I just returned from holidays in Europe. After spending two and a half weeks in the company of friends and family in Spain and breathing the fresh air of the Swiss mountains, it takes some readjustment to ease back into the rhythm of life in busy Jakarta.
The first half of 2013 now gone, this seems like a good time to take a step back, reflect, and share some professional highlights of the year so far.
Some stories need a lot of research, but others just come knocking on your door, like the Jakarta floods. On January 17, I was awakened by the noise of neighbors moving their wet furniture. Their house was flooded. Mine was barely spared; the level of water at my doorstep was just two inches short of reaching the floor of my apartment. Phew! I took a quick cup of coffee, got ready and headed out to take photographs.
I waded knee-deep (and later waist-deep) through floodwater around the center of the city looking for images that captured the disaster. Jakarta had come to a standstill. Some people in cars and motorbikes were waiting for the water to recede; others were brave (or naive) enough to drive through it. The kampung, or village-like neighborhoods, were the most affected, as they are generally located in low-laying areas next to the rivers and canals. It took several days for the city to come back to normal, as floodwater receded and basic services (including electricity) were gradually restored.
In February I went to Yogyakarta, considered the cultural capital of Java, to brush up my Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) skills. I took private lessons at a language school for two weeks. I was already quite fluent but I wanted to take it a notch up so I could understand more of the formal (written) language. I also wanted to solve a bunch of little grammar and use questions that had been on my list for too long. While in Yogya, I also had the chance to photograph the Cap Go Meh festival, a Chinese tradition which marks the last day of the lunar New Year celebrations, in Magelang, Central Java.
I spent most of March on assignment with Oxfam Australia working on a story about the importance of growing and consuming local food, as part of their global Grow campaign. In Indonesia, Oxfam Australia is working with seven ‘Female Food Heroes;’ community leaders who produce food for their families and their communities in a sustainable way, despite social, economical and cultural challenges.
I first met these extraordinary women in Jakarta, where they participated in several advocacy events. Then I headed to document two of their individual stories in Java (in the rural areas of Yogyakarta Special Region) and East Nusa Tenggara (in the island of Lembata).
It was very interesting to see life in the Javanese countryside during rice harvest time. Farmers help each other in the rice paddies and villages are very busy processing the crop. In Wareng village, however, farmers are not dependent solely on rice. Female community leader Suparjiyem and her farmers cooperative have recovered traditional crops that had been displaced by the omnipresence of rice, such as tubers, pumpkin and corn.
After Java, it was time to head over to the island of Lembata, in East Nusa Tenggara. In this case, Siti Rofi’ah has helped her community to form cooperatives and to find ways to process and market their products. In addition to farming, fishing is one of the main livelihoods here. I felt lucky to spend time with fishermen as they left to work in the evening and came back with their catch at sunrise.
On both locations, I learned a lot about how food is produced (and cooked!) and the ways communities are organizing themselves to be more food secure and financially independent.
I also shot another story for Oxfam Australia in the island of Lombok (next to Bali), about local disaster-risk reduction work. Apart from photos, I shot short HD video clips. At a personal level, it was very interesting to visit the central and eastern parts of the island which are outside the tourist trail. I discovered lush villages and some breathtaking views on the foothills of Mount Rinjani. Definitely recommended if you are looking for some peaceful, quiet place and fresh air (Hey, Jakartans!).
In April, it was time to get back to the editing table while I focused on promotion and marketing. And since it could be done anywhere, I decided to take my backpack office to Taipei, Taiwan, for ten days and visit friends.
In May, back in Jakarta, I shot a story for a corporate magazine and more short videos for Oxfam Australia.
I also worked on a few personal projects. Some are just one-day stories, but others have the potential to be revisited and lead to longer, more complex projects. We’ll see…
I will continue to work on my personal projects in the following months. It’s great to be able to find time in between assignments for personal work, in what’s being a very busy year.
At the moment I am researching and starting to shoot a couple of long-term personal projects on topics related to culture and identity. All stemming from personal interest and curiosity. I will keep you posted!