I want to share my experiences photographing Mount Merapi’s volcanic eruptions in Indonesia but I will say upfront that this won’t be a blog about suffering. There won’t be stories of those who have lost their homes, of painful deaths, of burns, of the death of valuable cattle or the destruction the volcano has caused.
Instead, this will be a blog about the logistics of getting great pictures in a dangerous situation.
I joined a Greenpeace tour flying over Sumatra Island to take pictures of their protest over forest destruction.
Five photographers and a TV cameraman set off early in the morning, while it was still dark, in a new, single-propeller aircraft. No one told me it would be nearly three hours to get to Jambi on a small plane with no toilet. Luckily for me I had an empty bottle as an emergency measure.
Today I returned to Aceh, determined to take pictures of the same locations my team and I had photographed five years ago, when the capital Banda Aceh was completely devastated by a tsunami. At the time, I was with two Reuters journalists from the Jakarta bureau.
We landed at Aceh’s Sultan Iskandar Muda airport on December 27, 2004 – one day after the giant waves paralyzed the city, previously unaware of what a tsunami could do to a city. Information from Banda Aceh in the first few days after the disaster was very limited. It dawned on us later that the lack of news from Banda Aceh was because all of the communication facilities had been damaged.
At an Indonesian center for mental patients run by the Galuh Foundation, I found Totok. A patient who had just taken his morning shower and shaved. Totok used to be a thug in a market, and was feared for his habit of beating up vendors. One day, the vendors’ anger peaked and they beat Totok up, leaving him with physical injuries and mental damage.
I read about the foundation in a local newspaper, in an article about a wedding between a female patient and an employee of the foundation. The foundation was set up in 1982 by Gendu Mulatif in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Mulatif used his money to build a compound to take care of homeless patients who had been taken in from the streets. Once admitted, he treated them with medicinal herbals and changed their diet to vegetarian.