WACANA Jakarta

Jakarta, 15-16 September 2018

In partnership with @kelaspagijkt

A Hindu Wedding

Photo by Martin Parr (2009)
Text by Farraz Akbar and Gema Satria

This photo shows a party involving several people with different sets of clothes. First we can see that there are two people sitting at the dining table, and two people standing. One person from those who are sitting and one from those who are standing is lighting the cigarette of someone else. These four people is giving the impression that they come from different social class backgrounds. The two people who are seated seemed to belong to the same class, while the two people who are standing looked different from each other because one person is wearing a military uniform which connotates that he is an assistant lighting his superior’s cigarette.

The people here are in the middle of a party that is visible from the activities of the people in the two layers behind them. One layer shows the audience, while the last layer is a collection of catering workers. The very front layer also shows the plates of the former party food bundle with a round table. Technically, this photo is taken with technicalities that is not too complicated, simply using Parr’s built-in camera’s flash. As mentioned earlier, Parr appears to use the layering composition method to determine the different roles / activities.

As a photographer, the fundamental idea that became a reference point for Parr in this work was to highlight the difference between the mythology of the place and the reality that appeared. He also often makes serious photo works but disguised as fun or entertaining photographs. He has also mentioned that the images he made often did not sharply display the true meaning, “if you want to read it, you can read it” he said to the interviewer who asked about his views.

This photo is part of the photo series titled ‘HINDU WEDDING’ (2009), in the series Parr shows an Indian / Hindu-style wedding which slightly breaks the assumption that the event is full of ritual activities and symbols (for example, incense or a statue of a god). The wedding party shows a celebration that is similar to a wedding in general.

Another interesting thing from the photo is how Parr shows how the caste system is played out in everyday events. The caste system is one of the community structures that is still held today by many Hindus. In relations to this photo, the people in suits look like Brahmins, then the aides can be considered the Kshatriyas, and the catering workers of the Vaishya caste. In addition to being shown by Parr’s layering technique, this caste system is also shown how the same two activities, namely lighting a cigarette, are carried out by two people from different castes.

This work can be displayed in several ways. For example, Parr once had an exhibition that contrasted the fun aspects of a wedding event in this series with a quieter beach atmosphere. (although the photos requested in this assignment seem to also not “crowded”). This Hindu wedding also shows how the caste system is played out in everyday life.

Serra Pelada Mines —
Workers: Archaeology of the Industrial Age

Photo by Sebastião Salgado (1986)
Text by Syarafina Vidyadhana and Albert Wida

What at first glance may seem like an image of static noise on the television screen, turns out to be telling a story of something else broken: humanity. The lack of focal point in this photograph may as well reflect the photographer’s reluctance to focus on the individual, inviting us to take a step back in order to see the bigger picture — exploitation of both the natural and human resources — in which the workers are blending into the background, their workplace, as if to emphasize that the two are inseparable. After all, Saldago is an economic analyst with a strong Marxist inclination.

And if we were to draw a picture of Hell, then this will be quite the depiction. The B/W nature of the photograph, as well as the use of a small diaphragm, add to this depiction of what Dante coined as the Inferno in The Divine Comedy. Much like what we imagine being stuck in hell looks like, the photograph doesn’t look less like it regardless how we change our point of view; you can turn it upside down and still see Hell. All this bears the question: is this the artist’ attempt at proving a point that however the economic wheel continues to spin, the working class will always be downtrodden? And how come Work is always perceived as the Inferno, instead of Purgatory or Paradiso, as if to confirm what our parents believe as: “berusah-susah dahulu, bersenang-senang kemudian” (“struggle today, enjoy life tomorrow”).

This photograph is a part of a longer series, one focused on brutal working conditions. It illustrates the state of the workers, dirty and exhausted, and the massive number of workers represents massive mining products needed by a lot of countries. However, as we observe other photographs in this series, it dawned on us that something crucial is missing: the danger in the work itself. Instead, the photographer shows the pride of the workers — a common sentiment found among the Left — that ends up romanticizing the process of such work. What’s left out of frame: the workers’ exposure to mercury, the military control over them, price regulation by the government; all of which forces them to turn to the black market in pursuit of a more fair pay. 

Salgado’s photographs ignore the fact that accidents — a lot of it — do happen. That this mining would cost workers their lives if they could not make it to the top with pockets of gold on their back. His also leaves out the condition in which neighboring villages or cities have to put up with, the prostitution and gambling, no thanks to government’s intervention to “purge” Serra Pelada as profit-generating mine pit and only that.

Seeing this photograph in this modern time we can’t help but think of the plan to reopen Colossus mining company at the same location in Brazil. Will such exploitation repeat itself? Will once again the workers’ skilled hands be reduced to gold-mining shovels? Only time will tell.