This photographic challenge that I’ve set myself is proving an interesting exercise. As with most of my creative endeavours, I start with an idea but never quite know how it will end up. So far it’s not going the way that I had hoped. That’s not to say that it is a failure, it’s more that I will have to find a rather different way around some of the problems that I am encountering. Let’s face it, if it was going to be easy then it wouldn’t be a challenge or so I have to keep telling myself.
I realize that comparisons are odious but for the sake of highlighting some of the significant difficulties I am having then I need to reflect back on my previous weeks in Bali and the relative ease I had there when taking photographs of people. I mentioned in my last post ‘Arachnids & Kids’ that Bali and Jakarta are as different as chalk and cheese. Much of this has to do with the way that westerners are perceived. Balinese are quite used to seeing westerners and are used to their odd ways. Jakarta is not a tourist destination and therefore there are fewer westerners around. Where I live, I can count on one hand the amount of westerners that I have seen in my locale over the past 20 months. When we first moved here and I started to venture out into the streets, men and women would stare and children would run crying and screaming into their mother’s arms when they caught sight of me. It doesn’t happen that often, but I have been subjected to verbal attacks on account of my being western and some people have made it clear that they don’t like having my white face around. It’s not easy coming to terms with but then that’s life and there’s not a lot I can do about it save taking a deep breath and trying not to dwell on it. For all the bad times there have been many more that have been good.
The reason that I am telling you this is because when I went out a couple of days ago some of those early days feelings came back to haunt me. I started my challenge in Pasar Mayestik. Remember this is the first time that I have gone out with my camera and not my phone to take pictures. As soon as I was spotted with a camera, I got a lot of very suspicious looks. All eyes where on me, wherever I went. My usual bravado took a bit of a dip as I was refused countless requests to take photographs of people. If I pointed the camera even to focus I was given a shaking fist or a shout. I realized that the candid portraits that I can achieve on Bali are not going to be quite so easy to get here in Jakarta. Lesson number one learnt.
What to do? The mental brief that I’ve given myself is to take photographs of everyday things that go on around me. This is not intended to be pretty, some of the sights that I see make me very sad, some are ugly. I want to try to document the rawness, the hard life that so many people in Jakarta lead. It’s these people that interest me most, and for whom I have the greatest affection and admiration for. The unsung heros, the men, women and children collecting rubbish and plastic off the street, the cats (there are no dogs in Jakarta as Muslims consider them dirty) the street vendors and the stallholders, all trying to eke a meagre living in this vast, grey and filthy megalopolis.
This project is going to take some time for me to get into my stride so please bare with me. For now here are a few of the pictures that I’ve taken this week.
The landscape pictures should enlarge if you click on them!
I’m reading Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ at the moment to help inspire me. Here are a couple of quotes that I found that particularly resonated with me.
“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.”
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
37 thoughts on “The Other Side Of The Coin”
It isn’t easy in a big city, Lottie. HK is the same and I’m sure London too. Cambodia is very welcoming today but may change over time. Hostility is not nice but people don’t understand why we take photos the way we do. Generally the advice I get given is to blend in and wait before taking photos. Chat to people if you can. Maybe they think you are a journalist. Don’t give up but do adapt your expectations. Generally the rule is don’t pay for photos. A small camera is better than a DSLR. Less threatening. Good luck!!
Excellent advice Andrew and thank you!
And you are right, I do need to adapt my expectations 😀 The blending in bit is hard as I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb but I know what you mean. I spent about 5 hours in the market on Wednesday and certainly by the end of that time I was getting more people willing to be photographed. Maybe they thought ‘if we let her take our photo she will P*** off and leave us alone’ !!
Speaking of small cameras, do you have one that you can recommend?
Notwithstanding the hindrances you mention at the top of your post, you done real good dear Lottie, people-photos included 😉
Awww, thanks Amit. It’s work in progress but I’m hoping that in a few months I’ll have some pictures that I’m pleased with 😀
Don’t be so hard on yourself. I loved the photos. Just go on the way you are going. Don’t force it. I despair of having run out of words but I know if I just put on the first word the next one will come as well.
For many years I had an Agfa Clack and took terrific pictures. The film had to be send to Melbourne for colour processing and cost a fortune. (1960’s)
Bali is of course a paradise for photos. I think Jakarta is more difficult but perhaps one has to look differently at the subjects or objects. I think you are doing a remarkable job.
You always say the nicest things Gerard – Thank you for your cheering words and encouragement.
Your photos are stunning, as always. However, rather than creating a desire to visit Jakarta, I feel extremely content to stay home in Bali! That being said, I admire you for bellying up to the challenge and giving it your best shot!
I think you are much better off in Bali 😀 That said there are aspects to Jakarta that I really love, the markets for instance and the older parts. The port and Glodok. It’s not a lovely place and at times I find living here a challenge but I’m grateful for this opportunity and having the two contrasts helps give me a broader understanding of Indonesia. When you compare the lives of the people in the kampung to the lives of some people living in Jakarta you see in a sense how blessed the villagers are.
Loved the photo of the little store and then saw it was your post Lottie – of course – they’re fantastic.
I can understand that people in a such an intense urban environment would be reluctant to engage – it’s probably much the same in most big cities. I think anywhere where your personal space is precious and where life is by nature more stressful, the sense of someone new stepping into that space could feel like an intrusion. I think getting portrait photos in the city is pretty amazing – I’m far too shy to ask anyone in Melbourne to take a their photo and taking or publishing pictures of young children without all sorts of written consent would be way out of bounds here, so I wouldn’t do it elsewhere.
I had a wonderful little Olympus which was palm sized but took amazing pics and I think it does make a difference – not so confronting – and you look more like an amateur so people are likely to be more relaxed.
I think you are absolutely right Chas and yes, I do need a smaller camera (great excuse eh?!) I’m not really looking for portraits as such, it’s more candid shots of what goes on around me. I’ve heard there’s a camera that you can wear, now that would be cool! I’m glad that I’ve set myself this challenge, it’s thrown up lots of thoughts and ideas and hopefully I’ll learn something from the process.
I really admire your courage and perseverance. You have captured some compelling images. I particularly like the hands, the lady cooking and the delivery bike.
Like ‘Writingforselfsiscovery’ I don’t think I want to visit Jakarta in person. I’m am happy to visit it vicariously through your lenses.
Thanks Rod, I really appreciate your kind words.
I sometimes get asked ‘I’ll be visiting Java for a few days, is it worth my coming to Jakarta?’ and my reply is always a ‘Yes’. This isn’t because it’s a bucket-list destination, more that the experience of spending even a small amount of time in the city will give one a much greater understanding of Indonesia as a whole. If you only see the pretty parts, the beaches and the jungle you will only be getting one half of the picture. Of course this is just my view and it also depends very much on how much time you have to spare. I wouldn’t recommend a visit here if you only had 2 weeks in Indonesia for example! 😀
I don’t know if you noticed it but when I lived in Indonesia I saw a lot of cats with weird tails. My Indonesian friends told me that it might be a genetic defect. What ‘s your take on this? By the way, jakartans do have dogs. They keep them in the house and let them out at night.
Hello! Yes, I’ve heard that the cat’s tails are like that because of so much in-breeding. It’s very rare to see a cat with a normal tail! There are no dogs at all round where I live but there are dogs in the ex-pat areas like Kemang for example. Muslims don’t keep dogs as they are considered unclean/dirty. Not everyone is Jakarta is muslim so maybe this is why you saw some where you lived. 😀
I found this post and the photos a little confronting, but not in a bad way, like a wake up thing. I think the small camera is a good idea as well, I love my little Sony point and shoot.
Jakarta is a culture shock when you first arrive but after a while you get used to it. That’s not to say that I don’t still feel sad about things or that I’m not touched in the same way, merely that after time there is little that shocks because you become accustomed to the sights, sounds, smells and ‘difference’ that is Jakarta. Living here for most of the time I am confronted with a lot of things that I sometimes find quite difficult but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I soley took pictures of the pretty bits and not the reality. I think a small camera is a great idea too. Your comment and all the others above have inspired me to carry on with this project and hopefully in a few months I might have something that works better in encapsulating everything that Jakarta means to me. 😀
Oh gee whiz. My comment just went away. Now I am really mad. Now back to the nitty-gritty or is down and dirty?
Favorites: the cat on the steps, young man sitting in a doorway with a beeming smile, the store with the Coca-Cola, the bicycle.
I noted that there is a huge billboard on the side of the freeway that appears to be a picture of a fair skinned foreigner, but I surely could be wrong about that. I suppose that various ethnic groups also might be more difficult to photograph. But never having seen a foreigner is so diffucult for me to comprehend. Biut then as I think of it I see the reality of it all.
I think this is a valid and achieveable goal of documenting the cultural and societal differences in Jakarta. My thought about blending. Could you take an Indonesian woman or man with you as you photograph or would that make the situation more difficult? And how safe are you as a woman walking about alone?
Hello Yvonne and thank you for your lovely long comment – I hate it when I leave comments and then they disappear! You are so kind to keep persisting and I appreciate it. The bill board is a cigarette advertisement and the man is an Indonesian but his skin has been bleached a little to make him look more western. weird I know but that’s how it goes!
I’ve never once felt unsafe whilst travelling around Jakarta. I find London a lot more threatening to be honest. Your suggestion about going around with an Indonesian is not a bad idea but it wouldn’t make it so challenging if that makes sense?! In a way I am trying to portray my difficulties of being ‘alone’ of being the odd one out so although having a companion would be very nice, it would change the dimensions. It’s good for me to do this as it forces me to get over my hang ups and lack of confidence and of course it’s a way of practising my language skills etc.
What I haven’t mentioned is that it’s very hot and sticky here so after an hour and a half I am wilting. The rains still haven’t stopped which means that the humidity is still very high. I’m going to take out Pete’s small camera this week and see if I have more joy using it – I think the general consensus that the large camera is seen as threatening is quite true. Also the small camera will be a lot lighter to lug around! 😀
Thanks for the reply. Do you not have any fans for the house? That would help somewhat to keep you a bit cooler. Also if you can get your hands on some there is such a thing as a dehumidifer, I think. Look on the web and see if any are available.
About having lack of confidence and all of that I have put on a brave face almost my entire life. I detest shoping and I don’t like crows at all.
But I am going to give some “motherly advice here.” I still believe you will be challenged enough just trying to get those photographs. You are still going to be the one to approach strangers to ask permission for photographing. An native person can help you can access some situations that you will be missing that
otherwise would have given you some very good photographs. You need to look at it the situation in that perspective. Also the native does not need to speak for you since you will you be conversing and not you escort.
Does that make sense? 🙂
You’re far more bold than I am with your people photography, I admire you very much for that! Despite having a lot of rejections you’ve managed to assemble an impressive first collection.
Thank you Hayley 😀 My boldness is all bravado you know!! It’s not a bad thing to step outside ones comfort zone and as I said in my comment above to Yvonne, I don’t find Jakarta threatening. I’ve had more problems in London than I’ve ever had here.
Really, what everyone said! Your photos tell a story – real and unaffected xxxxxxx
Thank you Martha xxxxxx 😀
I don’t want to rain on your party but Bali has come in for some bad publicity. The issue seems to be an increase in muggings and assaults. The Kuta area, has always been a place where many of the drinkers and night-clubbers seem to gravitate to with the resulting increase in violence.
Anyway’ caution’ is the message from Australia and here some footage. I hope the link will open because ABC sometimes makes the link not work overseas for some reason or other.
This was an interesting link Gerard and thanks for putting it on here. On the contrary, you haven’t rained on the party, you’ve added something important to the mix, and made me and certainly anyone reading this more aware. I read the comments at the end of the link and there may well be an element of truth in what the commenters have written.
In almost 2 years of visiting Bali I”ve spent 4.5 minutes in Kuta (true story!) 2 hours in Seminyak and none in Legian. I stay as far away from the tourist spots as I can so I’m not really au fait with what is happening in those areas. From my experience of being a tourist in other parts of the world and having been mugged and sexually molested these things have always happened in tourist areas where gangs operate and target the tourists. London is no different and even as a Londoner born and bred, I’m very wary of certain areas and I would never go out alone at night. It’s a sad fact of life but where there are drugs there is always more violence. Despite the Indonesian governments zero-tolerance on drugs, drugs are easily available in the tourist spots of south Bali and I suspect that this has a lot to do with the bad stuff that is happening there. Inebriated tourists are always going to be sitting ducks for pick-pockets and muggers the world over. What makes this story alarming is that the attack took place on a woman early in the morning when she was out jogging – clearly she wasn’t drunk and was just out taking exercise. I sincerely hope that her horrific experience is not the start of something more sinister?
I had a bit of an Yvonne moment there! I wrote a lengthy reply to your comment and link and then the wretched thing vanished despite my copy and pasting it…..grrrrrrr!
Thanks for putting up this link Gerard, I appreciate it. On the contrary, you haven’t rained on the party at all, it’s an interesting (though gruesome) article and it’s certainly made me sit up and think and I’m sure anyone else who reads it.
The comments at the end were interesting also.
In 2 years of visiting Bali I have visited Kuta once and that was for a record breaking 4.5 minute visit. Seminyak was a longer stay of 2 hours and I’ve never been to Legian. I keep as far away from the south Bali tourist areas as I can. It’s a sad fact of life but wherever there are tourists crime rates go up. On my own travels around the world I’ve been mugged and almost raped – both times this happened in a tourist area by gangs. Despite the Indonesian goverments zero-tolerance policy on drugs, south Bali in particular is an easy spot to get them if you are so inclined. I suspect this has a lot to do with the crimes in that area. London is no different.
It goes without saying that inebriated tourists are sitting ducks for muggers and pick-pockets. It’s all too easy to be led off the garden path so to speak if you’ve had too much to drink.
What I find especially alarming about this case in the link is that the woman was out for an early morning jog when she was attacked. The facts of what exactly happened that morning may never come to light but I sincerely hope that this is not the start of something more sinister?
I think these capture the atmosphere well, and surely that is what you are trying to do.
The pointing fingers remind me of Arthur Scargill. Interesting the older people seem more hostile than the younger ones.
I tend to pretend I am taking photos of buildings or just general street shots, but that makes it hard to get people.
To be honest, if someone asked me if they could take my photo (no idea why they would) I would also say no. It’s very instrusive.
Getting the photos is great, but I haven’t got the temerity to think my search for a photo should take away from someone’s private space. Look at all the indigenous people who don’t like photos being taken because it steals your soul.
Difficult, but you have still got some good photos of Jakarta.
Apologies for the late reply, internet has been bad here for a few days and my patience trying to get on WP has run out of steam!
I hate having my photograph taken as well so it swings both ways and I understand. Maybe that’s why I’m so in awe of those that say ‘yes’ and just let me get on with it. I’ve had to pose often for photographs here as Indonesians thinks it’s fun to have a westerner in their photos – it’s very nice to be asked and I always say yes but I can’t say that I enjoy it – I know how it feels to be on the receiving end 😀
It was probably a big mistake on my part to come from Bali and think that I would have the same freedoms here in Jakarta that I have there. Put it this way, it’s a very good thing that I”m not paid to go out on the streets and take photographs!
Thanks for your comment Roughseas and apologies again for being so late in responding. I’m coming to your neck of the woods soon…well not quite but nearly – Portugal which I’m looking forward to very much!
oooh, where are you going? Algarve is very near, well nearer than Indonesia!
I love portugal but not quite as much as spain. I would if their food was better and more flexible! And their gin is TERRIBLE.
No worries about late reply. Any reply is better than none. I’m often late in catching up with posts, for which, natch, I blame WP.
Off on a bit of a reconnaissance – I’m full of bright ideas at the moment. Portugal is the current one, last week it was somewhere else. I blame the hormones!
2 hours north-east of Lisbon if all goes according to plan but then as Spike Milligan famously said ‘ If you don’t have a plan, then nothing can go wrong’ !
Your photos are gritty and real and have a special, touching humanity to them that brought me tears. Though I love them all, I’m most drawn to the hands (help me, Jakarta), the market cat, and peeping jalan. Lovely, admirable work.
I’m sorry that you’re facing such prejudice in those streets. I know how much that hurts. We’re strong though, yes? We can get through anything for our creative endeavors. It is strange how the negative feedback seems to stick with us more than the positive when it comes to the more tender areas of our lives. We’ll have to come with a plan and sort that out. xoxo
Lottie – what happened? I moved and somehow got unsubscribed from your blog (or your blog got buried under all the boxes). Anyways, I haven’t been online much lately and just realized I was missing my Lottie Nevin updates 😦
Hello Lorijo, thanks for your concern 🙂 I’ve not posted in a while but I shall be back on track soon. Hope your move went well and I look forward to catching up with you very soon xxx
Lottie, you still have so many good shots of people here. I love the one of the woman’s hands and the guy with the American flag (?) bandana. The young man with the Heineken shirt has a stunning smile. I like the rawness, too. I can’t wait to see more of the project. (By the way, I agree with Lorijo — I miss my Lottie Nevin updates, too) xxxxx
I should revisit Sontag’s on Photography. I read it a few years back and loved it but some of these books need to be read many times.
I agree. There are books that should be read, and there are books that should be read many times over the course of a lifetime. And Sontag’s on Photography falls in the latter.