Friday, 31 July 2015

A Fuji X-T1 In Bali | Kuningan Ceremonies & More

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
A lighter load than usual in the number of students in my class during the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Bali gave me the opportunity to photograph the various religious festivities on the island which took place at the same time.

The timing of the workshop was perfect as it coincided with Kuningan; an important religious annual event held in every temple, as the Balinese believe it's the day on which their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during the preceding Galungan celebrations.

While I had also carried a Fuji X Pro-1 and a Leica M9, I used the Fuji X-T1 almost exclusively during the week-long stay in Bali. Having updated it with the new firmware v4.0, I used it with a Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 and my newly acquired Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8. I noticed a slight improvement in the X-T1's auto-focus speed and accuracy during my time in Bali, but I didn't purposefully test it...I just went with the flow, so to speak.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
With my friend Komang, we drove around the area of Ubud, and stopped at various temple celebrations as well as to a rather disturbing cockfight. I have photographed Balinese cockfights before, but this one was "gambling-heavy"...more than those I had witnessed before, so we didn't stay for long.

I used the Zeiss Touit 12mm quite a lot, especially amongst the crowds in the temples. Mostly shooting from the hip, I managed to capture a number of impromptu and candid scenes such as the one above of the group shooting a 'selfie', with the fellow behind them trying to avoid photo-bombing it. These are the kind of behind the scenes that I search for in such settings and events; avoiding the traditional shots of people praying and priests blessing them.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I was also fortunate to have witnessed for the first time a number of meajar-ajar ceremonies (above) on Kusamba beach. These ceremonies are one of the many that follow cremations, during which families of the deceased will perform pilgrimages to Goa Lawah temple and Besakih mother temple to announce to the gods that the deceased souls are ready to be enshrined at their respective family temples.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
High priests (known as 'pedanda') generally officiate during temple and other religious ceremonies, and are usually assisted by a number of lay-priests known as pemangku; those are not of a Brahmin caste, but are chosen by their villages due to their piety, religious knowledge and ability to go into trance.

This female pemangku  (above) lighting incense sticks was striking because of her style and demeanor. She was clearly in her element, bossing other priests around, and laughing out aloud whenever I approached to take her photograph. While not blessing the devotees by sprinkling water with a small bamboo brush, she was busy filling small plastic bags with water and petals of flowers, presumably for offerings. I used the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 during many of these ceremonies.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Another first for me was the ceremony during which a temple's sacred objects were transported to a nearby river for purification, and although I had photographed 'odalan' ceremonies on the beaches, I had never seen one inland. The temple is question this time was Pura Desa Lan Puseh in Silungan, and had I not run out of battery power for my X-T1, I would have missed it. Returning from my hotel with my spares, we stopped at the temple which was being prepared for this ceremony.

The ritualistic purification of the temple's sacred objects was solemn and joyous at the same time. The site for the purification was about a mile from the temple itself, and a long procession formed of women carrying the various offerings, while men carried the sacred objects, carefully and lovingly wrapped in yellow cloth. 

The main characters in this procession were two Barongs; the lion-like creature in the mythology of Bali, who is the king of the spirits, leader of the hosts of good, and fighter of all evils.