A Photo Harvest

Artists are often asked ‘what do you do?’ Sometimes a verbal explanation will suffice and sometimes it’s better to just see for yourself. This 11 minute film follows my journey on a recent project, to gather my own crop of photos for an exhibition celebrating the Rice Harvest in West Java.

Harvest

The pear trees are as old as their marriage. For the past sixty years Herr Straub has been removing the unripe fruit in the autumn then storing it until St Nicholas day, when it will be ready for eating, or transformed into a host of pear fladen by Frau Straub. While he attends to harvesting the apples and pears, she collects the quinces from the tree in the garden. Overhead the birds circle then alight on their favourite tree branches.The Council asked Herr Straub to cut down the trees that line the stream meandering through his land. The trees that have given him a livelihood, are also home to a diverse range of birds and insects and they stabilise the waterway. Herr Straub refused.
The Straubs are farmers who know that if you look after the land, it will look after you. We say goodbye and Herr Straub brings us a pear; the only ripe one he has collected. We suspect he had kept it aside for Frau Straub, and accept his offering with thanks, assuring him that we will share it.P1050217

PANEN – THE PROJECT

Lain ladang lain belalang, 

lain lubuk lain ikannya.

Different fields, different grasshoppers; 

different seas, different fish.

My artist in residency project in Java at the Jatiwangi Art Factory (JAF), was an exploration of harvest, both physically and metaphorically.  I was fortunate enough to arrive in Jatiwangi during the rice harvest time, a perfect opportunity for witnessing local work and cultural practices. The township of Jatiwangi is a small collection of villages in East Java, where rice farming, brick and roof tile making comprise a large proportion of the local industry. There are however, not many farms left in the town, and I was privileged to accompany the last full time farmer from Jatisura to witness the harvesting of the rice.

All work is done by hand; there are no fancy machines only hard manual work.  I was introduced to one of the workers who proudly announced that he was 72 years old. He and his wife still worked every day in the rice field.  He barely stopped his work to tell me this, and continued separating the rice from the husks. It was at this moment that I conceived the visual and conceptual idea for my project.  I would do my own harvesting of the most precious commodity the village had to offer, it’s people.

The people from JAF are some of the most supportive people I have ever worked with. The wonderful Evni was my translator and guide, and together we set out to ‘harvest’ a selection of faces from the local community.  Having a local guide makes a big difference in my work. It gave me a closer understanding of the environment I was working in and allowed me to create a dialogue with the people I was working with. I even learnt a bit of the local language. A big thank you to Evni for her patience.

The project however was more than just getting a good image; I wanted to know more about the world. Creating an image with my camera also allows me to explore cultural aspects of the situation.  It’s not about exploiting the situation for an aesthetic advantage. The relationship between the person on the other side of the lens and myself has to have some harmony and understanding, otherwise the photo isn’t heard.

I am not interested in the concept of ‘shooting’ picture, I find this idea far too intrusive; I make images.  My aesthetic curiosity is driven by the need to learn something new about a person or a culture. This desire keeps me exploring.  I don’t consider myself a journalist or documentary photographer as I believe in a humanity that unites all people.  Capturing this concept in an image is my ongoing challenge.

While I believe that all photos I make are fundamentally a form of self portrait, it is essential that I also keep my distance and let the subject in the image speak.  Ego is doomed photography!  The more I take photos, the less seriously I take myself. To me, letting go is the key.  Letting go of myself, letting go of the technical side, letting go of my preconceived ideas.  (I just keep hanging on to my camera!)  This will lead, in an ideal environment, to a lightness in the way I move around the subject/situation, and that I become part of the situation at the same time I am looking in.  This feeling of irony and lightness can lead to a more honest image.

The concluding exhibition was held at the JAF gallery and we wanted to make sure that it reflected the locality and topic.  Food was presented on banana leaves and shared together.  This was also the start of Ramadhan, which I joined for the rest of my stay. It seemed fitting that the discussion at the exhibition be centred on sharing and caring.

One of the most precious outcomes of this project, was an email I received from an Indonesian student who is studying in Switzerland.  She recognised her Grandmother in one of the photos and was overjoyed to be able to connect with her in this way.  On the the day I left I presented the grandmother with her photos. It was a most humbling moment for me. All of the portrait photos in the exhibition were given as a gift to the people in the image. Harvest after all is about sharing.

A big thank you to all the staff at JAF, with special thank you to Arief, Ginggi, Abi, Umi, Nita, Al Ghori. Tedi and Beben.  Special ‘terimakasih’ to my wonderful assistant Evni.

But the biggest thank you goes to the people of Jatiwangi who allowed me to visit their world. I am  still a different grasshopper but I now feel at home in your field. Hatur Nuhun.