Dear International Photography Competition Juries. It has been a great pleasure for me to see that the images from Indonesia had won an award (again), the latest being the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2013 for the single image category, in which ironically the image was taken by non Indonesian (again).
However it is in my great sadness I should say that I get bored easily by the winning images, not because I live near the action (mind you I am living in one of the 17,000 island here, the action is happening in another island most of the time) but because I feel that the judges often "pick" the same images, from time to time, cough-Pacu Jawi-cough. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong about picking the images, after all they are indeed beautiful, "showing movement and energy" and best of all promoting Indonesia. But then why do I feel bored? perhaps because more and more photographers are taking the same picture, creating the same similar template and then get picked by the jury again and again, creating a cycle that taught the photographers from the region, if they wanted take picture for the sake of winning a competition or getting as many like as you can from their facebook friends then they should come to Indonesia where the exoticism will hypnotize the international panel of juries.
Let's go back to the winning image from Chee Keong Lim, I am sure that this image has not won any LensCulture Exposure award at any time, however, I am pretty sure that the winning images or similar ones have been taken countless times. This one by Andi Sucirta was taken on 2005, long before Mr. Lim had taken his, based on Mr. Sucitra Facebook post, he stated that he was the one that come up with the concept of this photograph (titled Water Symphony), the image was subsequently winning the SalonPhoto Competition in Batam, Indonesia and few other ones overseas. The image of course like what happened with the Pacu Jawi, drive people from overseas to come to Bali to photograph the scene in Unda River, Klungkung, to the extend that if we search the term on google, most of the image associated with the place are those of Balinese kids playing with water and/or splashing around with bucket. The scene was so infamous that according to Mr. Sucitra, led the kids know that if a photographer wants to make such images, then they shouldn't be doing it for free.
Then what is the point about all these that I wrote? I suppose it was a realization that Indonesia; being the country with the most number of islands, ethnic groups, cultures and traditions in which are transforming slowly by the influx of foreign cultures from the West, the East and the Middle East, a thriving scene of civilization, the biggest economy in South East Asia (was) or basically this place of where the documentary photography tradition could take place and thrive (and even a more contemporary approach) are going to be known for the place where you can take a picture of Pacu Jawi or the kids at Unda River and other countlessly similar exotic images. That realization lead to another one, that most photographers here will become not so keen in pursuing documentary projects or looking forward to make one, because aside from the lack of knowledge, they realize that there is no real rewards in pursuing one, but will wonder in amazement when they saw a foreigner make a story based in Indonesia. So it goes, a classic story that is being repeated from time to time, Indonesia, the land where all the resources are there but the people are not able to savor it, this time it is not about natural resources though.
Of course all of this could be changed, the Indonesian photography scene with their for their penchant for exoticism, are the home of few talented photographers that are experienced and capable of creating a solid body of works. Often however, they are not given the chances, also there are gaps of knowledge or understanding of how photography could be used. These photographers needs to be informed and taught and the easiest way to teach them is not through series of articulated articles or series of workshop (language too, a barrier here), but by promoting more profound pictures from Indonesia which are judged by the merit, not only based on their exoticism or their quirkiness and this can be done by you the juries of many international photography competition.
With that I end my long rants, I do hope you understand my concerns and hopefully my peers would be as well.