The two teenage girls in the photographs gaze intensely at their respective viewers. In the picture on the left, a girl in the turquoise headdress looks as if she’s gearing up to take on the world as she stares boldly into the camera. Her partner seems just as keen, the gun in her hand only adding to her confidence. However, her boldness seems more for show — the purple locks of her wig and the toy firearm are obviously accessories for a Japanese cartoon cosplay. As a whole, her look reflects a carefree spontaneity and sense of fun that is shared by her friends.
While these two photographs by Dutch photographer Marco van Duyvendijk have little in common at first glance, the bright costumes and headdresses worn by their subjects are the first signs of a connection.
Van Duyvendijk’s Indonesian counterpart Rainer Oktavianus took a more austere approach to his work, as typified by “Cemong” (“Smudge”) and “Deretan Kapal” (“Row of Ships”), his visual vignettes of Jakarta’s Sunda Kelapa harbor. A glance at the dockworker’s lined face and battered hat shows the physical effects of laboring under the sun. The smudge alluded in the photo’s title is probably as figurative as it is literal, as it physically shows how the laborer’s work has seared itself into his psyche.
Similarly, the creaky, rundown vessels in “Deretan Kapal” seem to show the portrait of urban neglect or how the capital seemed to have turned its back on its past. On the other hand, the portraits are just as likely to show a sense of continuity, as the age old phinisi and other wooden vessels moored in Sunda Kelapa still transport goods from Jakarta to other parts of Indonesia, much as they have for hundreds of years. Similarly, the weatherbeaten laborer’s efforts in keeping Sunda Kelapa in business is an iconic symbol of how life at the historic harbor goes on, even it is dwarfed by its bigger counterpart, Tanjung Priok.
The photos are among the dozens of pictures by van Duyvendijk and Rainer in the photo exhibition “Muda dan Tua, Tua dan Muda: Pemetaan Indonesia Modern Dalam Gambar” (“Old and Young, Young and Old: Mapping Out Modern Indonesia Through Pictures”). Showcased at the Erasmus Huis cultural center, the exhibit highlights the two photographers’ contrasting styles as they attempt to capture humanity with a lens.
“Young people are my subject of choice as I am drawn to their dynamism. I’m also taken by their continuing development, which makes them a work in progress,” says van Duyvendijk of his photos, which were taken in Jakarta, Semarang and Solo since 2012. “Indonesia also has a [large] younger population compared to other countries. This can be an asset to the country.”
The element of youth permeates through the work of the 40-year-old, who had his start in photography by taking pictures of people and their daily lives in post communist Eastern Europe and Mongolia in the 1990’s.
Among the images that typify van Duyvendijk’s approach are his photos depicting schoolgirls in Central Java’s provincial capital Semarang. Kept untitled to reflect his principle that photos should speak for itself, van Duyvendijk managed to balance the girls’ open and frank gaze with a smart, knowing look, a combination that seemed to bode well for their future as well as that of their peers. Van Duyvendijk’s photo of a little girl and her grandmother in a Jakarta slum also captured a moment of tenderness amid Jakarta’s daily grind and poverty.
“For a big city, Jakarta isn’t as impersonal as Tokyo or Paris because communal feelings are still strong here,” he says. The photo’s striking colors also captured the older woman’s maternal feelings and concern for the girl’s wellbeing.
In contrast to van Duyvendijk’s focus on youth, Rainer’s black-and-white photos set out to capture the age-old rhythms of Indonesian daily life. He deftly captured the resilience of common people with a jaded eye. While the 31-year-old captured exuberance among the children in “Ceria” (“Cheerfulness”), the stark black-and-white imagery subtly show his concern for them.
“Indonesia’s nine-year compulsory education program is fully covered by the government. However, obstacles persist due to illegal charges imposed by schools,” he says in “Muda dan Tua: Tua dan Muda’s” catalogue.
“Pengangkut Sawi” (“Mustard Collector”) unflinchingly shows the role laborers play in Indonesia’s spice trade for hundreds of years. Shot in East Jakarta’s Kramat Jati traditional market, the burden on the laborer’s shoulder is as figurative as it is literal.
“I took these pictures of common people as they are the most effective way to connect with them and tell their stories. I also want to capture them in their surroundings and capture them in their real moments” says Rainer. “This enables me to catch a glimpse of their strengths and weaknesses.”
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 20, 2014