My thoughts about a subject for assignment five came to me some time ago when my wife was in Bali conducting a reccie for a school trip. She visited a collective workshop that make Batik garments (traditional Indonesian dress). She took some quick iPhone shots which looked great and got the hook in me. However, it became apparent there was more to it than just the atmospheric photographs she had taken. The collective was organised and started by a man called Pak Tjok, a former accountant and member of the Ubud royal family. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis he decided to go back to his home country and village just outside Ubud. He had seen the big companies going bankrupt and thought the way to resolve this for his people was to set up small businesses that didn’t rely on bank loans and to keep the villagers local to their work rather than have them move to get work. Since the Balinese bombings of 2002 and 2005 the country has struggled economically, especially outside the areas of immediate tourist interest which are generally in the south of the country. Aside from the Batik workshop, he has interest in setting up other cottage industries in the area. Most of the information I currently have about this character is several years old so my intent is to interview him and ask where he feels he has got to with his vision as of course since the ’97 crash and bombings there has also been another major financial crisis which I am sure must have impacted on his visions one way or another.
So really, part one of this started as taking photos of the working Batik collective which I duly cleared with my tutor. He suggested it would also have social impact as well as the opportunity for making good photographs. He also suggested that it would be an idea to follow this process and see how it impacted on people’s lives. This was very valid and also meant I could get a story from both sides of the coin. From the instigator of the project and from those actually inside it.
Since then I have been on a five day Magnum course here in Singapore and discussed it with the group mentor Jonas Bendiksen. He was clear that although the subject matter sounded interesting I could just end up with pretty pictures but without a clear narrative for the piece of work. With this in mind plus my tutor’s feedback, I changed my angle slightly and broadened my horizons. I am now looking at visiting the families after they have finished work for the day, following the distribution line and the final outlets for the clothing.
I am liaising with a company in Bali called Odyssey Institute, who specialise in educational trips to show children and young people what goes on in the real world, a kind of outward bound course with ethics. They are helping me arrange for a driver/translator so I am able to get around the country and communicate with the people I come in to contact with.
The final result should help give a more rounded view of the effects this relatively small industry has on not just it’s own (local) community but the Balinese community and possibly beyond (if, for instance, any of the items are exported).