When selecting an image for this assignment, I wanted to select a photo that was simple, yet powerful. Something that really spoke to me, and the history of the time it represented. The photo I selected was a photograph from an album documenting the banana trade in East Java in 1925. The photo depicts a man holding a cluster of bananas, offering a glimpse into the prosperous trade of the Dutch colonists in the region.

This image, taken by the De Famora studio in Banjoewangi (now Banyuwangi), is one of many photographs that capture the harvest and transport of bananas in the coastal port (Atelier “De Famora”, 1925). The photograph is a testament to the intersection of art, history, and commerce in the then Dutch East Indies. I really wanted to explore the historical and contemporary meanings of this image, as well as its significance for the local people and the artist. The photograph’s artistic composition, as well as its position within the album, is a reflection of the economic and cultural forces at play during the time. The image of the man’s hand holding the bananas serves as a symbol of the thriving banana trade and the labor that fueled it (Supartono, 2014). There seemed to be a common theme with the images in this  photo album. All these photos seemed to have a similar theme of depicting the harvest shed with dozens of workers as well as the many wagons transporting bananas, revealing this album documenting the success of the colony’s industrialization (Supartono, 2014).

The Pisang Ambon, the type of banana commonly available in Indonesia, is referenced in the caption of the photograph, drawing attention to the region’s agricultural wealth and the importance of the banana trade for the local economy (Atelier “De Famora”, 1925). The image serves as a reminder of the historical context in which it was taken, which is the role of the Dutch colonists in the development of the region’s economy and the exploitation of its resources. The image also holds contemporary significance, particularly in the context of post-colonial Indonesia. The photograph stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Dutch colonists in the region and the impact their presence had on the local economy and culture. Today, the banana trade continues to be an important aspect of the local economy in Banyuwangi, with the area remaining a major producer of the fruit (Newton, 2014).

In this sense, the image is a reminder of the ongoing influence of historical forces on the contemporary landscape. For the local people, the image represents both the past and the present, providing a connection to their history and cultural heritage. The photograph documents the labor and effort that went into the banana trade, capturing a sense of pride and accomplishment for those involved in the industry. On top of that, I feel that it serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by the local people under colonial rule and the resilience they demonstrated in the face of adversity. In my opinion, the meaning of the image for the artist, can be inferred from the composition and presentation of the photograph. The image is one of several in the album that reveal simple yet powerful messages of this time period, suggesting that the studio aimed to elevate the subject matter beyond simply documentation (Atelier “De Famora”, 1925).

The mixture of artistic elements into the photographs indicates an intention to celebrate the success of the colony’s industrialization and the prosperity of the banana trade, while also showcasing the skill and creativity of the photographer. In conclusion, the image of the man’s hand holding bananas is a powerful visual representation of the historical and contemporary significance of the banana trade in East Java. This photograph, taken in 1925 by the De Famora studio, captures the intersection of art, history, and commerce in the Dutch East Indies. The image holds a range of meanings for the artist, the local people, and the broader context in which it serves.  It also holds a range of meanings for the local people, as it serves as a connection to their history, culture, and identity. The image of the man’s hand represents the hard work, determination, and resilience of those who labored in the banana trade under colonial rule. It also serves as a reminder of the region’s agricultural heritage and the importance of preserving it for future generations. I think that is what drew me to this image. Even before I did all this research, I knew it had a fascinating story to tell.

Shared By: Euel Zemenfes
Source: De Famora studio (1925)
Image Alt Text: A Visual Analysis of the Banana Trade in East Java

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