Maki “The spiritual artist”

She is one of the best face I photographed. Nov 3rd, 2010.

In my life, I have seen lots of weird faces. I never pay any attention as if looking could be an offense to them. Remembering those faces I feel like making an endless portrait session for them. Usually I meet them in public place and it is impossible to portray them in any way. Neither do I have an idea how the portrait should look like.

An opportunity came when in November 2010 I was in Bali for my first portrait exhibition. The owner of the gallery, Adriaan Palar had a guest who is a healing artist from Japan. Her name is Maki. She attended the exhibition opening with her husband and children. In fact my exhibition was also a part of my spiritual journey in searching my true self after long years of self denial and chaotic life. Working in commercial photography you are used to please other people and always think in term of satisfying lots of audience who look at your images. So it is unimaginable for me, what or how should I please my self after eighteen years of pleasing others. There are lots of ordinary things happened during the days in Bali and I tried not to miss any one of them.

The next day after opening of the exhibition Maki came for some business with Adriaan’s daughter, and when she was almost left, my heart started to pound hard and I sensed it as an urgency to do something with it. I already looked and studied her face and honestly was so eager to portray her. Adriaan was there with me watching when she said good bye to him and he murmured to me “such an unusual face and very unique”. I said “Indeed. I want to shoot some shots of her face” and he said “go after her and shoot it”, so I ran after her while Adriaan wife asking Maki to pose for me.

She only had a few minutes before leaving for airport so I had to shoot her in short time possible. I asked her to stand in front of stoned wall with natural lighting of open shade. It was around four in the afternoon so the light is pretty subdued there.

In early shots she smiled naturally, it was nice but I thought I want to come up with unusual image besides she has unique look and I did not want to waste it. So I asked her to be cool with no smile on, just looked straight to the lens. The rest of the shots were some moment captured making sure I got the right look.

I tried to listen to my heart and be my self in portraying this image, ignoring my past role in commercial world as much as I can. The picture tell the true self of Maki with no extra touch ups or manipulation as in commercial way.

Travel journal : Resurrection In Bali (Part 2)

Maestro Jro Made Puspawati doing the rehearsal.

I have no idea at all that I would be watching this maestro of Balinese dance. Not even in my dreams. At the moment I photographed them, it’s just like instinct learner doing his lessons, just shoot it. But the more I look at these photographs it’s becoming more and more alive and they are more like a memory of my struggling between material world of photography and idealist one. It’s quite funny but now I can appreciate my works more and better, thus giving me self satisfaction and acknowledgement of what am capable of. It’s also strange when finally I kind of rediscover my self, the inner self of artistic side that I strongly suppressed these years, and becoming more hungry for satisfaction in it.

The late Maestro Jro Gadung Arwati backstage. August 28, 2010.

Maestro Ida Bagus Oka Wirjana, also known as Gus Aji.

The busy of making up

Somewhere around backstage in Peliatan, August 28, 2010.

My camera used to be Sony dslr but this time I relied on Canon 550D and only a kit lens of 18-55 EFS IS. I just want to have a more pictorial look on my images, and I also post processed them using DXO film pack3 to have film like images. You can check it here :

I usually use Photoshop to develop raw files into normal look then do the final tweak in DxO Film Pack. In my humble opinion it creates more natural looking images than other software in the market and the processing is very easy and it will not suck up your computer’s RAM.

There’s one lens I also used in this trip, it’s Revuenon 24/4 macro in M42 mount and I used an M42 to Canon EF adapter to mount it on my Canon. This old lens have a very nice black and white rendering, somewhat similar to Contax Carl Zeiss but slightly different, it’s hard to describe here. You can find it in ebay with a price around US$ 1,400 – 2,000. While the result is stunning, given it’s macro sharp and contrasty images, it’s also prone to fungus due to high humidity such as in Ubud, Bali area.

All along the Langse performance for 3 days I had access to backstage. It’s different with usual backstage as this was not exactly at the back of stage. Nevertheless it’s quite hectic and all performers and make up artist and everyone involved were really busy with their works. I did not have any particular target on back stage so either I walked and watched the people and shoot when some moment seemed to occur.

One of the main focus surely were the maestros. They were truly humble and there was not any sense of “higher than others” attitude. Every one is like families in the community. They professionally doing the preparation and ready in time they were about to start.

Travel journal : Resurrection In Bali (Part 1)

Puri Agung Peliatan

What are you going to do when you have a nervous breakdown ? Get yourself a bottle of whiskey ? Go shopping ? Find some food ? Indulge yourself in the most pleasurable way ? Well, in my case then in August 2010, I went to Bali. Yes, I have a friend who conducted stage performance by dance maestro of Peliatan and was invited to photograph it. So there I went, got introduced to Runa Museum owner, who become a good friend, had a chance to document Balinese cremation, got in touch with the world again, and last but not least was the maestros performance itself.

Lost in the world of “do’s” and “don’t” in commercial photography is not the happiest feeling you might expect as a portrait and nature enthusiast. You see, your inner person might disagree with your client but sometimes you suppose to compromise for the sake of many things later on. At the end of the day it’s not your soul satisfaction that count anymore but merely your bank account. And guess what do I think we should be called ? A prostitute of art. So commercial photographer might be called a prostitute of art. Yes indeed. Some guys may disagree with me, no problem. Everyone can be whoever they think they want to be.

General Rehearsal for Langse

I have a story. Once I told a painter friend in Facebook that I have to shoot whatever my client wants me to, and she said bluntly : “Well, I never take order from anybody, I paint whatever I want to paint”. And her statement shocked me first, but it gave me ideas. Ideas about my future existence in photography, of who I want to be, of what I am going to shoot, of where I want to shoot and who my audience will be. It was her comment that woke my mind and not coincidentally the trip to Bali opened up an opportunity to pursue my long lost dreams.

Arrived at Ngurah Rai airport did not make any changes to my stressful mind. After all those serious problem I faced in last 10 years of marriage seems like I have to plunge deep into deep cold water or do some bungee jumping. Fortunately Doddy my buddy brought me to meet interesting people, had great experience while in this first trip.

Purwanto the successor to Maestro Gus Aji. Performing Kebyar Duduk Dance.

The main reason for me being in Bali was the Langse, maestros performance in Puri Agung Peliatan. I felt like a first time hobbyist with a camera and thought I had to freemy mind from those commercial rules. Hell with it, I would be who I am now. It’s now or never. So my first lesson is listening to my heart, shoot whatever interest my eyes and mind. So the first day was general rehearsal and the D day followed soon.

The exotic ambience of Puri Agung Peliatan with its dancer.

Some people were born to dance. It’s in their blood.

What a beautiful moment. Thought if I had been somewhere else it could have been different, but I was in front of this amazing moment. The ambience, the dancer, music, they planted lasting melody in my soul forever. Thank you so much.

“Balinese Cremation”

The priest preparing the deceased body for ngaben, 2010.

In refinding my self, either as a person or a photographer, Bali was my chosen place. Because of its strong culture and tradition, I feel most peaceful and spiritual as their daily activities surrounded by religious things. People live more like a robot in big modern cosmopolitan, everybody is busy with their own business. Connection between people is poor. Sometimes you even don’t know or talk to your neighbours. But it’s different here in Bali. In each village or Banjar as they call it, they have 3 pura or temple, each with different purpose. And in their banjar life, everybody always involves in ceremony or rituals be it personal or mass ritual. So in Bali, my feeling as human being is ignited once again. I can feel the interconnection of my self as a human being with other people in spiritual aspect, so it’s easier to understand them as well. It’s like we all have the same circle of fate, born and die.

During some of my travel, I stayed in Runa, a museum for silver jewellery owned by Adriaan Palar who is an interior designer, a painter and also a photographer. My best friend brought me to Adriaan’s compound and introduced me to him. Soon we engaged in conversation about photography and he suddenly offered me to stay in his house, which I accepted.

One day after breakfast, his employee told Adriaan that their village was going to have a Balinese mass cremation. What a lucky coincidence ! I have never seen any single ngaben yet and now it’s a mass ngaben. He decided to bring me there to see it. I never attended such ceremony so I felt so excited. We prepared our gear and went to the location for the ceremony.

It was hectic and I felt the energy in the air. The people flowing in and the ceremony was on. All I want to do was have fun and shoot some pictures so working spontaneously was best. I forgot all the commercials do’s and don’t, just shooting straight from the heart. Suddenly, I felt the urgency to move next to the side of the road as I know something was coming. And it was true, as the crowd was approaching and I could only got it from this side.

Music is also part of procession in Ngaben. 2010.

Women carrying offerings. Banjar Lodtunduh. 2010.

Even children also participated in procession. Lodtunduh 2010.

Balinese have very complex tradition that still applied in their everyday life. From their birth until death they have each ceremony for its purpose. Regarding the death they have traditional cremation either mass or personal one, called Ngaben. In this mass ngaben the people dug out all the remains of the deceased and wrap them with a cloth for that purpose. Later on they lay it together with the belongings and offerings inside a statue of their choice then burned together.

Togetherness in Ngaben. 2010.

Fun in tradition. 2010.

All in one place, the wrapped bones, statues for the deceased bones and belongings. 2010.

What interest me is not the destination of the procession which is the cremation, but the energy, the spirit, the togetherness that bring this event into such grand ceremony or if I might say, like an orchestra. Honestly I didn’t see any sadness in the people’s faces. It is more like they have fun in this ceremony.

Everyone tied with their karma. When they pass away someday the procession will be theirs. Oneness in Ngaben in Lodtunduh. 2010.

The ambience of ngaben.

Family members each carrying things walked in circle prior to mass ngaben while others preparing the statues.

The bones of the deceased was in the white coffin. After proper preparation along with the offering and other belongings would be closed inside the statue for cremation.

Roast piglet as an offering.

Last but not least, this moment was shot when I got into parking area.