Isidro Ramirez discusses Jakarta: Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations

June 02, 2016 0 Comments

Isidro Ramirez discusses Jakarta: Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations

Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations is an intriguing, if unusual name. Can you tell us the idea behind the project?

Isidro→ As much as I love visiting Jakarta (I have visited this city at least 20 times since 2013) I also realise it is a difficult city to live in and many locals actually refer to Jakarta as an unlivable city. The question I posed myself during the making of this project was, what would I do if I had to live in a city like Jakarta and more importantly, how does one make an unlivable city a viable place to live? When urban planning has not worked, when the rate of growth overwhelms any solutions that are planned and implemented… What then? What are the routine solutions jakartans have to perform to be able to cope in such an environment?

Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations is a collections of images that tries to understand this city without judgement and also answer these questions.

From your experiences, what are they conditions that make Jakarta almost unlivable, and what are the “routine solutions jakartans have to perform to be able to cope in such an environment”?

Isidro → My experience in Jakarta has been one of privilege and that is also the case for many other people living there. It is not unusual to see luxury mixed with extreme poverty in some areas of Jakarta - shopping malls with high end designer brands sit right next to shanty towns. What makes Jakarta unlivable to the privilege few might be just trivial to the rest. Having put this into perspective, I think traffic is usually mentioned as one of the main problems this city faces. Jakarta does not have a good public transport system to speak of and roads are congested most of the time. There’s a constant flow of cars and motorbikes moving at a very slow pace for most of the day. Most Jakartans I have spoken to cite this as the main source of their frustration. But of course this is not the only one; pollution, high population density, not appropriate rubbish collection, unregulated commercial areas, poverty and homelessness are some of the many other challenges Jakartans have to put up with on a daily bases.

How did you try to convey this with your photographs?

Isidro → My photographs are a look into the small scale solutions Jakarta’s inhabitants have to constantly find that allow them to make this city a slightly better place to live in. That’s not to say there are not big scale projects and solutions being implemented right now. For example, a MRT system is currently under construction (similar to Bangkok’s) and when finished in 2018, 2 lines North-South line and East-West will stretch across 108 Km. This project will have a massive impact in the quality of life of Jakartans and, similarly to what is currently happening in Bangkok, these commuting MRT lines will exacerbate urban development along the proximity of the new stations (this is material for a possible new project). However, Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations is not concerned with these big institutional projects but with the smaller scale and the vernacular ones . I have pointed my camera precisely to the average person in the streets performing their small trivial daily routines and I hope this would enable my photographs to give an impression of what it is like to live in this city. It is also worth mentioning that I have divided my photos into 2 themes; interventions and improvisations and they focus on 2 different groups of actions.

Trees, coming out through the roofs of houses and shops, are a prominent feature in this series, what role did they play in your perception of Jakarta?

Isidro → Trees have a very interesting role in Jakarta. I have never seen trees being used in this way before in any other countries I have visited in SE Asia. As seen in some of the photos in the book, street trees are used and appropriated for numerous reasons. For example street sellers use trees as a pillar from where to build rudimentary structures that protect their shops from the rain and sun. These structures seem to grow in tandem with the tree. The bigger the tree the most prosperous and settled the shops beneath seem to be. This is just another of these improvisations I have been documenting in this book.


Is this your fascination with Jakarta satisfied?

Isidro → If you mean whether I will do another body of work in Jakarta, it will have to be seen. I have no plans on doing anything there for the time being but my interest in Jakarta continues and every time I visit, I do take my camera with me and I always find something to photograph. Right now I am leaving the big cities behind and starting a new project in Yogyakarta ( a city in central Java). In particular, I am photographing the communities around one of the most active volcanos in the world - Mount Merapi. It was a conscious decision to start a project away from the cities as I wanted a new kind of environment. This volcano’s dramatic landscapes offers me a beautiful backdrop from which I can explore the communities’ economical, social and spiritual dependency to Merapi’s cycles of creation and destruction.