Sun, 05 Jan 2003

Tara loyal to his calling

Emmy Fitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Tara Sosrowardoyo may not be an outgoing kind of person. But the calm photographer shows his enthusiasm when it comes to the field he is famous for: Photography.

The 50-year-old man compared a photographer to a good jazz singer, where both professions require one to practice to make perfect.

"In reality, we (photographers and jazz singers) must be ready for improvisation as sometimes things don't go to plan," he said.

Just recently Tara shot the picture of Insp. Gen. I Made Mangku Pastika, chief of the Bali bombing investigation team. Pastika was named as one of the newsmakers of the year by Time magazine Asian edition.

The shooting had been well-planned down to the minutest detail but Pastika, who achieved widespread recognition for leading the inquiry team into the Bali bombing, refused to be pictured near the blast ruins.

"I don't know the reason but the general strongly refused to be pictured near the blast site. So, we had to go back to square one and improvise," said Tara recalling his recent assignment.

For Time alone, Tara has shot six cover photos and numerous others for international media like The New York Times, Newsweek, Fortune, Paris Match, Far Eastern Economic Review, Business Week, Vogue, GEO, Asiaweek and Marie Claire.

His photos can also be found in many books and coffee-table works, including Pusaka Art of Indonesia (as a principal photographer), Java Style (sole photographer), Filipino Style (one of two photographers) and Abode of Peace, Brunei Darussalam (as chief photographer).

Tara was interviewed days after the opening of his 1/2 (Half) exhibition at Galeri Dua8 on Jl. Kemang Utara, South Jakarta.

Born in New York on Dec. 12, 1952, Tara celebrated his 50th birthday by attending the exhibition held and initiated by his wife and friends.

"I feel the passion (for photography) is during the shooting session. And when you know you have the right shots, well that's it," he said, snapping his fingers.

"It's almost like sex. Sex with a stranger. Exciting."

His favorite objects were people: He has probably shot thousands of faces from well-known figures to unknown ones like Haji Kocen, whom Tara claimed to be "popular too in his own ways.

His passion for photography developed while he was still a student at junior high doing school newspapers or producing yearbooks.

"By the time I learned photography, I took it seriously. What we need to be good in our field is, I think, love and seriousness," said Tara, who admires legendary war photographer James Nachtwey.

But his parents, avid collectors of paintings, of course once insisted that he studied something else and become something other than just a photographer.

He did learn and study something else, behavioral science, at Masquarie University in Sydney. He also learnt graphic design and cinematography at Reverina College of Advanced Education in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, with a brief stint at the Jakarta Institute of Arts (IKJ).

Only in 1977 did he start working professionally as a photographer for the now-defunct Jakarta Jakarta magazine. At that time there were few photographers and he realized that to become a photojournalist was not his cup of tea.

"The situation was quite different back then. There were no challenges and you know how it was in the 1970's. But I really admire some friends who served their time as photojournalists as I know that wasn't easy," he said, reminiscing about his past.

Tara's photos serve various functions, from advertising to graphic design products. Art photography is what he craved. Mostly in black and white, Tara's pictures speak for themselves on the smells, the weather and the air quality when the pictures were taken.

"I am restless, I want to do many things and shoot as many pictures as I can, but I have my limits. I get physically tired and just throw all my equipment aside for rest," said son of former diplomat Sumaryo Sosrowardoyo.

"I only make pictures in my mind then."

Of all his works though, Tara said he had two favorites, which he shivered at whenever he saw them.

"Both pictures are of the critical moments when my children, Haga Tara and Shaista Mayada, were born," Tara said.

He added he was shaking when he took the two pictures inside the delivery room.

"Blood was everywhere and to know that they were my children was a very unique feeling," he claimed.

The father of three apparently has earned more international recognition than local. He seemed quite happy and undaunted by that though.

Outside the country, Tara is a shining lensman. Since 1988 he has been with New York-based Getty Images, which became the agent for his work.

Now he divides his time between his Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur homes since getting married to Marina Mahathir, daughter of Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

For him, his marital status and issues related to his father- in-law are considered "irrelevant" for discussion.

His relations with Marina or her father have not influenced his career as, for example, he still had the chance to take pictures of Mahathir and his political opponent Anwar Ibrahim long before the marriage.

Tara and his wife met in 1993 in Jakarta at the photo exhibition, Eyes on ASEAN. The marriage was the second for both of them. His first wife, Meilihanny, is now his good friend.

"We lead very ordinary lives, nothing special. We have no guards (like many state officials and their families here), not even a servant in our house. My wife drives her own car back and forth to work. Really, there's been no special treatment."