Indonesian photographer Andri Tambunan has finally completed his long term project Against All Odds, a documentary report on the AIDS epidermic in Papua. The project recieved the inaugural Reminders Project Asian Photographers Grant and will be exhibited at the Angkor Photo Festival in December. In this series of articles, we invite Andri to share with us his experience and process pursuing his first long term project.
Tell us about the audience and distribution – did you have a clear idea who and where you wanted to show this project after completion?
Since this issue receives little attention, my objective of course is to raise awareness by publishing the project in the mainstream media. To reach a larger audience outside of still photography, I am also making an extended multimedia piece incorporating photographs, video, and audio. I am also making a book (also an iPad version) consisting of my images and writings. This is a collaboration between me and Dr. Leslie Butt, a leading expert in HIV/AIDS in Papua. This informational book will be distributed to domestic and international NGOs as well as policy makers for free with the intent to educate, and provide accurate and updated references. During my investigation, I learned that millions of dollars (majority from foreign donors) are pouring into Indonesia for HIV/AIDS preventive services and care. However, very little of that funding ended up in Papua. I hope that this book will add needed pressure on the Indonesian and provincial government to take immediate actions and remedy the situation in Papua. Against All Odds Book. Finally, the project will have its debut at Angkor Photo Festival. The exhibition opens Dec. 4 at 1961 gallery and it will consist of 12 themed panels totaling 72 photographs. I plan to exhibit my project in other countries in the West and Asia.
Nearing the end, what are your learnings?
This is a very good and broad question to answer and I can’t really give you a detailed list per se. This project has changed me both as a photojournalist and a person. In terms of photography, I learned how to cope when working in a stressful situation. This project was mentally and emotionally exhausting at times. Often, I encountered dead ends or things didn’t go as planned. ut I learned how to stay motivated, to be patient, to ask for help, and to take a day off and do something else unrelated to photography. Personally, I was reminded the importance to enjoy the company of others, to share, to listen and to connect. I learned that I am only responsible for what I could have done within my own limitations. I am sure there are more things I learned since I did make lots of mistakes but let’s see if I would end up repeating them again.
Ultimately, as a photographer, what do you want out of this project?
This project does not have a political agenda but is driven by humanitarian objectives. Ultimately, the objective is to raise awareness about this epidemic with the aim of improving access to adequate care for indigenous Papuans facing or living with HIV/AIDS.
What advice would you have for others wanting to pursue long term projects?
For those wanting to pursue long-term projects, for starter I would suggest to choose one or two topics that you are passionate for. Don’t have too many things going at the same time because you’ll end up with something half-assed when you are doing too much. And having “some” interest is not enough because after a while you might lose it or you might realize that it’s not worth all the troubles. I’ve done this mistake myself. In other words, own it. It’s yours and no one is paying you to do it. In fact, you will most likely end up spending not just money but also time and energy. Depending on the project, it’s also important to learn as much as you can about the subject or the issue that you want to pursue. The Internet is full of useful information. When that isn’t sufficient, connect to experts and people on the ground that could provide further insights. There’s no time limit or deadline so take risks and explore beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes it’s necessary to begin from the ledge as the starting point. You will encounter setbacks but it’s important to stay motivated. Nothing worth pursuing ever comes easy. But don’t be afraid to ask for help. Have a group of friends that could give you honest feedback. A chat with a friend over Skype sometimes is what you need. Your family and friends who aren’t photographers might not understand your project entirely or your decision to pursue it but you will be surprised that many of them will support you regardless because they believe in you. Most importantly, enjoy the journey, the good, the bad, and everything in between and know that the experience will teach you more about your self in ways you could ever imagine.
Check out Andri’s ‘Against All Odds’ Tumblr blog for more: http://againstalloddsinpapua.tumblr.com/
Read Part Five: Pt 5: Access, Story Angle & Editing
Read Part Four: Pt 4: A Matter of Balance & Management
Read Part Three: Pt 3: Budgeting & Anticipating Worst-case Scenarios
Read Part Two: Pt 2: Connecting with Subjects and Equipment Checklist
Read Part One: Pt 1: Andri Tambunan, Against All Odds