Fri, 09 May 2003

Don Hasman, a tireless old hand

Bambang M, Contributor, Yogyakarta

It was past midnight but the students taking part in the journalistic training session on environment at Muhammadiyah University in Yogyakarta were still glued to their seats, unable to hide their great admiration for hundreds of slides being shown before them.

"Wanna go on?" asked an elderly man, who was the instructor. "Okay. Let's go on until dawn. It's all right," came a an enthusiastic reply from a participant.

Of small build, the instructor that the students admired very much was Don Hasman, one of Indonesia's best photographers. His works, usually exposing the beauty of nature and the exotic lives of ethnic groups in many parts of Indonesia, always inspire great admiration and are quite expensive.

"A photograph depicting an Asmat women in a messy kitchen can fetch Rp 5 million," he said, while operating his slide projector.

A father of two, Hasman used to be known as the photographer of Sinar Harapan afternoon newspaper (1970 - 1986). After the government banned this newspaper, he became a photograph contributor to Mutiara tabloid until 1997. After leaving journalism, Hasman, born in Jakarta on October 7, 1940, did not just sit idle and enjoy his old age. Using his favorite Nikon or Hasselblad camera, he traveled far and wide to make photographs.

Hasman has been fond of hiking and traveling to forest areas since his youth. He is always charmed by the beauty of Mother Nature. It is only natural that later on many of the photographs that he has taken record the beauty of nature and its human dwellers. In photography, Hasman i better known as an adventure photographer with photographs taken from attractive angles.

One of his great works is a series of photographs recording everything in the life of the Badui Dalam ethnic group and their beautiful villages in West Java. In a span of 28 years, he has collected about 6,500 frames of photographs.

"It took me 7 years just to take the photograph of the face of a Badui Dalam person," he explained. Previous to this photography session, the Badui Dalam people never wanted to look into the camera. He is arranging some of these photographs for a book yet to be published.

Hasman's great skill in photography has not come overnight. He began to learn photography from books he could lay his hands on when he was still a teenager. He could improve his knowledge of and skills in photography as he frequently served as a guide to foreign photographers working in Indonesia. One of these photographers was Art Wolfe of the United States.

Thanks to his strong will and great desire to conduct one experiment after another, he has scored successes. "When you make a photographic work, you must be sure that you will never say I cannot," said Hasman, whose motto in life is "always trying to come up with the best"

Owing to his strong determination, he has never failed in his undertakings. Hasman, for example, is the first Indonesian ever to reach Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

His career has spanned 30 years and during this period he failed only twice. First, when he was trying to take photographs of rhinoceros in Ujung Kulon National Park, Banten. Second, when he tried to take the picture of singer and TV film actress Desy Ratnasari when she was rumored to be married to the then manpower minister Abdul Latief in 1997.

"While I was trying to take pictures of rhinoceroses, I stayed up in a tree for 12 days. I used a plastic bag for my natural calls to prevent the rhinos from sniffing my presence," said Hasman, who is also the first Indonesian to take part in the Camel Trophy adventure. He failed to take the photographs of Desy Ratnasari as the actress was then abroad. "I could not meet her as she was then in Singapore," said Hasman, now living in Depok, Bogor, West Java.

The most harrowing experience that Hasman has had in his career as a photographer was the occasion when he had to take pictures of underwater wedding somewhere in the Thousand Islands, north of Jakarta, in 1987. As he was greatly absorbed in recording this rare event, he forgot that his oxygen supply had run out. Luckily he Managed to keep his head cool and he survived.

Now that he has spent 30 years in photography, he has already won international recognition. Last year, Hasman and Rio Helmi were included in a book on the world's 100 best photographers. "The blue-covered book is called 100 Famous Photographers in the World. I'm trying to buy one," he said.

"He's really an old hand," said Herry Gunawan, a professional photographer in Yogyakarta. In Gunawan's view, the most admirable thing in his personality is his undying spirit to travel anywhere. "he has a strong physique and a rich experience in adventure," said Gunawan, who also teaches at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta.

Despite the world recognition that he has earned, Hasman remains an intimate person. He is modest and devoid of any traces of haughtiness. When he comes to Yogyakarta for some students' programs, he usually refuses to stay in a hotel that the inviting committee has reserved. Instead, he will stay in a students' boarding house. When he travels, he prefers to take a bus.

Apart from taking photographs, Hasman also often gives lectures at home and overseas. He is always enthusiastic when teaching students how to be a good photographer. He will give detailed answers to every question: from how to take care of your camera to how to get good pictures.

"You must be serious about photography. In the next two years, international photographers will start exploring Indonesia. Unless you do something, you will get only the 'bones'," he said, encouraging the students. Gunawan meanwhile said that Hasman was really dedicated to photography. "He will be ready even to give a free lecture," he said.

It was close to 2 a.m.. Although the participants were still eager to listen to his lecture and enjoy Hasman's photographs, he had to end the session.

"I've got to stop now because this morning I've got to give a lecture in Ponorogo (East Java)," he said, putting hundreds of his slides into his bag. Two students from a Ponorogo-based university had been waiting for him to leave for Ponorogo together.

Carrying the back on his back - the bag looked bigger than his own body - Hasman left Yogyakarta for Ponorogo. At 63, he has never felt handicapped to continue creating and making adventures. He is indeed an old hand that never tires.