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Memories of the Sacred

Rio Helmi Launches 'Memories of the Sacred' – A Photographic Essay of His Life-Long Attachment to Bali.


Bali-based internationally-acclaimed photographer Rio Helmi has launched his latest book "Memories of the Sacred" at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud on October 9, 2010.

Click Images to Enlarge

Describing his latest publication, Helmi said: "'Memories of the Sacred' represents part of an ongoing series of photographs that I have been working on in Bali for the last 30 years. Despite the rampant over development and commercialization of parts of the island, a certain spirit lives on. It is a set of impressions and 'memories' of a certain intangible spirit that pervaded the Bali we experienced, and that manifests in surprising yet regular ways through classic Balinese spiritual culture. The Balinese themselves express all that in a much simpler way: Sekala/Niskala (What You See and What You Don't)."

Helmi continued, explaining his motivation for a personal photo essay of his life: ""The idea for this book has evolved naturally over the years, now I am ready. And the subject is very relevant now as Balinese culture is changing. And after all those years, I figure it's now or never."

Rio Helmi's Bali story commenced during a family trip when he was only eight years old. Accompanying his father on a 1963 holiday trip, Rio found himself cast in an incredibly vivid dream: all the ceremonies and trances remained a part of his memory.

Rio's work has been featured in a number of collectible coffee-table books, such as Bali Style and River of Gems. This latest book is his first truly-personal photography book, reflecting the island that has played a large and important period of his life.

"I was 8 years old when I first visited Bali in 1963 with my father, who felt that as we lived so much overseas that when we lived in Indonesia it was his duty to take us around the country. Back then it was some undertaking traveling around Indonesia with kids! Of all the places we visited in Indonesia, Bali and Borobudur were the two places that really caught my imagination. Bali was like an incredible vivid dream for me. We went to ceremonies and trances, and my Dad took pictures and shot 8 mm film. The memory stayed with me, and I knew I would come back. That trip was the earliest spark of this book. That's why I dedicated this book to my Dad."

When asked why he decided to have this personal project being published by the Indonesian published Afterhours Books, he explained: "Well, I actually have published in Indonesia before. I published River of Gems here years ago under my old imprint Image Network Indonesia. But I was very happy to have an Indonesian publisher willing to publish this book. It's good that Indonesian publishers are willing to publish Indonesian photographers now."

Diana Darling, who wrote the text for Helmi's book, explained: "Rio Helmi and I have been friends for thirty years, and have sometimes worked together on various book projects. We're also neighbors. Still, it was an honor to be asked to write the introduction for this important book. Rio specifically asked me to think of this not as an introduction to the photographs but as an independent essay. 'Something stand-alone,' he said."

This was not an easy assignment, according to Darling: "The content of the photographs — moments in Balinese ritual — is extraordinarily complex and arcane. And there is also a subjective element: the sense that these moments are becoming more rare as Bali evolves as a modern society. It occurred to me that what the book is about is the numinous (or niskala) — the supernatural quality that once seemed so ever-present in Bali, and which seems to thrive where the physical world is undisturbed by anything except the processes of growth and decay of nature. In the tremendous surge of building that Bali has seen over the past several decades, this quality seems to be eclipsed."

She then decided to start from dominant visual elements in the photographs: cloth, masks, processions, etc., and to use each as point from which to talk about aspects of Balinese culture that might be useful to know for a viewer who isn't familiar with Bali. The next challenge was to find a way of talking about these things that wasn't tiresome for people who are familiar with Bali. "This meant re-visiting things I had ignored for some years, and trying to experience them again freshly. As for the changes taking place in Bali, it seemed important to mention some of them — because of the word 'memories' in the title of the book — and to consider how they affect the way we experience this quality of the numinous. These are only the personal views of an outsider, and I hope very much that I haven't offended anyone by talking about them out loud," stated Diana, explaining her collaboration with Rio.

"This book is not an anthropological tome or a guide of any kind. It is simply a retrospective, stylized performance of elaborate, passionate and intense aesthetic visuals portfolio of one of Indonesia's leading photographers uniquely designed in a large format retrospective book," said Lans Brahmantyo, the publisher of Afterhours Books Books. "We are proud as an Indonesian independent premium book specialist to be able to bring and share these exquisitely-toned images to the public so that we can together appreciate the culture, the tradition and the people that made Bali so unique and stand out amongst other destinations in the world."

Rio Helmi

Born in Europe in 1954 to an Indonesian diplomat father and a Turkish mother, Rio's childhood and youth were spent living in various countries where his father was posted: Switzerland, Australia, and Germany . Along the way he was privileged to visit many countries in Europe and Asia. After finishing school, more voyages lay in store: Rio traveled across Asia on land, and lived in India for a year. After several years in Australia where a childhood interest in photography was rekindled, Rio moved back to Bali, Indonesia in 1978. He now divides his time between Bali and India.

Rio has been capturing images of Asia since 1978, constantly adding to a richly textured portfolio that celebrates the region's people and places, contemporary lifestyle and Mahayana Buddhism. Now one of Asia's leading photographers, his work is often seen in books, magazines and documentaries. Shows of Rio's still photography have been held in Bali, Jakarta, Madrid, Miyazaki, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Sydney.

Memories of the Sacred

The 136-page book is available in a regular and premium collectors edition priced, respectively, at Rp. 500,000 (US$55) and Rp. 3 million (US$333).

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