The Birth and Death of a Photo Agency

2000 - 2009

After a year at the Glendale News-Press, I went to United Press International as the Los Angeles Chief Photographer (actually, I was the only photographer), covering news, and was eventually offered representation by Zuma Press, an independent photo agency with both domestic and international distribution. I figured it was a solid chance to start building my career independently and go international.

Zuma turned out to be a great move. I got exciting international assignments from top tier names and my pictures made into marquee names like Der Spiegel, Time, and Newsweek. I was zipping around the globe, living my dream. I also met great people on the ground, including many aspiring local photographers who were just as talented but had only a fraction of the opportunities that I due to lack of access to the international media. The idea began to take shape in my mind: to start a photo agency in Indonesia.

In 2001, I decided to start Indonesia's first private and independent photo agency: JiwaFoto.  Jiwa means "soul" in Indonesian and I thought it was a catchy name. The idea was that we would be a window for editors to the soul of Asia.

The decision wasn't without risk. At that time,  I was starting to make a name for myself in the international scene. I had a choice then to either use my savings to upgrade my equipment (digital was entering the scene) or to try to build a business from the ground up.  On the other hand, I have always been attracted to the idea of running a photo agency.  A well run photo agency can become a powerhouse of talent, and produce superb collections of images. 

We launched JiwaFoto at the right time to catch the last wave of photojournalism's "heydey". Soon we had clients spanning from Europe, America, and Asia. But the digital disruption was rippling across the globe. Numerous media outlets closed down one by one. In order to survive, we began doing corporate photography and consulting work for media organizations. The quality of our images again secured us blue-chip clients like Chevron and UNICEF. Where other news outlets were collapsing, we doing all right, even expanding.

However, it wasn't what I built JiwaFoto for.  I was not interested in corporate work as I wanted us to be the contributing factor of meaningful stories. In 2009,  I decided to close the company.  It was a bitter moment for me and all of the staff and photographers who really gave it all, but I also knew that we had given them the tools and access, and they were subsequently able to carve out solid careers for themselves independently thanks to their time at JiwaFoto.  This was one of the most defining moments in my life, one that will later shaped me to become a stronger business person.


My first TIME Magazine cover sharing with one of the legendary photojournalists of our time, James Nachtwey.

My first TIME Magazine cover sharing with one of the legendary photojournalists of our time, James Nachtwey.


This video is one of my favorite assignments of all time.  I pitched the idea to the client on making a video that will bring back the 'cool' appeal of badminton in Indonesia. I envisioned the video as being more documentary style.  I worked with an amazing video editor and friend, Reuben, and together we pulled this one off.