Travel journal : Resurrection In Bali (Part 3)

The late Maestro Jro Gadung Arwati. The famous Wiranatha dance took her travel around the world.

The cold wind blew softly and the leaves of the trees surrounding the yard of Puri Agung Peliatan also danced with the flow. Some Japanese guests already took their seats. Some people from Japanese magazine and media also attended and busy with their camera. I walked around and familiarized my self with some angles provided for photographers and media. We can only shoot from marked spots at the two corners of front stage, so audience wouldn’t be interupted. Time flew and less empty seats left. The ambience was perfect and I could sense a feeling of euphoria in my head. What a great moment ! I was in the center of Balinese art of dance where it was born.

The first performance of Langse. August 28th, 2010.

In search for my inner self spiritually after crisis hit me in 2010, I traveled to Bali, the land of gods and spirits, and attended “Langse”, an event of classic Balinese performance art in Peliatan, on August 28-29th 2010 which was presented by Yayasan Intan Budaya Negeri. I was invited by Doddy Obenk, a photographer who resides in Bali and involved much in local cultural growth and development, especially in Peliatan. He has been covering Balinese culture for long and work together with maestros of dance in Peliatan. It’s a long story and only those who know his dedication could appreciate his passion and love towards Balinese art. You can view his photography here : http://www.obenkografie.com/ and art program here : http://www.tetamian.org/ also his Facebook in here : http://www.facebook.com/doddy.obenk

Pendet dance, Puri Agung Peliatan August 28th, 2010.

After shooting scenes in backstage a day earlier the feeling of energy was even stronger as they were approaching the opening of this event. Little did I know about shooting dance photography but Doddy taught me to pay attention to the music, just recognize the music and its allure will tell also the movement of the dancers. I tried to cope with that and only can get perhaps a little hint. Long way to go I thought.

Chandra Metu dance, August 28, 2010.

Regardless of my first time shooting art performance in Bali, I felt absolutely comfortable and could enjoy both watching and shooting at once. Leaving all the technical stuff behind all I did was cliking the shutter all along the show. The years of unfeeded passion in me had peaked and finally I drowned in blissful realm in Puri Agung Peliatan, a spiritual and an art ambience blended together. Stains of corrupted mind gradually fell off and I could felt the sense of happiness and satisfaction again. Living as a photographer with no identity for 13 years was like a robotic life. Now as I could sense the good object with good feeling the rest was just easy.

Maestro dance I Gusti Ayu Raka Rasmi performing Legong dance. August 2010.

The whole performance was just like a kind of long story unfolded and as the show went on I could caught the decisive moment along. It’s like path traveled and we have plenty of views left and right side. It was our decision whether to record the scenery of just enjoy the sight seeing. My main purpose was finding my long lost soul in photography while sharing about this journey to everybody in this world. So, shooting was part of the journey.

The other thing I absorbed was the spiritual aspect of Balinese people. They are surrounded by lots of religious symbols, rituals and any kind of people’s lives are also attached to religious value. Karma is the teaching in Hindu religion and it reflect into people’s behaviour thus scuplting the image of Balinese in the region. I never felt at peace and comfortable at once besides in Bali, the sense of safety, peaceful, comfort, and spiritual all in one place. It’s Bali way.

Oleg dance,August 28th, 2010.

Kebyar Duduk Dance performed by Maestro Ida Bagus Oka Wirjana (Gus Aji), August 29, 2010.

Ida Bagus began studying Baris dance since very young age under the mentorship of his uncle Ida Bagus Kompiang. He learned Kebyar Duduk dance from I Ketut Maria and he became most inspired by it. It is his specialization in such a way that almost every village in Bali requested his presence to dance the Kebyar as a prayer and tribute to meet their vows to Sang Hyang Widhi, the God. He danced before Soekarno and representing this country by his performance through out Europe, Asia, America, and Japan. I heard that the foundation Intan Budaya Negeri is going have a very special event in May for him. Please check the information on the program in www.tetamian.org for further details.

Kebyar Terompong Dance, performed by I Wayan Purwanto the successor to Ida Bagus Oka Wirjana, August 28, 2010

Topeng Arsawijaya Dance, August 28, 2010.

What I learned from commercial photography was we do our best applying technique, hours of experience, knowledge, style through good promotion and marketing in order to survive especially in this digital age. So the main cause is an effort to gain more jobs in order to get more income. It is completely different realm when I met Ida Bagus Oka Wirjana my self, his passion toward his calling had boosted his spirit to give himself more in Balinese culture which in turn brings him respect and acknowledge without him sweating for it. As the saying goes “give so ye shall be given”, it seems Balinese religious background have more cause for good deed and that’s what they call it karma.

After 10 days in Bali I went home completely exhausted, caught a mild flu, and needed long rest, but I also brought back wonderful experience loaded with mixed of culture, historical and spiritual value from the land of the Gods, Bali. I would never be the same person anymore. It seems my search for my lost identity had been fruitful though it doesn’t mean I will stop my odyssey. Thank you very much Bali. Om Santhi, Santhi, Santhi Om.

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 : http://www.dxo.com/us/photo/filmpack/what_is_dxo_filmpack

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.

“Mengwi Temple”

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Raised Gateway in Mengwi Temple. Bali December 23, 2010.

Have you seen a movie “Eat Love Pray” ? Well, it’s a very famous movie inspired from the same book written by Elizabeth Gilbert, that tells her own true story. I read the book first in early 2010, “What the heck”, I said to my self, “I want to go to Bali and meet the medicine man in this story and photograph him, then meet the other character in the story and also go to the exotic place mentioned in it. So there I went alone and you know what ? Miraculously all my wishes were granted and I indeed met them all and got what I wanted in the journey. It’s a very interesting process in finding my true self after 18 years of working in commercial photography where I take orders from other people and rarely have my own will.

 

I experience my process in finding my true self and start to recall my deeply buried passion for portrait, landscape, archaeology, history, culture among many things, and am so happy knowing that I know what I want after all those commercial years then.

 

It’s interesting to follow my heart, no matter how odd it was. What ever interest my self I would follow, or shoot it straight away. This way leading to more a responsive and instinctive photographer. This was when I realized that my right brain and left brain could cooperating in making images. Sometimes I just felt that I had to shoot certain object at certain spot only to end up in an amazing pictures.

 

In one of my frequent travel to Bali, I went to this amazing place called Taman Ayun, or Mengwi Temple which means beautiful garden. This temple is indeed one of Bali’s most picturesque temple. It was built in the 1634 AD, in the time at the rule of the first king of Mengwi. As most of other Balinese temples, Pura Taman Ayun has 3 connecting temple yards. The innermost sanctum is know as “Utama Mandala” (the highest circle), the middle yard as “Madia Mandala” (the circle in between), and outer as “Nista Mandala” (The humblest circle). To enter the main sanctum one must pass through a raised Gateway, know as the Kori Agung (Paduraksa), and the gateway, between the outer and middle connect in split gate known as “Candi Bentar”.

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Inner temple yard viewed from outer raised gate.

Canon 550D + 18-55 EFS IS. ISO 400, 1/4000th, F 5.6

 

As the Royal family temple of the Raja Mengwi, this temple is a place to worship the royal ancestors, who find their rest in a special shrine know as the “Gedong Paibon”. Apart of it Raja Mengwi also built other shrines in middle court so that all the people at Mengwi able to conduct the religious ceremonies at the temple, such as “meajar-ajar”, memendak sang pitara, and request holy water to protect the rice fields from pestilence, etc. The extensive temple grounds of Taman Ayun also function as a resting place for the Royal family.

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The front gate of Mengwi Temple, Bali.

Canon 550D + 18-55 EFS IS. ISO 400, 1/640th, F 13.

 

In its history, Mengwi Temple has been influenced by up and down of its kings. In 1890 there was a war between the Rajas of Badung Ang Mengwi, and the 10th Raja Mengwi, I Gusti Made Agung lost the battle, and had to retreat to escape to the eastern district border. During the reign of the victorious Raja of Badung the temple was never looked after properly, and the temples building deteriorated due to lack of care.
However, in the year 1911 AD, part of the Royal Family returned to their kingdom, and Pura Taman Ayun was restored. Unfortunately, on January 20
th, 1917 a violent earth-quake damaged many of the existing buildings. Repairs have been done in stages to restore the temple to its original condition.

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The upper part of raised gateway with beautiful sculptures.

Canon 550D + Leica Viso 90/4 Elmar with adapter. ISO 200. 1/4000th. Aperture not recorded.

I always want to create a different images than other people and always try to simulate their way of thinking or viewing a scenery then act in opposite manner. So when I entered Mengwi Temple, I definitely knew what not to shoot and what I want. You can see tourists shooting from usual spots and no body was shooting from pathless spots.

Walking around to pathless spots I found an interesting angle and got this perspective with my Leica Elmar 90/4. Always keen on black and white images, I chose to shoot it that way, resulting in pictures that brought back the ancient times feel to them. It’s like I can sense the atmosphere of the past with its glory in this amazing historical ground.

 

“LXXXXIII”

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.

Sound of Silence

      

There’s a unique experience then in 2005. I have been in some kind of nervous breakdown or high stress I lost my passion towards photographing anything. Suddenly an aerial job came up and I had to go to North Maluku the next morning. This job was really unexpected as I had no experience at all in that moment, so it was pretty pressuring on my part as well. Nevertheless I prepared the gear and the next morning we headed to the destination. We had early flight at 6 AM and after two transits we changed plane which brought us to our destination.

After breakfast we headed for the airport. It’s my first flight with chopper so it’s kind of exciting for me. Part of preparing the photo gear was not a problem as all the other photo jobs. It’s more of a mental preparation for me on what to shoot, when or how to decide on which lenses and so on. But I left it to my instinct and suddenly we were up in the air.

All the request of my client was covered and we were happy about the result. We had the second flight the next day starting in the morning. It was in this flight I encounter this magic moment.

We were on the flight back to the base and it was a bit cloudy and some shower already poured upon us a moment ago. You know it is so quiet up there when you fly with a helicopter and if you wear a headphones for communication, all you could hear is a sound of silence.

At that moment, I felt completely alone, floating in the air between heaven and earth, above the sea. With no sound in my ears, my eyes roamed the endless sea view around us. And I could felt this peaceful moment up there just like I was meditating on the top of mountain alone.

In this peaceful state of mind, suddenly I saw a part of the sea with hovering cloud above it that looks like a painting with pale pastel blue hues. The spot was so far away but caught my attention. I shot it slowly, enjoying the captures as though it last forever. The moment it shot in still camera but felt like recorded in time lapse.

This moment recorded both in my camera as an image, in my mind as a state of peace moment, in my heart as a decisive moment.

Technical :

In this assignment we were flown by big helicopter and all the shooting was done from a small window on my left. I would instinctively used lenses based on what my heart urged me to. In most cases shooting an  aerial will need 35, 50, up till 70mm at the most so a 28-70 zoom will fit the job nicely. Most of the time I used Auto aperture and do adjustment in post processing. The most important thing is I did not miss any single shot ! Using a fix aperture zoom is an advantage so you wouldn’t have to change lenses unless you use two bodies to accommodate your task.

Iso setting was done in accordance with the weather and don’t forget, in the heavy shake of a helicopter we will need a 1/250th second at least ! So using low noise camera is a must. If your lens have an anti shake it would be better.

Review of Nikon lens I used : http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/nikkoresources/AFNikkor/AF2870mm/index1.htm