Toward the end of her husband’s first term in office, Ani Yudhoyono realized that, as the president’s wife, she often wound up in spots photographers rarely found themselves.
So she took out a camera and revived an old hobby.
Before long, her pictures of state events and ordinary folk started showing up at exhibitions, winning some praise. She also published a coffee-table book in 2011, that included photos she took on trips across Indonesia and abroad with her husband.
Last April, she started putting her photos on Instagram. That was when the trouble began.
Some Indonesians were critical of certain photos of her family, and Ani, 61, who is known to speak her mind, was quick to lash out at them, drawing even more criticism.
Last week, she made international headlines when she apologized to more than 310,000 Instagram followers for a particularly angry outburst. A fan questioned her timing when she uploaded a photo of her grandson playing a toy piano while many Indonesians were fighting to keep their heads above water during severe flooding.
“Why is the anger directed at me?” she wrote, saying people should ask what the wife of the Jakarta governor was doing.
Ibu Ani, as she is popularly known, entered the social media sphere around the same time Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took to Twitter in April last year. Since then, she has been a regular, sharing 725 photos on Instagram so far.
Some might see the negative reactions to her photographs and her Instagram activity as a reflection of the palace’s dip in popularity, but sociologist Musni Umar sees it as a generational issue.
“In the old days, people wouldn’t dare criticize the first lady,” he told The Straits Times. This is no longer the case. “A lot of those who criticize her are from the younger generation,” he said.
In contrast, he said Ani is from an era when those in authority were rarely, if ever, questioned.
When a follower recently asked whether her camera was personal or state property, she took offence.
“Your question is impolite beyond expectation, but I will answer so it’s clear,” she said.
“Cameras used by the palace press bureau may be state property. The one I use is of course personal property.”
Screen captures of the exchange went viral. People made fun of the issue.
Yet her photos have also offered fascinating glimpses of places most Indonesians would otherwise not have seen, like the interior of Bali’s Tampaksiring presidential palace and the Yogyakarta sultan’s palace, as well as the first family in more relaxed moments.
Some suggest she turn her camera instead on ordinary Indonesians.
By doing so, she would remind her husband that poverty remained a problem, blogger Ellen Maringka wrote last month on the kompasiana site, linked to major broadsheet Kompas.
“Wouldn’t it be great if your photography hobby brought some joy to those who are poor, to for once smile because they are the target of your camera,” she wrote.
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