A Bird’s Eye View of a Changing Indonesia

By webadmin on 09:55 pm Dec 29, 2009
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Jonathan Stray

For a gallery of Jez O’Hare’s stunning photographs of Indonesia, click here!

Jez O’Hare has seen more of Indonesia than almost anyone else in his two decades of aerial photography.

“Going to places I’ve never seen before, or that people have never photographed before, that’s what excites me,” he told the Jakarta Globe.

From the seas of Nias to the jungles of Papau, no one has photographed the natural beauty of Indonesia quite like O’Hare. His stunning images have appeared in books and magazines, both locally and internationally. His most recent assignment was to photograph a vast pineapple plantation in Southeast Sumatra.

The British-born photographer has lived in Indonesia since arriving here in 1973 as a 7-year-old. He was naturalized in 1995. Yet the Indonesia he knows is disappearing. O’Hare says he can literally see the effect of Indonesia’s huge population on the land and sea.

“You can see it, every last place someone’s hacking up forest or land for something, from the poor farmers to superwealthy companies,” he said.

Now 43, O’Hare began photographing professionally in the mid-1980s when, as a 19-year-old student, he spent two months in West Papua photographing the indigenous population. Some of his images were published in Suasana, a local travel magazine that is now out of print.

But it was not until 1990 that he took his first aerial photographs. After four days photographing Nusa Tenggara and Flores from a helicopter he was hooked.

“I instantly loved aerial, helicopters, anything that flies,” he said.

He began specializing in aerial photography, leaning out the open doors of planes flown by other people. Then in 1995, he saw an ad in the back of Kitplanes magazine for a paramotor, a flying device consisting of a parachute-like wing and a large powered fan worn on the pilot’s back. Enthralled by the idea of doing his own flying, he placed an order for an $8,000 machine.

But before his first his flying machine could arrive, O’Hare was in a plane crash.

He was on assignment for a property development company, shooting as the passenger in a microlight aircraft in Bogor. The pilot wasn’t properly aligned with the runway on his first landing attempt, and decided to come around for a second try. But instead of climbing, the plane flipped upside down and dived into the ground. The microlight had stalled because the pilot had tried to tried to climb with the flaps in landing position, either jammed or forgotten. O’Hare broke his arm and several ribs.

While he was recovering at home, his paramotor arrived. He said his first few flights were scary because the engine strapped to his back sounded just like the microlight he’d just crashed in. But on his third flight, he saw a magnificent sunset from the air, and finally began to enjoy being a pilot.

“I decided I had to fly myself, choose who I fly with, learn the aircraft, be more safe,” he said.

Now he flies all over Indonesia, seeing it as few others can.These days he pilots a custom-modified microlight aircraft, called a “trike” for its three-wheeled landing gear. He lives in Bandung and operates out of Sulaiman Air Force base, under the auspices of the Indonesian Aero Sport Federation (FASI).

Sometimes he flies long distances to other parts of the country, though weather can make this tricky. He can also haul his trike on a custom trailer, loading his Land Rover with aviation fuel and heading deep into the wilderness.

Other times, he hitches a ride with the Air Force, loading his trike onto an enormous Hercules transport plane. The Air Force flew five trikes across the country this way five years ago for a group flight FASI members were undertaking across Kalimantan.

While O’Hare is best known for his landscapes, he also photographs cities, animals and people. His portfolio includes pictures of tribal people he’s encountered on his travels to remote places.

“Sometimes there’s a few people walking around, they just happen to look amazing walking across that field, so I have to take a picture,” he said.

But not everything he photographs is beautiful. From the air, the difference between developed and undeveloped land is obvious. Sumatra and Kalimantan have been almost completely deforested, O’Hare said. West Papua, his favorite place, is so far mostly untouched.

“I’m really scared that a lot of the forest in [West] Papua is going to be wiped out.,” he said. “I really love those places. When you look down you see these huge expanses of forest that are totally untouched, just green to the horizon. And you think about what would happen if they cut all that down and planted oil palm or something.”

But O’Hare will keep flying, and keep documenting the country and its changes. He said his next project will be a book about bush flying in Papua, though he doesn’t yet have a publisher.

He said he encourages would-be pilots to take up flying and aerial photography. He even offered this tip for beginning shooters: “When you take the door off, tape your seatbelt so it doesn’t come open by mistake.”

See more of Jez O’Hare’s images online at www.indonesiaphotography.com