The figure on the park bench seemed surreal, as he seemed to emerge out of space and time. Clad in a plastic poncho and helmet, its all too easy to assume that he’s taking part in a cosplay at some Japanese anime convention. But in Jakarta, such figures are ubiquitous during the rainy season, which is exactly the point that Jakarta Globe photographer Safir Makki tried to make. Titled “Kumbang Jalanan” or “The Street Beetle,” the photo of a motorist taking a breather in Central Jakarta’s MH Thamrin district touches on the role of motorcycles for millions of Jakartans. “The number of motorcyclists in Jakarta continues to rise. Motorcycles in the capital’s streets are estimated to be between 30,000 and 35,000,” Safir said in the photo’s caption.
But Safir doesn’t merely focus on the daily grind. His photo “Super Hero,” which shows Spiderman, Superman and Captain America at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, shows he’s just as adept at capturing the quirks of Jakarta’s people. Toting traffic signs, the “superheroes” marked the 58th anniversary of the traffic police by raising awareness of traffic laws.
Makki’s works are among the 120 photos on display at the 2014 Photojournalist Fest, which is currently held at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center. Curated by Media Indonesia newspaper photojournalists Enny Nuraheni and Gino Franky Hadi, as well as Mast Irham of the European Pressphoto Agency, the 79 photojournalists in the exhibition sought to capture Jakarta’s moods and its people’s aspirations, in line with its theme of “Jakarta Berharap” or “Jakarta’s Hopes.”
“The photos brought up social issues in Jakarta in 2013. Many of the photos show how its people retain hope, whether it be for a better life or improved living conditions, even in the face of adversity” exhibition organizer Dede Kurniawan said. “The photos also chronicle current Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s progress during his first year in charge of the capital.”
Joko opened the event last Tuesday and took a close look at Jakarta’s progress under his administration. “Kembang Api Tahun Baru” [New Year’s Fireworks] by Rakyat Merdeka newspaper photojournalist Tedy Kroen perhaps epitomizes the new spirit of hope fostered by Joko. The occasion and the fireworks are an apt symbol for the hopes generated by the governor, while the rain that fell during the evening was an apt metaphor for the challenges faced by the city and its people.
Dewi Nurchahyani of Paras magazine also highlighted the pervasive mood of hope through her photo “Pembangunan Infrastruktur” or “Developing Infrastructure,” which shows Jakarta eager to stride into a future as a budding global metropolis. Other photojournalists, such as Bisnis Magazine’s Dwi Prasetya and Nurul Hidayat depict the unbroken spirits of people who seek space to play and exercise, in his photo “Minimnya Saran Olahraga” (“Minimum Space to Exercise”) and “Lahan Bermain” (“Room to Play”).
The subjects seem unbowed, though their efforts to make the most of space that was taken up by malls, high-rises and other buildings seem futile. The pictures also challenge the Jakarta administration’s claim that it allocated over 500 billion rupiah ($41 million dollars) to build parks and recreational facilities throughout the city.
Tedy still cast a jaded eye on the capital’s consumerism and ostentation through his photo “Jakarta Boros Listrik” or “Jakarta’s Wasteful Electricity Consumption.”
“The Energy and Minerals Ministry estimates that an average mall in Jakarta uses as much electricity as half a district elsewhere in Indonesia” Tedy said in photo’s caption. “So its small wonder that many environmental activists are urging for less electricity consumption, which also helps to mitigate global warming.”
The fallout from unsustainable practices — in this case uncontrolled traffic and the lack of a functioning public transportation service — is one that Panca Syurkani of Media Indonesia tackled with “Jakarta Macet Total” (“Totally Gridlocked Jakarta”). Panca cited Jakarta Transportation Board director Azas Tigor Nainggolan’s warning that the capital will grind to a standstill, if the Jakarta administration failed to implement measures to reduce tr affic, or provide viable public transport.
The photojournalists also took an unflinching look at the brutalizing effect of life in Jakarta, whether they be panhandlers in “Diajak Mengemis” (“Taken to Beg”) by Republika newspaper’s Agung Supriyanto, or “Ditangkap” (“Captured”) by Republika’s Tahta Aidilla and “Maling” or “Thief” by Tempo Magazine’s Dasril Roszandi.
The pictures not only show that Joko still has his work cut out for him, it also reminds one of the urgency to address the issues. The photos also include other topics, among them the plight of disabled people or those who were rendered homeless after their homes were demolished to make way for public works projects.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on February 8, 2014