Photographers' Blog

From the White House to the Mad House

Bali, Indonesia

By Jason Reed

Just a couple of months ago I was swirling in a perpetual bubble, a privileged circle of photographers whose job it is to photograph one man – the President of the United States.

I did it for ten years and mostly enjoyed every minute. Over that period of time there comes a predictable familiarity to the role, in which you can pre-write all your captions hours and sometimes days in advance and plan your coverage down to the last detail. It is a safe and cosy existence. Due to the nature of the subject, it needs to be.

Behind the velvet rope, boundaries are respected and the president’s handlers and the Secret Service ensure you are no closer to him than you need to be. Your bread-and-butter lens is most often the 70-200mm telephoto zoom variety and getting an exclusive image is almost impossible. Subtlety and nuance in your edit is the biggest differentiator between your work and the person that just shot the same thing over your shoulder.

I enjoyed the experience and learnt a heck of a lot from some great photographers at the top of their game. This was my life for a decade, but my feet were getting itchy and it was time for a change of environment. Well, be careful what you wish for!

I started a new role based in Australia, and barely a month in I knew working life would be different. I enjoy new challenges, but the contrast between working environments was about to prove as extreme as they come…

Risking life for school, again

Cilangkap village, Indonesia

By Beawiharta

This is my second picture story about students going to school.

Still in Banten province, Indonesia, around 100 kms (62 miles), or a good four hours drive from my home. These students are not like the Indiana Jones students I covered previously, who crossed the river using a broken suspension bridge, instead, they use a bamboo raft.

I received a call from a local photographer saying he had found another group of students crossing a river using unconventional means. “Why are you not taking pictures yourself?”, I asked. Cikal replied, “We need to work together, you for the international audience and me for the Indonesia reader. Because I think they need a proper bridge. Maybe the students will get lucky from our pictures.”

I recalled our success story with the suspension bridge a year ago. Maybe we could do the same thing for these students. What Yan Cikal said reminded me of one of the “photographer’s tasks”: make a change for a better life through pictures.

The tiger, the pig and the cage

Sumatra Island, Indonesia

By Beawiharta

Over a three-week period in February, I covered two very different animal-related assignments in Indonesia – the slaughtering of snakes in West Java and the preservation of the endangered tiger in Sumatra.

In West Java, Wakira along with his 10 workers kill hundreds of snakes each day for their skin at his slaughterhouse in Cirebon. While in Sumatra, real estate tycoon Tomy Winata saves and releases tigers into the wild at his Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation. I didn’t enjoy the snake slaughterhouse assignment because snakes are dangerous and disgusting, but I really liked visiting the tigers in Tambling.

After a nearly 90 minute flight on a Super Puma helicopter from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, we landed at the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation on the southern tip of Sumatra Island. The 45,000 hectare forest reserve can only be reached by boat or plane. As soon as we reached the Sumatran Tiger Rescue Centre on our golf cart, we could immediately hear the roars of the tigers. Seeing three ferocious tigers up close was shocking to me. At times, it was difficult to move and I trembled in fear as the view from my camera lens made me forget that they were actually caged up.

Living under sharia

Banda Aceh, Indonesia

By Damir Sagolj

A siren rips apart the silence at the tsunami memorial in Aceh. A short announcement follows, after a greeting in Arabic and blessing from God – everyone is to leave the site immediately. It is time for prayers and the memorial built around a huge ship stranded miles inland during the 2004 tsunami will soon close its gates. Visitors are leaving the site, expected to go to nearby mosque and pray.

I’ve been watching different groups silently walking through the gates – students, business-like people, families and tourists – few went praying. Others were more interested in small shops selling souvenirs and in their pictures being taken. Some stood behind the memorial’s fence, smoked a cigarette and then just boarded their buses.

Aside from some smaller districts in Indonesia that have sharia-inspired bylaws, Aceh is the only province in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, where such laws are implemented. This is something that occurred for complicated reasons some of which go well beyond the religion itself and have more to do with Achenese tradition, the long struggle for the independence and conflict with outside forces, Jakarta included.

Too young to race?

Bima, Indonesia

By Beawiharta

The prize for a horse race in Indonesia’s Sumbawa Besar town is woven silk fabric but the prize in Bima is two cows and $100.

I covered the Bima horse races because they use child jockeys, aged between 8 to 12-years-old.


I thought they would be way too small to ride a horse. When I arrived at the race course on the outskirts of Bima, the day’s racing was finished and the jockeys were heading to the beach to wash the horses. I watched as they played happily with the horses. Even though they still looked too small for the horses, they also looked at ease. Some fell off their horses and into the water but they were still laughing. They didn’t seem to have any worries, just kids enjoying their world.

A very long wait

By Beawiharta

In the morning paper I read that thousands of trucks were lined up at the harbor to cross over to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. For three days in a row the newspaper reported that trucks were stranded at the port not far from the capital, Jakarta. Traffic jams are a daily occurrence in Jakarta but this was unusual for trucks headed to Sumatra Island. On a calm day news wise, I decided to go to the port just 120 kilometers (74 miles) away.

After driving for three hours, I arrived at the back of the truck queue. I started to walk through. Truck drivers sat on the street alongside vendors. The smell of urine stung my nose.

I wanted to show the number of trucks lined up so I thought my first photo should be an overall view from above. I started to look for high ground with my goal being on top of a truck, so I needed to talk nicely to a truck driver to get permission. I thought they would welcome me with a smile when I approached them. But my prediction was off. Instead, they looked at me suspiciously as I initiated the conversation. After I told them I was a journalist they were less suspicious. Later I discovered they thought I could have been a thief or a pickpocket.

Trekking to the Sukhoi crash site

By Beawiharta

I think this has been my hardest assignment to get photos since I began working for Reuters.

Wednesday afternoon at the office I received news that a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 passenger plane with 46 people on board had lost contact with air traffic control at Jakarta’s Halim Perdana Kusuma airport during their demonstration flight over Mount Salak. After more than four hours of no contact, it meant the aircraft was lost, crashed or had made an emergency landing. I decided to spend the night at the office to figure out the fastest options for covering the Sukhoi news, and to prepare all the camera equipment in the pictures vehicle. After a discussion with Heru Asprihanto from TV and Indonesia bureau chief Matthew Bigg, we decided to wait until morning to head to the the nearby location Mount Salak.

After taking photos in the morning of volunteers preparing to climb Salak Mountain, I received information that the Sukhoi aircraft had crashed after hitting a slope atop Mount Salak. For Indonesians, it is common for aircraft to hit the mountain. Since 2004, four aircraft have crashed there, the worst an Indonesian air force aircraft in 2008 that killed 18 soldiers on board.

Mining in the middle of nowhere

By Yusuf Ahmad

I can feel the strong sun’s sting when, for the first time, I set foot in Palu, a city on Sulawesi island. The city is growing slowly as it is still recovering from ethnic and religious conflict in the early 2000s. As I stand at the city center I can see the top of Masomba mountain wrapped in clouds with the blue sky in the background. However, traveling to the Masomba area is not easy. I go with a local gold miner on a motorcycle.

There are two ways to get to the area. You can cross several rivers or take a mountainous way. The second way is harder as the road is severely damaged.

I arrived at the mining location in two hours. I didn’t expected to see tens of thousands of people at the feet of the mountain in temporary housing and tents. Not far from the houses and tents, the hill was filled with gold miners.

Revisiting the ghosts of Aceh

By Beawiharta

I remember well the 2004 tsunami in Aceh. I stayed for more than six weeks in Banda Aceh and then flew back to Jakarta to recover. In Jakarta, I cried everywhere when nobody was around me; at the office, at home, on the street, I was always crying. The situation was embarrassing, but I couldn’t stop the tears. They were automatic.

My brain couldn’t run from the images that I took of the tsunami aftermath. The counselor told me that I must go back to Aceh to take different pictures; positive pictures. Like people building their houses or shop stalls, children going back to school or singing songs happily.

Last week, I flew back to Aceh to cover the 8.6 magnitude earthquake. When I heard confirmation that there was no resulting tsunami, I was happy because I would not be taking pictures of sadness again here, in Aceh.

The ritual war game of Pasola

The sun was scorching hot when I landed on the southwest tip of Sumba island in mid-February. Sumba island is a small dot that makes up one of the islands of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

To get there I caught a small plane from Bali, and arrived at Tambulaka airport, which is small and surrounded by green hills. From there, I rented a car and drove on small paved roads that cut through villages and little wooden houses. During the journey, I discovered a strong presence of animism, in the form of respects to ancestors. At every corner of the towns and villages, the houses have a traditional worship place and the graveyards of their ancestors, and at this time of year, when it is high time to prepare for blessings from the Gods, the graveyards are adorned with offerings of beetle fruits.

After a two hour drive, I arrived at the remote Kodi Pangedo village, a place where the Pasola festivity is held each year in February and stayed for four days there without electricity and very little water for the shower. In fact, I only showered once for three days in the village.

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