Photography Photo Books from Indonesia - Development and Role of Communities

Fotobuchpreis - Jakarta
Fotobuchpreis - Jakarta | © Ng Swan Ti

Similar to photo books from abroad, Indonesian photo books engage in various approaches and themes. Topics such as art, journalism, landscape, documentary, personal exploration, travel and culture have often become the main focus in Indonesian photo books.

Photo books are a rapidly growing part of the photography and publishing industry all over the world these days. Some would even say that this is the golden era of publishing photo books. The role of the photo book as a medium is so advanced that those involved in the world of photography see it as an essential tool to publish one’s photographic works.

The nature of a photo book, which differs from a photo exhibition, puts it in a position where the book itself is the medium of publication. A photo book makes it easier for photographic works to be revisited and looked at again, it is easier to distribute and become a reference or research material when needed. These aforementioned points have resulted in the habit of referring to photo books as a democratic form of an exhibition, even though this is not always the case, especially regarding books that are only printed in small numbers. In accordance with our time, a photo book can even become the stand-alone object of an exhibition. Recently, photo books with invaluable historical value have been found and presented behind a glass display in photo exhibitions.

Even Indonesia has become a part of this development. This has become particularly clear in recent years when it became easier to find new photo books, either self-published by the photographer or by an Indonesian publisher. It needs to be said here that “easier to find” doesn’t mean that the number of Indonesian photo books can be compared to those in other countries that have a strong photo book culture. The number of Indonesian photo books is still too small for a country with a population of over 250 million. But this new phenomenon is a positive sign that at least Indonesian photographers consider photo books an important medium.

Fotobücher aus Indonesien Fotobücher aus Indonesien | © Goethe-Institut Indonesien This approach may seem similar at first glance, but when looking at it more closely, it doesn’t result in the same products that can be found in other countries; the same applies to the content of photo books from Japan, the US and Europe, for instance. Indonesian photo books have their own uniqueness when compared to photo books from abroad. In that regard, photo books are quite effective as a visual window through which differences in culture and perspective can be seen.


The current situation of Indonesian photo books and its challenges

It must be said that Indonesian photo books have not yet received significant attention from the world of photo books. There are many contributing factors to this situation, beginning from a culture of Indonesian photo books that is still relatively new in the country and marketing strategies to the lack of supporting infrastructure. The relatively low number of new titles over the years doesn’t help in positioning Indonesia as a photo book-producing country.

It should be noted that, luckily, Indonesian photo books generally receive a positive response from the public within the country, but on the other hand, there are many things that are actually quite worrying. The growing number of photo books emerging in different genres of course relies solely on the sales from the photography communities, or the existing number of photo books won’t be enough to turn them into a commercial success. Nowadays, there is a tendency among photo book buyers in Indonesia to be more selective when it comes to choosing the products they want to purchase. This stands in contrast to a couple of years ago when Indonesian photo books only began to emerge and many buyers bought one just for the sake of possessing one. This is the biggest challenge to further develop photo books in Indonesia in general, and in particular for self-publishers and publishers who aim to make photo books in Indonesia sustainable.

 Fotobuchpreis - Jakarta Fotobuchpreis - Jakarta | © Eddy Purnomo Regarding the marketing strategy, many publishers and even self-publishers in Indonesia promote their books via social media. This is actually also being done by publishers in other countries, but there is a significant difference between the two. Photo book publishers abroad have a distribution program as well as other promotions that run simultaneously with the social media marketing. Postings on social media are relatively hard to spread beyond a circle of friends and social media acquaintances, and it is also difficult to find these postings through an online search machine.

Another challenge is to create an infrastructure that helps to get easier access to photo books. In some countries where the photo book culture is already strong, it is common to find bookstores that specialize in photo books as their main merchandise. In Indonesia, a culture of independent bookstores has only developed very recently. The arrival of such bookstores opens an opportunity to promote Indonesian photo books through talks and autograph sessions that helps to bring the photographer who is publishing the book closer to his buyers. Moreover, in recent years, there has been an emergence of photo book festivals in other countries, either in the form of a market place or an exhibition. Well-established photography festivals also include programs that involve photo books as part of the activities.

The enthusiasm is high and in terms of quantity, the number of published and sold/bought books are relatively high. But Indonesia does not have a supporting infrastructure like this yet and there aren’t many publishers who dare to participate in such activities as seen in other countries. This results in a distribution network where the dissemination of photo books within and outside of the country is not optimal yet. All sales are still done directly by the self-publisher or the publisher themselves.

Other supporting infrastructure such as media promotions and photo book reviews are almost non-existent. Our photography magazines, for instance, that even discuss techniques and photography tools generally don’t provide editorial space to talk about photo books. Photography magazines that don’t focus on photography tools, like IMA magazine in Japan, Aperture Magazine in the US and Foam in the Netherlands, don’t exist in Indonesia.  Seeing so few examples can actually be seen as testament to to the fact that such magazines are locally seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.

The role of the community in the development of Indonesian photo books

As mentioned earlier, these challenges do not necessarily dampen the enthusiasm of the Indonesian public towards local photo books. Indonesian photo books can still be sold relatively quickly to the public, and this is one of the factors that contributes to the vigorous activities and adds to the support of the local photography communities towards Indonesian photo books.

The community is an important factor in the development of interest in photo books in Indonesia. The fact that photo books are relatively expensive means that not everyone has access to those photo books. The lack of libraries that boast photo books in their collection also contributes to the difficulty of the public to gain access to photo books. Photography communities, local as well as online, help make the access to photo books easier and more enjoyable.

Photo book gatherings, both formally and informally, are an oasis to still the a thirst for knowledge and, on another hand, also develops the desire to produce one’s own books. Community events like this often become outlets for new ideas in connection to a combined interest in photo books and to gather and make connections with stakeholders in the photo book industry. On the other side, the activities of online communities ease and widen the distribution of information about published photo books and  offers a platform to sell and buy Indonesian photo books.

Recently, photo book libraries have emerged out of these communities. Ha! That is, in the end, only logical when we are surrounded by too many books. Sharing is caring.