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The Jakarta Post
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Taking Sumba by surprise

  • Maren Hoepfner


Jakarta | Thu, March 4 2010 | 12:27 pm
Taking Sumba  by surprise

Sometimes it’s worth looking up. A glance at the ceiling of the exhibition “Surprenante Sumba” reveals a surprise indeed – a picture of Sumba locals leaning over the edge of a well to where the photographer André Graff was standing when he took the photo, giving visitors the impression they’re at the bottom of the well too.

Lively and colorful photographs adorning the walls of the Centre Culturel Francais (CCF) depict the people of Sumba in their everyday activities. Women working away in the fields, girls practicing a traditional dance or a boy leading his horse through water – all these scenes show how the local people live and feel on the island.

André Graff visited Indonesia for the first time in 2004. He wanted to take pictures of the local people without disturbing them.

“That is why I told them I would send the pictures back to them, so they could have them too,” André said.

When he made his way back to France, he realized he didn’t know where to send the pictures to, as he had no addresses. So he planned to return to Indonesia and hand deliver photos to all the people he had captured on film. As of today, he has given away more than 3,500 photographs to their subjects.

André decided to settle on the island of Sonde as he felt he could help the people there. “People are really suffering in small communities,” he says. “Little by little, I decided to help them by building wells.”

While he took photos, it dawned on him he could help the peo-ple of Sumba build wells to access fresh water, for the price of his camera.

So André embarked on a project to build 22 wells in 22 villages on the islands of Sumba and Savu with the help of his friends. As a result of this hard work, he witnessed the local people’s lives change, as they can now access fresh drinking water.

In addition, André and the locals have developed a strong bond, as can be seen in the pictures. They bring the viewer parts of Sumba and its people in an impressive and vivid way. André couches it as “share pictures, share life”.

“Each picture has a story,” he says.

The photographer started taking pictures as a young boy, later joining a photo group as a teenager.

“Then I did many different jobs and was really busy”, André says. While working as a pilot for example, it was hard for him to continue his hobby. In Indonesia, he finally started to take photos again. 

Behind the beauty and the different stories of the photographs, André and the CCF hope to raise people’s awareness of the water shortages still plaguing some islands of Indonesia.

Patrick Perez, director of the CCF, had spotted some of André’s pictures exhibited in Bali and thought it would be worth showing them in Jakarta.

“I wasn’t sure if people would be upset by the pictures,” Patrick says. “But I felt I had to show people the pictures.”

When asked how Sumba locals reacted to his project, André explained people sometimes did not understand why anybody would want to come to their island and change their life.

“They don’t understand why they might have to change their habits even if it’s for a good thing,” he says.

One photograph shows an elderly Sumba woman holding a mobile phone for the first time in her life.

The same picture can be seen as a big mosaic made of 25,000 small photographs.

“Humanity looks simple,” André says. “But it is a mosaic like this picture. Each person has its own story.”

With his exhibition the photographer hopes he can encourage visitors to do something positive that will impact the environment and society. He plans to continue his project and build more wells to help the people of Sumba.

Les Glaneuses by Andre GraffSURPRENANTE SUMBA

Photo exhibition
CCF – Centre Culturel Francais Jakarta
February 23 – March 7, 2010
Jl. Salemba Raya no. 25, Jakarta Pusat
March 8 – March 21, 2010
Cabang, Jl. Wijaya I no. 48, Jakarta Selatan


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