Master of His Craft Presents a Photographic Homage to Bali


The spirit of Bali is celebrated in a new exhibition of evocative photographs soon to go on show at Ganesha Gallery, at the Four Seasons Jimbaran. Internationally acclaimed photojournalist John Stanmeyer is showing a collection of black and white photographs in the exhibition, which opens on December 9.

Stanmeyer’s work has appeared in National Geographic and Time magazine, mostly over the 12 years he lived in Asia, five of them in Bali. He now lives in Massachusetts, on the American east coast.

His Ganesha exhibition, Island of Spirits, will showcase a series of black-and-white photographs that also feature in his new book of the same name, which he will launch at the exhibition opening.

Stanmeyer, born in Illinois, is a founding member of VII photo agency.

Over his 12 years in Asia, Stanmeyer witnessed throughout that time nearly every major historical event in Asia, photographing the rapid changes taking place throughout the entire region.

Working globally, he has focused on the plight of refugees from the Ugandan civil war, spent months chronicling the effects of the 2004 tsunami and documented the mental healthcare crises in Asia.

Before he moved to Hong Kong in 1996, Stanmeyer covered the conflict in South Sudan, Eastern European social change after the fall of communism, as well as numerous visits to Haiti to record the endless social tragedies plaguing that island nation. 

For more than eight years he has documented the spread of HIV/AIDS through every country in Asia. Stanmeyer’s focus is on social injustices, eradication of global poverty, human rights and raising awareness for the sustaining vanishing cultures.

Working regularly for National Geographic Magazine, on contract with Time magazine for over 10 years and photographing for numerous other global publications, Stanmeyer has been the recipient of numerous honours including the Robert Capa award. He has been Magazine Photographer of the Year, been awarded numerous World Press, Picture of the Year and NPPA awards and, in 2008, received the National Magazine Award for this in-depth essay on the global malaria epidemic.

Stanmeyer’s latest book is a journalistic/anthropologic look at Balinese culture documented over the five years he lived in virtual seclusion on the island, was published in November 2010.

Stanmeyer visited remote corners of the island to document esoteric rituals and dances. In order not to “produce yet another lovely colour book on the island of the Gods,” he chose to use black-and-white film and perhaps the world’s simplest camera – the US$25 Holga invented in China in 1981 for the mass market that has become iconic among those who wish to return to the roots of photography and rebel against the digital revolution.

The resulting photos are reminiscent of early photographs before the invention of razor-sharp lenses and high-speed film. Stanmeyer, in spite of his homage to the ancient past, makes no attempt to cover up influences from the post-modern world.

Thus in Cleansing, the supple backs and legs of the young men bathing in a river are tattooed. Intriguingly, at first, the soft focus evokes the impression that the tattoos could be the silhouettes of leaves from the canopy above.

The compositions of the photos are asymmetrical. In Melasti we see only the forearms and wavy blades of two brandished kris against a moody sky.

In Ubud Cremation a lone hand points to the far away peak of a cremation tower carried on the shoulders of a crowd of agitated men. One face juts out firm and steadfast in the chaos.

The collection of photos has also been published in a book produced by Afterhours publishing of Jakarta.

ISLAND OF THE SPIRITS. Photographs by John Stanmeyer. Ganesha Gallery, Four Seasons Jimbaran, December 9-January 3.

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