A diploma graduate in international relations, Oscar Motuloh (b. 1959; Surabaya, east Java) first joined Antara news agency in 1988 as a journalist. When some of the photographers retired around 1990, Motuloh was asked to take over. Till today, he still doesn’t know why he was picked. “Maybe they thought I would be a good photographer because I had long hair,” he jokes.
In 1992, Motuloh helped to establish Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara (Antara Photojournalism Gallery, otherwise known as GFJA), the first public gallery in Asia dedicated exclusively to photography. Since then, the self-taught photographer-cum-curator has been caught up educating and promoting other Indonesian photographers, instead of peddling his work to biennales overseas.
As the photo editor of Antara during the turbulent weeks in 1998 that brought down Suharto, Motuloh’s responsibility then was to organize the agency photographers, edit their pictures and make plans for the following day. Nevertheless, he still shot some of the most iconic images of that era.
In Ghost Town, the tracks of a military vehicle frame an eerie view of a vacant Jakarta a day after Suharto’s resignation. An image of demonstrators burning the portrait of Liem Swie Liong, one of the richest tycoons in Indonesia, captures the futility of that very act itself. Titled Great Tycoon, it speaks of the suspension of morality, which was one of the unfortunate by-products of the Reformasi.
[ Great Tycoon (above); Ghost Town (below) / Courtesy of Oscar Motuloh ]