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Indonesia’s Don Quixote of Literacy - Putu Sayoga

7 years ago

In the run up to the 12th edition of the Angkor Photo Festival (December 3 - 10, 2016), we’ll be featuring a select number of photographers whose will be showcased in Siem Reap, Cambodia for this year’s festival.

The Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops is a free international platform and educational resource for established and emerging photographers. It is the longest-running photography event in Southeast Asia.


Putu Sayoga is a documentary and travel photographer based in Island of Bali. He is co-founder of the documentary collective Arka Project. He read politics in Gadjah Mada University where he graduated in 2010 from the Department of Politics and Government.

In his series, ‘Indonesia’s Don Quixote of Literacy’, he follows the touching story of a 42 year-old man named Ridwan Sururi. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday, every week, Ridwan takes his “Kudapustaka”, a small mobile library attached to one of his horses, to various villages and homes around Central Java.

At first, Ridwan only had access to around 130 books, but now with more and more people having heard of Kudapustaka thanks to social media as well as local and international media coverage, the number of the book donations has grown to the thousands.

Hi Putu. The story of Ridwan and his horses is incredibly uplifting. Tell us how you first met Ridwan and how your relationship progressed

I met Ridwan through Facebook, I have mutual friend with him so his post about the mobile library activity appeared on my feed. From that I contacted him explaining I’m a photojournalist and interested to make a photo story about his mobile library. He agreed and I went to meet him at his village in Purbalingga district in Central Java. Ridwan is a really easy going person and very open with new people. He also offered for me to stay at his house, which made it much easier to tell his story.


You followed Ridwan for 5 days taking photos. What struck you most about this man? 

He is an ordinary man, a horse caretaker to be exact but willing to do something that is very very important for his community. Not a lot of people are reading books in Indonesia, partly because of a lack of access but also because for villagers it's expensive. So Ridwan has a very important role in in the community by providing access to these books. The kids are really enthusiastic, running and swarming him as he arrived.


Tell us about your time growing up on the Island of Bali and in particular, teaching yourself photography

I grow up in a traditional agricultural village where we are still embracing the culture and the tradition. I liked playing at the rice field, helping the relatives to cultivate rice paddies or just wandering around. Maybe because of that, I was first interested in landscape photography. I learnt photography not in Bali, but in Yogyakarta, during my college days.  


When and why did you start the Arka Project?

I started with Arka 3 years ago with two other friends, Muhammad Fadli and Yoppy Pieter, as a collective agency to bring our work and other Southeast Asian photographers to international publications. Hopefully in coming years we can also work on some collective projects.

Do you have a photographic philosophy?

Photography for me is the way to speak my point of view, and also to tell stories for others.  

Where in the world are you and what’s next for you?

I am still perfecting how to use my photography for story-telling. Next I want to work on my long term project about the over-development caused by tourism in my homeland.