Bali Photography: Balinese Women
Bali was brought to the attention of the Western world through photography. Krause’s provocative black and white shots of maidens and lads bathing, topless women going about their daily business and posed half naked women amid coconut palms evoked an island paradise where women easily gave out favors, the fruit and juices flowed and the cares of the world could be forgotten.
This perpetuation of an island paradise continued throughout the early twentieth century with the publication of Miguel Covarrubias’s encyclopedic (and romanticized vision) Island of Bali, Gotthard Schuh’s Insel der Gotter, Beryl de Zoete and Walter Spies’ Dance and Drama in Bali, Hickman Powell’s The Last Paradise and many more. Many of these early writers and photographers extolled the beauty of Balinese women and their breasts.
What is interesting to note is that when Balinese look at these images from 80 years ago, they see the malnutrition and weariness in the faces and bodies of their ancestors. Where the European saw harmony and peace and of course, the “lost paradise” they had been seeking after their countries had been torn apart by World War I, the Balinese saw the ordinary—an island filled with hard-working and poor inhabitants
Photography, by its very existence, puts up a wall between the object being photographed and the person taking the picture. Usually the tourist photographer is taking pictures of the “other” to show to his/her cohorts back home. The tourist gaze tends to focus on difference, the exotic. The Bali of the 1930s – 1950s was one of (male) fantasy: golden maidens and lads in various stages of undress conjured up a dream island of unlimited sexuality, when in fact the Balinese culture was nothing like the image represented. In the early photographs, we see little of daily life if there is not a (often posed) topless young woman involved.