Tourist Photographers in the Borobudur Temple: its Heydey and Nowadays

A tourist photographer took picture of a visitor against Borobudur temple background in the 1980s. Image courtesy of the Kopari.

A tourist photographer took picture of a visitor against Borobudur temple background in the 1980s. Image courtesy of the Kopari.

By Sahrudinalwaysmagelang@gmail.com

“Please take a photo of us against the temple!”
“Fill flash! Fill flash! The background is so bright. We don’t want our faces in shadow.”
“Why the long faces? Everyone get close together, and say CHEESE!”

THE ABOVE-written conversation often naturally occur between tourists and a photographer, including in the Borobudur temple in Magelang, the Province of Central Java.

Tourists want to look good in their pictures against the 8th century monument background and are worthy of sharing with friends and family back home.

Likewise, the photographer will not be satisfied until his clients are delighted with what he has done for them.

Tourists photographers began to appear around the area of the Borobudur temple since the early of 1970s.

They initially used Polaroid instant cameras, then turned into 35mm film SLRs (single-lens reflex).

At that time, for many people having photographs taken probably was not a common activity, but a rare “luxury”.

They might only have their pictures taken a few in their lives.

That’s why many tourists photographers can live well.

They earned their entire living, 100 percent from the sale of photographs: supporting family, buying motorcycle and furniture, and paying their children’s school.

“But everything has changed now”, Aan Suyitno, a veteran tourist photographer, who had undergone the job from 1979 until the mid-1990s said.

Today’s visitors of the Borobudur, Aan said, are shooting with phones in great numbers.

Mobiles have become “smart” and take photographs that can compete with many digital cameras.

Moreover, many visitors also bring their own DSLRs.

Image by Sahrudin.

Image by Sahrudin.

For a professional photographer, the digital era can be a bit of a double-edged sword.

It makes daily work easier, but it also has caused an explosion of so called photographers.

Life is not easy now for people who take pictures for a living.

Consequently, Borobudur’s photographers have to adapt to survive.

Taking pictures of tourists, that could make a lot of money decade ago, are no longer giving them the results they once were getting.

“All they can do is innovate or die”, said Aan.

"Why the long faces? Everyone get close together, and say CHEESE!" Image courtesy of the Kopari.

“Why the long faces? Everyone get close together, and say CHEESE!” Image courtesy of the Kopari.

Today, there are 76 tourist photographers in Borobudur temple.

They are organized under Borobudur’s Catra Gemilang Tourism Cooperative (Kopari).

The Kopari now has 2 units of minilab photo printers.

Board of the Kopari made a number of rules among the tourist photographers.

For instance, all photographers must wear uniforms and shoes.

In general, the purpose of the regulations is, of course, to help keep them going, keep them motivated and to find out how to survive these difficult years.

“They should have place in the hearts of Borobudur visitors. They should know how to deal with tourists, to providing them with the best possible service,” said Aan.***

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