Ulet Ifansasti: a Papuan Born with Internationally Acclaimed Achievements

The famous photographer from United States of America once said, “Photography helps people to see”. This philosophy shows us that a photo can say a thousand words and conveyed a million meanings than written news. This philosophy has brought Ulet Ifansasti, a Papuan born photographer to become worldly known.

Through his work in various photos, his name has been considered as one of the internationally renowned Indonesian photographers. He has won various world class awards, such as being nominated as 10 world photographers by The Guardian, last 2015.

Of course, he did not achieve his level of mastery for capturing objects or events overnight. His interaction with camera started because he is addicted to traveling. His adventures to various places in Indonesia such as Java, Bali and Lombok have pushed him to learn photography to capture the natural beauty of the places he visits. He learned photography by autodidact. Those activities would then become a highly priced hobby which can support him and his family.

Indeed, because his name, Ulet Ifansasti, means resilience itself, he knows that he is identical with the philosophy that anything that is being done resiliently will resulted to something. Ulet tried to send his work to a small agency from Getty Images as a citizen journalist. From that agency, some of his photos have been used.

Ulet Ifansasti
Ulet Ifansasti via BBC.com


Since then on, his path to world class photography becomes stronger. In his personal website uletifansasti.com, this Papuan born man who resides in Jogjakarta since 2009 has become a permanent international contributor for Getty Images.

“I have been nominated twice as world best photographers (one of 10 photographers), in 2014 and 2015 by The Guardian, an English media. This is actually not a competition but more of a media appreciation for photographers. Before the nominees were announced, I was contacted through email and was being asked about my opinion regarding world issues.”

His photos are also being featured by many other organizations and media such as Greenpeace, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), The New York Times, The Internasional Herald Tribune, STREN, The Guardian, TIME Magazine, USA Today, LIFE, National Geographic Traveler, and many others.

For his resilience, Ulet has been awarded with many prestigious awards such as:

  • 2015, Nominated Photographer of The Year by The Guardian
  • 2014, Nominated Photographer of The Year by The Guardian
  • 2014, 1st Place China International Press Photo Contest, Nature Category
  • 2013, 2nd Place Indonesian Photojournalist Award, nature and Environment Category
  • 2011 2nd Place Indonesian Photojournalist Award, Art and Entertainment Category
Ulet Ifansasti
Sya’rani, a miner of 30 years, washes mud in a conical bowl or ‘Linggang’ while he searches for diamonds in Cempaka village at Martapura, South Kalimantan, Indonesia by Ulet Ifansasti via theguardian.com


The Pictures that Move Humanity

In an interview posted in Damn! I Love Indonesia, Ulet explained that the reason his photos are being featured by many international media is because his work can capture events in Indonesia with local nuances and photos that can evoke humanity and empathy that are necessary in world news.

Ulet do have a lot of photos with human interest. Three of them are the photos that have made him being recruited by Getty Images in 2008. Among those photos, one of them is a photo of child jockeys in a horse race in Sumbawa. In these photos, Ulet shows the danger of being a child jockey to support their family that have become a tradition in Sumbawa. Besides taking away their rights as children to play and study in school, being a child jockey is also highly risky and can take lives during the horse race.

Ulet Ifansasti
Child jockeys compete in the traditional horse races as part of Moyo festival in Sumbawa Island, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia by Ulet Ifansasti via theguardian.com


His other photo is of the fire that ravaged the forest in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, last November. The photo gives a clear view of the fire. To be able to capture it, Ulet must take it from 1 or two meters from the location.

“It was very hot, but it would be hard if I want to use telephoto lenses because it was already at night and prone to camera shake. Hence, I have no other option but to use tripod and come at the nearest distance possible,” he explained.

Ulet Ifansasti
Ulet, when photographing the forest fire in Palangkaraya via BBC.com

The third photo is of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, in Bayeun refugee camp in Aceh, Indonesia. This photo, he said, has been the most memorable and emotional photography experience for him.

“If you see them, you’d be heart broken. They are the minority who have been pushed out of their own country, and rejected by every countries. No one would take them. When I see the children, I wonder how they could survive in a boat for months without food, just to be able to live. I remember my family and kids at home and I am grateful that I can live in Indonesia,” he said as cited from BBC.

Ulet Ifansasti
Rohingnya boat people in Aceh by Ulet Ifansasti via BBC.com


These three photos that captured the social political conditions of conflict and problems have all been featured by Getty Images. Ulet admits that he has personal attention on social conditions in his surrounding.

“I am interested in social issues and want to document it. Rather than chasing awards, my most treasured achievement is the chance to witness world events and to tackle the challenge of informing the public with current world events.”


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