Editor’s note: This post is part of a series highlighting six photographers who were commissioned by the Dutch photography organization Noorderlicht to produce “The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar.” The project examines globalization by looking at the sugar industry in the Netherlands and its former colonies.
Indonesia was once the second largest producer of sugar in the world. Dating back to the 17th century, the sugar industry there reached its height in the 1930s, when 179 factories produced 500,000 metric tons of sugar.
In the 1990s, Indonesia’s economy suffered, along with several other Asian countries, and the sugar industry struggled as well. Today much of the sugar used in the country is imported. However, Indonesia hopes to be self-sufficient in sugar production again by 2014.
Efforts are being made to bolster the production of sugar cane, including the opening of a new sugar cane plantation and mill in eastern Indonesia, according to an annual report on Indonesian sugar by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Photographer Carl De Keyzer recently traveled to Indonesia, where he documented the modern world of sugar production, its use in manufacturing of goods, and its consumption.
The trip was commissioned by Noorderlicht, a Dutch photo group exploring the global economy by looking at sugar production and its history.
De Keyzer, a photographer for the Magnum agency, had worked on documenting the effects of Belgian colonization in his 2010 book “Congo.”
“The colonial sugar factories were very interesting,” he said. “Indeed, quite similar to the work I did in the Congo,” where he photographed copper and cobalt mines in Katanga. “(In the Congo) I took an old tourist guide of the fifties as my guide to visit all accesible colonial remains. In Indonesia I had Rony as my guide.”
Rony, a guide provided by Noorderlicht, led De Keyzer to a wide assortment of subjects relating to sugar. To illustrate Noorderlicht’s project, De Keyzer photographed “everything related to sugar consumption, including the colonial sugar factories. From McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Belgian chocolate factories to midnight wedding cake markets.”
The quick pace of the trip was very different from the way De Keyzer normally works, he said. He usually takes years to produce a project – at least a year of shooting and another spent editing and preparing the work for publication.
In addition to photographing all things sugar in Indonesia, De Keyzer traveled to the Netherlands and captured images of the European Union Parliament, where between 10,000 and 20,000 lobbyists are hired to “inform” EU policy-makers.
Noorderlicht describes the divide: “A protectionist trade policy can determine the survival of multiple industries, but low-cost producers from outside of the European Union plea for the contrary. For them a European policy of free trade can open the large European Market for their sugar and bio-ethanol.“
With a look at sugar production, consumption and legislation from multiple countries and angles, Noorderlicht hopes to show globalization through a “simultaneously ordinary, and boundless” product.
- Cody McCloy, CNN