When I told my teacher at University of Indonesia, Bu Dotti, that I want to visit Borobudur and Prambanan, she looked excited. I told her that I want to take some photos and presented them the way it would suffice and to communicate the architecture itself. It actually related with the way I’m gonna present the photos in the exhibition that is going to be held next year (which sadly has got cancelled, but I think I still gonna try it.)
“I’m going to shoot some photographs, and I’m going to present it in a different way. Well, it might be not that different. I mean, it won’t be just some temple pictures. The picture would represents how we see the temple, and in the way communicate the architecture.” It was raining when I told her my plan. We were in her cubicle, in the teacher lounge at UI. She stood still. Her eyes wandered. It used to be one of a soothing moments when we (the assistant) used to think or simply chat in her cubicle.
I was slurping my hot coffee when she gave me papers. “You might want to read this.” She said.
It was a photocopied papers, about 30 pages. I read the title in front of it. The title said, “Chambers For A Memory Palace“. The authors are Donlyn Lyndon and Charles W. Moore. When I opened it, I noticed that it contains only one chapter.
“Hey, this is the book everybody talks about.” I said that to her while my eyes moving from one page to another.
She smiled, and then she took the book from my hand. She opened it, and pointed at some page which she already marked by a pencil.
“You can start from here.” she touch the pencil mark by her finger, and keep opening the book until we meet the other pencil’s mark. “till here. Just tell me if you already finished it. I just want to show you something later.” She was smiling mysteriously after she said that.
It was already late, and I have to go home. So I decided to brought the papers with me instead, and talk to her tomorrow. As soon as I go home, I opened the book. The marked part were telling me about the sequences and things that we would noticed and felt when we visit the architectural works. Charles Moore try to give Taj Mahal as an example;
“...Take, for instance, the axis that connects the entry portal of the Taj Mahal gardens in Agra, India, with the domed tomb itself. There the actual path plays back and forth along the axis in three dimensions. Within the geometrically simple walled apparition of a paradise garden, the path takes the observer through a measured set of experiences. When you first approach the great red sandstone gatehouse, you are funneled to its center by flanking walls and a tall arch. As you enter this canopied space your attention is drawn to a glimmering vision that fills the space of the arch on the other side, a white dome whose profile matches that of the arch and whose base and entrance are directly ahead on the same level, but hundreds of paces away.”
It was confusing at first, simply because I don’t get what the writer means by all of that. I mean, what is the big deal about describing the Taj Mahal?
But I decided to give my eyes a rest and discuss it with Bu Dotti on the next day.
“So, how is it?” she asked me when I was coming to her cubicle. I was smiling, and I know that I must look stupid because I told her that; “I didn’t really get it. Is it about how we see something not as it is, but more like to as it feels or looked like?”
She didn’t respond to my answer directly. – or maybe my question? – Instead, she took a bunch of photographs, and placed it on her table one by one. It was a photo of Taj Mahal.
“Bu Laksmi gave it to me after she visits Taj Mahal. Actually I asked her to take some photographs for me.” She explained where the photographs came from.
I was examining the images carefully when she picked one of them, and facing it to me so I can see it properly. It was the image of Taj Mahal’s facade. On the image I can see the dome, the white marble, the door, and also the minaret. I also noticed the pool that lead my eyes straight into the grand building.
“What do you see, beside the building?” she asked me.
I was still thinking when she spoke to me again “Can you imagine yourself seeing this building?”
“Hmm… Yes, I guess.” I answered with hesitation. Bu Dotti used to make me confused a lot, simply because she has a different method and approach of seeing things.
She seemed to noticed my confusion. “Where do you think this photographs was taken?”
“In the Taj Mahal?”
Well, I didn’t said that. That was what I’m thinking. I might be stupid and desperate but I knew that it’s not the right answer.
“Examine it again.” she said.
It was like a lighting bolt. The answer came to me. And the answer is not about what place it is, but more to why we use that spot to take the picture.
“I think it was in the mini tunnel, or arch, or something like that, that lead us to the Taj Mahal.”
I think my answer was right. But with Bu Dotti, you won’t get the answer very soon. She will challenge you again. Bu Dotti grab the book that she gave to me, and started to read the lines.
“When you first approach the great red sandstone gatehouse, you are funneled to its center by flanking walls and a tall arch. As you enter this canopied space your attention is drawn to a glimmering vision that fills the space of the arch on the other side, a white dome whose profile matches that of the arch and whose base and entrance are directly ahead on the same level, but hundreds of paces away…”
She stopped for a second, placing the picture directly so it was upright to my face, and than she said to me: “This is what we actually see when we enter the gatehouse, isn’t it? This picture represents what the architecture feels like. How it forms the image in our head, how we understand Taj Mahal. And, this picture tries to communicate it.”
I get it now. The photographs shouldn’t be just a bunch of beautiful pictures that fill the aesthetic and technique requirements, but it should be communicate my experience through Borobudur and Prambanan. The way I see it, and the way I feel it, are important alongside with the way I communicate the temples as a building and an architecture.
I made to Yogyakarta a week after that conversation. The photographs you are about to see are some of the result. It was not perfect, of course. And you might find no differences with the other architecture photographs. But this is the time that I actually try to used Bu Dotti’s method on seeing something, seeing building, seeing phenomenon, seeing architecture, and at the end; communicating it.
Note : You can click the picture to enlarge it.