Men, Mountains and the Sea
There is a striking image by Rony Zakaria from his monochrome series Men, Mountains and the Sea in which a spearhead of light cuts across the centre of a valley. Dark forms of mountains can be seen on the horizon, and a volcano sits faintly smoking beneath a sky filled with stars. The image is one that instantly makes us feel small, while highlighting the immensity and mystery of our planet.
Zakaria’s series, which began in 2008, examines man’s connection with the environment in the photographer’s native land of Indonesia. Situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is spread across 17,000 islands and is home to over 150 active volcanoes. In this land governed by the elements, the sea and the mountains are regarded as sacred entities.
Over a period of eight years, Zakaria travelled across Indonesia to document rituals and uncover traditions that have remained at the epicentre of communities for generations, paying homage to a land that can be at times cruel and unforgiving.
“It started when I visited a friend of mine in Yogyakarta — a city in Java, Indonesia,” explains Zakaria. “At the time I was just starting out as a photographer. I hadn't travelled much and I was curious about everything. But what intrigued me the most was how the people in Yogyakarta connected with the sea and the Merapi, the active volcano that erupted every few years. My initial idea was to do a series based on this connection between man and sea, and I stayed for two weeks, but since then, the project has gradually developed as I’ve found similar relationships in places across Indonesia.”
Of those he encountered and photographed, Zakaria says: “I went to the island of Bali, Semeru, which has the highest peak in Java island; Bromo where the natives have an annual ritual of thanksgiving by offering livestock to a volcano crater; a village where whaling is a part of their way of life; and just a couple months ago I visited a seaport town in Sumatra, where once a year its people commemorate their ancestors’ arrival by a boat from the sea.”
Shot entirely in black-and-white, each landscape is underscored with mystery. Beneath their immediate beauty, a sense of unease resides in the shadows, recalling the untameable force and fury of nature. Civilisations huddle in the nooks of mountains; a woman kneels waist-deep in a foaming sea; a small girl is silhouetted against a mountain range with her arms outstretched, as if in surrender to the awesome, unseen power in front of her. Despite these flashes of fear, we also witness an intimate bond between nature and man that has so far managed to resist the insistent spores of globalization. It is in these untouched terrains where an immense power remains; it seems as if it could withstand anything.
Zakaria says: “One experience that I remember vividly was going up to the peak of Mt. Semeru, which takes two days to reach (at my pace). It was one of those moments where I felt totally humbled being on the summit peak. It was not just the satisfaction of accomplishment, but also pure happiness to be able to see such a view and to be there. It was a rare feeling I will never forget.”
—Rony Zakaria, interviewed by Eva Clifford