Historical photos need
to be preserved

By K. Basrie

JAKARTA (JP): While other galleries and photo-exhibition organizers are busy exposing portfolios of popular photojournalists for newcomers and enthusiasts, Imaging Center is exposing the aging ones.

With new premises within the Polish cultural center on Jl. Diponegoro in Jakarta, the non-profit center, nicknamed I See, this time intends to attract public attention toward the fate of the hundreds of thousands of monumental shots taken during the struggling years of this nation in the 1940s.

It must be clear to many collectors and photo gallery-goers that the photos on display must be the stunning but poorly managed collection of the Indonesian Press Photo Service (Ipphos), the first and formerly the largest press photo agency in the country.

Some of us, particularly those who spent their childhood in local schools here, might relate Ipphos to photographs connected with the late president Sukarno; the crowds waiting for his speech and arrival, the Aug. 17, 1945 flag hoisting, the famed founding father of the Indonesian Army, Gen. Sudirman, and the rare shot of a young Soeharto, the former president.

In this five-week exhibition of 40-odd Ipphos' photos, all packed in 29 frames, including two giant size ones, the organizers also displayed a few never published photographs from the collection of the now dying agency.

But still most of the pictures on display are about the charismatic president, Sukarno, and the 1945-1950 miracle episode in the annals of the country's history, some of which have been published repeatedly in school history books.

The few others, depict the daily life of the pribumi (locals), the Dutch colonial soldiers, the Allied troops, plonco (introduction for freshmen) at universities, drug addicts in Jakarta, a raid at a prostitution house, movies on show just a few days after the war, a wrestling competition in Jakarta, and the cleansing of alleged the Communist Party (PKI) members at Mt. Lawu area in East Java.

One of Sukarno's portraits at the venue is a photo series of three brilliant shots of the president, attired in his popular dress -- a white jacket and trousers, with the same color shoes and black songkok -- receiving a villager from Sumedang, West Java, carrying some vegetables.

The beautifully composed portrait tells a lot about the real feelings of the number-one man toward the common people.

In the picture, he was seen trying to stop the man, identified as Pak Kamid, from kneeling and treating him like a king. The two men, who look like they are from two different worlds, were seen struggling to reach their goals. The villager really wants to bow and embrace Sukarno's legs, while on the other hand, the president seems to be doing his upmost to avoid the special treatment.

A farmer's hat, and something like a rattan purse, a huge pumpkin and yams, placed next to Pak Kamid give more power to the shot.

Unfortunately, the caption does not disclose when and where the picture was taken and what was Kamid's real mission in meeting the president.

The other spectacular shot in the exhibition, which is co-sponsored by The Jakarta Post, is a sea of people, including local and foreign journalists and press photographers, waiting for Sukarno to deliver his speech.

It takes at least a few seconds for visitors to locate the former president but it may take a couple of minutes for someone to spot their father, if he was a journalist at that time.

Another visitor suggested I See should also sell copies of the pictures on display so that photo collector enthusiasts as well as the common people could place the rare shots on the walls of their homes.

Many others questioned the organizers' reasons for exhibiting very few of Ipphos' vast collection.

According to chief organizer of the exhibition, Grace Santoso, the pictures have been carefully selected from Ipphos' vast collection.

""Judging from the quality of the available negatives and prints, I think the number (being exhibited) is relatively big since most of Ipphos' collection have been partly damaged due to poor handling, caused by many factors such as the lack of funds,"" she said.

Grace confirmed that none of the photos are available for sale to the public since the main purpose of the exhibition is to attract public attention toward saving this national heritage.

""We really hope that someone will have the heart to save this precious collection. Otherwise, more and more of the photos will be spoiled,"" she added.

Contacted separately, I See director, Yudhi Soerjoatmodjo, who is said to have studied the Ipphos collection since 1995, firmly hoped the interested party will not be an individual, nor state parties and not even private groups.

He said the public might be concerned that a number of shots would be ""missing"" for certain purposes if the collection fell into the hands of individuals or private parties.

Under the care of the state, the collection would deteriorate since it would be kept untouched inside a dusty storehouse, he said. ""Moreover, as in many art collections, the public usually have very little access to viewing the photo collection later should it be under the government's control,"" said Yudhi, a former staffer of state-owned Antara photo agency.

He suggested a consortium of several related parties.

According to him, it is high time the nation saved Ipphos photos, which were taken between 1945 and 1975.

The Ipphos collection of 250,000 shots, mostly taken during the years of struggle for Independence (1945-1950), is the only one the country currently has, he insisted.

""Only 10 percent of Ipphos collection has been damaged. The rest are still in good condition,"" Yudhi said.

The other collection from Antara and the Indonesian Documentary Film Body (BFI) had been burnt and seized by, among others, the Dutch colonial administration and the Indonesian Communist Party, he said.

I See's concern about the fate of this priceless legacy should become the concern of this nation.

About three years ago, Ipphos, which is fading but still in business, had offered the collection for sale at the price of Rp 1.5 billion.

Today, it's still for sale but at a different price tag.

""Now, we put the price at Rp 4 billion (US$421,000). Why? Because we have to pay tax too,"" Ipphos' director Y.M. Mubagio Mendur told the Post last week. ""It's not a fixed price, indeed. It is still open to bargaining.""

Mendur, known by her nickname Meity, 65, is a daughter of Alexius Impurung Mendur, a co-founder of Ipphos.

Before his death in 1984, Alexius once told Meity: ""Do something to save Ipphos. Never let it die!

Post Your Say

Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.