So once again, my study of photobooks and my interests in Indonesian photography have coincided.
I recently read Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present: A Different History of Photography, edited by Peter Pfrunder, and as a result found this great book by photographer Gotthard Schuh.
In the late 1930’s, Gotthard spent time photographing in Java, Sumatra, and Bali. Later he published a book of his photographs from the islands, accompanied by his writings and travelogue. The book is published in Dutch, French, and German – Eilanden der Goden, Iles des Dieux, and Inseln der Gotter – Islands of the Gods.
In today’s day and age, it is pretty easy to criticize his perspective on Indonesian culture (he gives particular attention to the bare-breasted ladies), and yet the book has an undeniable appeal.
I recently picked up a copy of the 1954 edition of Iles des Dieux. The rotogravure prints illustrating the book are lovely, quite exceptional production standards. And while he does fall for the women – in Bali in particular – he generally makes an earnest attempt to engage Indonesian culture, and offers a broad, visual perspective.
In the text provided in Swiss Photobooks, particular praise is given to Gotthard’s writing, really suggesting his writing makes this more than a standard, romantic vision of the Orient.
Alas, until I can sit down with my French dictionary, I’ll take delight in the rich gravure prints, and the romantic yet honest attempt to engage with Indonesian culture.