Balinese girl triumphs at international photo contest

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Dressed in a white traditional Balinese kebaya (blouse) and long blue skirt, Wayan Mertayani says she never thought she could win the Anne Frank Foundation international photo contest in Amsterdam.

The work of the 14-year old girl was chosen from among 200 contestants from across the world. This year’s competition was themed “What’s Your Dream?”

“It’s like a dream visiting the Netherlands with my sister. It is a dream comes true,” Mertayani said.

The 12 jurors from World Press Photo said they were of the opinion that Mertayani’s work met with all the criteria to win the contest. “The shape of the tree, the one chicken up in the branches, the color and light: They all work in its favor. All of this relays the photographer’s reality through subtle symbolism,” one juror wrote on the Anne Frank Foundation’s official website.

The foundation’s Annemarie Backer told Indonesian journalists participating in a training seminar at Hilversum Radio station last Thursday that “through her pictures, Mertayani is trying to show not only her own world but also her dream to become a journalist one day”.

A student of State High School SMP 2 in Karangasem in East Bali, Mertayani met with Indonesian journalists in Amsterdam to express her joy at winning.

“I really want to be a journalist or photographer someday,” she said.

Mertayani was born in a poor family to a single mother, Ni Nengah Kirem. Her father died when she was three years old. Mertayani works as a street vendor, selling candies and cookies along Amed Beach in Karangasem, 90 kilometers east of the Bali provincial capital, Denpasar.

“Our lives have been so difficult that I have to work to find money for school,” Mertayani said, adding that she almost dropped out of school because her mother could not afford to pay for education.

After work, in the afternoon, Mertayani say she spent her day reading books and magazines at the house of a Dutch woman who runs a hostel at Amed Beach.

“One day, she asked me to read a very special book, The Diary of Anne Frank. I fell in love with Anne,” Mertayani recalls.

She said she shared Anne’s misery. “The life of Anne Frank is almost similar to mine, full of struggles and hardship.” Unlike Frank, however, she did not have to contend with Nazis.

Mertayani said that in September last year, a Dutch tourist asked her if she wanted to take part in a photo contest. She says she didn’t know about the contest and had never photographed before.

The Dutch tourist lent her a digital camera to experiment with.

She took 14 pictures of various objects, including her friends, chickens, eggs and rooms. Two months later, Mertayani said she was shocked to learn that she had won the contest.

Her winning photo is of a chicken perched in a tree. “The chicken reflects my life and my dream.”

Published at The Jakarta Post | May 10 2010

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