To most people, it’s a man in an orange cloth. Or a monk, if they’re looking more closely.
But to Josua Alessandro, it’s decades of Cambodia’s tumultuous socioeconomic history, all wrapped up in a single image.
“This photograph is one of 15,” the Sukabumi-native explained. “I chose [to display] this particular picture because, for me, it symbolizes this man’s fight to get out of poverty, and his struggle against his country’s political turmoil. It represents his fighting spirit.”
And that’s the thing with Josua’s images. He classifies them as travel photography, but if you had an hour with him, he could tell you about every picture’s logistical information — where he was standing, why he snapped the shutter at that particular moment. But if you had a day with him, he could explain the geopolitical context of each photo, and probably decades of history of the country it was taken in.
So he may call it travel photography, but it might be more appropriate to think of his work as art meets current affairs — a historical record of some of Southeast Asia’s most pressing issues, as told through a viewfinder.
Josua, 33, spent five years working on his most recent series, “The Unseen,” which took him not only across his own country, but also to neighboring Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. He’s been working as a photographer for more than a decade, but Josua’s passion for travel goes back as far as he can remember.
“When I was a kid, I liked to look at a world map. I would then visit all of those countries in my imagination.”
His love for photography has spanned almost as long, when his parents bought him his first pocket camera as a kid. “I was amazed that such a small object could produce great images,” Josua recalled.
Although he received his first camera as a child, it wasn’t until college that he started taking photography seriously. He joined his university’s photo club during a time of political unrest, and that’s when he first realized the camera’s ability to transcend the realm of art. “There was a lot of demonstrations and rioting in Jakarta,” he said. “And I wanted to document that. Photography can be part of history, and I wanted to be part of history, too.”
Josua began his career freelancing for local papers and in 2003 he made the leap from still to moving images when he became a news cameraman for Trans TV.
But eventually he realized that his day job wasn’t satisfying his passion. “I resigned from [the company] in 2010 because I missed photography,” he said.
Upon returning to still imagery, Josua started picking up freelance gigs, photographing corporate events and contributing to travel and in-flight magazines. These days, he often collaborates with his wife, who writes about many of the same topics he captures on film.
Josua looks to other travel and news photographers, such as Michael Yamashita and Steve McCurry — the cameraman behind National Geographic’s famous portrait of the Afghan girl with the piercing green eyes — for inspiration, hoping to follow in their footsteps. His dream is to have a solo exhibit that documents Indonesian culture and to one day publish a book.
But until then, he’s happy with his recent accomplishments. Together with two other photographers, Josua produced a travel photography show that opened earlier this month in Kemang’s Dia.Lo.Gue art gallery. As the name suggests, the aim of the images was to draw attention to everyday details that usually go unnoticed.
“Since travel photography is broad, and many people do it, the theme that we chose was ‘the unseen,’ ” Josua said. “It represents things that are not normally seen by tourists.”
Josua hopes that the exhibit challenges viewers’ conceptions of travel photography — yes, he wants them to see something beautiful, but he hopes that they can consider the broader context, too.
Next year, Josua plans to travel to Nepal to continue his work. And while he hopes he can keep teaching others about faraway places through his photography, he explains that he’s constantly learning as well.
“I’ve learned to be patient and open-minded,” he said. “And often times I get something unexpected, which is usually better.”