Als National Geographic anrief, überlegte Muhammad Fadli einen Moment, bis er der Reise durch Java zustimmte – er hat Familie und machte sich Sorgen. Aber sein Verantwortungsgefühl gegenüber der Geschichte, die er erzählen sollte, wog schwerer. Den #FacesOfPhotography hat er erzählt, was er auf seiner Reise gesehen und erlebt hat:
How are you?
Just like everyone else, I’m still navigating this strange and difficult time for us all. But so far I’m still doing okay. I still very actively making pictures after one month break at the start of the outbreak here in Indonesia.
When and how did the crisis reach Indonesia?
Based on our government data, the first case was detected by early March. But I believe it had reached Indonesia much earlier since we have direct flights to Wuhan, the early epicenter of the outbreak. After the government announced it, most people started to be really worried including me. And after more than two months, more and more positive cases are detected.
How did it come about that you then travelled around for National Geographic?
I mostly travelled in Java, the center of the outbreak here and the most populated island of Indonesia. I also traveled to southernmost part of Sumatra. It is part of Nat Geo global COVID-19 coverage. They do this in many countries to get the readers a better picture of the situation and the challenges in order to understand more about the outbreak. And for my part, I was contacted by James B. Wellford, senior photo editor at Nat Geo. He asked me whether I’m interested, available, and also comfortbale to cover this story during this difficult time. I have a family so it got me thinking whether I should do this or not because I was thinking about health and safety reason. But at the same time, as a documentary photographer it’s also very important for me to tell this story. It’s my duty and my responsibility as well.
What did you see, what did you experience?
I did the coverage through a 2,600km roadtrip, so I can say that I saw quite a lot along the way. I saw and is really disappointed of how our government are not really serious in handling the situation, but at the same time I saw how local communities try to protect themselves by doing what they could, for example by imposing strict local lockdown in many places. I also saw the economic impact is pretty bad for many people, business are closed and many lost their job. It is not the best time to do a roadtrip.
What was the strongest moment of your journey?
I’m not sure which one to pick. But I met this man name Sigit by the beach south of Yogyakarta. The beach is one of major tourist destination in that part of Java, and it has been deserted since the first case in Indonesia was announced. Sigit works as a sketch portraitmaker, relying on visiting tourist to hire him making painting of people’s face. He got very few work since the start of the outbreak and he said to me he only managed to get less than EUR 20 for almost the last two months. But he still go there everyday on a scooter together with his wife expecting someone would hire him to make a portrait. When I met him he was staring at that very empty beach. He told me all his story while smiling, and it made me really sad.
Did what you saw, what you experienced, have any influence on the way you took photographs?
Technically yes and it mostly because there are certain new protocol that I have to follow because of the situation. I don’t want to risk myself and put any risk into people that I photograph. For example I no longer shake people’s hand before I do a portrait and try to keep safe distance. I feel strange since it’s not the way I work. I like to get close with people because it’s always an important side of my works. However it didn’t change much of the look of the photograph.
Will the crisis change photography in general?
I’m not sure if I’m the right person to say anything about this. But I don’t think it will change photography in general. It will probably change the way people making picture, like the other day I saw on instagram a famous portrait photographer now put a layer of plastic sheet between him and his portrait subject for safety reason. It will change the way of doing it but not the essence of it or the importance of doing it.
What is your personal photographic wish for the future?
I’m just wishing to finish some personal documentary projects that I already started. These projects involve extensive travel around Indonesia, and for the near future it will be quite a challenge to finish them because the potential difficulties of travel in the ’new normal‘ situation.
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