reFramed in Indonesia

This project tells a local story with words, photos and symbols. The intergenerational work seeks to strengthen an understanding between all levels of the community. The Jatiwangi Art Factory (JAF), in Java, Indonesia,  has always been a strong force in community building. As an artist, JAF is a special place for me, because it allows me to work closely with many members of the community. As this is my third project there, I also feel that I have been able to build up a stronger personal understanding of the community.

To read and see more follow this link:

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

Project 15

I’ve spent the weekend planning out my travel photo projects for 2015.  By Sunday evening I have booked myself flights to Indonesia and Sri Lanka! I am really looking forward to returning to Java to continue my ‘Panen-Harvest’ project plus a new series of portrait works. I also have some exiting plans for Sri Lanka, details to come once they are confirmed.

Photo: From the Dongeng Genteng (Tile Tales) project at Jatiwangi, Java, Indonesia, 2011.Lightroom edit of tile photos

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.

Best of 2013


“Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”  Albert Camus

This year has been a busy one for me. I was lucky enough to travel for my photo and art projects.  My work continues to concentrate on time and space. I am exploring the essence of a place through its people and their environments.  In 2013 I visited some of my favourite countries; South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Switzerland, Turkey and of course my current home base, Australia.

The age of digital photography is both a blessing and a curse, resulting in 1000’s of images being taken. Selecting the right photos is more time-consuming than taking them. My working philosophy this year has been to narrow the images down to the essential, that is to capture the emotions of the people or places I am photographing.

Here is the selection of my 12 best images from 2013.


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.

Java Diary – part 4 (final entry)

May 22

At least I am getting some exercise; I smile to myself, as I am pushing the motor scooter with my driver, Beben, up to the main road to fix the flat tire. We had just been to see a performance by Tari Topeng Mimi Rasinah, at the local cemetery.  Today was a special day to remember and honour the dead.  The performance group is one of only a handful of traditional Indonesian gamelan and dance groups left who practice this art form.  I was a lucky to be able to see this much-revered troupe perform. We had arrived mid afternoon and the troupe had already been performing since 2am that morning; they would continue till the evening. As families arrived to pay respect to their ancestors, the entrance of the cemetery resembled a carnival.  The centre stage was beautifully decorated and the crowds were entertained with the endless sound of the gamelan as the dancers told ancient tales. For the hungry there were the mobile food stalls, the kids were teased with toy shops on bikes and if you were in the market for a live bird, that could be had as well.  But the real action was the gamelan, as the young and the old joined in the loud and colourful spectacle.  

After the obligatory ‘Photo please, Mister’ session, we were ready to head back to the Art Factory, only to be greeted by a flat tire.  There was only one thing to, and so as we pushed the scooter up the road, I took advantage of the slower pace and had my camera poised.


May 23

I had a small band of drummers in tow, a cameraman and Aceng on standby to translate.  Just what the local people made of the encounter was hard to say, but judging by the many smiles, they at least seemed to enjoy it.  It is late afternoon and we have taken the Baskets of Hope on a local tour.  In Javanese food selling style I had the baskets suspended across my shoulders by a large stick of bamboo and the drummers made sure everybody knew we were coming.  Curious and shy at first, but come they did. First it was the children who wanted to see what this funny bule (foreigner) was doing carrying these colourful baskets. Aceng explained to the villagers the concept of the Baskets of Hope.  Situation explained, now the fun begins as I hand out bits of fabric to tie on the basket and pieces of paper to write down a wish. It is a satisfying experience for me to be able to engage so many local people.  I am also very lucky to have so many enthusiastic assistants from the Jatiwangi Art Factory.

After the street performance I was ready for a quite evening. Sitting outside, sipping coffee and exchanging a few anecdotes sounded good to me. As the evening went on more and more people showed up, as is usually the case here.  Then someone arrived with a large outdoor video screen and before I could work out what was happening, there was an outdoor theatre set up.  Oh, OK, I thought sure; I can stay for one film and then go to bed. And so we watched the 2002 democratic revolution by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Film done, I start to stretch and look for a quiet get away, but too late!  As I get up I hear ‘Mister Roman, this way please!’  It’s the late night radio crew and I have just been informed that they have prepared a late night feast and want to meet me.  I could not refuse such a generous offer. So it was back down on the carpet and I got another chance to improve my hand feeding skills.  I got better at it but I still finished last. 



May 24

The project is now entering its final stage, and I am focusing on the completion and installation of the art works.  There is still the possibility of visiting one more school, or alternatively the students coming and visiting the studio.  The staff at JaF are also negotiating with the local health centre for a possible visit.  As always, time remains flexible and the schedule continues on its fluid way.

I have always been fairly flexible when it comes to working with other people; I think it’s part of the collaboration process, but I am also realising that this kind of working method suits my community arts projects.  It is different to my more personal works with photography and painting. Even if the photographic work demands a level of co-operation between the subject and artist, I retain control over the final outcome.

It did not take long to put my flexible attitude, into action, when later in the evening I was informed that I would, once again, be the special guest on the late night radio chat show.  I welcomed the opportunity to thank the local community for their generosity of spirit.



May 25

‘So, let me get this straight, I am going to meet a radio fan club in Majalengka and they have invited me to come and eat fruit!’ I had a slightly perplexed look on my face as I queried Arief.  He assured me that this was the case, and not for the first time we burst into laughter.  We had both come to an understanding about the local schedule. So I crossed out my initial booking for another high school; it was only a mental note anyway. 

Earlier that evening I worked out the set-up for Friday’s exhibition opening and the staff of JaF were busy readying the gallery space.  It promises to be a colourful show.



May 26

So I am up early this morning, ready for whatever comes my way today.  Even eating fruit!

My ‘tour guides’ for the day arrives on time and we head off towards Majalengka.  Driving through the local traffic reminds me of the art project as we weave our way through a maze of trucks, bikes and horses. Our destination turns out to be a small village where we park the car in the town square and continued our journey on foot.  A lush green path, thick with banana plants, guava and old mango trees, leads us down to a small bamboo hut where a local farmer welcomes us.  It appears that our schedule was right; there was fruit on the table!  Right in the centre of the table was a bowl of guava, but there were also catfish, rice, sambal, and several dishes of vegetables and crackers.  The generosity shown to me never fails to overwhelm me.

Back at the Art Factory, the staff had been busy installing the artworks for tomorrow’s opening.  The gallery space has been transformed into a colourful space. The arrival of guests from Lyon, France, later that evening ensured that there would be no early night.



May 27

Show day!  Most of the day was spend fine-tuning the installation and getting the photo show ready.  After some minor technical hiccoughs the gallery space finally looked ready for the workshop and the exhibition opening.

The guests started to arrive by late afternoon and by around 4pm we were ready to start the first part of the proceedings. To my delight, Ginggi and his helpers had prepared several short documentaries about the project and this was a lively way to introduce it to the crowd.  I then summed up the project and after a short break for prayers, it was time to light up the baskets and allow the audience to ask some questions.  This almost turned out to be a wrong move!  One of the special guests was the district officer, who seemed keen on asking multiple questions.  Unfortunately none of them pertained to the art concept or the project directly.  Instead he had keen interest in the financial side of the project.    Who was going to own the work?  How was I going to pass on the royalties?   Did I intend to pay any tax on the money made? It went on and on. The final question topped it all, was I collecting secret information?  I managed to assure him that I was not a spy, that my work is in fact self-funded and not based on a profit-making scheme.  I also acknowledged his concerns about foreign interference in local culture, and my declaration that I don’t come here as an Australian or a Swiss, rather, that I was here as an artist to explore and not to exploit.  He then offered me a high five and I assumed that this settled the matter for him.   

I felt a sense of relief that night the project had come to a successful end.



May 28

‘Today is going to be a holiday,’ Chief Ginggi, declared, ‘…and we are going to the mountains!’   I had no argument with this and so, accompanied by Melissa and Ted, we set of towards Argamukti village?

As soon as we got half way up the mountain I had a feeling that this was going to be an ‘adventure holiday’.  I had seen my fair share of rough road conditions but nothing quite like this road.  As we manoeuvred our way up through the ever-prevailing traffic, the road surface seemed to ceased to exist and was replaced by big holes and small boulders. 

The reward for a bone-shaking ride was the magnificent Muarajaya.waterfall.
The cooling water falls for over a 100 metres through the lush rainforest. For the first time in a month I felt mosquito free and cool. The peace was short lived as the familiar; ‘hello mister, photo please’ broke the silence.

Back at the factory, the crew had been busy preparing the final chapter of my project, a village showing of the ‘Tile Tales’ photos.  So the portable screen was set up in a little side street, plastic chairs were ready for the guests, and the food sellers arrived with refreshments.  The moment I heard the locals giggle at seeing themselves on film and on the photos I know that the project has been a success.  It was the perfect way to close the project.

Later that evening we reflected on a magical month in Java, followed by an improvised experimental music session, that ensured no one would get much sleep, but as Daniel from Mexico pointed out, ‘Indonesia is not good for sleeping!’



May 29

My trip home started off in style as I arrived at Cirebon train station by truck.  After an emotional farewell at the factory I was ready to begin my long return journey. 

I leave with newfound friends and inspired by the potential of art to make a difference to people’s lives. 


My Java Diary part 3

May 12

The monkey was wearing a red suit and riding a small motorbike. After crashing the bike he then started to jump through a hoop.
I am crammed into a small mini van, the kind that make up a large proportion of the congested traffic in Bandung. I am heading of to meet Arief and Chief Ginggi somewhere in town.  The monkey is just one of many intersection entertainments where people busk for money.  They range from the very young, who should be at school, to the old, who should be cared for by some loved one.   Witnessing poverty is one of the hardest things that I have to deal with when I travel, but it also firms my resolve that education is the only way out of it.

The driver signals that I have arrived at my destination. I am not sure where I am but I am relieved to see my friends waiting for me.  We attend a contemporary music performance conducted by a Mexican musician who is studying traditional Indonesian music. I feel energized after the performance and I am ready to for the drive back to Jatiwangi.

What should have been a two-hour drive turns into a regular road trip.  As always I’m not sure what is planned, and we stop off at several friend’s places in Bandung to say hello.  We visit a filmmaker, photographers and two artists’ studios. By now I know the routine: sweet black coffee, many clove flavoured cigarettes and much discussion. It is now 10 pm and I think we are finally on the road proper. As we approach the mountain road that leads down to the valley; Chief Ginggi informs me dryly, that many Indonesians die on this road!  Great, I am on the highway to hell! 
What a trip it turned out to, by midnight we are still heading down the road, and it is bumper to bumper in both directions!

When we finally make it off the mountain, it’s time for another stop.  ‘Makan, makan’ Ginggie calls out with a grin on his face.  Of course, time to eat again.  With our stomachs settled by a large helping of noodles, rice and fried prawns we are ready for the home stretch. 

May 13

I was about to say good night to everyone, as it had been a long day after yesterday’s epic drive home. I was then informed that I was ‘on’ in two minutes! I remembered someone mentioning a possible interview on the local radio station, but something about the timing must have got lost in the translation.  Luckily my years of being a radio broadcaster held me in good stead for the late night live talk back show, I had to be present for.  The broadcaster also turned out to be my assistant Aceng, and together we entertained a lively audience with a bilingual discussion on the meaning of my arts project.  The discussion also helped me to verbalise my ideas and bring the project into a tighter focus.

Earlier that evening I spend some time in the studio working on the sculptures and it occurred to me that my working method changes with the working environment.  I want to involve as many people of the community as possible and this will only be achieved by adopting local methods. Just like a street food hacker, I will take the ‘Basket of Hope’ sculpture through the back lanes of the village and allow the locals to place a wish in it. This way I am adopting a local dialogue method.

I am also making good progress with my photo essay.  Having the luxury of time means I am able to build a level of trust with the workers.  This is starting to reflect in the images.  I welcomed the opportunity to share all of these ideas with the radio audience.


May 14

‘What do you mean your mother told you not to eat with your hands?’ Arief looked at me bewildered, when I blamed my Swiss upbringing for not being able to master the art of hand feeding myself.  Then we both burst into laughter at the ridiculous situation.  It’s Saturday night and I am out with the boys, sitting on a carpet on the front lawn of the senior high school principal’s house and we are having a late dinner.  By now we must have gone trough several six packs of cold sweet tea, as we once again discuss the meaning of life. The air outside is a thick mixture of clove scented Indonesian cigarettes and eye burning smoke from the kilns of the numerous tile factories nearby. 

I finally manage to eat my meal, which came served on a Jati leave, but it was the first time that I finished last.  During my stay at Jatiwangi, I am reading Khaaled Hosseini’s ‘The  Kite Runner’ and tonight, not for the first time, I am struck at the similarities of Afghan and Indonesian life. But I guess, that because Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, it is not surprising. So I sit with the men, and it’s usually only with the men, on the carpet, drink more coffee and we work out the remaining schedule for my residency. There is no need for me to take any notes, as so far all arrangements have been fluid.  It suits me well!


May 15

I was right about having to be flexible!  Sunday morning was supposed to be our second big workshop day with the local school students.  I set my alarm for 6 am and was ready for the planned 7 o’clock start.  My trusty assistant, Aceng, was here as well, armed with our ‘Basket of Hope’ we set off on foot to the school in anticipation of a busy morning.  Unfortunately our hopes for a productive morning were dashed, as an empty school ground greeted us.  I suspect communications broke down somewhere down the line.  Not to be persuaded by this apparent set back, Aceng and I just hang around; somebody will turn up we told ourselves. The local Tae Kwon Do group who arrived to do their practice saved us.  In the true spirit of flexibility, instead of performing martial arts, the group was invited to create contemporary art!

By early afternoon the persistent wet season cooled us down for the rest of the day. I found myself a dry and quiet spot and finished reading my book.


May 16

Now that the project has reached its half-way point, my thoughts are turning to finishing the work.  The gallery space here at the Arts Factory is a fine location to install the sculptures and show the photos.  Much thought is given to reflecting the environment in which the work was created.  The use of bamboo, batik and rattan adds to the local feel.   Later in the day the local video production team, who produced a small documentary about the project, interviewed me.

I spend some time in the evening in the studio by myself, working on the sculpture.  The sound of countless local muezzins washes over me, interrupted only by the occasional rhythmical call of a lone gecko.


May 17

I am back on the bike, it’s probably a size too small for me as my knees keep hitting the handlebars and the saddle keeps slipping into a very uncomfortable position.  Putting on a brave face I peddle on. I am assured it’s not very far; I hope he’s right!  The local screen printer, Denny, has invited me to inspect his workshop.  I am also getting some t-shirts custom made. I’m happy to support the local economy. Danny introduces me to his family and staff and proudly shows off his workshop.  Like many locals, he’s built the house and workshop himself, with the help of local people and local material.  I know I’ll be proud to wear my handmade t-shirt from Jatiwangi.

The Tae Kwon Do team arrived later in the afternoon to listen to a story and work on one of the Baskets of Hope.  The baskets are doing their job, as the boys and girls chat with each other and some keen ones even practice their English on me.  I, in turn ,pick up the odd Indonesian phrase and so the basket has become a social meeting point.


May 19

About eighty curious pairs of eyes greeted me as I entered the classroom; there were no chairs or tables, just a spotless floor.  The students of the Islamic Elementary School at Madrasan Cijati, near Majalengka were lined up against the wall, boys and girls neatly divided.  We had arrived via a mini bus to continue our project at a regional school community. This time I had company and was supported by Melissa, a theatre performer from Mexico, and local musician Tedi En.  My  assistant Aceng was also there to translate for me. I had met the principal of he school a couple of nights ago, and we had arranged for the project to come to his school.  This turned out to be one of the more rewarding experiences for me.  Perhaps it was the idyllic setting of the school amongst the rice paddies and surrounded by volcanic mountains, or it was the shy enthusiasm of the students who made me so welcome at their school.  Hearing the story of ‘Stone Soup’ in two languages and acted out by two grown men had the students entranced. While Aceng and I worked with half of the school on the stories and the material sculpture, Melissa and Tedi found a large shady tree and entertained the other half with songs and dances.

The drive home was interrupted by a stop at the local market to buy a large helping of cooked snails, a local delicacy!




May 20

As part of the final presentation in my residency, I am going to show the photos of the tile makers to the workers in the factory.  So this morning I was catching up with some last photo shooting at the factory.  This time Chief Ginggi and his camera trailed me as he is making a mini documentary about my photo project here.  Having someone who speaks the local language was a good opportunity to explain some of the shots that I had in mind, and I got some powerful portraits done.

I wasn’t going to fool any one with my dress up; there was no way I was going to be mistaken for a local gamelan player.  If there was any doubts, these were soon dispelled the moment I sat down with the drums. It made for some amusing photos though. At times my jaws ache from smiling, as every body takes the opportunity to have their photo taken with the ‘Mister’.  I am happy to oblige, it seems to be the least I can do with so much generosity given to me.

I had come to watch the local gamelan group practice their music, puppet play and dance routine.  It was inevitable that I would be somehow dragged into the action. I knew the moment had come when one of the players arrived with a costume for me.  By the time I had squeezed myself into the outfit, many cameras were at the ready. I just kept smiling.



May 21

I’m bouncing up and down in the back of a small truck, surrounded by bleary-eyed Art Factory artists, a large canvas and two baskets of Hope.   It’s just after 7 am and we are heading to the Junior High school in Jatiwangi, our next project stop. This turned out to be the biggest turnout yet, as over a thousand students gathered for the morning assembly.  We were treated to gamelan and a dance performance.  Then it was time to address the students and inform them about the project.  Later, as we split up into a more intimate size, I worked with about 250 students on two of the baskets.  We also set the groundwork on a future collaboration to create a local ‘I Am’ project. (for more information on ‘I AM’ see my website:

As the third week comes to a close, I can now envisage the final outcome of this project.  But there are still some local performances planned with the baskets, including a visit to the local health care centre and a walk through the village with the baskets.  It promises to be an exciting last week.