Best of ASMP Photographer

I’m chuffed to be selected as a Best of ASMP 2011 photographer by my peers at the American Society of Media Photographers. I’ve long been inspired by tales of past honorees, and this year’s roll call is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s amazing how many languages people use to “write with light”.

ASMP Bulletin editor Jill Waterman made a marathon effort interviewing this year’s 20 photographers. Even I learned a thing or two in my own Q&A, thanks to her probing questions. And Director of Communications Pete Dyson bent over backwards to wrangle last-minute tear sheets and photo captions into my web profile.

Far-flung in Indonesia, it’s easy to feel cut-off from the mainstream photographic community. Devoted efforts from people like Jill and Pete, and the generous wealth of experience at the ASMP forums, make me feel right at home. Thanks guys!!

An excerpt from the Q&A…

Best of 2011: Djuna Ivereigh


© Djuna Ivereigh

Poachers-turned-guides scale giant trees, some with their first branches 50 meters off the forest floor.

During a 1998 Indonesian caving expedition, Djuna Ivereigh’s forest guides turned out to be a gang of highly skilled cockatoo poachers, trapping birds for the pet trade. At the end of the trip, she stayed behind to photograph the group as a personal project. Her resulting images inspired a conversion: While the poachers initially showed no signs of remorse in stringing up birds, they felt differently after studying her pictures. They now run a wildlife rehabilitation center and lead groups into the trees as ecotourism guides. Ivereigh has remained in Indonesia, as well, where she continues to photograph conservation and tourism, including luxury villas in Bali.

Djuna Ivereigh, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Project: A personal project documenting how Indonesian poachers operate and why, which resulted in their change of heart to work in ecotourism and wildlife rehabilitation.

DjunaPix-SeramAug2011-73

Guides from Seram Canopy Safaris (clockwise from top: Sonny, Ois, Buce and Peter) share a laugh beneath their newest rainforest canopy platform.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

DI: Freelancing for 20 years; writing and shooting full time for 13; still working to wean myself of words.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

DI: Finally(!) pulled my head out and joined this year.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

DI: Trees, hobbits and the odd luxury villa. Emphasis on “odd.”

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

DI: Menfolk envy my 500/f4 and its dedicated extender. My only consolation: “It’s not about the equipment, it’s how you use it!”

 

Read on about my rite of passage, how I dropped in on a cargo cult, and how I repaired a camera with a rock.

And see 19 more fascinating Q&As here.

Monkey Business

Rosek Nursahid, a founder of ProFauna Indonesia, visits ebony leaf monkeys at a rehabilitation center while coordinating the most ambitious release to the wild to date.

This year in Indonesia, some 2500 Javan langurs will be poached from the wild, mostly sold as pets. Rosek Nursahid, co-founder of ProFauna Indonesia, doesn’t like this. He and a corps of activists will prod government officials to confiscate the endangered monkeys from markets. In the past, this has involved wrestling cages from angry mobs of vendors.

Langurs in hand, ProFauna’s real work begins. Their biggest challenge lies in rehabilitating the animals and releasing them to the wild.

When I heard that Rosek was coordinating the most ambitious langur release to date—41 animals in 3 troops—I asked to tag along. Graciously he worked me into his logistics, a tactical surge involving three times as many people as monkeys.

6-week-old Intan would be the youngest ebony leaf monkey ever released to the wild. How would she fare?

6-week-old Intan would be the youngest ebony leaf monkey ever released to the wild. How would she fare?

Before Release Day, I visited the langur rehabilitation center. I found Rosek working the phones, wrangling ropes and climbing gear, and checking final touches on three dozen backpack-able crates. Then he stole time for one last stroll through the langur enclosure.

Some monkeys had been there for years. Rosek knew each by name and by their tortured pasts. Did they remember the wild? Would they adapt? He was particularly concerned about Intan, a baby born just six weeks before Release Day. He’d never released a toddler, but at this stage it was too late to turn back.

Releasing 41 monkeys to the wild was an effort involving 3 times as many people.

Releasing 41 monkeys to the wild was an effort involving 3 times as many people.

To the uninitiated, releasing animals to the wild sounds easy. In reality, it’s anything but.

For starters, try finding real estate for wide-ranging leaf-eating monkeys on the world’s most populous island. That took a year. Finally, in the shadow of Mt. Semeru, a smoldering volcano in East Java, they found a patch of cloud forest out of range of humans and other langurs.

Next, chase down funding, push through permits, set a date. Recruit students for three months of monitoring and hope they can actually keep up with monkeys. Hire a village, build a camp, cut steep, slimy trails, string a Tyrolean traverse across a gorge. Haul in planks, build treetop enclosures. Add a neighboring blind at the behest of a last-minute film crew.

Monkeys had to be hauled some 50 meters across a steep gorge to the release site.

Monkeys had to be hauled some 50 meters across a steep gorge to the release site.

Now truck in the langurs. Pack them through the forest, wriggling in their boxes, haul them over the gorge and up into a tree. About two years after you rescued some of those monkeys, shift them to the last cage they’ll ever see. Stuff in leaves and leave them overnight, to settle.

I woke before dawn on Release Day, and joined Rosek on the trek up to Troop #3. Volcanic ash dusted the tree ferns, like snow in the tropics.

I watched from the filmmakers’ blind as the langur cage was opened. We hid behind palm leaves, so as not to scare the langurs. I guess it worked because the first thing the big female did was to march over and greet her new neighbors. Before long there were more monkeys watching us than the other way around.

Red phase ebony leaf monkey

Troop leader Tommy on alert

But Tommy, the troop leader, had other priorities. He climbed high, circled wide around the group and squinted into the forest. Poached late in life, he knew the threats of eagles and aggressive, territorial langurs. Was he up to the task of protecting his harem?

Maybe not. By the next morning Tommy had disappeared. Lost, killed, or living in self-imposed exile, we’ll never know. He was never seen again.

This left Intan without a father, along with her older half-brother, Chewbacca. And though langurs should range far and wide in search of food, this leaderless troop spent days close to its treehouse, and ours, sampling local leaves, napping, grooming, and doing its best to keep the kids out of trouble.

This latter effort proved futile. Intan’s curiosity outpaced her coordination by a long shot. At any chance she’d lurch off a limb and dangle head first, 30 meters off the deck, screaming like eagle bait.

Baby ebony leaf monkey hanging upside-down

Baby Intan in trouble

Before long, mom had had enough. She bounced into the blind, parked Intan on my lap, and took off on a forage. No doubt about it, I was on babysitting duty. Intan craned her neck up with a look that said, “Mom’s gone. Let’s have fun!” Then fell over.

Monkey babysitting

Me getting recruited for monkey babysitting duty

Recall, if you will, that the point of this exercise is to sever the cruel bond between human and wild animal. Then remind me, because never before or since have I seen anything so worth a cuddle as this fuzzy bundle of monkey baby.

Before the release, Rosek made perfect sense when he said that cultivating the trust of the langurs would be a very bad thing. On the whole, we humans should be the langurs’ worst fear. But now all that jazz about maintaining distance and avoiding eye contact was proving a very tall order. I was ready to stuff Intan in my pack and smuggle her home.

Monkey huddle

Mom looking out for Intan and her cousin

Thankfully, Intan wobbled just beyond arm’s reach. She seemed safer there, fixated on some twig and not on me. So silly she was! Jerky, like her nerve impulses came in jolts. She started a jig around that twig—hop, hop, hop, then… gone! Straight over the edge, like a pilot on auto-eject. I dove for her, too late to help, and just in time to see her thumping on leaf litter like dead weight.

Intan lay silent as the langurs and I shrieked obscenities. I was ready to jump off the blind myself. But the langurs were quick. Within seconds, mom had scampered down, scooped up her limp treasure and returned to her tree. She smothered it tight, in a huddle with Chewbacca, who looked fit for tears and Intan’s aunties, who glared as if to say, “To think we could trust a human!”

Just then, mom shifted. And out from under her arm there poked a tiny head. If I didn’t know better, Intan’s smile said, “Wasn’t that fun!” Moments later she was scampering off, in search of her next adventure.

When we climbed down the tree that day, we didn’t come back. It’s hard releasing animals to the wild. Harder still to leave them there.

Baby ebony leaf monkey face framed in mom's fur

Intan, ready for her next adventure.


Creative Commons License
Monkey Business, © Djuna Ivereigh, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Excerpts may be reproduced with a credit to DjunaPix Indonesia Photography, linked to http://blog.djunapix.com/2010/05/wild/monkey-business/.

Ain’t No Tree High Enough

Even the world’s farthest reaches feel the sway of global forces

“Djuna, we need MoluccaNuts for the President of America!”

I choked on my passion fruit juice. “Um, MoluccaNuts for George W. Bush?”

“Yes, that President,” said Naldo, founder of a Maluku conservation group. “You must get kenari.”

A big kenari tree was my introduction to the rainforest canopy, back in 1998. In Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, I hooked up with bird trappers feeding world demand for exotic pets. In search of endemic, salmon-crested cockatoos, the trappers scaled 50-meter trees on wobbly iron stakes. Great system, if you’re built like a forest pygmy. But when a stake popped out from under me, I knew I needed ropes.

At camp that night I taught Buce, the best climber, to tie a figure-8. But he didn’t see the point. On the principle that bigger is better, he improved the knot with lots more.

The next morning I stood at the bottom of a long rope, aiming binoculars up at Buce and a puzzling wad of macramé. I bounced on the line, hoped for the best, and clipped in with ascenders.

Big tree climbing is not like big wall climbing. One, there’s no wall blocking half your view. Spin around and you’re treated to a sweeping 360. Two, when you climb a tree, you climb an ecosystem. Your rope is a freeway for ants, you’ll be lucky to dodge the bees’ nest and even moderate winds set you swaying in confused canopy seas.

At the top of the rope, my ascender hit Buce’s tangle of rigging—well below where I needed to get off. To Buce’s horror, I began untying his masterpiece. I was relieved to find an actual figure-8 beneath the knotty equivalent of 108, but Buce was not. Ignoring my protests, he grabbed my harness and hoisted me onto a branch, dragging my puny knot behind me.

That day in the kenari I learned that Buce knows more about his forest than scientists do. He knows every bird call and what some of them mean. When doves cooed, he yodeled to friends who dashed beneath the roost and speared a pig for dinner. And he knew that salmon-crested cockatoos were getting rare. Before I rapped out of that kenari, Buce and I had plotted an ecotourism project.

The rainforest canopy platform we built had an “if you build it, they will come” attraction. We had no phones or internet, but word spread quickly through the backpacker grapevine. Within weeks, bird trappers vowed to protect wildlife as a tourism commodity and kicked out a village head in cahoots with illegal loggers. Things were looking up—until the war.

When President Suharto was ousted by unrest, Maluku fell apart. So in 2001 I teamed up with Naldo to find alternative income for bird trappers. Enter MoluccaNuts, our trade name for the macadamia-like kernels of kenari fruits.

We had the name, the packer, the labels, the licenses and about a thousand bucks. All we needed was a metric ton of kenari from an island where it grows on trees. And publicity. In Tennessee, a golf resort owner offered help. As Naldo explained, the President of America was coming. Could we serve MoluccaNuts? Hey, if George could do for kenari what Jimmy did for peanuts…

After a year with no guests, I climbed back up to our canopy platform, where I was met by two rewards. First, there were birds. Lots of birds! The ex-trappers weren’t making money, but they were sticking to their commitments. By sunset, a cockatoo and hundreds of great-billed parrots swarmed in to roost. Second, there were nuts. Our platform was covered with kenari kernels, crapped out by all the birds. Clearly, I’d hit peak season.

But there was a hitch—it was also peak season for cloves. Under Suharto’s reign, no one cared about cloves. The president’s son, Tommy, monopolized the market, refusing to pay what they were worth. But now Tommy, charged with murdering the judge who convicted him for corruption, was on the lam. As the nation played “Where’s Tommy?” (odd sightings reported at shopping malls and the like) the price of cloves jacked up 35 fold.

I’d come for the trees and stayed for the people. Little did I know they’d teach me so much about armed conflict and corrupt dynasties.

Maluku, a.k.a. the “Spice Islands”, is the native home of cloves. This is what Magellan was after when he set sail around the world, kick-starting globalization. Now, recalling a scene from centuries past, locals were on a “clove rush”. Fishers and farmers scrambled up trees in old, neglected plantations, shaking down clove buds and laying them out to dry. The village smelled heavenly but there wasn’t a bite to eat. Production of anything non-clove stopped.

Joining the fray, I put my new satellite phone to use. Fittingly, the first call ever placed from that corner of the Spice Islands directed a clove ship into port. By brokering a sale straight to Surabaya the village got top price. Which made it even less likely that George Bush would eat MoluccaNuts.

Villagers stuffed that Surabaya ship so full of cloves that it broke the dock, then the reef. But no one cared. They were hauling in 6 billion rupiah. My 10 million on offer for hard-to-crack kenari now seemed like peanuts. But how many nuts can a president eat? I collected a few bird droppings and shipped them out FedEx.

Some weeks later, I boarded a ferry to Jakarta. I wondered if I might find an email from the President of America, requesting more MoluccaNuts. But fellow ferry-goers crushed that fantasy. “Kasihan WTC!” they said. Pity about WTC? The World Trade Center? What about it?

On the boat over the next three days I heard a thousand rumors—and no official reports—on 9/11. The world had watched war unfold live on TV, while I sat in a tree, watching bird of paradise.

The email awaiting me was an old one from Tennessee. The golf club owner received the nuts and would be serving them to the President. On September 11.

On that day Americans played “Where’s George?” And Air Force One did not serve MoluccaNuts.


Creative Commons License
Ain’t No Tree High Enough, © Djuna Ivereigh, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Excerpts may be reproduced with a credit to DjunaPix Indonesia Photography, linked to http://blog.djunapix.com/2010/05/wild/seram-rainforest-canopy/.