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.

“Mengwi Temple”


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”.


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.


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.


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.



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.