Sunday, August 5, 2007

Logistics: Bali Photo Expedition

Image Copyright © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Setting the logistics for the Bali photo expedition was a complicated process, not because of the itinerary, but because of the “elasticity” of the Balinese temple anniversary schedules, because of the unavailability of hard and solid information on cremations (as an example), and because time-keeping in Bali is usually “flexible”.

Generally speaking, all temple anniversaries would start in the late afternoon and reach their apogees at night. Cremation ceremonies would start at 11 am, with the actual cremation performed in the early afternoon. Not the best times for photography, but that’s how it is.

The larger temple ceremonies are usually well publicized, and attract thousands of devotees. This means that we had to photograph among large crowds of local Balinese, tourists and gawkers. The larger attendance meant stricter rules as to where we were allowed to stand and photograph. The best photo opportunities were available at smaller temples, where anniversaries were held amongst modest number of attendees, with no tourists and where we welcomed with no preconditions and virtually no restrictions at all beyond having to wear the appropriate sarong and sash. The best of all were the handful of serendipitous events....a ceremonial religious bathing ritual called "mewinten" and a temple odalan attended by women only....which gave us unique photo opportunities.

I opted for two medium sized cars instead of a lumbering bus. These were driven by our fixers/guides, Komang and Putu, and were were sufficiently nimble so that we were able to drive wherever we needed to, even on small muddy paths. Communication and coordination between the two cars was maintained through our fixers’ cell phones. The daily route was discussed with Wayan Sukadana and Komang, who helped me setting it up and deciding between the opportunities available to us.

Our accommodations were the Agung Raka Bungalows in Ubud. The setting is in the midst of idyllic rice fields, and the bungalows are built in traditional Balinese style, with thatched roofs and wooden interiors. The management and staff of Agung Raka did their utmost best to cater to our requirements, and we greatly enjoyed our stay there. It was our home away from home for two weeks. We were also provided with an efficient shuttle service to drive us wherever and whenever we wanted in Ubud. Wayan Sukadana, the general manager of the hotel, spared no effort to make our stay as comfortable as possible, and generously shared his knowledge of Bali and its culture with us.

I tracked down Mrs Korniawati, a dancing teacher in Canggu from my previous trip, and we were fortunate to set up a photo session with some of her dancing students.

We usually had our lunches at Café Moka on Jalan Rajah, which has the best baguettes sandwiches in town. We also found Dragonfly Café to be a top destination to relax with its exotic drinks and wireless service, as well as having delicious muesli and yogurt. Good food is plentiful in Ubud, and we enjoyed excellent dinners at Nomad, Ary’s Warung, Bebek Bengil and Lamak, among others.

Photographically-speaking, I found that having a short wide-angle zoom lens such as the 16-35mm (or 17-40), a 24-70mm and a long zoom lens such as the 70-200mm worked best for me. The latter proved invaluable when photographing the various Balinese dances and for candid portraiture during crowded ceremonies. I used the mid-range zoom for environmental portraiture and for general photography. A polarizer worked nicely for the ricefields photography, especially to enhance the fields' saturation. Some of us used recorders to capture the ambient sounds, chants and gamelan music which accompany all temple celebrations, and these soundtracks will eventually backdrop the still photographs.

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