I had been looking forward to traveling to Java and explore the world’s most populous island from West to East ever since I first arrived in Indonesia. To me, Indonesia wouldn’t be one of the world’s most hospitable countries without its amazing people. So, this photo expedition was a way to dive in the very depth of humankind, question myself about the meaning of happiness, make meaningful human encounters, listen to people’s stories in order to be inspired and inspire in return.
What was in my bag the eve of my long photographic expedition in Java.
I took the road from the capital, Jakarta, very early, enjoying the fresh wind breeze while chasing the morning sun and heading to the west. One of my most memorable spots in the beginning of this intense journey was my visit in Baduy villages. Such an exotic experience contrasting with the Big Durian’s turmoil, as those traditional villages can be found four hours away from the capital city only.
From left to right: A young girl playing hide and seek in front of her traditional house; portrait of a boy from Baduy Dalam; A girl proudly wearing her traditional dress while aesthitically dancing
Despite the children who were absolutely gorgeous, lovely and open, anyone meeting with the Baduy tribe would be amazed by how well this community kept its strong cultural identity and ancestral tradition passed over centuries.
Kids, like elderly, usually wear black and blue sewn clothing. In there, one would be immediately struck by the minimalism of the atmosphere, fostering a rare opportunity to ponder and meditate, away from the noise and distractions of our fast-paced, materialistic world. Time feels like suspended, timeless.
Children are just happy with what they have. No fancy houses, no electricity, no phones, not even sandals. Just a few clothes, and of course, their most beautiful smile.
Playing hide and seek, exchanging smiles, making eye contacts, dancing joyfully, or helping their parents is everything those kids need to spend their day and make it meaningful.
From left to right: A 10-year-old boy from Baduy Luar; Ninih Idik, the eldest person in Badui villages, believed to have a longevity of at least 110 years old; A young boy accompanying his dad to work
It is when you least expect it, or when you get lost that you have the chance to attend true and authentic sceneries of nature and life, in its most exquisite beauty.
The stunning tea terraces of Pangalengan area, in Bandung, slowly enlightened by an impressive morning light.
Roaming with my motorcycle throughout the regions of Banten and West Java made me discover an Indonesia never explored before.
A hidden spot in the region of Garut, West Java. Four sisters were starting a typical labor day with the most impressive morning light!
Heading southwards from Garut, it would take me three hours to join the Java’s sea through a beautiful twisty road. I found a temporary home among the fishermen, just in front of the sea. My early snack-dinner would be rice with fish, tofu, and tempeh; typical Indonesian dish.
A famous Indonesian dish that I used to have almost every day when I was traveling.
The relaxing sound of the endless waves teasing the warm sand just made me feel happy, especially after my long tiring day. I looked straight ahead, as the yellow star was progressively setting down and falling below the horizon, changing in colors, contrast and saturation, changing the whole mood in a span of few minutes, as if a new world had just been born.
Somewhere on the beautiful coast of Pameungpeuk, West Java
Located further inland, Kampung Naga was a traditional village that couldn’t be missed. There, I would be meeting back with Hani, a little one-year-old girl with a wondrous smile met a year earlier, at the same place. This time, I didn’t take pictures of her. I just mingled with her family and took the opportunity to offer her her printed photograph.
The soul of Indonesia in three expressive portraits!
The area filled with more and more people, each one as curious about me as the other. They wanted to know me, and invited me in their home. The energy and the solidarity in the kampung is always palpable!
One of the numerous “selfies” taken during my exploration. Being around the kids is totally contagious
Continuing my long road, I would cross with my motorcycle countless of small Javanese villages, each as beautiful as others, but each having its own energy, its own vibe with singular encounters and breathtaking lifestyles.
What stuns you the most in Java is the vivid greens, from different intensity and different shades, present as soon as we escape in the nature. The serie above displays traditional farmers, each doing their daily task.
It was in Purbalingga regency where I met with one of my friends that would make me tour his village. There, I would make a chance encounter with one of the oldest ladies ever met so far. She was a widow, had outpaced the longevity of all of her ex-husbands, and never had children. She was 115 years.
So much can be seen through wrinkled hands and it is sometimes more interesting to photograph than the face itself.
I would also be meeting with this man. I still remembered of how positive he was! He was collecting the coconut juice and nectar that he placed in his plastic jars for selling it at the market later on. He had been doing this almost every single day for 30 years.
As a kid, this man would follow his father. It was him who taught the now 50-year-old man on how to climb trees.
I was struck with an inevitable truth here: this man made me realize he was happy with his job. It certainly was not the highest paying job but he did tell me that he would choose freedom anytime over money or living in a fast-paced stressful city. As a kid, he would love to follow his dad in the nature and learn from him. That was probably what he meant by freedom, I thought.
Next was Yogyakarta. It had been one of my all-time favorite cities I ever explored. Dubbed as the cultural capital of Indonesia, the surroundings of this town is unbelievably full of charm, and character. The people, again. Incredibly open, and willing to give a hand, willing to do anything for you so you can feel home, be part of them. This, is the true spirit of the Javanese culture.
In the surroundings, I met with two brothers, putting for me on the occasion the famous blangkon—Javanese traditional headscarf. And, apparently, one was taking the cunning pleasure to proudly honor his origins without any complex while his elder brother, on the other hand, was not fully convinced on how he looked like in front of my lens.
The two Javanese brothers, both true artists in front of the camera.
I then traced my way to the famous Bromo. Facing the grandeur of the nature in the cold night, I realized of how small I actually am. I also realized I was facing a beauty that had been existing for millenaries. Nothing could be added, removed, or changed. It was just perfect the way it was.
Famous for its sunrise, the name Bromo comes from Brahma—the Hindu creator god.
In the cold highlands of Bromo, I met with the original ethnic group of those surroundings: Suku Tengger. The women there love to wrap their top with light scarves. And to add a more exotic touch to this already stunning combination, they all smoke, apparently to keep them “warm” from the inside.
Different colors, different smiles, different mood... Those women are well over 70 years old.
When we explore the island the way I did, the thing we learned quickest is the capability of letting go off everything, the scale of time slowly stops existing. The way I was surrounded by the locals, welcomed in villages, can’t come close to any adjectives I know to describe the amazing hospitality of this country. I learned that gratefulness is simply hidden in the merest situation. I learned that there is always something that can be turned from ordinary to extraordinary, when we are willing to see it.
In the end, I learned that the real values of our humanity, and its true authenticity, were found among the people living in the most remote corners of our globe. Those living with disconcerting simplicity, those having the least from the outside, but the most from the inside. I had been looking for such answers my whole life and I think this first photographic expedition gave me the opportunity to find some answers.
This incredible expedition stretched over several months allowed me to release my first photo book BEYOND: Java which is part of my photographic project, Imperfect Frame.
My goal will be to document the archipelago for the next ten years in the most complete way while putting the spotlight on the ethnies and their rich culture.
Soon enough, I shall start exploring the next island on my list: Bali!