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.”