You are on page 1of 6


fh11 9/17/04 10:30 AM Page 1

Prayers: A navy solider praying on an Indoesian warship on the sea Sea of Dili, 2000.

History of Indonesia’s according to Oscar Motuloh Photojournalism
As the mastermind behind the only school cum gallery dedicated to photojournalism in Indonesia and perhaps Southeast Asia, Oscar Motuloh is the perfect person to give me a sneak peek of its development in his country. By Zhuang Wubin


Oscar.fh11 9/17/04 10:30 AM Page 2

Euphoria: Students dancing in front of Parliament Building after Suharto resigned from presidency on May 1998.

IF you are looking for a prototypical face
of a fearless photojournalist, look no further than Oscar Motuloh. The 45-year-old Indonesian has silver-white hair reaching his shoulders and wears a gaze that is as piercing as Neil Young’s. On the sidewall in his office at the Museum and Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara (Antara Photojournalism Gallery, otherwise known as GFJA), there is a movie poster of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blowup”. A pirated DVD of the movie is pinned to the poster. “This is the only way we can fight against America,” he shrugs, referring to the Chinamade DVD that anyone can buy at Mangga Dua, the famous shopping complex in north Jakarta. “I watched ‘Blowup’ at age 15. After I became a photojournalist, I realized Antonioni was actually challenging the ‘myth’ that the camera can be an absolute tool of proof,”

Oscar continues. “I began to understand there are a million ways to see the same thing, which is why it’s important to maximize your lens through your heart.” In 1990, he got his break when he joined Antara News Agency – Indonesia’s equivalent of Reuters or Xinhua – as a photojournalist. Oscar subsequently went to Hanoi (1991) and Tokyo (1993) to learn more about photojournalism. Looking at Oscar Motuloh today, it’s tempting to draw up a rebellious profile of the man. On a superficial level, he’s not married, a rarity for his generation, although some say he has a girlfriend. According to unconfirmed sources, you have an equal chance of finding him browsing the latest works at the museum or at a popular pub along Jalan Jaksa, where he’s a devastating drinker.

However, he is also the role model for photojournalist-wannabes in Indonesia. Not surprisingly, it is his work that gives him real appeal and credibility. Currently, Oscar is the supervisor of Antara Photography Bureau (Biro Foto Antara) and the Executive Director of GFJA, founded in late 1992. A first in Southeast Asia The quaint colonial building along Jalan Antara in which the Museum and GFJA is housed has a bit of history. Built in the th early 20 century, it was used successively by the Dutch, the Japanese and the Indonesian press agencies. Fittingly though, it was from the same two-storey building that a young country’s independence was declared to the world on 17 Aug 1945. In 1992, Antara shifted its editorial office to a new compound, paving the way for the building to be used for the Museum


Oscar.fh11 9/17/04 10:30 AM Page 3

Keep on Smiling: Anti-riot police sitting on empty becaks (trishaws) when the drivers demonstrated in front of City Hall of 2001.

and GFJA, which is staunchly non-profit. “The Museum and GFJA is established to educate people with a ‘new’ way of seeing images,” Oscar Motuloh elaborates. “When publications like Kompas (Indonesia’s national newspaper) or Tempo (a popular current affairs magazine) put up pictures that are shot in a strange angle or contain blurred subjects, readers actually call to complain. “As you can see, the public still has a very conventional eye,” Oscar continues as he leans back on his chair while an unfamiliar 70s musician milks his guitar from the comforts of Oscar’s hi-fi. “When you have a riot scene, readers expect an overview picture. If you put up an image that focuses on a rioter’s expression, they will say it is misrepresentation.” Therefore, the Museum and GFJA aims “to promote photography as a language of communication” by providing an exhibiting space for photographers and a school for

photojournalists, the first of such a specialized facility in Indonesia and possibly Southeast Asia. Idealistically, an exhibition will cost around US$4000 to set up. Expenses include printing of T-shirts, promos, catalogues and exhibiting photos. However, due to GFJA’s relation with cultural agencies like Goethe Institut and Alliance Francaise or commercial vendors like Nikon and Epson, many of the exhibitions are actually sponsored. Since GFJA’s inauguration, it has organized about 100 exhibitions featuring a wide spectrum of photographers, from Beat Presser and Frank Thiel to Hilmar Pabel and Donny Metri. The photojournalism programme has a slightly shorter history than the gallery. Since 1994, 12 to 14 “students” are selected each year via interviews and tests for the popular course, where they spend five months pursuing modular work and the next three months preparing for the graduating exhibition. Each student has to pay a subsidized fee of 1.95 million


Oscar.fh11 9/17/04 10:30 AM Page 4

Indonesian Rupiahs (about US$215). Apart from taking photos, the students will also learn basic news writing. Upon graduation, most of them become photojournalists for newspapers, magazines and international wires. If you include graduates from the basic photography classes, GFJA now has an alumnus of 300. Other than regular courses, GFJA also conducts non-regular workshops on studio lighting, darkroom processes and travel photography. Last but not least, the Museum is also set up to preserve the heritage of journalism by collecting artifacts that signpost its development in Indonesia. Its collection includes production equipment used by Antara in the early years and documents detailing the history of the news agency. Now, you will probably see why it is useful to learn about the history of photojournalism from Oscar Motuloh, essentially the mastermind behind the Museum and GFJA. And from his account, it is evident that photojournalism is a direct reflection of the societal needs of Indonesia through her rather turbulent past. Photojournalism as a mirror Right in the beginning, in 1937, Biro Foto Antara was established. “Biro Foto Antara used the pictures of the
Student Power: Anti-Suharto demonstrations on 19 May 1998.

photojournalists to propagate Indonesia’s struggle for freedom against Dutch colonists,” Oscar explains. “In 1947, two years after independence, Indonesia Photo Press was formed to help develop the young nation using photojournalism. “Right up to the fall of Sukarno in 1966, photojournalists were limited by the


Oscar.fh11 9/17/04 10:30 AM Page 5

the field, everyone was using these little SLRs and light bulbs of flash at work,” Oscar reiterates. However, the political backdrop was quickly changing. Suharto was very much a hardliner in his approach to the press. There were many implicit restrictions on the type of photos of the government that the press could put on the papers. Sooner or later, the situation had to provoke a reaction from the photojournalists. Oscar puts the year at 1985 and calls it “The Rise of the New Photojournalists”. They were altogether more expressive and artistic, since working at the papers was predictably unfulfilling. Oscar is more closely associated with this group of photographers, which includes names like Arbain Rambey, Julian Sihombing (both from Kompas), Yudhi Soerjoatmodjo and Gino Franky Hadi.
Ghost Town: Heart of Jakarta a day after Suharto’s resignation.

equipment they used, and they were influenced by the Magnum way of seeing their subjects,” he reckons. After 1966, there was a proliferation of publications like Kompas and Tempo, opening up more avenues for photojournalists to publish their works. That was the time when the “modern” pioneers began to emerge. Names like Piet Warbung, Kartono Ryadi (both from Kompas), Ed Zoelverdi and Lukman Setiawan (both from Tempo) remain close to Oscar’s heart as beacons of light. “With an increase in publication space and advances in technology allowing photojournalists to transmit pictures from

In 1998, President Suharto’s rule finally ended. The resulting administration of Gus Dur eliminated all restrictions on the press. By all accounts, it was the watershed year for photojournalism in Indonesia. Photographers who rode the tide and emerged include Bea Wiharta (Reuters), Saptono (Antara) and Eddy Hasby (Kompas). With newly acquired freedom, development of photojournalism in Indonesia accelerated. Within a short spell of a few years, a new generation of photojournalists has surfaced, pushing names like Kemal Jufri, Dita Alangkara and Mohamad Iqbal to prominence. “I think the case of Kemal Jufri is rather


Oscar.fh11 9/17/04 10:30 AM Page 6

poignant because he represents a younger and more tech-savvy generation of photographers in Indonesia ready to showcase their pictures to the world,” Oscar points out enthusiastically. “Tapping into the Internet, Jufri sent his portfolio to America and subsequently broke into the market. Now he is a freelance contributor to New York Times and Time.” Photojournalist as social worker The success of Kemal Jufri reinforces the belief that the golden age of photojournalism for Indonesia is perhaps not too far away. Due to his capacity at the Museum and GFJA, Oscar is naturally seen as a mentor to many young photojournalists. Having exhibited in Indonesia and America, Oscar is, of course, an “old” hand. Standing at this exciting juncture of time, I ask him if he perhaps has some useful advice for the young fledglings. “I actually don’t have any specific advice but I do think of the photojournalist as a social worker,” he explains. “People who live in your neighbourhood, people who live around you, they need you as their lens to a better world. This is the true role of the photojournalist.”

Great Tycoon: Burning a portrait of the richest tycoon in Indonesia, Liem Swie Liong (Sadono Salim), in front of his destroyed house in central Jakarta.

Oscar Motuloh