The year 1995 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Indonesian independence; it was a time for Indonesians to celebrate but also to remember the past. As a means of stimulating greater interest in the past, especially among younger Indonesia, Lontar looked through old photographs of Indonesia—primarily, old postcards—in an attempt to see how this country was viewed by its inhabitants, both native and non-native, in the years prior to independence.
For some Indonesians, photographs from the colonial era might evoke a sense of oppression, but the truth is, as Yudhi Soerjoatmodjo states in Toward Independence: A Century of Indonesia Photographed, “Photographs documented the painful process of the emergence of modern Indonesia.”
The outcome of this research was the publication of Former Points of View: Postcards & Literary Passages from Pre-Independence Indonesia. The purpose of this publication was not an attempt to raise bitter memories but, rather, an effort to establish a link between photographic views of pre-independence Indonesia and literary perspectives from the same period.
The original concept for this book was born from picture postcards. A picture is supposed to be worth a multitude of words, and indeed, much can be said about the pictures that were chosen for reproduction therein. An added feature of the book, however, is its literary aspect: the inclusion of extracts from books written in the same period as that of the old photographs. This juxtaposition of the literary and the pictorial is intended, through some magic of link and match, to reinforce the conjuring up of Indonesia’s past, as perceived through two different artistic forms of expression.
Looking at the postcards that were amassed during this project, what strikes one is the permanence or longevity of certain features of Indonesian life: the strong music, dance, and crafts traditions; of funeral or annual religious celebrations; the pervasiveness of traders and hawkers; the richness of Indonesia’s natural resources.
Just as family photographs act as a guide to a family’s genealogy so, too, historical pictures and postcards serve as an educational tool for a nation’s history. The collection of postcards that Lontar amassed offers viewers a chance to become better acquainted with Indonesia’s past, an opportunity to leaf through — as one would a family photograph album — pictures of sometimes familiar, sometimes forgotten faces and former points of views.
These will gradually be made available for public viewing on The Lontar Digital Library.