During my last trip to Indonesia with the Ministry of Tourism, I had the chance to meet and photograph wonderful people. The landscapes I saw were gorgeous — from Raja Ampat to the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan — but it was the moments in which I interacted with the Indonesian people that impacted me most.
This was my first time in Asia and I didn’t know how people would react to someone wanting to photograph them. Surprisingly, most were actually excited about the prospect of being photographed.
As a European — and especially as a Parisian — I have grown accustomed to anger, impatience, and rudeness toward foreigners over the years. It’s all too easy to get used to unsmiling faces and people too busy with their own lives to pay attention. In this way, my trip to Indonesia provided more than I expected — a much needed glimpse at a culture that actually welcomes tourists. Exploring another country, really immersing yourself in a different culture, is absolutely necessary to realize that your daily habits are not a universal way of life.
Experiencing the kindness of the Indonesian people, who go out of their way to smile and say hello to both friends and strangers alike, made me consider never returning to Paris. The people I met weren’t pretending to be happy, they were genuinely interested in me and what was going on around them.
The simple act of acknowledging that someone is in front of you, asking to take that person’s photo, and chatting despite the language barrier, is an uncommon one. Most people in Paris would ignore, avoid, or pay no attention to what’s around them instead of interacting with the people around them.
But, with a nod and a smile, the Indonesians communicated that it was okay for me to photograph them in their neighborhood. They were acknowledging the fact that I was there.
I love Paris — it’s where my friends live, where my life is — and I can’t fathom ever leaving. But, for a moment, I did imagine living in Indonesia. I realized something important during that split second of consideration. It felt good to feel welcome on the other side of the world, by people who didn’t know me, but nonetheless accepted that I was there.
This is the point of traveling — meeting people from around the globe. I enjoy veering from the beaten track, interacting with people, and trying to communicate despite speaking different languages.
In Indonesia, I woke early to walk around and witness the morning routine for Indonesians. A few men were curious about my photographer friends and I and wondered why we were so far from the touristic areas of the city. They asked us where we were from, if we liked their country, and then they asked to be photographed.
I wasn’t sure why at the time, but now I think that they were surprised we were interested in discovering more about their neighborhood. I think they wanted to enjoy being actors in their own life, in their own neighborhood, if only for a moment. Our photos of them ensured they would be remembered there, on that specific day, as proud of who they were and where they were from.
I’ve never been prouder to be the person behind the camera.