People

Kemal Jufri: Photographer
on humanitarian mission

Courtesy of Kasan Kurdi

Award-winning Indonesian photographer Kemal Jufri is apparently also a humanitarian on a mission to bring positive change to the country.

During his 15-year career in photography, Kemal is known for winning several top photography awards from prestigious institutions across the world.

The 38-year old has presented his works at a number of international photo exhibitions, winning awards in the US and Europe for his captivating and breathtaking photos. His images have been published in prominent publications such as Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, STERN and Der Spiegel.

After an already brilliant career, 2011 may be Kemal’s golden year. Even though the year has only entered its second month, Kemal managed to snatch four awards from two distinguished photography competitions, including the prestigious World Press Photo contest.

Kemal’s frightful depiction of the situation during the Mount Merapi eruptions in Yogyakarta at the end of 2010 won him second prize at the 2011 World Press Photo Awards under the “People In The News” category

But when The Jakarta Post asked Kemal to describe his feelings about global recognition of his distinguished list of awards, as well as his next ambitions, the bespectacled man gave an unexpected answer.

“Winning World Press Photo, or other [photography] competitions, has never been my main goal in this profession. I just want to focus on bringing out social issues to the public. If my works win awards, that would be a bonus,” he said.

He explains that his interest on social issues and humanity began to grow after he surrendered himself to photography.

“I learn many things about life from this profession. I have witnessed realities in life that are very tragic and sad. In the one hand they have wounded me but on the other hand they have enriched my understanding of life and humanity,” he said.

Kemal said he has loved photography since he was a child. Kemal’s father, senior journalist Fikri Jufri, often brought him to his office at Tempo magazine during school holidays.

During his visits, Kemal recalled that his favorite spot in the building was the dark room, where the staff processed black and white photos manually.

“I was very impressed and I could stay for hours in that room to see the process,” he says.

His love for photography quickly grew into something serious thanks to his father, who showed him the way to professional photojournalism.

“He told me about this workshop on photojournalism held by state news agency Antara. That was the moment when my passion for photojournalism started to grow,” he said.

However, his professional career in photography only started after he joined Agence-France Presse (AFP) as a contract photographer in 1996.

He left AFP two years later and worked as a photo contributor for Asiaweek until the magazine closed down in 2001.

Since then he has worked as a freelance photographer on assignments covering stories across Asia for major publications. He is now recognized as one of Asia’s leading photojournalists.

Kemal said that his most memorable experience was when he was on assignment covering the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Aceh.

He said the disaster affected him so emotionally that he fell into a long period of depression.

“I felt deeply wound inside so I decided to go back to Aceh and stayed there for a long time to heal,” Kemal said in describing one of his life-changing episodes.

Kemal does not only find life lessons from photography, but the profession also provides him the chance to get closer to social and environmental issues.

He once exhibited his works on the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombing. He was also involved in the documentation of children from Timor Lorosae before the region separated from Indonesia and became an independent country.

Kemal said that he was currently in the process of working on research for several photo projects related to environmental and health issues, although he could not disclose project details.  

Kemal added that he has also been busy following up on two previous projects. The first theme covers the Lapindo mudflow incident in Sidoarjo, East Java, while the second is related to bird flu in Indonesia, for which he secured a grant from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2008.

Through his previous works and upcoming photo projects, Kemal hopes to meet his ultimate career goal.

“I want my documentation to be able to give inspiration to people so that it can bring positive changes to the country,” he explains, hoping that his artwork can serve as effective social critiques for the government.

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