Meet Jez O’Hare, the adventurous aerial photographer, whose work you’ve probably already seen in books and magazines.
You were born in England. When did you first come to Indonesia?
In 1973, when my parents moved here, when I was seven years old.
How did you become a professional photographer?
At university in the UK, I initially studied scientific illustration, but I didn’t have the patience for it. Once a week we had photography class. I loved it and eventually moved to a full-time photography course. Then, during a holiday at Dad’s house in Jakarta, I heard there were Stone Age people living in the highlands of West Papua. I took a boat to Jayapura, a plane to Wamena and went walkabout. I fell in love with Papua and ever since have been hooked on exploring and photographing Indonesia.
When I got back from West Papua, a travel magazine published my first article. Later I did some more travelling and worked for travel agencies and designers. Eventually an audio visual company hired me, initially as a creative designer, but when they saw my photos they asked me to shoot for them. Almost immediately I was shooting for major clients with company gear and a great team. At the time I did not realize it, but looking back, this was the best work experience any young photographer could have dreamed for. I had to learn fast and work really hard, but eventually I could shoot almost anything.
When I got my Indonesian citizenship in 1995, I went freelance, doing mostly aerial, industrial and stock. Perhaps a third of my income is from stock – licensing library images collected over the years. It’s a lot of work to manage but this has helped support me when there were few assignments.
Your aerial photography is amazing. How did that begin?
After a few aerial jobs it was clear that flying seemed the best way to explore and shoot landscapes. I bought a gyro-stabilizer device to help deal with vibrations, and took all the aerial assignments I could get. I also hitched on ferry flights and lived with some bush pilots.
Eventually I realized charter aircraft and hitching were neither affordable nor practical for my personal photography. I needed my own aircraft. I bought Kit Planes magazine and to my astonishment there were small aircraft that I could actually afford. I first learnt to fly in 1995 and now own and operate three types of aircraft: trike, paramotor and radio controlled helicopter.
I’m a member of FASI, the Indonesian Aero Sport Federation, which is regulated by the Indonesian Air Force and the Department of Transport.
What precautions do you need to take before a flight?
Meticulous pre-flight preparation is essential for safe and enjoyable flying. There are so many things to remember, especially if you do it all by yourself. Permits, regulations, flight planning, aircraft and engine maintenance, fuel, weather and all kinds of other issues. The most important thing is to never exceed the limitations of yourself, the media you fly in – such as weather, terrain, airfields – and your aircraft.
For cross-country flights I now research the route on Google Earth, transfer it to GPS and charts, make a written navigation plan and prepare the aircraft at least a day before the flight.
I usually only fly in the mornings until around 10am. After that, the weather can get extreme, especially around mountains. Being in good physical and mental condition is also important. I try to be asleep by around 8-9pm, wake at 4-5am and be ready for take-off by 6-7am. Being ‘current’ from regular flying is also important. If I have not flown for a while, I’ll do some ‘touch and go’ landing practice or local flying to get current before any long flights.
How long can you stay in the air?
With my latest trike I could stay airborne all day – 12 hours – but the longest flight I made so far was six hours. After a few hours of flying by yourself, it can get tiring and cold. Landing to take a break is safer.
Have you had any rough landings?
Yes, I was a passenger in a plane crash in 1995. The plane stalled, we turned upside down and landed nose first into the ground. Luckily it was only cracked bones, bruises and cuts, and my camera was smashed into pieces. I had one rough landing in my own aircraft. It was damaged slightly but I wasn’t injured.
What prompted you to take Indonesian citizenship?
Many reasons. Partly because half of my family is here, and with Indonesian citizenship it is easier to live and work as I do. Besides, the geography is mind blowing and Indonesian people are generally cool. The only negative thing is I can’t have dual citizenship and it’s a hassle getting visas to visit family in the UK or Japan. Of course I still love and miss the UK, especially my family and the countryside.
What has been your most challenging assignment?
Freeport and some of the flying expeditions I do.
And your favourite locations to photograph?
Papua, Maluku, Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara.
What’s your preferred brand of camera?
I use several brands, but nothing is as fast or reliable as Nikon.
Are landscapes changing since you started taking photos here?
Oil palm plantations and forestry industries seem to destroy more nature than all the other industries put together. I get quite stressed thinking about the environment; it seems there is no way to stop deforestation.
Do you ever do underwater photography?
Yes, I have a Nikonos. I wish I had more time for it, but aerial photography is quite a handful already.
What about wild animals up close?
Yes, sometimes, but nothing as dangerous or complicated as real wildlife photographers do.
Any Indonesian areas that you’re yet to visit and want to photograph?
Southwestern Maluku, the Tanimbar Islands in southeastern Maluku, and Belitung on the eastern coast of Sumatra.
You live in Bandung. How do you unwind when you’re not working?
Recently we made a darkroom. I suppose that’s for unwinding. If not, I just take a walk or watch TV.