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Jakarta – Modest Intervention and Minor Improvisations

Jakarta – Modest Intervention and Minor Improvisations is thematically centred on exploring the city of Jakarta and more specifically the strategies and solutions its inhabitants find to make Jakarta a better place to live in.

I moved to Singapore from London in 2012 and I decided to do a series of projects based on megacities around Southeast Asia. The first city was Bangkok where I made a project entitled Common Love, 2014. After that I decided to visit Jakarta where, Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations is set. My first impression of Jakarta was not positive and I found it difficult to find a theme at first. The thing that I noticed first was how many people spent their time working in public spaces. Eventually this led to the creation of this book.

My first time in Jakarta I was not carrying a camera. I went to get a feel for the city and see if there was a subject I would like to explore. I tend to have very minimal research at the beginning and I only knew the city in a very sketchy way. It must seem strange but it does help me to see things more objectively. In Jakarta, you are always interacting with people. People are so curious there and there are so many people working in the streets.

The way I work is very simple, I choose areas that I find interesting after doing some research or/and are located near points of interest where people would congregate, such as markets waterfronts, stations. From there I would walk and explore always having in mind the themes I am working with. If anything, Jakarta was difficult because it is easy to fall into overused themes, like dirt and poverty. I wanted to stir the project away from these simple ways of seeing a problematic city and I decided instead to focus in how the population strives to make the place a little better by performing small actions and implementing short term solutions.

In Jakarta, and because of its proximity to the equator, the sunrise and sunset times are very regular. I have had to wake up early in other countries to go out and take photographs during sunrise but I was not expecting to have to wake up at 4 a.m. every single day to be able to get the morning light. I was always sleepy as I am a night person and never go to bed before midnight. This took some time to get used to.

I came late to photography in my mid-20s. By then, I had just moved from Spain to the UK and I had taken a job as a gallery attendant at the then called Museum of Modern Art Oxford. One of the exhibitions they had during that time was by Robert Doisneau, a classic French photographer. Being around those photos made me think I could also practice photography and after taking some evening classes and buying a second hand Olympus OM-1, I started pursuing photography more seriously. Then I moved to Brighton where I got a place in the Editorial Photography BA course at The University of Brighton. Today, I work as a lecturer of photography in Singapore.

Being a lecturer is a big challenge at times. I love teaching and being in touch with new generations of young photographers. It has obvious positive influences, as keeping me fresh and relevant due to the amount of research I need to do to teach current content. It also has negative influences mainly due to time constrains and the geographical reach of the places I can access.

The most difficult part of photography is having something to say. That applies to everything and photography is not an exception. The other most practical and difficult part of the creative process is to have the time to work on my projects. As a full-time lecturer, this can be difficult and frustrating at times.

For me, a book is the best medium for photography. You lose the impact a big print has to offer but you gain the intimacy of the experience of reading a photo book. I am also very aware of the legacy it creates for a photographer.

What I find interesting when looking at the work of other photographers is simplicity, originality (this does not mean a new subject matter but a different and personal way to interpret it) and good communication. Work that is beautiful but only centered on technical skills alone would most likely not capture my attention. And, as a personal choice, I do seem to gravitate to work that has a strong sociological content, especially regarding urban studies, geography, architecture and cities in general.

Take a look at Isidro’s book ‘Jakarta – Modest Intervention and Minor Improvisations’


Isidro Ramirez

Isidro Ramirez is a Spanish photographer who, after 20 years spent living, working and studying in the UK, is now based in Singapore. Alongside developing his practice as a contemporary urban photographer, Ramirez now also lectures at Temasek Polytechnic.

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