The photo, taken from my iPhone during our in-person visit to the Rare and Distinctive Collections archive, was selected for analysis from the Atelier “De Famora’s” collection called The Banana Trade in East Java (1925). In the image, a man is holding a bunch of bananas that he either acquired from the crate of well stacked bananas. The title of the photograph and the identity of the man in the photograph is unknown. As this photograph provides insight into the banana trade in East Java during the colonial period and highlights the role of photography in documenting the colonial enterprise, this analysis will focus on the location of the image, the depiction of its meaning, and the overall historical context to provide a comprehensive understanding of the image’s significance.
The history of the location where the photograph was taken can be inferred from the colonial context of the banana trade in East Java during the Dutch colonial period. Bananas were one of the primary agricultural products grown in East Java during the colonial period, and the Dutch exploited the region’s natural resources for their economic gain. The photograph reflects the colonial enterprise and the use of photography as a tool for documenting colonial economic activities. The Dutch had a strong presence in Indonesia and were heavily involved in the banana trade, which was one of the most lucrative businesses at the time. The photograph shows the power dynamic between the Dutch plantation owners and the local farmers.
The contemporary location of the image, however, remains unknown. The photograph does not provide any contextual information about the current state of the location or the banana trade during the colonial period, which has implications for understanding the contemporary history of the region. As for the future of the location, the photograph raises questions about the sustainability of the banana trade and the impact of colonialism on the region’s economic and social development. This power dynamic could still exist in the contemporary situation, as multinational corporations dominate the banana trade in Southeast Asia, leaving little profit for farmers. According to Dizikes, “The Dutch would export high quality ingredients from Indonesia while keeping lower-quality products in the country.” Therefore, the future of the location is uncertain, as the environmental impacts of banana cultivation and the power dynamics within the trade pose a threat to the sustainability of the industry.
The meaning of the image for the artist or photographer is unclear since the identity of the photographer is unknown. However, the photograph was likely taken as part of the documentation of the banana trade process in East Java during the Dutch colonial period. For the local people and place being depicted, the photograph represents a particular moment in history of the banana trade in East Java. Bananas were one of the most important crops in the region, and the photograph captures the pride of the man holding the bunch of bananas and showing off the crate of bananas. However, the photograph could also represent the exploitation of the region’s natural resources by the Dutch colonial authorities. The man in the photograph may have been persuaded to sell his produce to the Dutch colonial authorities at a lower price than the market value. Therefore, the photograph also represents the exploitation and economic injustice that the local people suffered under colonialism.
For the artist/photographer, this image may have been a representation of the beauty and abundance of nature, as well as the productivity and profitability of the banana trade. However, for the local people, the image may represent exploitation and inequality, where their hard work is undervalued and the profits go to the Dutch plantation owners (Dizikes). The man holding the bananas may also be seen as a symbol of resistance and pride, as he is showing off his hard work and determination. According to Sukarno’s Proclamation of Indonesian Independence, “[Their] spirit was still set in the direction of [their] ideals…” (Kahin 2). The Indonesians struggled for decades for their freedom; therefore, their efforts to succeed could show off their pride their work, like the man holding the bananas. This image highlights the complex meanings and interpretations of visual representations, where the same image can hold different meanings for different people.
The historical meaning of the image lies in its documentation within its respective place in the album, which portrays the process of the banana trade. The photograph represents the exploitation of the region’s natural resources and the economic injustice that the local people suffered under colonialism (Lambert). The photograph also highlights the role of photography in documenting the colonial enterprise and the use of photography as a tool for propaganda by the colonial authorities. The photograph can also be interpreted as a representation of the cultural exchange between the Dutch colonizers and the local people. Bananas were not native to Indonesia, and their cultivation in the region was introduced by the Dutch. The Dutch were able to control and monopolize the trade by exploiting the labor of the local people and imposing high taxes and fees (Lambert). Therefore, the photograph can also be seen as a representation of the hybridization of cultures that occurred during the colonial period.
In conclusion, Atelier “De Famora’s” photograph of a man holding a bunch of bananas in addition to showing off the crate of neatly stacked bananas provides insight into the banana trade in East Java during the Dutch colonial period. The photograph reflects the colonial enterprise, the economic exploitation of the local people, and the use of photography as a tool for propaganda. The photograph also represents the cultural exchange that occurred during the colonial period. This is the tale of a bunch of bananas that I interpreted; however, I will leave it up to your own individual interpretation.
Dizikes, Peter | MIT News Office. “The Complex Effects of Colonial Rule in Indonesia.” MIT
News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, https://news.mit.edu/2020/sugar-factories-colonial-indonesia-olken-dell-0206.
Kahin, George McT. “Sukarno’s Proclamation of Indonesian Independence.” Indonesia, no. 69,
2000, pp. 1–3. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/3351273. Accessed 1 May 2023.
Lambert, Tim. “A Brief History of Indonesia.” Local Histories, 15 Sept. 2022,