Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ladies of the inner city

Last Thursday morning I walked around Bandung for hours and I took a lot of pictures. Nearby the Ciroyom train station I found an interesting area. The houses were demolished. But some lonely walls and floors were left. And my guess is that after some time the reason for the destruction got forgotten, because the space has been reoccupied (by the same people? or new ones? and if new ones, where did the old inhabitants move to and were they fairly compensated for resettlement?). The reoccupation makes use of those left behind walls and floors. And the collection of make-shift dwellings has the character some where in between a kampung (inner city village) and a slum. The people of this place work as scavengers, when I was there many were busy cleaning found objects to prepare these to be sold off to recycle firms.

Soccer=War (?)

Last Thursday I photographed this man in Bandung. He asked to be photographed together with the newspaper concerning an article on Persib, the local soccer club. Bandung turns blue every time, which isn’t too often, Persib wins (blue is the color of Persib). After a win the boneks (the fanatic soccer supporters) get on their motorcycles and crisscross through Bandung to voice in a very loud voice their happiness.


Laurel and Hardy in Bandung. I met these two men last Thursday morning, they were having fun together (the Sundanese, I must say, have a great sense of humor).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Are you happy now?

Happiness as a ‘feeling good’ sentiment is boring and highly overrated. There isn’t much effort in it. XTC could do that job. Or Robert Nozick’s experience machine. No need to write actual books and an oeuvre, and eventually get the pleasure of receiving literary prizes. Just hook up to this machine and get the feeling of being a successful author (see p42, Anarchy, State, and Utopia). If happiness is defined the Aristotelian way then it becomes interesting. Instead of psychological states activities are valued, activities that constitute a good life for a human being. Living well is then not merely feeling well but doing actively well according to human excellences (a talent alone does not deserve praise). Living well depends then on many factors: to have physical and intellectual resources (Aristotle went so far as to claim that an ugly person will have a very hard to become happy), to have financial resources, to have friends (friendship is not merely an instrumental but also an intrinsic value), to live in a certain socio-political context, and, of course, to be lucky (severe and prolonged disaster can strip a virtuous man of all the resources to live a happy life). And because of the influence of (bad) luck we can only evaluate a life when it is complete, Aristotle writes: “One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day. Similarly neither can one day, or a brief space of time make a man blessed and happy (Nicomachean Ethics, I.7).” So is this girl in the photo happy? She still has a long way to go. Martha Nussbaum asks then: “To what extent can we distinguish between what is up to the world and what is up to us, when assessing a human life?” This requires reflection upon our own self-conception, the ways we see ourselves (see p2, The Fragility of Goodness).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Meneer Janssen

November 12th Meneer Janssen (his nickname, real name is unknown) died in a tragic traffic accident in Bandung. Meneer Janssen did what many before him did but with altogether different consequences: Meneer Janssen stepped in one of the many holes in the asphalt, he tripped clumsily, he fell, and a car crashed him fatally. Meneer Janssen was born December 23rd 1974 in Anna Paulowna (small municipality in the Netherlands, currently 13,999 inhabitants). It is unknown what affairs Meneer Janssen had in Bandung in particular or in Indonesia in general. His remains remain unclaimed. (Witness drawing by R.E.Hartanto, the driver.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Genuine portraits

The Dutch photographer Bram Tackenberg (1974 born in Heerlen) doesn’t want to make too often portraits. It’s too easy, he says. Too straightforward? Currently he dedicates his time on photographing the city, and he brings focus on particular parts of the city by erasing parts of the image. Through this process Tackenberg is able to show details of our natural urban habitat we tend to overlook. But how well do we see our fellow urbanites? The picture above is strong because there is a click of connection with those two individuals portrayed. Do we really see our fellow urbans? Or do we look upon others to see only ourselves reflected, which denies individuality to the one who is portrayed (justified in the name of universalism as in the portraits by Rineke Dijkstra, 1959 born in Sittard, the Netherlands, see for an example here)? (For Bram Tackenberg’s work online see here and here.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Requiem for a city

The total amount of cars in the city of Jakarta is approximately two and a half million, and this increases per annum by eleven percent. And each car needs more or less three square meters in parking space, thus when the total amount of cars increases not just more roads are needed. Concrete and asphalt cannot absorb rainwater. For spatial planners this means that parts of the city are supposed to remain empty to function as water reservoirs (in Jakarta this is less than 9% of the city). Where I am sitting right now, typing these words, is supposed to be empty space according to the previous spatial plan (the photo is my view from the sixteenth floor). But that plan has been adjusted. A dozen of apartment towers have been constructed or are under construction. All this makes the city in general and this area in particular even more prone to floods (and the poor have to pay: if nothing is done their neighborhoods are the first to be flooded, and if something is done their neighborhoods are the first to be removed).

Monday, March 19, 2007


It is often said that we humans are by nature social beings. But we urbans feel ambiguous. At times we feel alienated. We feel lonely. Lost between concrete and asphalt. At such times we hide our vulnerability behind facades and masquerades, with ironies and metaphors. (‘Fragile’ is a painting by Agus Suwage, 1959 born in Purworejo, Central Java.)

Sunday, March 18, 2007


On my window the tropical rain – this time including hail – leaves graphic quality; those rain drops on my window leave the quality of silencio. I was reading Italo Calvino’s ‘The Adventure of a Photographer’ when the rain started and this thought occurred to me. Calvino writes: “The minute you start saying something, ‘Ah, how beautiful! We must photograph it!’ you are already close to the view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore, in order really to live, you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or consider photographable every moment of your life. The first course leads to stupidity; the second to madness.” Stupidity or madness? (This story and other writings by/about Calvino are available here.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I see but don't hear

Al Gore’s electricity bill goes with kilowatt speed through the roof of his home. Does this contradict the argument Al Gore develops in ‘An Inconvenient Truth, A Global Warning ’? The movie is an Academy Award-winning documentary film about climate change, specifically global warming, directed by Davis Guggenheim (2006). Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Ecce Homo’, for example, remains valuable despite the fact that his sister was a dumb fascist. And no one needs to live up to be a saint. But questions on integrity will surface when the body of ideas and the body of actions diverge so greatly.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Fear of Fear

Aero planes fall from the skies. Ships sink to the bottom of the seas. And trains derail. And then the occasional mudslide and earthquake. A series of the proportion of a plague from the Old Testament? Should we fear for our lives? Or is that irrational? Should we instead fear the life consuming fear?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where are you from?

This is Mona, mother of a newborn. Mona lives in Bandung. And because of that I assumed she was Sundanese (the major ethnic group of West Java, of which Bandung is the capital city). Mona is half Chinese, half Padangnese (West Sumatra) though. In the Netherlands the question ‘where are you from?’ is answered with the place of birth (perhaps immigrants give a different answer). But the same question asked in Indonesia provokes food for thought: is place of birth or the ancestral ethnic background the appropriate answer?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Congestion… a Virtue?

The mega metropolitan region that is Jakarta-Banten-Tangerang-Depok-Bogor-Bekasi is in many ways highly dysfunctional, the traffic, for example, is congested. But for slum dwellers this is a blessing in disguise: as soon as traffic comes to a halt the trading starts – from poetry readings to begging, from selling water to singing protest songs, from selling city maps to cleaning windshields – it is a miniature redistributive system (in the face of an absent or illegitimate state). The famous/notorious architect Rem Koolhaas (1944 born in Rotterdam, in the fifties he lived in Jakarta) sees congestion therefore as a virtue. But is it morally right to ask the slum dweller to accept the empirical given of the dysfunctional metropolis with its multiple congestions? Koolhaas says that people can live anywhere, because they do, and architecture has little impact on happiness. Somehow I think that the acceptance of the congested metropolis should be taken on the individual level to turn it into a ethical/aesthetical virtue, but that we are still in the need of a collective (state?) level to deal with the latter question and come up with political answers on access to potable water, housing, education spatial planning (sometimes this means leaving or making space empty, these areas are important in the rain season), legal certainty (land entitlements). That the problems of the generic city are so vast does not – should not – mean we shouldn’t try to come up with piecemeal solutions (but without blue print). The slum dweller is trying to make something out of a bad situation, he has no choice, should that mean we have to accept his situation as a virtue?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Message from Babel: Congested Space

Friedrich Nietzsche defines in Ecce Homo Russian fatalism as “unrebellious fatalism with which the Russian soldier, when a campaign becomes unbearable, finally lies down in the snow. To accept nothing more – to cease entirely from reacting. The high sagacity of this fatalism, which is not always mere courage in the face of death, but which in the most dangerous circumstances may work toward self-preservation, is tantamount to a reduction of activity in the vital functions, the slowing down of which is like a sort of will to hibernate.”

Monday, March 5, 2007

Message from Babel: Congested Time

The Tower of Babel / The Pit of Babel by Franz Kafka

The Tower of Babel
If it had been possible to build the tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.

The Pit of Babel
What are you building? – I want to dig a subterranean passage. Some progress must be made. My station up there is much too high. We are digging the pit of Babel.

(A collection of Franz Kafka's stories.)

Sunday, March 4, 2007

This is no metaphor

I was asked what I want to say with this photo. I didn't take this picture because I was trying to say something through these leaves. I took the photo because I liked the way all that green moved against a blue background. The photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) claimed that a photograph is a new fact. That is true. He said: “I don't have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph.”

Thursday, March 1, 2007


I went in to make some photos, but I almost ended up in that chair to get a haircut.