I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Friday, 18 January 2008
James Nachtwey - Indonesia
This image by James Nachtwey is from Jakarta, 1998, and sums up the end of the Suharto regime and the immediate post-Suharto years.
The images is part of a series that is truly shocking and one of the great photojournalistic series - right up there with Larry Burrows One Ride with Yankee Papa 13 story.
It also encapsulates the backdrop of politics that defines Indonesia in the late 1990s, incorporating elements of sectarianism, military machination, political patronage, regional warfare, manipulation of information and out and out gangsterism. The story goes something like this - the victim was a Christian member of a paramilitary extortion group with links to Suharto's ( recently-deposed as president) daughter. His group had desecrated a local mosque, been chased by local Muslims and found sanctuary in a small army barracks. He got killed after the army kicked him and his friends out - his friends were sent back to where they came from - a place called Ambon - where a brutal and distant little Christian-Muslim war was brewing, a war that ultimately cost perhaps 10,000 lives and saw different branches of the military supporting and helping out different sides in the conflict.
And that is all there behind the picture - though it's not something you would ever find out from the captions that have accompanied the published image, or the stories that it has been used to illustrate. Which is a pity.