Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races (Work and Play in Sumatra)

With the latest Nikon announcement, I realized have not published any guest posts in a month. This one about Sumatra is by Michael Fuller (website | Facebook | Twitter):

These adorable kids playing in Bukittinggi's "Jam Gadang" (clock tower) square.

These adorable kids playing in Bukittinggi's "Jam Gadang" (clock tower) square.

Dear NikonRumorers.

Two activities that unite all humans across this world are work and play. They also divide humans, typically by age – but not always. Sadly, many children in this world are required to work. And happily, many adults are still choosing to play.

With my Nikon D7000 I spent a month surfing, scootering and scuba diving across Sumatra. But mostly I was documenting the lives of ordinary people I met along the way, at work and at play.

Many of these stories have become photo-essays and cultural adventures on my website. But today I’ve compiled a short post exclusively for the readers of NikonRumors! I’ve chosen one ‘roll’ of photos to share. That’s 24 shots, for you young’s.

And since we all like to geek out on gear, I’ll pre-empt any questions: My three lenses are an 11-16mm f/2.8; an 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6; and a 35mm f/1.8. Now, the photos!

Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races in Sumatra1

"Do you have punks in Canada?" they asked me. "Yes," I replied, "But they don't play the ukulele."

"Do you have punks in Canada?" they asked me.
"Yes," I replied,
"But they don't play the ukulele."

 

I have a fascination with how people work differently, in different countries.

I have a fascination with how people work differently, in different countries.

Protecting the President (Jokowi) during his visit to give a speech at Kilometer 0, the northernmost point in Indonesia.

Protecting the President (Jokowi) during his visit to give a speech at Kilometer 0, the northernmost point in Indonesia.

Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races in Sumatra5

Mr Mohammed, the gardener and very old friend of my new friend.

Mr Mohammed, the gardener and very old friend of my new friend.

Between torrential downpours, this man and his family would run out from their paddy huts to scare away the birds.

Between torrential downpours, this man and his family would run out from their paddy huts to scare away the birds.

Women negotiating a sale of dried fish (ikan kering) and octupus on the west coast of Aceh.

Women negotiating a sale of dried fish (ikan kering) and octupus on the west coast of Aceh.

Struggling to get the buffalo into the truck, in a remote corner of Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra.

Struggling to get the buffalo into the truck, in a remote corner of Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra.

To a child, everything's a toy.

To a child, everything's a toy.

Cabbage is the business: Around North Sumatra, they love growing cabbage. There are entire sheds stacked double overhead with cabbage stockpiles. These men empty their rejects into the paddock for the cows.

Cabbage is the business: Around North Sumatra, they love growing cabbage. There are entire sheds stacked double overhead with cabbage stockpiles. These men empty their rejects into the paddock for the cows.

Drinking Music, Drunken Staggering: Batak men at Lake Toba sing a drinking song, complete with drunken staggering. They were great.

Drinking Music, Drunken Staggering: Batak men at Lake Toba sing a drinking song, complete with drunken staggering. They were great.

Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races in Sumatra13

This child told me for every kilogram of plastic he collects he earns $1. I'm not sure if you've ever weighed your recycling, but that's a lot of plastic.

The bubble vendor in Bukittinggi's "Jam Gadang" (clock tower) square.

The bubble vendor in Bukittinggi's "Jam Gadang" (clock tower) square.

Two adorable kids playing in Bukittinggi's "Jam Gadang" (clock tower) square.

Two adorable kids playing in Bukittinggi's "Jam Gadang" (clock tower) square.

Boiling cane sugar, burning mostly garbage, in a backyard factory in central Sumatra. With delicious results

Boiling cane sugar, burning mostly garbage, in a backyard factory in central Sumatra. With delicious results

I love his facial expression. Delicious. Shot at a backyard cane sugar factory in central Sumatra.

I love his facial expression. Delicious.
Shot at a backyard cane sugar factory in central Sumatra.

Most women in Sumatra wear pyjamas for clothes. It's quite bizarre. This is someone's front yard mini-petrol station. Quite professional when compared with the racks of glass bottles in most of Indonesia.

Most women in Sumatra wear pyjamas for clothes. It's quite bizarre.
This is someone's front yard mini-petrol station. Quite professional when compared with the racks of glass bottles in most of Indonesia.

Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races in Sumatra20

A kite competition in rural Sumatra.

Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races in Sumatra21

The rules are simple: Everyone unrolls 50m of line and stands together, their launcher ready. On “Go” (this decisive moment) the kites are released, and the first kite to get directly overhead of the flier is the winner.

Kites, Bubbles, and Buffalo Races in Sumatra22

The Indonesian word for kites is “layang layang”

A kite ('layang layang') competition in rural Sumatra.

A kite ('layang layang') competition in rural Sumatra.

Bull Racing in Rice Paddy. From a remote rural rice harvesting festival in Central Sumatra.

Bull Racing in Rice Paddy. From a remote rural rice harvesting festival in Central Sumatra.

Like this theme? I’ve just published The World at Work: a photography book!

Travel is not really about me anymore. It’s about the lives of people I touch along the way, whether connecting with locals, or educating and entertaining people online. I’ve just finished a book to celebrate the people whose livelihoods most of us would consider difficult, strange, rare, traditional... or just different.  To showcase the world, at work.

Everyone in the world works, so I think everyone in the world will find something surprising, thought-provoking, or beautiful in this book. To learn more or get your copy, please visit my IndieGoGo page

Keep working hard, but playing harder!

-Mike

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • purenupe1

    The child in tire is my favorite of the pictures and echoes the innocent and beautiful nature of children

    • Max

      I thought the one of the child in the tyre was a bit “cliché”. And also the portrait of the man with the stick. Anyway, he’s stuff is nice and raw. Great eye for documenting people and atmosphere.

    • Cinematism

      I like that too

    • Mike

      Thanks Perenupe! The tyre child was really a wonderful situation for me, because I was in a small Sumatran village and the kid didn’t care a lick about us! He would play, sit, stare, and not really want to answer many questions in Indonesian (I speak basic bahasa). Some kids are scared, some curious, others ambivalent. In Sumatra, many the latter. It’s fun to meet such different attitudes.

  • The photos do tell a good story but the way it was ‘retouched’ (or shot?) is a bit lacking of some punch – in my honest opinion. It ain’t bad though.

    • Mike

      Hi Fritz. Can you elaborate? I love feedback. Do you mean the technicals about the way I processed them?

  • usa

    Bull Racing! Love it. Thanks for posting!

  • nkeven

    Nice work! A couple of friendly suggestions.

    1) Be more selective in your selection of photos. You have some really good photos and some so so photos. If you just show the best ones, you will tell a much stronger story. Less is more.

    2) Don’t show more than one photo of the same event (e.g. the kite competition, bubbles etc.). It doesn’t add up, instead it takes away from the magic of the single best shot. Pick the best of the bunch.

    2) In a photo story like this, the viewers expect some visual continuity among the pictures besides the theme. Decide whether the photos will be B&W or color and don’t mix them. Keep post-processing similar in all photos. Some photographers even prefer to use similar focal lengths (or even a single focal length) to preserve the visual continuity among photos.

    My 2 cents.

    • Cinematism

      I think your commentaries are honest and constructive, I liked, but we have to consider that the photographer is only sharing his work with us, it is not a professional gallery exhibition. By other hand, the idea that the viewers expect visual continuity its true in most cases, but it is not a natural law, just a convection. The spectators also want to see happy ends, and most of listeners want tonality chords.

      • nkeven

        Fair enough. Even though this is not an exhibition, still he is showing his photos to a large audience. I don’t know the photographer at all, but when I looked at his images, he seemed like a talented amateur photographer trying to transition to the professional level. I was trying to suggest some editorial tricks that would make his photos look more professional as a whole.

        Yes, visual continuity is not a natural law, one can do as one pleases. Still, it pays off to stick to the norms especially when you’re just starting off.

        • Cinematism

          I agree. 🙂

        • Mike

          nkeven this is great feedback and I appreciate it, especially about post-processing, focal lengths, colour/BW.

          Without making excuses, my approach here was a bit more mixed than usual. I usually write photo-essays on a single event or place (see my website, if you dare!) but this time I had a brainwave on a “Work & Play” theme.

          I agree that I could pick the best bubble shot. For the kite competition however there was a lot of elements to the story. I tried not to double up any aspects of it, but I think it would be impossible to capture this event in a single image.

          Cheers for the advice!

  • Cinematism

    Thanks for sharing your pictures

    • Mike

      Thanks for enjoying!

  • Patrick O’Connor

    “Most women in Sumatra wear pyjamas for clothes. It’s quite bizarre.” I live in the USA and I’ve seen more than a few women, and one man, wear PJs in public! Very bizarre! 🙂
    Nice photos and a wonderful theme.

    • Mike

      Haha nice Patrick. I guess I meant compared to the rest of Indo where I’ve travelled extensively I found this quite surprising. It’s wonderful what some cultures pick up and make their own. And Sumatran women really *own* the pyjama look!

      • Patrick O’Connor

        I don’t know. The pudgy, teenaged girls at Walmart with their fuzzy slippers, wear them well. 🙂

        • Eric Calabros

          in the US they wear that to show they are relax, outdoor. in some parts of Asia, its outdoor wear! (Search “Kurdish pants”). Hope you understand the difference.

          • Patrick O’Connor

            I understand the difference but not sure I would globally assign motivation in the case of Americans. In any case, it looks strange to me. 🙂

  • Lukasz

    Nice work, I like the photograph of a kid playing with a tire most. I also use D7000, which I think is fabulous camera. I too think you do not need expensive gear to shoot nice photographs. Take Nikon E series lenses for example… I recently grabbed one of these gems, Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 Ais for less than $50 on eBay, just couple it to D7000 and there you go…

  • FountainHead

    Great set.
    Excellent choice on when to opt for colour and when to choose B&W.

    • Thanks FountainHead. I try to choose based on the individual image, but one person’s feedback here suggests sticking with a single style for all the photos in a group. I’m not sure there’s one correct way to do things. But in future I’ll consider consistency where it’s possible without compromising too many individual images.

  • Aldo

    Enjoyed the photos… the kid with the tire also my fav… cliche or not… it was executed perfectly and his face is priceless. I find myself wanting to see more than whats within the frame in a few of them… maybe cropped a bit tight? Excellent take on the photos over all. Thanks for sharing.

    • Aldo thanks for your feedback. I do tend to take tightly cropped photos, and it’s long been an intentional aesthetic on my part.
      But I discovered just this year it can be a problem: Producing my recent photography book (“The World at Work”), page bleeds would eat into my shots – often harming the precious little breathing space around a subject!

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