Interview: Rebel Riders – Muhammad Fadli

In this interview, Hon Hoang interviewed Muhammad Fadli on his recent photo-book Rebel Riders and his work as a photographer.
For more details on Muhammad Fadli and his photobook, please go to: dienacht-magazine

Perhaps the desire to build stems from a need to be creative or wanting to possess what can not be bought. Inquisitions arise when looking at images of Indonesian Extreme Vespas. Relinquishing themselves from inopportune circumstance, these Rebel Riders use their ingenuity and resourcefulness to recreate popular Western Vespas into creatures meant more for a desert fueled fugue.

These groups of Indonesian natives find a place with like minded mechanical Frankensteins. Showcasing their creations to those with the same passion and whoever happens to be in their path as they maneuver these mechanized monstrosities. Known as “Vespa extreme” by some and “Vespa sampah” (garbage Vespa) by others, the vehicles are an alchemy of metal, bones, and whatever materials are available, held together by will and ingenuity. Freedom of the open road is exemplified by their boundlessly creative interpretations of the Iconic Italian Vespa.

Photographer Muhammad Fadli traveled through Indonesia to document these mechanical innovators. A closer look of the Vespa extreme and their creators can be seen in his new photo book called Rebel Riders.

Bound by fine burlap, the photo-book encases the visual tale of the Vespa Extreme community. Within its pages contains a supplement packet that gives depth to the rider’s story. It contains a pamphlet like version of the photo-book with an index of each image and notes expanding on the subjects within the photographs. 1000 copies of these pamphlets were printed to be distributed throughout Indonesia for free. Another thing found in the packet is a set of stickers, each one with the original design from a Vespa Extreme group.


To learn more about the Rebel Riders and the photographer that captured them, I interviewed Muhammad Fadli about his recent projects and his career in photography.

What were some of your early experiences with photography? Did you know in those moments that photography would be your career?

It all began in my third year of university, about thirteen years ago. Back then, I was still living in Padang, a city at the west coast of Sumatra. I occasionally borrowed a SLR camera from a small audio-visual studio owned by the faculty of the university. They mainly used the camera to document old manuscripts and rarely used it for anything beyond that. That was when I started to know how camera works and realized its potential. Before that, I used a point and shoot camera only for school trips, events, capturing friends and random images, but that probably doesn’t really count. Talking about working as a photographer, I certainly never thought it would be my career. To be honest, at that time, I didn’t even know what I would do after finishing my study.

Whether through formal education or self-taught, how did you develop your style as a photographer? Are there any photographers that influence you in particular?

I am mostly self-taught benefiting from the wake of the internet era. It wasn’t like how it is today, but more than enough inspirations could be found as long as you’re curious. My photography style evolved from shooting very much cliche landscape images (you know clear blue skies, nice trees, river, and etc.) and later into more documentary with various approaches that I find suitable for the story I’m working on.

As for the influence, good inspirations (in term of photographer) are such in a short-supply in Indonesia, so I mostly look outside from the start. These days I really enjoy looking at the works of Todd Hido, Max Pinckers, Bharat Sikka, Alec Soth, Larry Sultan, Hiroshi Sugimoto, or even the good old Robert Mapplethorpe (I wish I knew his works much earlier).


How did you become aware of Vespa Extreme enthusiasts or the Rebel Riders? How did you go about starting this project?

I have been aware of them for awhile. A friend of mine even had one that he regularly rode to the university. But at that time it just came to me as something crazy that young people always do. I was also still learning photography and so I never realized that it could be a great story. Only much later, about two years ago, when I attended a masterclass organized by Obscura Photo Festival in Malaysia, I decided to give it a go.

What can you tell me about the Rebel Riders? What are some things you learned about them as you continued working on the project?

From the outside it is actually a story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The classic Vespa scooter by Piaggio always has its nostalgic and romantic qualities (remember Jude law and Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley or better still, Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday?), but in Indonesia there are some people who don’t seem to be satisfied with it. They transform and weld it into Frankenstein-esque scooters which look like post-apocalyptic vehicles you normally spot in Mad Max movies. They may leave you thinking, who are these people? But they are just normal people, they could be your neighbor or your classmate who happen to love different things. What I later realized this story also tells me something about my own country. It is a reflection of how things work here. Let’s see the neighboring Singapore or Malaysia, there’s no way you can get away with this kind of scooter on the road without going to prison. We have quite similar traffic regulations, but in Indonesia it’s rarely enforced. It can be bad, but the good thing is life doesn’t have to be that boring here.


How well did you get to know the riders? Was there any individual’s story that stood out to you?

Although I only met most of the riders that I photographed once, I tend to follow some of them if there’s a possibility to do it. So I know some of them very well and we became friends. One individual that really stand out is a young guy named Blake Sharon (vespa guys often don’t use their real names), who happens to be from my hometown. He quit university and traveled four years straight with his extreme vespa citing he wanted to experience Indonesia as close as possible. Traveling with a limited amount of money, he sometimes worked along the way and lived on the mercy of the locals he met. In the end, he managed to visit all the main islands of Indonesia, crossed all 34 provinces, and even talked his way into having the Indonesian military fly his extreme vespa in a C-130 Hercules aircraft when he wandered around Papua. I was so fortunate to know him at the last stage of the project, it coincided with his homecoming.

Why and how did most of the riders become involved with the community?

For many Indonesians, getting involved in a community comes very naturally. in general, we love to get together more than most other countries, or to say it better, people in Indonesia feel more confident if they join others who have similar interests. Anyone who live in Indonesia for a while will realize this country is very diverse, but more often being different is not easy. So it’s no wonder in Indonesia there are communities for almost anything such Ferrari owners, urban farming activists, or reptiles lovers. Several years ago I even found out there’s a club dedicated for Apple’s Macbook users. It’s almost like a joke, but it’s true. In my opinion, it is the same case with these extreme vespa riders.


What is the process like for someone to start building their own extreme vespa? Does the community typically help one another build?

For most of the time, it happened to be very organic. They have this certain idea or design and they will work on it. There are some popular designs such army style vespa that are being copied almost everywhere, but there will still be some degree of customization. As for the community, it is very useful to share critical and technical information like how to employ more than one engine at the same time (this is quite an engineering marvel of it’s own).

Iponk (middle), a scooterist from South Sumatra along with his son (right) and a travel companion (left). He traveled for hundreds of kilometers to attend a Vespa event in Lampung.


Being born in Indonesia, what is it like to photograph people native to your country compared to the projects you take on abroad?

I grow to realize that apparently we, human beings, are pretty much the same apart from speaking different languages. For me, being born in Indonesia helps a lot. Here the populations are very diverse and each has different psyche, so I’m used to diversity already. And then there’s this universal language called respect. As long as I can keep the same level of respect toward my subjects I think I will do fine anywhere.

Gamblers at the Temple of Heaven Park, Beijing.
Igor Kazic, one of the Stari Most diver who usually called “The Icarus of Mostar”, jump from the old brige into the Neretva River 23 meters below. This old tradition has become a tourist attraction at the Bosnian city of Mostar.


How much of yourself do you put into your photographs? What is it about your subject that makes you want to capture their image?

I don’t think any photographer can escape from putting themselves into their own work. Maybe the degree is different for personal and commissioned work, but it’s always there. What and how you photograph shows who you are and your interests (you can fake it for sure, but then again it’ll still show something).

About my subjects, I wish I can really tell what is it about them that triggers the urge to take their photograph. Sometimes it happens just as simple as walking down the street and I see an interesting person among the crowd. I will just ask if she/he is willing to be photographed.

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore or are currently working on?

Right now I’m in the final process of publishing my other project into another book. The project is about the aftermath of Dutch colonization in a small archipelago in the eastern part of Indonesia. I worked on this project for a few years already with a good friend of mine, a travel writer. This should have been my first book, but there are so many delays. Mainly because we will self-publish so we were hampered by financial situations. But it will finally be out early 2019. After that I will see where things will go. There are several ideas, but for now, it’s still too early to say anything.


If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I hope I don’t ever have to start over again…

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

You need something more than just photography to advance forward. Knowing your other interest and combining it with photography can help a lot. And always pursue projects that matter to you on personal level.

For more details on Muhammad Fadli and his photobook, please go to:

Interview: Roadmaps of Mythology – Vasantha Yogananthan

In this interview, Hon Hoang talks to Vasantha Yogananthan, a photographer currently in based Paris. 

In our youth, we would often listen to fairy tales and myths. Tales about people and places of grandeur, imagining events of mysticism. For most people, these stories would remain to be only that, but for Vasantha Yogananthan, they’re roadmaps.

Using The Ramayana and remembering the epic poem, Vasantha set out to recreate the stories he learned as a child and observe how it has pervade itself into everyday Indian life. The result being A Myth of Two Souls, an ongoing project where he retraces the legendary route from North to South India.

Vasantha Yogananthan speaks about his project, how it has affected his life and photography, and provides advice for aspiring photographers. Presented are excerpts from his fourth installment called Dandaka, from his ongoing series.

Mareecha’s Magic Trick Kattumannarkovil, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018 Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar
Dandakaranya Nuapada, Odisha, India, 2017 Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar
The Spider Barnawapara Sanctuary, Chhattisgarh, India, 2017

Tell me about your project A Myth of Two Souls? How did you come up with the idea and what steps did you take to get it started? 

Back in 2013, before leaving for a trip to India I bought a few books about the country, among them The Ramayana. I read it while travelling in Tamil Nadu, and I started noticing things in everyday life relating to the myth. I had vague memories of the epic because my dad used to have the Amar Chitra Katha comic book version of The Ramayana at home. I remember loving these comic books a lot during my childhood, although I did not read any English. The pictures from that first trip in 2013 were a disaster. I got only 2 or 3 good photographs in a one-month trip. I came back to Paris realizing I had found a story but without a visual concept. I started reading different versions of the myth. I bought Ramayana related stuff on Ebay: old books, vernacular pictures, lithography, etc.


What does time mean to you and how does this definition affect your photography?

Most of my projects are produced over long period of time. In the case of The Ramayana – the tale being so complex – I wanted to do a multi layered project. Trying to rush things by studying intensively my subject matter and/or traveling extensively to photograph in a short period of time was not going to work. Instead, I had to travel twice a year to India, in order to have long period of time in between each trip to sit back, look at the pictures and try to make sense of where I was heading. The longer you work on a story, the more it is going to “sink” in your imagination. After six years of work and more than ten trips to India, I am obviously seeing things I was not looking at during my first trips.

Farewell Hampi, Karnataka, India, 2016 Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar
The Golden Deer Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2015 Black and white archival inkjet print with additional drawings by Mahalaxmi & Shantanu Das
The Lakshmana Rekha
Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

You have dedicated seven years to reinterpreting an ancient Hindu text, The Ramyana. As an Atheist, how has this process affected your own beliefs on spirituality and religion? Has it affected how you approach photography?

As mentioned in other interviews, I don’t relate to The Ramayana as a religious text, even if it is of course. To me its appeal lies in its philosophy, as well as its structure – how does the story unfold. It uses mechanisms that you see at play in many other stories – two lovers, a drama, a war, etc. India has affected my own beliefs in terms of spirituality but it has more to do with the country itself than the story. I think it has changed my approach to photography unconsciously. Time passes differently in India and it has affected my working process. When I started photography I was really looking forward to ‘get the shot’ while I was in the field. The problem is that if you try too hard you often end up duplicating old formulas. You have to be patient and to accept that most days you won’t get any pictures that will last.


Growing up with stories from The Ramyana, what are your goals for reinterpreting them? Why did you choose photography as the medium for that?

A lot of writers have reinterpreted The Ramayana. A lot of filmakers too. Nina Paley did that great movie (Sita Sings the Blues). But strangely no photographers did it – so when I started the project I felt at the same time lucky no one tried it before, and haunted by the mountain in front of me. I think that one of photography’s greatest strength is its ability to deal with the real / unreal. It seems like the perfect medium to try to look into a fiction shining into the everyday life (if you know where to look).

Ravana Fighting Jatayu
Kodiyakarai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018
Trivandrum, Kerala, India, 2013
Jatayu #1
Kodiyakarai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018

As a creative, what is the importance of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone? Do you notice a difference in the quality of your photographs when you’re comfortable versus when pushing yourself?

This is something I’m struggling within most of the so-called “contemporary photography”. Usually people find a way to photograph and then stick with it for years. No matter the topic/idea you are working on, you will use the same formula. From the start I knew I wanted to shoot differently the seven chapters of The Ramayana. The first ones were the most “easy” ones because I shot them in a zone where I was feeling comfortable. Then I bought a large format camera and moved onto staging portraits. It was completely new to me and I had a blast doing it. So much fun and so different than shooting ‘straight’ photography. Staging photographs made me feel the medium could be so close to cinema. I was acting as a movie director rather than a photographer. I was scouting location, casting people in the streets, etc. Now, after I did that for the past two years, I bought a Leica and went back to shooting very fast! For me changing cameras is a good way to make you photograph differently. And I truly think it is a very important thing to do, if you wish to evolve in your practice.


While working on this project, how does India interpreted through The Ramyana compare to the India you have experienced?

The Ramaya’s itinerary I am following is mainly off the big cities. I ended up shooting mostly in the countryside and in small towns. A country that is far away from the modern India you hear about in the medias. Sometimes the India as described in the tale  – the landscapes for example – would feel very close to what I was seeing – whereas in some places I had to look really hard to find ‘hints’ of the myth.

Bloody Letterbox
Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018
The Riders
Barnawapara Sanctuary, Chhattisgarh, India, 2017
Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar
Howling To The Moon
Ramtek, Maharashtra, India, 2015
Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar

Your images from the project are a blend of natural and staged images, how do you decide when an image needs to be staged versus natural?

It’s always difficult to decide whether or not you should stage something. I would say though that the staged pictures I like the most are the ones inspired by a close observation of the real. I would hang out in a village for a few days, looking at how people live and then would carefully recreate scenes I have seen. Usually a staged picture works when something does not go according to your plan. A hand shakes, the wind makes the trees blurry, the actor improvises.


What are your plans as you continue to work on A Myth of Two Souls?  Are you planning for any future projects?

As we are releasing Dandaka this month, I am already in the process of working on chapter 5 (“The Quest”). This book will feature only animals and it has been a real challenge shooting it. It will be quite different from the first chapters and I am looking forward to its release in March 2019. Next year will also be the first time I will be exhibiting the project which is going to be a new challenge.


Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

Work very, very hard. I often hear about ‘talent’ but work is what will make you progress. You have to try, fail, try again, and keep pushing yourself. Study and look at the great masters but don’t end up browsing the internet looking at everything people are doing. Look at books, it is where you will learn the most about editing and sequencing. And photography is 80% about editing and sequencing. Try not to mimic the last fashion. Trends don’t last.

Photobook: Impermanence – South Korea in Portraits and Photographs

Hon Hoang
Submission Title
Impermanence – South Korea in Portraits and Photographs
South Korea

The process of producing a photo book can be difficult and intimidating. Most of us wouldn’t know where to start and even more difficult, we wouldn’t know where to end. This is the 3rd revision of my photo book and one of the most important things that got me to this point was making the book available for feedback.

One of the most common feedbacks I had was that the photo book is “bulky” or “daunting.” That the sheer size of the book dilutes the impact of more interesting photographs. I had to let this project sit for awhile, putting it aside so the photographs feel more like a distant memory. This was necessary, I found it difficult to omit certain photographs, they all felt important because of the memories I attributed to them. Objectivity is important when editing your own work, it may not fit the criteria of a good photograph or contribute to the larger body of work, but there is a desire for it to be seen all the same. It is important to learn to overlook that desire and focus on the project as a whole.

The time away from the photographs was helpful, it became easier to edit aggressively without feelings of guilt and anxiety for omitting images once seen as important. I feel like there is more work to be done before this project ever goes to print, if ever. For now, please enjoy the free digital download of the entire book.

If you like, hate, or have any suggestions on how to make the book better, please comment below. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.



From August 2016 to August 2017, I lived in South Korea. I traveled throughout the country trying to encapsulate what I saw and how I felt through portraits and photographs. As a result, I created Impermanence: South Korea in Portraits and Photographs.

This photo book presents my experience as a visitor to a country in flux, showing the rapidly evolving culture and landscape of South Korea.

View the photo book below or click here to view and download Impermanence.


Photobook: Stand in Front of More Interesting People

Photographer: Joseph Chung

This is a black and white photozine of some of my favorite street photographs taken between 2014-2017. It’s sized 152x200mm (slightly shorter than a5), 32 pages, printed on 150gsm art paper with a 300gsm glossy coated cover, and is signed.

It includes photos which have been published as part of stories and Daily Dozens on National Geographic, Photo of the Day on, and awarded an Honorable Mention on IPA International Photography Awards 2017 for the editorial story, “To Remove a President.”

For more details and how to purchase a copy, please click here.

Bio: My name is Joseph Chung and I’m a Korean-American street photographer based in Seoul and Dongducheon, South Korea. While I was born in Seoul, I grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City and it was there my interest in photography began. In 2011, I returned to Seoul and became deeply interested in exploring aspects of the urban city and its inhabitants. Photography has a magical power to freeze time, and with my camera, I hope to leave records worth seeing and remembering.

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