Thu, 11 Mar 1999

Jakarta images win jurors over in world photo contest

By K. Basrie

JAKARTA (JP): As could have been predicted, Indonesia, which in 1998 became one of the world's trouble spots, captured the attention of the 13 judges at the 42nd annual World Press Photo competition.

For the first time ever, three scenes from Indonesia received awards in the world-class contest, which offered 59 prizes in 18 categories.

The prizes for images from Indonesia went to a series of pictures of the bloody killings at Ketapang, West Jakarta, a shot showing the ecstasy of students over Soeharto's resignation, and a series of shots of the riots and demonstrations in Jakarta.

Since the contest was first held 42 years ago, the only photograph of Indonesia to receive a prize was the famous snap of a military truck overturning, showing the frightened faces of over 100 youthful passengers and a uniformed driver in East Java. This photograph won the top honor in the spot news category in the 1996 World Press Photo competition.

In the 1996 contest, the country's corps of press photographers were "disgraced" by the winner, who was "just" a crime reporter from Surabaya-based Jawa Pos daily.

This time, their serious efforts to win titles in the prestigious contest again were not rewarded as all of the three winning shots of Indonesia were taken by foreign journalists.

None of the 200-plus entries -- mostly images of riots -- submitted recently by scores of Indonesian photojournalists won a single place in the 1999 contest, which has just been announced by the Netherlands-based World Press Photo Foundation.

Jakarta and other centers around the country last year were home to hundreds of local and foreign photojournalists, including some world-renowned press photographers, who were here to record the unforgettable period of mayhem.

The three winning shots of Indonesia were the works of American James Nachtwey of Magnum Photos, Nam-Hun Sung from South Korea, and Yunghi Kim of U.S.-based Contact Press Images.

Nachtwey's shot of the November 1998 Ketapang clashes (mistakenly captioned as a scene of the May 1998 riots in Jakarta) won him second prize for the spot news stories category. Nam-Hun Sung's Students Celebrate Soeharto's Resignation gave him the third prize of the general news singles category, while Kim's Riots and Demonstration, Jakarta grabbed the top honor of the general news stories category.

The three winning pictures were selected from 36,836 pictures submitted by 3,733 photographers from 116 countries, including Indonesia. After the Jan. 31 to Feb. 11 judging, the organizers announced the winners for the contest's 18 categories, including environment, sports, arts, and science and technology, on Feb. 12.


The announcement of the results has again undoubtedly frustrated many Indonesian photojournalists, who have for years submitted all their best shots to the widely promoted competition.

The skyrocketing cost of postal services due to the falling rupiah could not prevent them from taking part in the illustrious contest.

Many contestants were even assisted by the Dutch embassy in Jakarta in coping with the expensive postal fees.

Local photographers may never have the chance to film again the grim scenes of 1998 which they witnessed in their once peaceful homeland.

Many hoped their depictions of the screams, blood and official brutality would give them a shot at one of the titles, which in the past have often gone to images of such harsh realities.

However, their works were apparently not thought to be worthy of such high recognition by the panel of mainly European judges.

The winning photographers -- with both color and black-and- white prints -- came from 22 countries. Participants from the other 94 represented countries failed to be rewarded in the contest, which is dubbed the only internationally recognized press photograph competition.

As in previous contests, none of the Indonesian contestants really know the reasons for the failure of their entries.

But one thing that is clear is that what Indonesians consider "spicy" and "hot" do not always get the same reaction from foreigners.

Indonesians may say that nasi goreng, served with salted fish, sambal and tempeh is the most delicious meal from eden for their breakfast.

But don't ever try to offer this fare to your European comrades, unless you want to see them turn their noses up in disgust, or politely taste it before politely dumping it.

But again, it doesn't always mean that your orange juice and croissants will please everyone from Europe either.

On the other hand, nasi goreng and sambal might be more appealing to foreign appetites if it is presented in a creative and professional manner.

In the world of photography, for a picture to be worthy of honor in such a tight competition, it must be based on a brilliant idea and solid values, show flawless technique, have a powerful message and "speak a thousand words".

Look at Nachtwey's series of shots of the Ketapang tragedy. Not only are the images extremely powerful, but the courage of the photographer to take such risks is obvious.