The Nelayan Project

BTS of Photographer Tom Barnes shooting in Indonesia

Nelayan are traditional Indonesian Fishermen, fishing from small boats for Lemuru or Petek, small sardine-like fish. In the mid-1990s, plastic started washing up on the beaches and replacing fish in the nets. This is a blog about my latest personal project,  a tough one to shoot – beautiful places blighted by plastic and waste with locals who feel helpless.

To see the full gallery of portraits please click here. A sample portrait of Permadi is below, please scroll down further for behind the scenes images and pictures from my travels in beautiful Indonesia to shoot the project.

Permadi, one of the fishermen stands on ropes and washed up waste.

Permadi stands on rocks covered in rope, tyres, plastic bags and netting. Often the fishermen will throw useless rope and broken nets overboard, they drift and end up here forming part of the new coastline. When I asked Permadi to stand here, he walked happily over to it and bugs swarmed out, all over his feet then vanished again.

I started the journey to shoot this project when I was in Indonesia photographing my other project Pemulung (click here to see that project) We had shot the bulk of that before shooting this project and I had been in Indonesia for just over a week and eaten my own weight in nasi goreng.

The main area of focus was Lamongan Regency, after speaking to locals and trying to find the affected beaches we headed to the areas of Brondong and Blimbing. We met with the head of the local fishermen and all went for lunch when he kindly introduced us. We then spent a few days shooting on and around those beaches.

Shooting Maimunah on a beach in Brondong, Java. There is no local dump or waste collection here so the household rubbish ends up on the beach in addition to what is washing up.

Black sand on the beach contrasting with all the microplastics, bags, and other rubbish that had washed up.

left: banners to ‘Save Payang’ to keep the small harbour operating. right: Trophies for best-painted boats, in the head of the fisherman’s office.

One of the incredibly long heavy metal filled drives that stretched long into the night. We’d travel later to shoot with the sunsets.

Caught in traffic in Piyungan.

This is bakso, we ate a ton of it in roadside stops during the long drives to get from one location to another.

Shooting one of the fishermen, Yono in the harbour.

This is me shooting Yono, a fisherman sat on a huge pile of ropes at one of the small harbours in Brondong. I had to travel light on these projects and shot everything with one Profoto B1x, this project was also the last shoot I used the Fujifilm GFX100 on.

Plastic washed up in one fo the harbours in Brondong.

One of the small harbours in Brondong, Bayunwangi. Strewn with washed-up plastic and rubbish. The locals have cleared it but it just keeps coming back, often worse than before.

One of the shots of a long drive over to Bali to complete the other project.

Scooters shot whilst we stopped for some food on the side of the road, as we made our way to Brondong.

Small Peter fish dry in the sun

Small Petek fish dry in the sun, they are part of the Sardine family and are small, salty, and delicious.

Plastic in the sand and water.

Plastic in the sand and bags floating in the sea at Blimbing, Banyuawangi.

Tom walking up the beach with plastic underfoot.

Walking up a beach in Brondong.

On the last day of my time in Indonesia, I took half a day off, visited a temple and took a walk down to Thomas Beach in Bali, I also walked past the most honest shop owners ever (right image)

Finishing up the trip on Thomas beach on the island of Bali was incredibly reflective, it’s one of the main tourist beaches, with thousands of glowing reviews and recommendations, it’s also completely free of plastic for the tourists, and I just wanted that for every beach I’d visited.

Thanks to the fishermen who stopped for a chat and portrait, and to my fixers Dery & Yusak.