I recently moved from Seattle, USA back to Jakarta, Indonesia and have been thinking a lot about the similarities and differences between these two port cities in terms of shooting.
During my time in Seattle (and the stunning Pacific Northwest) I fell back in love with 35mm and have continued carrying my Nikon FM everyday in Jakarta, which has always been a great place to shoot. With odd similarities and a lot of differences, both are port cities that have been inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous peoples and then colonised by Europeans. Both deal with the challenges of being home to the extremely rich and very poor and both cities have had a huge influence in my creative output over the past decade.
Seattle is a small relaxed but moody city with natural beauty in abundance co-existing with that 21st century Amazon, Microsoft glass n’ steel vibe. Mt. Rainier is ever present and the Space Needle accents a tasty skyline silhouetted by mountains and sea. There are a lot of locations to shoot and if you drive a few minutes out of town you are at the foot of snow capped mountains, breath taking waterfalls, and the temperate rainforest of the Olympic peninsula. And a bit further over the pass is vast desert, dramatic canyons, and Washington wine country.
It does sound salesy but this part of the world is a great place for pictures and I took advantage of this in going back to the basics with 35mm and shooting my first fiction film, SODO EXPRESS.
Jakarta is a huge bustling and moody city that is being dragged into the 21st century. It has recently completed its first mass rapid transit system, making it feel like a ‘proper’ city. But the city is sinking and so much of the city regularly floods during rainy season. However, just south of Jakarta you have the beautiful tea plantations of Bogor, and further still is Sukabumi which lies at the feet of Mount Gede which means gorgeous rice paddies and amazing landscapes. Add in the ‘1000 Islands’ which stretch from Jakarta’s northern port into the Java Sea and Jakarta is a place that I actually enjoy.
Jakarta is also a street photography city. Yes, it’s a hard place to walk thanks to a lack of pavement and you need a lot of energy to deal with the everyday busyness, but jump on the back of an ojek (motorbike taxi) and you’ll realise there’s lots to shoot.
Kampung (village) life is everywhere as are street food sellers and urban wildlife. People are diverse; Javanese, Indian, Chinese, Papuan, Bule (white foreigners) and hundreds of other Indonesian and South-East Asia ethnicities around.
It’s also common to see the history and culture of the city laid bare. From the iconic Ondel-ondel (giant wearable puppets) that roam the streets representing ancestors warding off evil spirits, to the Chinese lion dances at the opening of new warungs (shops), to people selling and sometimes eating exotic animals (which I don’t condone).
There’s always something to shoot.
BACK TO SEATTLE
In comparison, Seattle has great scenic shots in and around the water and amazing ‘urban photography’ with that glass and steel architecture and lots of design photography. However, in terms of people it’s technically diverse but remains very segregated. Seattle has a lot of social issues (mental health, drug addiction and homelessness) and I found myself documenting this, whether I wanted to or not. The grunge culture so iconic to Seattle has been long obliterated and been replaced by tech bros and that typical American grid system makes things a tad bit boring in terms of moving around the city. But the city itself is beautiful. With hills, views, walks, parks, water and hikes, it’s visually lovely and I found it easy to walk my 10,000 steps everyday!
WORK FOR YOUR SHOTS
Living in Seattle made me a better photographer and filmmaker as I had to work for my shots. I could walk around with a camera all day and get nothing. So I had to organise shoots, think of locations, set aside time, produce and execute. The US is also such a creative place I was constantly thinking of ways to up my game thanks to local healthy competition. I was surrounded by great artists who did their work effortlessly and I found that inspiring.
Jakarta, with no pavements and too much traffic, keeps on giving material to shoot. The cityscapes are complex (sometimes insane) with the CBD and tech buildings towering over villages and herds of goats. But creatives and artists here have to battle against the elements just to get work done making them resourceful and resilient.
AND WHY IT ALL MATTERS
Seattle gave me the space and competitive environment to improve my skills whilst Jakarta might be a challenge to shoot, it’s full of opportunities on a daily basis.
Both cities have taught me patience, resilience and that bit of confidence I needed in my work.
If you’re interested in working with me or anyone from the SRK, we’re available to shoot and edit as well produce a whole range of motion graphics and animations. Please do drop us an email and let’s figure out how to collaborate.