Ogoh-Ogoh Nyepi ceremony in Bali 2015
Ogoh-Ogoh Nyepi ceremony in Bali 2015

From the lens of photographer Peter Berzanskis during the 2015 Ogoh-Ogoh ceremonies

Each year, the island of Bali is imprinted by the footprints of over 7.2 million human beings. About 4.2 million of them are locals and about 3 million of them are foreign tourists.

Despite all the commonalities and differences between these beings, one thing is for sure: they all have a different Bali story. Who they are, what they love, and what they see. In our series, From The Lens, we showcase the galleries of individuals who have stepped behind a lens and snapped Bali through their eyes.

From a local grom with a disposable camera, to a professional with the latest DSLR, with every Tom, Dick and Wayan in between.

Streetlife & Ogoh Ogoh as seen by photographer Peter Berzanskis.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Australian and my parents were from Lithuania. I’m currently doing a Diploma in Photography but I’ve had many careers including acting, radio, management and antique restoration. In the 1940’s and early 50’s before I was born, my father took many great photos. He bought me a camera when I was young and I’ve been keen on photography ever since.

Advertisement for a tattoo parlour in Gang Bedugul, Kuta.
Advertisement for a tattoo parlour in Gang Bedugul, Kuta.

What inspires your photography & you as a person?

Even without a camera I’ve always been taking or composing photos with my eyes, they just don’t have a memory card to store them. I’m always wanting to capture things that I see in front of me, which has led me into street or urban photography. People are interested in other people and they make the best subjects. Some photos leave us with questions about the person; who are they, what are they thinking. In other photos we have a good idea what’s going on, the person might be happy or thoughtful and we try to capture the essence of that person or of the moment or we see something in a different way.

Smart phones with decent cameras freed me up to take pictures anywhere anytime, but the range of photos they could take was lacking, so about six months ago I bought a DSLR and figured out how to take it with me everywhere without it getting in the way.

Where are your favourite places to capture photographs in Bali?

During my last trip to Bali I stayed fairly close to Kuta and I really enjoyed taking photos of the street life, especially after dark when the lights from buildings, motorbikes and cars light up people and places so differently from daytime.

Kuta, Poppies Lane II.
Kuta, Poppies Lane II.

What’s the main lesson Bali has taught you?

I’m always delighted by Balinese friendliness and kindness towards me and other visitors, and it reminds me to be the same to other people.

How did you get hooked on Bali?

My first overseas travel experience was coming to Bali around 1987. Standing at the top of the stairs that led to the tarmac, the sensation of heat and humidity, the smell of kretek cigarettes and aviation fuel hit me with force and I knew I was in an exotic country. Asia, mysterious and dangerous, the haunt of serial killer Charles Sobhraj and the setting of the movie Apocalypse Now, had hovered in my imagination for many years and here I was and I was hooked.

Since then I’ve been back to Bali many times. In the ’90’s I led a couple of cycling tours around the island. Sometimes I have used Bali as a jumping-off point to other destinations like Lombok, East Timor and Java, and other times I’ve just stayed in Bali.

Does your work as an actor influence the way you make your photo’s?

As an actor, I know what goes into making a scene for a film or TV program, so when I’m watching something I’m often de-constructing scenes. As well as taking in the actors performance and how realistic it is, I’m always conscious of how the scene might have been set up and shot. Some cinematographers and directors have a wonderful eye for detail, composition and colour. So what I’m looking for when I take a shot is some human truth or human interest as well as good composition, detail and colour.

onlookers during nyepi
I was just as interested in the people, because they’re an important part of this significant event…

How did you experience your first Nyepi?

I heard about Nyepi during one of my previous visits and wasn’t aware that it was going to happen during this trip until I arrived. My hotel was very informative about the day of, and the days leading up to, Nyepi. I’d heard about a ceremony commencing on the eve of Nyepi around Jalan Legian and Jalan Melasti, which was only a few minutes walk from my hotel. I was interested to learn more about it and went to have a look a couple of hours before dusk. There was quite a crowd already, some sitting in a vantage point they’d secured, others milling around taking in the Ogoh-Ogoh and taking photos. It’s the sort of spectacle many of us would never see again.

There were maybe a dozen Ogoh-Ogoh, all larger than life, colourful, intricate and wonderfully made. As scary as they tried to be, they were fascinating to look at and drew enthusiastic onlookers.

Once it was well and truly dark the ceremony started. The Ogoh-Ogoh that had been stationary and harmless earlier now came to life. The colourful lighting, banging of drums and the movement animated the Ogoh-Ogoh into fierce yet tourist-friendly creatures.

I spent a leisurely day in my hotel on Nyepi day, while staff ensured that everyone was kept well fed and entertained as we too remained indoors, quiet and respectful of this important tradition.

Kids during Ogoh-Ogoh ceremony Bali
…especially young people – they add another layer to what’s happening.

Find out more about Peter Berzanskis:

During the coming year Peter is chronicling his journey as a photography student at peterberzanskis.com.au.

You can also follow him on Instagram here.

Ogoh-Ogoh ceremony Bali
The high degree of detail on the Ogoh-Ogoh is brilliant and worth taking in.
Ogoh-Ogoh ceremony Kuta 2015
This mother and child waited patiently for the ceremony to start, the daughter a perfect, younger clone of her mother.
Ogoh-Ogoh statue
The Ogoh-Ogoh are large and in some cases quite heavy
Nyepi festival Bali
There are many young people who carry each one, the effort shows in their faces.
 Ogoh-Ogoh evil spirits
The Ogoh-Ogoh are carried down to the sea and ceremoniously burnt to ward off evil spirits and to celebrate new year.