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.
How did you balance budget and project needs?
I gave myself a couple of years, give or take, to complete this project. Since this is a personal project, there’s not really a deadline. However, it’s necessary to set milestones to ensure progress. In addition to be the photographer, I had to play the roles of a sponsor and planner, producer and editor, and promoter. My milestones are divided into 4 different phases according to these roles. The first phase (sponsor & planner) took place before actually taking the first photograph. Many months prior I had already started saving money, doing research, getting in touch with organizations and various individuals to gain information and access, planning my travel routes, writing grants, and initiating crowdfunding campaign to secure funding. The second phase is the 6 months that I spent photographing in Papua. The third phase (producer & editor) took place after I shot the last frame. I spent months processing and scanning my negatives, sorting and editing thousands of photographs, transcribing video and audio footage and interviews, creating a visual narration with editors, working on my photo layout and essays for the book and e-book/Ipad, and putting together my multimedia piece. The fourth phase (promoter) involved creating promotional cards, meeting with editors and publications to share my work, publishing the project both online and print, exhibiting the project in Siem Reap at Angkor Photo Festival and other photo festivals, and sending out informational books that I made to international organizations and NGOs. Currently, I am in the 3rd and 4th phase and I still have much to do.
It’s very important to manage time accordingly to balance our various roles and responsibilities. While completing this project, I am also shooting assignments to pay bills, conducting research for an upcoming social project in Jakarta, writing grant proposals, fellowships, contests, etc. And when I am not doing that I take on another role that involve spending time with my family and friends, drink wine, watch a good flick, read books, eat great food until full and eat some more, check out live music, and travel. And this is the most important role that I should no longer neglect because after everything is said and done it’s the only one that lasts.
Did you encounter any hostility when pursuing the project?
I took many precautions before heading out to Papua. For the most part Papua is quite safe but it could be an intense and hostile place in a split second. There is an underground separatist movement in Papua by an armed rebellious group known as OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka). They would ambush non-indigenous Papuans with guns and machetes. I avoided going to places where these attacks have occurred. While in Wamena, a simple misunderstanding that occurred over an unpaid taxi led to a demonstration and a riot that ended up killing that Mayor’s assistant. This happened several blocks from where I was staying. Several times I was accused as a military spy and threatened with physical attacks (rock and axe) simply for having seen with a camera or taking a photograph in public. I also experienced hostility from people like me, who are non-indigenous Papuans. Many times hospital and government staff accused me as a political spy driven by the malicious intent of ruining the reputation of their leaders for political gain. I stayed away from military personnel and the police who might get suspicious of my present. In Jayapura, I was threatened and got kicked out from the shipping port for taking photos. I knew I already got my shot so I played dumb and immediately exited the premises. Hostility is at times unavoidable and unpredictable. For me the key is to keep calm and learn to diffuse it with humor, coy, and by appearing non-threatening. And sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away.
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 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