Only a handful of photographers in Indonesia are into documentary photography. Compared to hard news photography, documentary requires more length of time when it comes to the creative process. Therefore, it demands work consistency and usually more production cost.
With all those challenges, Putu Sayoga, a Bali based photographer, is still in love with this unique style of photography. As a self-taught, he started his career from scratch in 2009, when he was a college student in Gadjah Mada University, Jogjakarta. During that initial period, documentary photography was already appealing for him. This form allows him to be acquainted with his photo subjects and has a longer interaction with them, so later he could present works that are narratively and visually more powerful.
Documentary opens up a wider horizon for Sayoga to expand his ideas and aspirations. It gives more space for him to tell the thorough stories of his photo subjects. Most of his photographs give a voice to the unheard inspirational figures and stories that are not yet sufficiently covered by the media. His works not only thought-provoking but poetically captured the genuineness and complexity of human beings.
One of his intriguing projects is “Library with the Horse,” (2015). It is a touching story about Ridwan Sururi, a horse caretaker who dedicates his time to create a small mobile library called “Kuda Pustaka” that is attached to his horse. Every week Sururi and his horse go around his village in Purbalingga, Central Java, giving free access for kids to read books. This documentary has been published in international media such as The New York Times and Aljazeera. Surprisingly, following the publication, many people around the world contacted Sayoga and donated books for Sururi’s library. It is definitely an example of how powerful storytelling can be!
Currently Sayoga has two ongoing projects. The first one started in 2013, encompasses the change caused by modernization at his own village that is located in a rural area in Bali. The other one entitled, “Living under the Volcanoes,” begins in 2017. This long-term project tells stories about the life of societies who over generations settle near the volcanoes in Indonesia; how they are living with the danger and their culture.
There are more than 150 volcanoes in this country. For his ambitious project, Sayoga has explored 6 of them including Mount Agung, Mount Ijen, Bromo, Dieng Plateau, Sinabung, and Gamalama. He went from Sumatera, Bali, Java, to Moluccas to search for and experience authentic stories. This project has been published in various media like ZEIT Magazine, Post Magazine, and GEO.