Exploring the culture of photography in Indonesia

October 19th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Camera is not merely a tool to capture images, but also to educate photographers about the culture and issues of their surroundings, meet new people on their travels, and to appreciate the landscapes they were viewing. Karen Strassler, author of Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java, makes these points in her captivating book. Strassler’s sharing her experiences of traveling to Java to learn how Indonesians and Chinese treasure photography hit close to home. While I was capturing the Australians sitting down at a table and drinking coffee, I learned that this scene is part of their culture. I learned Italian’s opinions of President Bush in 2007 as I documented the protest against Bush’s visit in Rome. My Spanish speaking skills improved as I spoke to Peruvians when I was photographing portraits of them. In all of these travel experiences I lived through in the past five years, my camera has been a tool to research the cultural differences, learn other cultures’ opinions of my own culture and of course, their own culture, and practice my foreign language speaking skills.

Along with vivid descriptions of the surroundings of where Strassler did her field work, she takes me on an excursion to places where Indonesians appeared to be happy to be living in rural areas and tourists were attracted to photograph because of the sense of ‘exoticism.’  She shares people’s journeys of having their identity photographs taken and teaches me about issues of identity among the Chinese people who could not be as well regarded as the Indonesians.  Young women go wild over wanting to live in the fantasy world by visiting studios to stand behind mystical backdrops and portraying themselves as television characters from other countries, which promotes in improving relationships with different cultures.  People photograph themselves with objects to signify hierarchy and proud ownership.  She shares people’s views of treating photographs as a way to chronicle children’s upbringings such as a daughter who portrayed for her father who was a photographer.  Parents not taking photographs of their children in their early years is a sign of negligence, as Strassler states.  Photography indeed plays an important role in creating ‘memories’ and various identities in Indonesia.

Strassler also explores the history of New Order, the time when Indonesians expressed their sentiments the about former Indonesian President Suharto and requested him to resign by protesting on the streets.  As someone who is currently a student and was an editor of a university’s newspaper, I related to students’ crises of trying to reveal the real images of demonstrations and other political events while the government and such administrators blocked them from showing the images that the world deserved to see to know the truth of the events.  I cringe when Strassler speaks about how professional journalists focused only on capturing certain angles of images that were requested by police officers and intelligent agents simply so that the images could be published and distributed in newspapers in order for the media to earn money.

I would like to post many important and meaningful quotes from the book, but I think I will save it for another post so that I can explore them in deeper meanings.  I just wanted to give everyone the glimpse of this wonderful book.

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