Saya tidak berbicara bahasa indonesia.
Which means “I do not speak Indonesian.” If I could speak Indonesian, this is probably something I would have said to the locals. Fun fact: Indonesian was, in fact, a language that was taught at my high school, so I consider this a sorely missed opportunity. To be honest, it is a relatively easy language to pick up, but considering French took me at least 12 years to really grasp, I figure you can’t really teach this old dog many more new tricks.
So, I have been taking stock of all my photographs recently to better archive them and clear up space on my laptop, and incidentally I am digging up a lot of stuff from when I first really started shooting. Somewhere in the middle of a summer abroad program to Bali was probably when I could pinpoint feeling like I really could develop my passion into something. (Side note: my university having a summer study abroad program in Bali wasn’t awful, either.)
I didn’t know much about photography (and I probably still don’t, compared to most.) and I hadn’t thought about it as anything more than a medium through which I could interact with the people around me. But like most kids armed with a D-SLR camera and a decent telephoto lens, I entertained a lofty dream of working for National Geographic, where I would (of course) be sent on assignments to capture some of the world’s most far-flung places. Being behind the camera with the subject always in front of the lens was easy for me. It was a social buffer. But it is important to acknowledge – and this is something that I know more about now than I did then – that this is somewhat of a problematic paradigm. For more on this particular point, I highly recommend reading Susan Sontag’s essay “On Photography,” where she talks extensively about the nature of the photographer-subject exchange.
Ultimately, I realized that many of these prolific journalist photographers do work in a very immersive way that empowers rather than exploits. The sometimes nonverbal exchange that takes place always feels softened when you can show your subject what you are working on, and involve them in the process, and in my mind, taking a photograph of someone should never feel overtly like you’re “stealing” the photograph with your camera. I certainly do not believe that travel photojournalism is fundamentally exploitative, but in considering the nature of these photographic exchanges we make, I have learned something about myself – that until I was comfortable with what it feels like to be my own subject in front of the lens, I really couldn’t expect my subjects to be, either.
Now, I find myself approaching photography in a different way.
Here are some of my earlier photographs, from that summer in Bali. It is interesting to see how we grow and change as the years go by, and to re-visit our roots along the way.
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