On Parents

I recently had the opportunity to shoot a family portrait, but instead of the usual assignment – young parents with their small children, this time it was a grown woman and her parents.

Shooting a mature family has its different kind of sweetness.  I suppose, we, the grown up children have left home, led our own lives, filling our time with our priorities.  And when we return home, we see them age a little bit more compared to the image we keep in our minds.  There is a sense of bittersweetness, and perhaps a heightened sense of appreciation of what they mean to us – now.

Upon receiving the images I took of that day, she shared her thoughts on her parents which she articulated oh so beautifully.  She said: “We probably spent years and years wishing our parents would get off our back…only to realize that parents are the only one who always had our back.  In any situation. ”

 

Posted in Family, Portraits Tagged , , , .

Food for the soul

One can tell a lot about a place and its people through the food they eat.  What one cooks converse a multitude of stories.  The places they have been, the journeys they have taken, the families they come from, even their beliefs.

I was passing through the city of Medan in North Sumatra and friends have told me how good the food is there. Even with this promise of great food, the city never really appealed to me.  I thought of it as another big metropolitan, cold and harsh – a mini Jakarta, but with great food.

My imagination had failed me.   The great food element remains, but everything else was far from it.  One word came to mind as sceneries from the train window that took me from the airport to Medan changes from rice paddy fields, to roads, to old derelict dutch buildings:

 

Soulful

 

And this was amplified during meal time.

The first encounter was on that late afternoon after I checked into the hotel.  I’d decided to go for a wander around the neighborhood to get my bearings.  I walked through a little alley way and soon saw a silhouette of a man, hovering over a big pot of something.  I approached him, curiously. He stirred the pot and told me that he’s making broth – duck broth to be precise, for tonight’s dinner.  He sells duck soup. This man is an older man, perhaps in his mid 50s.  He was half naked, wearing only shorts, a long gold chain around his neck and an earring.

He told me that he’s been cooking this soup for the past 30 years.  The ducks need to be boiled for at least three hours to get the sweetness out of the bones and into the broth.  Then he adds chinese herbs – imported from mainland china, for its medicinal properties.  “This food is good for you” he said. “You can have this every day and it will be good for your health.”  I believe him.

That evening I had a bowl of the duck soup.  It was a bowl of clean, simple, wholesome goodness.  It reminded me of a home cooked meal. The kind that recede in your mind and opens up a treasure chest of memories every time you taste it.

The next morning I went wandering again.  The beauty about Medan is that food (and stories) find you, even when you aren’t looking.  Here is a series of images I made on that unexpected morning encounter.  A story of 50 year old handed down recipes, slow cooked, hand made, without pretense and shared with anyone who are lucky enough to come across.

 

Posted in Documentary, Portraits, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Resolution

In 2011 I had gone to the largest leprosy center in Lalgadh, Nepal – for one pure selfish reason:  I wanted to see and experience a life outside of my own world.  During the weeks that I was there, I stayed at the hospital worker’s compound where they kindly gave me a little house to myself.  One morning I woke up  and found these girls (in the picture below) laid fresh flowers outside at my doorstep.  I asked one of the girls why she did that and her answer was “You have no one here to make you smile.  This is to make you smile”.

Kindness from a stranger is a powerful thing.

The past few days has been gut wrenching with the tragedy of Air Asia.  I see grieving faces of families and relatives plastered all over websites, newspapers and replayed non stop on tv.  So much sadness it’s difficult to think of celebrating a new year.  And then I see how a bunch of strangers come together and gave their all to help with this tragedy.  The president, the government officials, the locals, neighboring countries… and this reminded me of the little flower story three years ago in Nepal.  Kindness from a stranger is a powerful thing.

So if I must have a resolution for 2015 it will be this: Be kinder to others.  Be kinder to self.

 

Posted in Documentary Tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

Monsoon Meditation

The monsoon season has arrived.  Amidst the grey skies and the smell of rain in the air, I found myself going through the archives and found this series of photos that I’d almost forgotten I had taken.  I remember that day vividly.  The person I loved had just left and I walked around with my camera knowing that I would see his shadow in every frame I take.

There it was before me, a gathered crowd, loud noises, a scene of a beautiful mess.  Instantly I felt love towards what was in front of me, this tragedy.  Perhaps because it reminded me so much of my own and those who are close to me.

I watched them as they performed.  I watched the reaction of curious onlookers, the cringing faces of foreign tourists, disapproving, yet unable to walk away from the attraction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently the governor of Jakarta made the performance of monkey mask in the city illegal.  The authorities made attempts to purchase the monkeys to rehabilitate them, and also equip the owners with new skills.  More often than not they prefer to move outside the city where they can still perform or sell the monkeys to fellow monkey mask performers where higher price can be fetched.  Some, however decided to join the program and attempt to obtain a new life.

Humanizing human is not an easy task but at least there was a first step.

It was the entire imperfection and ugliness of the scene that day that moved me, recognizing that everyone has their own story of imperfections and ugliness themselves.  Visible or not.

We have been indoctrinated to chase happiness and avoid pain.  But no one ever told us that pain is as necessary as sun shine, for us to be able to actually live.  Really live, learn from it and finally be able to taste and see all the sweetness and joy that life has to offer.

 

Posted in Documentary, Portraits, Social Issues, Travel Tagged , , , , .

Precious

Each family has their own story and I am constantly humbled whenever people invite me to document moments with their family.  I remembered leafing through old family photos and be instantly transported back to that era when big hair is in (mom) and fashion is out (me).  But I noted one thing, regardless how much we cringe when we look at our own family portraits, there is undeniably that preciousness within that frame.  There is sweetness.  There is innocence.

The more family portraits I took, the more I realized this truth.  How fleeting time is.  How children grow up so quickly and how parents grow old in equal speed.  How precious ‘now’ is.

Here are some images I made of this beautiful family, during our photo session in one sunny afternoon in Jakarta.

 

 

Posted in Documentary, Family, Portraits Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Prelude

We carry within us, our stories.  Some are made of light and some, the absence of it. And what we go through in life both of light and darkness, left marks on our being.  These marks  do not represent who we are, but they are of us.

These photographs are of a piece of tree trunk I found laying solemnly by the beach.  The lines, the holes, the textures are all made of light and darkness, weaved through time as if to witness the journey it had gone through and many others who crossed its path.

In every strand of its fibre is written its life story.

 

 

 

P.S : I am working on a new photo documentary project:  Tattoo.  If  you:

1) have a tattoo / tattoes  2) want to be a part of this project  3) of ANY background (engineers, bankers, artists, mafias,religious workers, etc, I do really mean any background)  4) preferably lives in Jakarta, or will be in Jakarta at some point in time,  then do contact me! I’d love to hear from you and maybe we can work something out.

 

Posted in Abstract.

Going Solo

An unexpected invitation and one short flight not long after brought me to a city called Solo in Central Java.  The beauty of an event that begins its life unexpectedly is that it tends to lend itself to  more and more unexpected things in the course of the journey.  And every situation, good or bad, can be seen as a positive thing when perceived as an opportunity.

One of those unexpected moments was when we were given a backstage access to a traditional Javanese theatre performance at Teater Sriwedari.  Even more disturbing was knowing that I did not have my camera with me.

I am grateful for technology  (and Steve Jobs) for creating a mobile phone which takes decent pictures.  In the absence of a DSLR, the images below were made using such phone.

A smoke before the show

Wayang orang, a traditional Javanese theatre is a slowly dying art.  Lack of appreciation, high production cost and small return made earning a living as an independent performance artist in this field more and more difficult.  The artists in teater Sriwedari are fortunate enough to be employed by the government so they can go on performing without worrying where their next meal will come from .  Many other theaters and artists, however aren’t so lucky.  The images below are snapshots of what happens backstage, before the show.

 

 

 

Posted in Culture, Documentary, Portraits Tagged , , , , , , , , , .

Christmas Shoebox

 

 

Once a year back in Sydney, Australia, a friend used to organize donation for Christmas shoebox (filled with stationery, toilettries, toys) at our church.  It gave us so much joy just being able to share with these disadvantaged children.

This year (in Jakarta) I happened to befriend  another beautiful woman who volunteers for aNt charity where they too, give Christmas shoeboxes for their sponsored children in Indonesia.  375 of them.  The best part is I got to be there on the day when they distribute these presents and document the moment.

Giving is a paradoxical thing.  Some are reluctant to give because they think it will take away from them.  In reality it is when one gives, that one receives and more often than not the giver actually receives more in many ways then what he/she gave away.  Here are the images to proof.

 

 

 

Posted in Documentary, Social Issues Tagged , , , , , , .

Conversations

Recently I discovered an amazing story teller by the name of Yasmin Ahmad.  She was a Malaysian film director who sadly passed away at the young age of 51.  Her work moved me and I think she as a person (although I have never met her) touched me through the writings in her blog.  In one of her entries she wrote, “And the way to start writing isn’t by writing at all, but by living.  It isn’t about creating something from thin air, but about documenting our personal feelings about the things that we see.  Or to put it crudely, how are you going to be a story teller  if you have no story to tell?  Perhaps in the end there are no such things as creative people, there are only sharp  observers with sensitive hearts.”

A long time ago I wrote this piece, created for no other reason than because I was inspired to do so.  Perhaps it was one of those rare moments when life, observation and words crossed path on a junction, giving birth to a story.  I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

We sat at the edge of the horizon, staring at the bright lights dancing on the surface of the blue sea.

I asked her, “so what made you this way?”  There was a long pause.  She lifted the palm of her hand against the sun and began to watch its light streaming through her fingers.  “You know,” she said, “things are never the way they seem to be.”  She then continued  ” I met an angel once.  He lived in a desolate land, lifeless and barren. He was beautiful.  His presence radiated warmth and his smile would light up the darkness around him.  We met in the desert northern wind and he told me stories of  red, blue and yellow, purple and magenta.  He added rainbow into this clear, invisible glass house I lived in.”

“We spent our days telling each other stories and in the nights we lay down on the cold grass, watching the stars and travelled into each other’s soul.  As much as our stories were shiny and bright, our souls live in this lowly earth, grey and dull.  And we needed something to hold on to, something to hope for, to live for and to die for.  So with each passing second we stitched words together and built ourselves a glorious castle decorated with moments, pieces of songs and dreams.  We thought this castle will redeem us, it will bring our souls out of the depth of darkness into this bright shimmering light of stories that we’ve told ourselves.  And we will be transformed into the beauty that we have believed in.”

There was a moment of silence after she said this.  I saw the clouds gathering at the far end of the sea and I could smell rain in the breeze.  “So what happened next?”  I asked.  She said, “one winter season as we were walking on the snow, he let go of my hand.  He told me that he needed to leave, that he could no longer build this castle with me.  If he were to live in this beautiful paradise we’ve created, he would have to become something that he was not.  He would need to deny the darkness and desolation which was the only world he knew.  If he let go of it, he might as well cease to exist.  Then he left without much fanfare, quietly as he came.”

She then touched the small of her back, where her wings used to be.  She gazed straight towards the sea and said to me “It is not until you have lost everything you have, everything you have ever loved, that you understand how free you are.”

I looked up and the first droplets of rain kissed my face.

Posted in Abstract.

The tie that binds

There is no event or story to tell in this post, but a mere collection of yellowing memories that surfaced as I go through my photo archive.

These are portraits of people who at some point in life have crossed my path.  They carry within them a light and a song, some are bold, some are soft as mist.  The kind that requires quietness and all your senses to see and appreciate.

 

We were strangers until the first ten seconds of interaction.  Then we realised that we are one and the same, only with different bodies, living out a different story.

Posted in Abstract, Portraits Tagged , , , .