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Photography in Bali: Mixed Bag of Goodies at the Alila

by Susi, 11 October 2009


Last night we attended the opening of a photography exhibition by a dozen or so emerging Indonesian imagemakers at the Alila Ubud. The show was a pre-event for the Bali Photography Festival 2010, (which seems to be identical with BLIPFest, but I can’t tell for sure).

The most impressive works on the wall last night were those of Muradi (above), whose original eye, technical rigor, and intrinsic involvement with his (her?) subject matter is extraordinary. The rest of the exhibition was not quite as strong, but the talents and potential are there. Bearing in mind that these are young photographers, I wasn’t surprised to see some over-obvious devotion to the global pantheon of popular imagemaking. I also sensed ambitions to get ahead in advertising. Much of the work exhibited evidenced a lack of courage, and perhaps too much concern for future commercial success.

In summation, I think these young photographers may be looking at too many magazines, when they should be looking more at the world, and with more scrutiny and an independent eye. “Toss the icons, trust your eye, and train it,” I would say.

Worth mentioning here are three other photographers in the show who had something tangible going on . . . 


Gusde has a weird way with atmosphere, and a kinky take on picturing 21st century “cool,” as practiced by young Balinese hunks (above). His heavily styled and staged images of tattooed youths are eery. Some seem earnest, but ring false at the same time. This is a warped world of distorted tribalism, populated by urban would-be rebels. But these are rebels bereft of any cause whatsoever, other than posing and aping Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” (a book they probably never read). Abrasive with their studied superficiality, the images are disturbing, and I like them. Primarily because they are disturbing. I don’t think the effect was intentional, and that is perhaps most disturbing of all.

One thing is certain after viewing Gusde’s online portfolio. He works day and night. He is driven. He is diverse. He is getting jobs with the most creative fashion figures in Bali. There is no stopping this boy. Whether he will continue with the eery-hunks body of work or not is perhaps irrelevant.


Tjok Bagus Kerthyasa (aka Max) is the son of Tjok Raka Kerthyasa and Jero Asri Kerthyasa, both prominent names in Bali. (He is a prince, political figure, and painter. She’s the founder of Biku, a Seminyak gathering place with charm, brains and killer cakes.) It must have been hard growing up in that family. Tjok Bagus’ response was a global walkabout. His photographs show exactly the type of style, colour and subject matter that could launch a career in travel magazine and guidebook work. I think his stock will sell, if he gets a good agent.


Eka Mutulhuda (above), with a CV that includes work for respected news magazine, Tempo, deserves a shout-out. She certainly does not lack for courage. Her complex black and white images of the inevitable mess of human birth were crisp, striking and strong. This is a young photojournalist to watch. She won’t hold back from showing life as it is lived, felt, and (presumably) died.


Of equal interest to the images, were the discussions surrounding them last night. Thoughts were provoked. We enjoyed talking with architect Yew Kwan, jeweler Jean Francois Fichot, photo-journo Jill Gocher,  textile designer Arthur Karvan, poet John O’Sullivan, and most of all with Rio Helmi, who masterminded the exhibition, and did his share of the heavy lifting too, we understand.

One suggestion for the curators. There was not enough information on, or acknowledgement of the photographers. Perhaps for future shows you could have each photographer make a portrait of one of the other photographers who they don’t know personally, and then exhibit the portraits at the entry to the exhibition with bio data.

This opening was well-attended considering the overload of events clogging the cultural calendar. Last night’s agenda was ultra-heavy: the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival street fair, a poetry slam, a theatrical performance at the Amandari, a booklaunch, a multi-cultural performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a twilight play reading, and the debut of a louche and lovely little watering hole called  the”What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” Bar,  at Made Wijaya’s Taman Bebek in Sayan (more on that, later).


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      • October 12, 2009

      Susi - thank you for your comments on the show. It is so interesting. Everyone is adamant that this photographer is the best, that shot is the best etc - and then you realize everyone has chosen a different one. Yes Muradi's shot is certainly strong, and obviously your favourite, however having worked with these images for the last 4 weeks I have to say that there are a few that stand out for me and I can't say which one is my favourite. It's a pretty strong collection for a bunch of young photogs. I think your critique of them lloking at too many magazines actually applies to most young photographers in the world. It's a fair critique but you have to be aware that they are forming themselves, but I disagree that they are not also looking at the world enough. This a formative time for them, and we'll see what comes of it. That's why I called the show "Image Makers of the FUTURE". Photography, as I said at the opening, is a language, and one has to learn the language first, savour it, then one can express with it. As to all the info on the walls, there were bios, but perhaps next time it should be more extensive as you was a little bit hectic, multiple submissions from young photogs who with the exception of Eric aren't that up on marketing strategy, presentation etc. We will take your critique on board. Thank you for your suggestions, some of them we can even still implement - the show is on for another 6 weeks! Best Rio

        • Susi
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        • October 12, 2009

        Rio - Thanks for your thoughtful input. I don't have an editor, so I welcome comments, on both the style and substance of what I write. Two heads are better than one. I've gone back and reviewed the post, and reworked parts of it.

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