maandag 8 september 2008

Photographers Java Woodbury & Page Dutch East Indies Photography


Woodbury & Page, Photographers, Java.
Leiden, KITLV Press, 1994. With numerous illustrations, maps; bibliography. 219 pp.orig. boards with d.wr. Oblong 4to. Fine copy. Rare, the edition was limited to 1200 copies.


No matter what we read about the Netherlands Indies and no matter how evocative the written images may be, we are still unable to capture a real picture of that society. We may know a bit about what happened and we can shape a form of the culture and the nature in our minds, but if the picture approaches anywhere near what the reality was is a moot point.The Royal Institute for Linguistics and Anthropology has just published a wonderful book which may help us to get as close asa view of the reality of the Netherlands Indies as we ever can.The book 'Woodbury and Page, Photographers Java' by StevenWachlin is a gem to be cherished. It contains 175 photos taken byWoodbury and Page, two Englishmen who set up their shop in 1857 and saw it grow into the most important and prolific photographicfirm to have operated in the Netherlands Indies in the 19thcentury. The firm, which continued to run well after the departure of the original owners, carried its activities into the twentieth century.

The book consists of two parts. The first describes the activities of the firm and introduces the photographers themselves.

The second part takes us on a journey around the Archipelago as it was more than a century ago. The photos are beautiful and, moreover, are well reproduced. They take us back to a world which no longer exists, but of which some remnants may still be found. These remnants are mostly of anarchitectural or scenic nature and sometimes time even seems to have stood still. For instance, the picture of the giant ogre at Singasara, East Java, was taken in 1860. The statue is still there. I took a picture of it in 1980 which is almost identical.The palace in Bogor, the mosque in Banten, the Willemskerk in Batavia, now Gereja Immanuel in Jakarta, are still in much the same shape as they were a century or more ago. The most salient change is in the people, their dress, their expressions, sometimes their culture. No elaborate balls can everagain be held in De Harmonie as the building was demolished in the 1980s. Residenten, Regenten a whole layer in society and the culture they built around them have gone. Then there were the rajas of the Outer Islands, what remains of them is a mere shadow of former splendour. The old statues which adorned the cities have been taken from their pedestals to be replaced by others.It is interesting to contemplate a work such as this on contemporary Indonesia to enable us to compare two worlds on the same spot of land but separated by what seems to be an aeon of time.The book is an important tool for forming a picture of the continuity and change to be found in the world today, with its roots in a past we can see and contemplate.Steve Wachlin (1948) is a photo historian. Following the completion of his studies in art history at the University ofAmsterdam he co-organized exhibitions and published on the history of nineteenth century commercial photography in theNetherlands, the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), Surinam,and the Middle East.

At the time this book appeared, an exhibition of the work of Woodbury & Page borrowed from the holdings of the Royal Institutefor Anthropology and Linguistics was held in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden (National Museum of Ethnology), which ranfrom 27 May to 28 August 1994.Wachlin, Steven, 'Woodbury and Page: Photographers Java', KITLVPress, Leiden 1994, 215 pp, 175 photo's

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