find_photog find_assist join_asmp
 

Best of 2011: Djuna Ivereigh


During a 1998 Indonesian caving expedition, Djuna Ivereigh’s forest guides turned out to be a gang of highly skilled cockatoo poachers, trapping birds for the pet trade. At the end of the trip, she stayed behind to photograph the group as a personal project. Her resulting images inspired a conversion: While the poachers initially showed no signs of remorse in stringing up birds, they felt differently after studying her pictures. They now run a wildlife rehabilitation center and lead groups into the trees as ecotourism guides. Ivereigh has remained in Indonesia, as well, where she continues to photograph conservation and tourism, including luxury villas in Bali.

Djuna Ivereigh, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Web site: www.djunapix.com

Project: A personal project documenting how Indonesian poachers operate and why, which resulted in their change of heart to work in ecotourism and wildlife rehabilitation.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Poachers-turned-guides scale giant trees, some with their first branches 50 meters off the forest floor.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

DI: Freelancing for 20 years; writing and shooting full time for 13; still working to wean myself of words.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

DI: Finally(!) pulled my head out and joined this year.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

DI: Trees, hobbits and the odd luxury villa. Emphasis on “odd.”

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Guides from Seram Canopy Safaris (clockwise from top: Sonny, Ois, Buce and Peter) share a laugh beneath their newest rainforest canopy platform.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

DI: Menfolk envy my 500/f4 and its dedicated extender. My only consolation: “It’s not about the equipment, it’s how you use it!”

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

DI: Probably the venues in which I choose to work.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
A towering kenari nut tree was the first tree Djuna climbed. There she realized that what locals knew about birds could earn them more than poaching.

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

DI: Long periods of boredom separated by moments of sheer terror, frustration, exaltation and so on. The Seram project has demanded a lot of patience and perseverance, with both humans and animals.

ASMP: Are you native to Indonesia or a different country? If the latter, please tell us about the path to your current life.

DI: I hail from the San Francisco Bay Area. Cave exploring throughout my 20’s sent me to some remote corners of the world, including Indonesia. That was 13 years ago, and I’ve been busy exploring this part of the world ever since. My bird-poaching friends from Masihulan village, in Seram, who elected to give up poaching, take up ecotourism and kick out a pro-logging village head, were a big part of my decision to stay.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
The Moluccan cockatoo, found only on Seram, is in high demand in the illegal pet trade. Poachers have developed special techniques to snag the birds from roosts and nests in the Seram’s tallest trees.

ASMP: Please talk about your photographic background. What kind of formal schooling did you have in photography and/or other subjects?

DI: In school, I studied everything but photography. Mine was one of those seven-year undergraduate careers that could barely fit inside a degree called Earth Science at a place like UC Santa Cruz. My interest in everything (otherwise known as my short attention span) makes photography one of my few viable career options. I see a thing deeply, then move on.

I thank my parents for opening the photography door. They got me rocking developer trays, circa 1977. Ten years on, I got my butt kicked in nature’s own darkroom: A world of big, inky caves calling for long exposures and “painting with light”. Caves taught me that it’s less about the subject and more about how you light it. When a picture shows you something that you can’t see for yourself — that’s a beautiful thing.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Djuna’s work in Seram is partly supported by commercial photography, shooting luxury villas, such as Bali Bali by architect Gianni Francione. She likes shifting between wild and well-groomed environments.

ASMP: How did you come to establish your photography business in Bali? What kind of administrative arrangements or governmental approvals did this entail?

DI: I’ve teamed up with my partner, filmmaker Joe Yaggi, in a locally directed company called Jungle Run Productions. Indonesia is open to a lot of foreign-owned business, but not in media. So we’ve taken on a silent partner. A big part of our mission here is to share work, experience and good times with Indonesians.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Dawn mist paints forests as “the lungs of the earth.” Masihulan village helps researchers assess forest carbon reserves, with an aim to manage them sustainably.

ASMP: What kind of office set up and technical infrastructure do you maintain locally? Does the local economy support an appreciable portion of your work?

DI: Jungle Run maintains a full-time office and studio. Occasionally — very occasionally — I can be spotted there. More often, I’ll be found up a tree, behind a laptop, or off to a villa shoot in my lighting van/warehouse. Indonesia abounds with mobile artisans — door-to-door bed salesmen and cooks pushing their kitchens on hand carts. I aspire to that. About 75 percent of my income is derived locally, but the bulk of that is sourced from expatriate clients.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Djuna collaborates with scientists, sharing academic use in exchange for media referrals. Archaeologist Dr. Michael Morwood poses with the remains of a Flores fossil known affectionately as a “hobbit.”

ASMP: How do you market yourself for assignments with international clientele?

DI: Haphazardly, at best! A big plus has been my focus on some off-the-wall niches. A good example has been the story around the Flores “hobbit,” a new species of fossil human unearthed in eastern Indonesia. I’ve developed close relations with the scientists on board, with whom I share images for academic use. Scientists, in turn, offer media referrals. Slowly and not so surely, I garner direct inquiries via the Web, thanks to “long tail” keyword searches.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Architecture in Bali presents unique views, but also challenges to reel in contrast in a land with few walls.

ASMP: Who is your bread-and-butter client base?

DI: Over the last several years, my most reliable income is sourced through the production and licensing of marketing images for luxury villa rentals. Much of this work derives from top-tier agents who know they need great images to stay competitive. Agents then pitch my services to villa owners and serve as an interface to these end-clients.

I enjoy the control I have over shooting the built environment, and the collaboration I share with two assistants who are also great friends. We’re lucky that Bali boasts some incredible architecture and design, inspired by cross-cultural influences, unfettered by building codes and cold weather. On the other hand, we’re plagued by the 12-stop dynamic range of “indoor-outdoor” living, and our tropical “magic hour” lasts 15 minutes, at best.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
A 300° panorama from pole-cam reveals Liang Bua Cave, discovery site of the Flores “hobbit,” as a cozy hole in the ground.

ASMP: How did you first meet the poachers mentioned in your story? How many people were with you on this caving expedition? Did you know about the poachers’ line of work at the outset or was it not until later that you learned of this?

DI: A dozen cavers from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US converged on Seram, Indonesia, to explore a number of caves, including what turned out to be a 396-meter pit — the deepest in Southeast Asia. We hired the best forest guides we could find. Only once we got into the forest did we discover how they’d honed their skills — by wildlife poaching.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
A Blythe’s hornbill delivers a fig to its mate and young inside a nest cavity. Birds are key to seed dispersal on an island with few mammals.

ASMP: Did your perception of your subjects change once you began photographing their bird poaching activities? Did they do anything to harm the birds or were they just capturing them for resale? What kind of earning did they reap from this type of business endeavor?

DI: I’d spent a few weeks in the forest with these folks before shooting their poaching activities. They were respected friends from the outset, which opened a lot of doors.

What blew my mind up in the trees — and what continues to blow my mind — is what these people know about the forest, and how they know it. How would you guess the age of baby birds, buried deep inside a nest cavity? These guys look at a crop of seedlings beneath the tree, all sourced from fruits carried in by the parent birds since they colonized the nest. When the seeds are “hatching”, the baby birds are hatching. When the seedlings sprout leaves, the baby birds sprout feathers. When the seedlings branch and bolt, the babies bolt, too.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Gap-year students from Where There Be Dragons include a visit to the rainforest canopy in their study abroad program.

The “Aha!” moment for me was realizing that the poachers’ forest access and insight was a more valuable commodity than the birds they sold in the pet trade. Those birds might earn them $1-$10 each, a small amount considering the work and risk.

I also learned that these guys understood, and cared about, big threats to their forest better than anyone. Most villagers, sticking close to the village, would be tempted by a logging contractor offering to buy trees selectively, at a tenth of market price, while building a school or clinic. Only the poachers, who travelled far and wide in the forest, saw how these promises were broken; contractors left clear-cuts, poisoned rivers, and villages are still waiting on those schools and clinics. Oddly enough, this made the Masihulan poachers powerful voices for conservation.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Birdwing butterflies are common sights from the canopy platforms.

Were the poachers harming the birds by capturing them for the pet trade? Arguably, it may have been hard for them to know that half the birds would die in transport, smuggled in pipes and crates, suffocated or frozen in the cargo holds of planes. But there was no mistaking the anguished cries of cockatoos ripped from their forest home. These are proud, sensitive, expressive birds that playfully rule the canopy, form tight family bonds and that sing, yodel and chatter long soliloquies about their predicaments. I found it impossible not to empathize with the bound-up, terrified birds and I wondered, how did the poachers not feel this?

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Wild cockatoos are more common now than they used to be. The birds are locally protected and ex-poachers have returned 72 to the wild. At least one released bird has borne young.

For now, my working hypothesis is that empathy is, in fact, latent within our nature. It must be nurtured to be expressed. Imagery can play a big role in this. These days, most Westerners are raised on cute animal pictures. It’s easy to forget that not everyone has been similarly indoctrinated. As it turns out, tapping into a “frontier audience” can have a lot of impact.

Beyond all that, something interesting happens when your subject becomes your audience. It’s like holding up a mirror and revealing something that the viewer can’t see himself. That, too, can be a beautiful thing.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
A 360° panorama, 45 meters off the forest floor.

ASMP: What are the time frames involved in this story? How much time did you spend photographing the poachers and what period of time passed before you returned with images to show them? Did you show these images to anyone besides the poachers? Has this story been published anywhere yet?

DI: I started this project in 1998, back in the Upper Velvia age, and I spent most of that year there photographing and/or working on ecotourism development. Some months would pass between shooting film, processing it, and returning with slide sheets and a loupe. Then there were those 30 rolls lost because of a lab’s light leak.

Back then, GEO magazine took an interest. But by end of 1998, political and religious conflict in Ambon — the nearest city to Masihulan village — made an ecotourism story untenable. Lessons learned during those conflict years included:

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Many Indonesian islands feel lost in time. Rinca is prowled by Komodo dragons, the largest lizards on earth.

  1. Ecotourism impacts can extend beyond alternative income. Even when income grinds to a halt, a change in world-view can linger on.

  2. Never underestimate the power of a few committed guests. Sneaking in handfuls of visitors by charter boat, we could no longer rely on “trickle-down” impacts. We had to think hard about how just a few people could make a difference, supplanting a community’s perceived benefits of resource liquidation. So we surveyed villages, seeking out forms of sponsorship that would have broadly felt benefits — a clinic, a pier, water pumps, school infrastructure and supplies. At a surcharge of 10% of in-country trip costs, we supported these things and more.

  3. War is a cancer, and damn hard to cure once it spreads. Sadly, a lot of folks hadn’t learned that lesson by 9/11. The aftermath around those attacks dealt a major blow to ecotourism for years to come. Here in Indonesia, we’re just beginning to recover. Thus my return to Masihulan last year, and my support for a renewed launch of “Seram Canopy Safaris”.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Josh Morris, of Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures, sees canopy climbing as a promising new venture.

ASMP: What kind of trust factors were involved, given that the images you were gathering could be used as evidence against these poachers?

DI: Sadly, there’s little fear of repercussion for environmental crimes in Indonesia. When the ecotourism project was first getting started, I made a visit to the government conservation office in Ambon, to invite participation. I told a long story about the birds and the trees and the poachers-turned-guides. The conservation officer smiled and nodded along, then asked, “You like birds? How many birds you want?” This man was in the business of issuing permits for the trade of unprotected species, and then allowing said permits to mask the sale of protected species. It seems he could comprehend little else.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Mom and pop Eclectus parrots visit their young at a nest cavity. Tree cavities are vital for many Seram birds, sorely missed when old-growth trees are felled.

ASMP: How long did it take the former poachers to set up the wildlife rehabilitation center and what kind of procedures were involved in this effort? Is the fact that they’ve redeemed themselves from a troubling past a supporting element of this new endeavor?

DI: The wildlife rehabilitation center launched in 2004 and returned the first Seram cockatoos back to the wild in 2006. It has rehabilitated and released some 117 birds to date. Returning animals to the wild is a long and difficult process, and some would argue that conservation funds are best spent elsewhere. Granted, my own first priority is ecosystem protection. But without a place to take confiscated wildlife, how can you humanely push for enforcement of the wildlife trade?

The Masihulan center is the only wildlife facility in the vast swath of eastern Indonesia, with extensive infrastructure, great potential as an educational facility and unfailing local support. Ex-poacher Buce Makatita says he now worries first about finding food for the birds, then about finding food for himself.

Sadly, the center has seen little funding since 2008. Just $100 a day would keep the center fully functional, and would see the bulk of Masihulan village earning income from the sale of cultivated fruit and wild forest food to the center. Ecotourism funds now provide modest support, but not nearly enough.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
No lens is wide enough to capture the breadth and depth of the forest canopy.

ASMP: Are there still poachers in this area that traffic in birds (or other animals)? If so, have the former poachers become a target in any way since they’ve rehabilitated themselves?

DI: Yes, poachers are still active in Seram. Thankfully, it seems none of them are as skilled or efficient as the poachers we recruited from Masihulan. And while it appears the market for Seram cockatoos and parrots has declined, and that the Ambon conservation office has improved (most wildlife at the Masihulan center is derived from their confiscations), a follow-up investigation, similar to that conducted by ProFauna in 2004, would help confirm or deny this.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Comedian, actor and wildlife champion Bill Bailey pays a visit to the roof of the rainforest, flanked by superheroes.

ASMP: When you’re out in the wilds, do you most often find yourself with scary things that are environmental, animal or human in nature? Do you have a preference in terms of confronting a threat coming from man, beast or the environment?

DI: When I was 18, I enjoyed an accidental rite of passage. It involved an overnight walk over Mount Tamalpais, without a light. The friends I made that night included trees — listen closely and they reflect the sounds of your movement, guiding you toward open space. Animals, I sensed, were fellow travellers, facing the same challenges we humans face, without subsidy. I would forgive a mountain lion its hunger. By 4 AM, as I descended to Shoreline Highway, I knew that the only fear I could not overcome was that of Man. Time and again, I chose leaping over a guard rail, clinging over a cliff against the possibility that I would be sighted from a passing vehicle. To this day, it’s in the city, not in the wild, where I most often feel like a potential subject of prey.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Cuscus are some of the rare mammals found on the far-flung island of Seram.

ASMP: What kind of basic recommendations do you have for anyone faced with a threatening situation in the wild?

DI: Prioritize. Conserve energy. Adrenaline is your friend.

ASMP: From the images and description on your Web site you appear to be very skilled in climbing trees. Please talk about what it’s like to climb a tree lugging camera equipment and any special equipment or procedures you’ve developed for successful image making in this realm.

DI: For the most part, local climbers rig lines in trees, and I climb these using “SRT” (single rope technique), honed from caving. This allows me to “walk” up a rope, and to comfortably hang out and shoot anywhere I like.

The great thing about getting high in the rainforest is that it’s where the life is; about 90 percent of rainforest biodiversity dwells in the canopy. And the “photic zone” of the forest is well lit, neat and orderly. By comparison, the “abyssal plains” of the forest floor are dark and dank, decaying towards entropy. Clearly, the roof of the forest holds the best photographic advantages.

A perpetual challenge in the forest column is to portray its three-dimensionality. I’ve never come close to communicating that, but I’ll keep trying. Shooting wide, with a strong foreground and background, is about the best I can do.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
A view through an orchid-encrusted “emergent” tree, rearing its head above the canopy.

ASMP: What kinds of methods do you employ to keep your equipment clean, dry and operating well when you’re in a cave or up a tree?

DI: I’m a big fan of the Think Tank modular system for a carrying kit. If stuff isn’t handy, I won’t use it, so what’s the point? Then there are my “intensive care units” — Pelican cases loaded with silica gel (warm in a wok over the campfire to recharge), where the kit gets stowed overnight.

In the morning, condensation can be problem. I can’t recommend most methods I’ve used to warm up lenses! Best to carry some of those exothermic hand warmers, and to store the kit with some half-used ones. Does anyone make low-temperature, slow-release heat packs meant for optical defogging?? I need them!

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Khayangan Estate leads a trend to use reclaimed wood, so as not to pressure Indonesia’s dwindling forests.

ASMP: Your blog, http://blog.djunapix.com/about, features a long list titled “Resume of long stories, coming soon to a blog near you.” It looks like you’ve had a lot of adventures. Can you give us a brief preview of one that called upon your seemingly considerable people skills?

DI: Adventure #22: Dropped in on a cargo cult, carrying only pens.

As a visitor in Papua, you never know what to expect. The last village we’d pulled ashore at had chased off our team of flower-collecting ecologists on suspicion we were “WTO”: Yes, that World Trade Organization. A village elder told us all about the WTO — the “foreigners who were coming to take everything away.” A government man had warned him just weeks before to sell his land right away. “I can’t give you much, but it’s better than what you’ll get from the WTO!” he had said.

As our flower-pickers anchored off of the next remote outpost, I was surprised to find villagers racing out to greet us. They’d greased their frizzy hair back and donned their Sunday best. They stood arm in arm on the pier, swaying in song. Only when stepping ashore could I make out what it was they were singing: It was a song of salvation about foreigners arriving on a white boat who would deliver unto them all worldly goods. Yet all we brought was a boxed lunch and flower-picking gadgets. Some frenzied digging through packs revealed an offering of ballpoint pens — a pitiful deliverance, at best.

We spent the next few hours chatting about conservation and the merits of sustainable livelihoods. The village head nodded along vigorously, but all the while I could see him thinking, “Whatcha got on that boat?”

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh

ASMP: What about a second adventure in which you had to solve a thorny technical issue, far from civilization?

DI: Adventure #41: Repaired a camera with a rock.

Given the setting — the cave where Flores hobbits once butchered Komodo dragons with stone tools — bashing a camera kit with a rock felt oddly appropriate. Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra. Sure enough, a bit of percussive torque freed my Nikon D60 from a boom pole on which it had become jammed. Sadly, the camera took with it the boom pole stud and I still couldn’t mount the thing to my pan/tilt robot, which I desperately needed to document a discovery in the cramped hobbit digs.

Once you’ve voided your warranty with a rock, there’s little reason to not fix your camera with a saw. For better or worse, I had one on hand, supplied by an in-cave carpenter who prepared planks to shore up the archaeological digs. By shearing the offending stud from the base of my camera, I was able to cable-tie and duct-tape the D60 to the robot. This scored me a nice in-the-dig fisheye shot, featuring scientists and a Stegodon tooth.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Skull cast of Homo floresiensis — the “hobbit” that turned human evolution on its head — at its discovery site in Flores.

Of course, the rock-and-saw fix was only temporary. Back in civilization (or as close as you can get in Ruteng, Flores) I planned my next assault, this time by drill press. I paid a visit to the local auto shop, where I’d made friends drilling my robot, and I pointed to my plugged-up tripod mount. It needed reaming, pronto! The next day I’d be off to point the robot at real, live Komodo dragons fighting for a mate. This was no place for duct tape.

My mechanic friends seemed to get this, but they were busy that day so I had to wait. I spent a few hours doing so, robot-tweaking, then popped out for lunch. When I returned, the charitable shop owner hurried out. “It’s done!” he said. “You’ve got nice clean threads there. I just hope the hole isn’t too deep.”

I switched the camera on. It blinked, it groaned “ERR”, and it hasn’t turned on since. The hole was, in fact, too deep — right through the main circuit board. I should have quit with the hobbit tools.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
To shoot archaeologists in tight digs, Djuna mounts a camera on a remote-controlled robot, controlled by a DuneCam. She uses a similar rig for kite aerial photography.

ASMP: Your Web site includes a feature on a group of “Little People” called the Flores Hobbits. Please tell us more about this story and about your involvement with this research.

DI: In 2004, the announcement of meter-high fossil humans on Flores stood paleoanthropology on its head. The creatures looked a million years old, like something out of Africa. What were they doing just 12,000 years ago, on a remote island in Indonesia? The “hobbits,” as they came to be known, lived in a hole in the ground, where they slayed dragons and creatures not unlike Tolkien’s oliphaunts. They had big feet, and judging by their abundance of kitchen remains, they might have enjoyed second breakfasts.

Of course, this story seemed too good to be true. And many insisted it was. Controversy closed the dig site for some years. By the time it re-opened, in 2007, I’d pitched my services to the lead researchers as a “hobbitographer.” I freely provide images for academic use, including a cover for the journal Nature, while retaining rights for all other uses. The arrangement has brought me a host of odd friends, fascinating insights on the human journey both ancient and modern, and jobs with Scientific American, GEO, NOVA and National Geographic.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
It’s been said that all human fossils could fit in the bed of a pick-up truck. It’s an honor to share a room with such rarefied company.

ASMP: Besides supplying the images, did you write the text published in Cosmos magazine? If so, how often do you supply both written and image content as a package? Are there specific arrangements, be they financial, logistical or involving rights that are deal-breakers when working with clients, especially when providing both images and text?

DI: Yes, I wrote that Cosmos story. Other writing venues include features for Nature Conservancy magazine and outreach communications for conservation organizations.

I like writing, but I find the deliverables on photography much cleaner. When you take a picture, no one can argue with it. It is what it is — end of story.

Sadly, there are now many deal-breakers for me in the editorial market. Asian publishers can be particularly greedy. Thankfully, a balance of commercial and editorial work allows me the freedom to “just say no” and to hold out for editorial budgets that support the quality of work to which I aspire.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Shooting the glass-floored Shrimp House at Bambu Indah offered many firsts: First time wrangling fish for an interior shoot. First time calling reception, ordering whale ribs. And first time kicking out Cameron Diaz. (She was upgraded.)

ASMP: Your Web site is powered by PhotoShelter. How long have you worked with this service and how successful are you at licensing images through them? Do you have images with other stock companies? If so, which ones do you find to be most lucrative? Which are your favorites to work with?

DI: I’ve been with PhotoShelter for just over a year. To date, the greatest values I’ve seen are based around client review. The keyword capabilities of PhotoShelter are great. Sadly, my time for keywording isn’t.

I also appreciate that PhotoShelter provides photographers a lot of great tools and information for selling images. I just hope that someday they’ll take up my plea to provide better support for photo buyers. Videos on how to use a lightbox and how to download images would be welcome.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
A beachside Bali dream house, built by Hollywood director Rob Cohen.

ASMP: Your Web site notes that you also photograph resorts and luxury villas. How has this aspect of the local industry evolved or change in the years you’ve been there? Do you find this to be an especially viable subject area for your photography or an expanding market for you?

DI: The Bali villa market has boomed in recent years, but I think it has now reached saturation. I’m still excited to shoot cutting-edge properties here, but I think my wild/luxe skill set is best applied to the realm of ecotourism. There are some amazing tales out there — amazing people doing amazing things in the world’s last best places. Telling, and advancing, these stories is where I am looking to expand in coming years.

© Djuna Ivereigh
© Djuna Ivereigh
Self-portrait, waking up with friends on a Seram Canopy Safari. Spherical panorama, projected as a “little planet.”