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.


The 93 years old man in Yeh Pulu, Bali. June 18, 2011.

What is a portrait ? In my time, when I was a child I always think of a portrait as a photograph of someone who sits on a chair in the studio shot. Such a conservative idea when we compare it with today’s portrait definition. Today we find lots of images in magazines, websites, books, and many other media which categorize them as portraits. It is quite confusing to me personally.

I grew up with images of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, which to me was very much define my description of what a portrait is. Their photographs truly reveal what elements should occupy a portrait. They must have emotions, character, soul, even some unemotional expression that evoke your deepest consciousness and kind of tell you stories. These kind of images very rich you can stand looking at them for hours. Never bored. It is like you walk to your favourite spot in a mountain, the trail seems showing you different story each time you come.

So in my way of making portraits, I always try to visualize the final image I want to achieve with all the elements. On my last travel to Bali I want to capture the genuine spirit of original local people including his/her background. I went to Yeh Pulu, a place that still have an ancient relief on the wall of rock. It is a line of wall with relief of either human or animal in ancient activities like horse riding, woman with ancient wear.

I did took some pictures of the relief but not satisfied with it. Walking back I passed a shelter for peasants and there was an old man inside. Passionate to get a true image from this trip, I asked him if he would posed for me. To my surprise he took off his shirt and stepped out of the shelter. What the shocking sight I had ! This old man, his face looked aged and like a sculpture made of metal. I started to think of how to shoot him best under such a short time.

He walked and stood beside his wife in front of the relief. This was a posed position for every tourists who go there. He wore only a sheet of white cloth covering his lower part of his body. So my idea was to show his identity as a local Balinese which shown in his head cover and also his white cloth.

A 93 years old man and his wife in Yeh Pulu, Bali. June 18, 2011.

I did took the whole scene with them as background, some close up shots of them both, but finally I decided to get closer to get the authentic aged man with all his character and his life engraved on his face. In this shot I did not even slightly direct him to keep his soul undisturbed so I truly get his genuine self inside his eyes. The face shots showed some empty expression but I got the best one shows in this page.

Details :

Shot using 550D, Voigtlander Ultron 40/2 at 1/1250, iso 4000, F4,5 MF.

“Stitch Jr”

There are some very good photographers who produce very nice images of animals. We know William Wegman who shoot his dogs and became famous because of his images of his pets. I have seen another very impressive images of African animals : elephants, cheetahs, and many more by a director turned into photographer. These images are so unusual they are kind of planted deep into my memory I can hardly forget them. The memory of these images has caused an itch in my heart. I want to try photographing animals as a portrait as well.

It is very common to photograph our cats while they play or sleep, whatever they do. In that case it is more to capturing the fleeting moment than making a posing animal as a portrait. You know it is almost impossible to pose an animal in your chosen poses.

One fine day when my mood is good, I set my lighting and tested it. It is perfect, looks like an outdoor ambience. So I went out and brought our male cat, Stitch Junior in. It never could sit still and always tend to move or start walking around within five seconds. I put a chair and a styrofoam on top of it, then positioned Stitch Junior on it. In the beginning it was kind of patience test and Stitch was always jumped off the platform and I had to put Stitch back on top of it. I was using Canon DSLR with manual focus lens so roughly I had only five to seven seconds maximum between putting the cat, grab camera, focus and shoot. In the final moment finally I nailed it. So, no second shot or alternative shots. I got the shot because I already determined about what kind of image I want to get, then all the technique and experience follow suit.

What I like about this image is the cat really sit still as though it is posing for good. Like a still life.

Shot with Canon 60D and Voigtlander Ultron 40/2. 3 lights from right shot through tracing paper (2 lights) and 1 lights using 80x140cm wafer softbox from top with superboom. No photoshop adjustment.

A Maid Smile

One of the series of six smiling women portrait, this one is the most natural in both shooting and approach. I have done two or three smiling women before and this was becoming quite a natural job to me.

The idea was to create a smiling house maid that shows her occupation and happy character as she was. I used to photograph her quite often but in different expressions. The problem of photographing the same object is you sometimes don’t know how to accentuate certain value out of them. In this case I used the idea of maid role to focus on.

My idea was letting her wearing the kitchen apparel along with a napkin on her shoulder. I don’t want to include to much kitchen element as with original idea so to add a bit of playful element, I put a guinea pig which she brought from her village for my youngest son.

The session went so fast as she used to my shooting approach, and in less than 20 minutes I already nailed the moment.

So what could I say ? A maid in kitchen apparel, a napkin a happy smile doing her work, and accompanied by a tiny buddy called Hem-Hem. So nice when it’s love.

Hands That Rock The World

Nothing ever attracts people as many as a close up of a beautiful woman’s face, a sexy woman in a boudoir, or a profile of nude woman, or to be blunt, a tight shot of a vagina in nude shot. Unconsciously, we all pay more attention towards those body parts more than anything else. Face, leg, hip, breast, butt, genital, but no body has been attracted by hands. Yes, hands only.

None of us could make a living or work, or creating without a hand. And yet we don’t pay any attention to them. I got a mild stroke due to dengue fever in 2007, the fever so high the heat damage a nerve system in my rear right brain. Right away in the midst of the fever I woke up in the morning with left arm and leg weakened. The function of those parts slowly degradated day by day. The funny thing is I never had any idea of how our muscle interconnecting each other in such integrated system. After the arm and leg got weakened, moving a finger was such an issue and I could felt which muscle interact with the finger and what big muscle on upper arm actually trigger the muscle, and so on. Without experiencing this incident I wouldn’t be able to appreciate how amazing our body system is. By the time I am writing this, I am on neurolog’s physio therapy and my left arm and leg are improving daily. The whole experience is amazing and it changed the way I look and feel about life.

Jero Gadung’s Hand. Canon 550D, Revuenon macro 24/4 shot at 1/250th, ISO 400, F 4.0

In my recent travel in 2010 to shoot traditional dance in Pliatan, Bali, I started to pay more attention and try to focus on people’s hands. It’s quite interesting to discover how certain people ignore their hands, and some decorate them with accessories to make them look beautiful. Quite interesting to know that artists also have a look on their hands. At least some. You can tell by looking at them. Well, people wouldn’t hang a portrait of a deceased hands, but the face. That’s for sure, but I think it would be a good idea if I photograph also the hands of a famous painter or a sculptor, as those are the creative tools that produce the art. It’s also part of my curiosity to know what the hands of famous people like Balinese dance maestro, a therapist, a painter, look like ?

A moment in backstage slightly before the performance in Puri Agung Pliatan, I photographed the performers and among others the maestros were also there having evening chat with their fellow maestros and guests. What an euphoria, I thought ! Being in the midst of these living legends. They have been dancing for more than 50 years and this was my first visit. I started feeling excited and thought, this is something valuable and I wanted to record it with my camera. So I explored everything, their face, hands, and it’s so interesting looking at their hands, so I decided to take a few shots. Sadly one of the maestro, Jero Gadung had a stroke not long after the performance and she passed away a few months after wards.

Gus Aji’s Hands. Backstage in Pliatan August 2010.

Canon 550D, Revuenon 24/4 macro shot at ISO 6400, 1/200th, F 4.0

Another interesting hands are Gus Aji’s. He’s a Balinese dance maestro in his eighties. He specializes in Kebyar Duduk dance, which dance mostly consist of sitting position. This dance is quite interesting and he is still able to perform well. While in backstage, I met him sitting with other dancers doing the make up. Jero Gadung was there, too. Gus Aji have very down to earth character, decent, open hearted, and very warm personality. It’s completely different from celebrities attitude. His face is full of wrinkles but have a charm and somekind of misterious charisma of a wise man. Then I looked down and saw his hands. He held his hands together and it looked good on his Balinese traditional cloth. I took some shots and moved on.

Ketut Liyer’s Hand. While doing palm reading I shot his hand. Is he really 101 years old ? God knows.

Canon 550D, Canon EF 50/1.4. Shot at ISO400, 1/1250th, F2.0

Another interesting object is Ketut Liyer’s hand, the fortune teller in Eat Pray Love movie. I was in the neighbourhood when one of our friend, a writer who happened to be staying at his house offered us to see him. I was on my spiritual trip again and met some new friends in Runa Museum, Bali, where we stayed. Everybody knows Ketut Liyer character in the movie, who’s quite interesting as he foretold Liz’s difficulties, from marriage problem, losing all her money, till meeting her new partner in life. So, finally we were there in the real place the movie was filmed, everything looks interesting to me as I had not watched the movie yet, only read the book so my imagination was got in the way somewhere. Anyway I was thrilled as my dream to meet Ketut Liyer had become reality. A lot of people had come in queue as we arrived and I moved closer to his porch. He is much more interesting in real person than the star acting as him in movie. When he talked with a client, he made lots of hands gestures and also laughed a lot. In one opportunity I quickly took some shots of his hand when he leaned over.

Details :

All shots taken with Canon 550D with Revuenon 24/4 macro M42 or Canon EF 50/1.4 while on trip to Bali. Post processed in Adobe Photoshop. All Images are cropped.

Review of  Revuenon :

Review of 550D         :

Mendes “The Herbalist”

After my spiritual journey to Bali in August 2010, an opportunity came when the owner of Runa Museum asked me to prepare six portraits of smiling women in square format for the up coming exhibition in October. Honestly this is my first exhibition so I really had no idea of how to prepare the images, the quality of images, and so on. Nevertheless I had to start thinking about the concept, so I started to think about a most down to earth way to create it. Finally I settle on shooting six women from six walk of life. One of them is a herbalist who always cycling around our block every morning.

I prepared the lighting with backdrop that match my style so it will be simple to shoot, given the situation that she was on her daily business routine. The next morning, my maid stopped her as she passed by and I introduced my self and explained my purpose of the session. To my surprise she agreed and while thinking of the right communication to get the result, I helped her bringing the bicycle into the studio. It’s so hard for me to think as I never did any serious portrait for exhibition. It’s completely different matter as commercial’s I used to do. In commercial it is the client that determine the end result and it must be have certain kudos around the business.

But this is something pure, it’s about a person I photographed who reflected my self in her image that define my “portraiture”. So I used my approaches just like in commercial shots. You know you imagine the final image, then going to the starting phase from zero. It’s not as easy as what they see in final image. But the strong image does come from a careful plan and concept, in my humble opinion.

Without talking too much I explained my purpose and asked her to pose as her self, being a herbalist she used to be. So she stood behind her bike and look at me as I took the images. I did not talk much to her so she would remained calm and can be herself as purely as possible. You know when you talk to a new person they will start to melt down and suddenly their faces will be full of smile and what you get is some smile posing person and not a character portrait. That is not my intention of it here.

To me, the first meeting is important, it’s the most genuine expression a person can be photographed as they are. Because it’s like they are enveloped inside somekind of protection. But the moment we shake their hands and start talking further about personal things, the protection soon fade away and the face soon become decorated with smiles, which sometimes hide the true character I want to capture.

So in a brief moment, I got some shots which were very authentic as she was, a true herbalist with her complete bike, along with all the equipment.

This is the image I craved for years, making a portrait of a person in a simple manner and surrounding.

The smiling part went on after this brief moment when I started to engaged her into more personal conversation about her background and certainly the smile started to bloom in her face.

Details :

Camera : Canon 550D with Revuenon 24/4 macro (M42 mount)

Shot in raw and converted to black and white using Adobe Raw.

One large Wafer 80×140 top right using superboom and two lights unit with standard reflectors behind tracing paper to light the whole scene from right side of the camera.

Review of Revuenon 24/4 macro (M42 mount) :