Unedited, unrevised, unfinished. Work in progress. (Because time is short and perfectionism gets in the way of getting things done.)
As a photographer, much of my work is interpreting contexts and trying to extract the most beautiful images. Beautiful images are as true as every other but, you need to ask yourself every single time, what’s the full story. This time, my photos are held up against my own observations, interpretations in writing of this country I’ve had the pleasure to be sharing. The beautiful images and the truth behind them, the full story in two distinct languages, one valuing beauty above all else and the other upholding logic and sense above us all.
This is my honest portrayal of a country that for good and bad reasons stands out as the sum of much of the worlds issues. I’m not writing this from a morally superior point of view, just one that needs to know that we can do better, be better.
I could talk to you about the barrier of trash that separates you from the warm, inviting sapphire blue ocean or the shimmering later of trash that covers the beach or the foul smell of less desirable pieces of food piling up at the market but I’m not. That’s not Indonésia. It sure looks like that but dwelling on those issues won’t solve a much more present, deep rooted problem.
Dance your way in.
In a country where dance is a ritualistic art, the eager critical mind of westerners is rushed to judge and evaluate what they consider to be a performance. This difference amounts to a clear cut in the two non coinciding views on life. It’s the difference between finding something cute and the respectful silent adoration; holding a pose while foreigners take selfies with you as a background. It’s the smudgy, filthy and spiteful hand of capitalism rubbing it’s hill earned money and ways into a stoic, peaceful standing country’s face, one that runs over hurdles to try and adapt to these strange, almost utopian, vacant promises, values about life.
People are carriers. Mostly of their ideas and values. And, what we seem to take time to realise, is that we inevitably change the environment we are in, just because we exist. Indonesia is no different.
More and more, our choices are defined not by what we know but by how we perceive it. In an era flooded with headlines, tag lines, bottom lines, the information we choose to keep is key and those filters are the key to the kingdom.
How does that apply to Indonesia/Bali? In the most basic form possible. Everyone gets the same information, the beautiful landscape, the generous people, the economical advantages, among others. But then, in a social event as common as breathing, seems like the interface of every tourist filters everything but the ease and comfort that they feel entitled. The information is there but it isn’t read, it doesn’t resound, is voided. The beautiful landscape? Try looking outside of the tourist areas, prepared exclusively for you and you’ll find the real estate of affairs. Generous people? Try a mix of a very tolerant religion and the need for you, as a tourist, to support a scrambling economy. Economical advantages? Try again looking the other way, if you have an advantage in someone else’s country, that means they don’t. Not just the beggar, the person you desperately haggle to lower and already low balling price but the whole country. The advantage is a sign of extreme dependence. And this dependence just deepens the exploitation of land and people, disturbing culture and creating a world with two different faces, two interfaces to read out the same data.
Every night, the tourist centre feels bigger, less crowded. Do you know why? Because there are actually less people. The hordes of hard working Indonesian flee outwards, in search of home and rest. If you drive out of your tourist hub, you’ll see the buzzing life of a people that only owns their time at night. The outskirts are full of zooming scooters, cheap eateries and traffic jams. The discreet work force can take quite a toll on the road. But the double life isn’t just the commute. It’s a question that leaves you wondering if Indonesian Do, in fact, sleep. Aligned along the road there are cleaners, suppliers and mechanic shops, all servicing the service people, making sure the kinks in the machine are fixed and that every poolside smoothie bowl with avocado on top can be as perfect as the last. Everyday you look at the beautiful polished dial but forget to appreciate the set of complex cogs that run, non stop, underneath.
Disposable Income vs Disposable Resources
It’s striking how countries march hastily into new industries, new markets, new ways of producing, working and living when so much of that equation is supported by others countries and people. In a world clearly divided between west and east, first and third world, developed or developing, the same dichotomy appears more often that not. Who has the money, who has the resources. With such an unbalance, people fail to realise how intricately connected their life is to the other side of the world. Your phone? Thank East. Your phone building factories that create jobs? Thank West. The resources? Thank East. The expertise? Thank West. It’s a never ending ping pong match of dependence, even if it’s not perceived as such.
The aspect that I want to make clear, though, is the human side of the issue. While the West houses big corporations (even though that is changing), the east houses the labourers. This creates a struggle between exploiter and exploited, between profits and social justice. And, as we know and can easily verify, the human value in eastern countries is much, much lower. Your smile when you find an item so cheap it seems impossible should be wiped off your face with the knowledge gargantuan disparity of income. To be that cheap, to be economically viable and even legal, how low do you think wages are in the east? Do the math. Or don’t, it’s blatantly obvious. While westerners create demand with savings from their disposable incomes created in “superior” economies, East struggles to even get a job. This means sacrificing time - work a shitload, get paid shit; health - being picky gets you unemployed, the conditions come as they are and you don’t have a say in it; quality of life - overworking means not being at home raising your children, that means more illiteracy, that means enforcing the cycle; environment - again, being picky gets you nowhere and when every business you can get is already too little, you start to quickly turn a blind eye to your own land, milking it for what it’s got and not protecting its frail ecosystem.