The Sea Trek Smiles Project

Moments of beauty are everywhere.  It is the job of a photographer to capture those moments in a way that speaks the moment to others. I was trained as a painter, but  I turned to photography to fufill my artistic need while on the road.  Although the technical aspects of the camera still allude me, photography has become one of my main motivations to travel.

I have traveled in many places where people won’t pose for your camera before crossing their palm with silver.  But in Indonesia I find it extremely rare that someone think to ask for money in exchange for a photo.   Our village subjects often like having their photographs taken just for the novelty of posing and the proud honor of being selected as “photo-worthy.”  By using a digital camera I can give my subjects a chance to see the photos on my LCD screen, usually resulting in fits of hysterical laughter and more excited and dramatic posing.

ALthough they won’t ask for money, sometimes people ask for a copy of the photograph.  “Of Course!”  I might say, “ Do you have an e-mail address?  Access to Internet?  A physical address?”  When the answer to all the above is “no”  I know in my heart that it will be too difficult to send them their photo. Sometimes I look through my favorite travel portraits that I have taken, knowing that I could have one of the few photos ever taken of someone’s grandmother.  Perhaps I have documented a child at an age that will never be documented.

On the first Ombak Putih voyage of 2012 season, one of our guests was Ed Lowe, a professional photographer from America. It was wonderful to watch as he snapped away from dawn to dusk , as happy as a kid in a candy store.  While shooting some portraits in the villages, a few people asked him to please send the photos back to them.  He promised his models that he would do his best, and sure enough, a few months later a package arrived in the Sea Trek office full of portraits of the crew and villagers from our trip.

It would be up to deliver Ed’s photos and to fulfill the promises he had made.  This mission got me to thinking… if Ed can take the time to send them all the way from America, then I have no excuse not to do the same.  Of all my years dabbling in travel portaiture, I finally get to see my subjects on a regular basis, but still haven’t  given out one photo!  So, thanks to Ed I was finally inspired to do what I have always wanted to do: give images back to my subjects.  What resulted was a new program to get photos that guests have taken while traveling with us back to the villagers.  Welcome to the Sea Trek Smiles Project.


This sweet little face has been grinning back at me from my photo library since 2009, when I made my first trip to Wera village in Sumbawa.  Although I had not seen this girl in 3 years, the other village children easily located her and brought her to me. She had not been shy to smile for the camera years ago, but when offered this photo, her mother had to help her gain the courage to come forward and accept her prize.


Melo Village regularly entertains Sea Trek guests with a fantastically colorful performance of the traditional Caci whip fighting and some impressive dancing.

LEFT:  In his original portrait, this Caci fighter protects his face from the vicious lash of the whip with a scarf.

RIGHT: This Melo woman has her hands full!  While juggling her wares of beautifully hand- woven cloth and aromatic vanilla, she displays a portrait of herself serving guests locally grown bananas in a unique headdress.


This picture enjoyed a journey all it’s own, sent overseas from America courtesy of Ombak Putih guest and photographer Ed Lowe, and delivered with the help many excited children to this woman in Komodo village. She glowed with pride upon learning that the portrait had been sent to her all the way from the USA.


When choosing which photos to develop, I tried to pick single portraits of people kind enough to pose for me, but I couldn’t help but print out a shot of this group of life-long friends.  It seemed too sweet not to share.


Delivering photographs was sometimes more difficult than I had anticipated.  Quite a few times I had to literally run around a village trying to track people down before our group had to move on.

LEFT: A woman in Komodo village receives a portrait of herself wearing a white beauty paste used to protect her face from the tropical sun.

MIDDLE:  A girl in a Lombok village is enthralled with her own image.  For a long time she simply stared at the photo, recognizing herself, but still confused as to who was in the picture.

RIGHT: This Pringgasela weaver was one of the easiest subjects for me to locate, as I found her strapped in to her usual loom and working on the very same cloth that I had photographed her dying several months before.


I believe it is safe to say that there aren’t too many cameras floating around in Komodo Village.  Familiesmight be lucky enough to own a studio portrait or two, but snapshots like this are a treasure, indeed.


LEFT:  A proud papa in the village of Komodo asked me to snap a shot of him with his little girl.  He wasn’t expecting to ever see the actual photo, but he was overjoyed and surprised to have it delivered to him.

RIGHT:  The young Sasak girls that perform a “bird dance” for us in Lenek usually wear serious expressions while dancing. Here, one of the dancers nearly cracks a smile while showing off her portrait, as this is the only image she has ever seen from her many performances.


Whether you were a  guest on a previous voyage, or you are eagerly awaiting your adventure to come, the team at Sea Trek we would like to invite you to contribute to our “Sea Trek Smiles” Project.  Perhaps you have a holiday album full of great shots of the crew or friendly faces that you met in a village along the way that you would like to share?  Even if you don’t know the name of the subject or are a bit fuzzy on the exact location, just send us what you have and we can play detective for you!

Send your pictures by post, or by e-mail, we will do our best to see that these amazing moments you shared

with our generous Indonesian hosts are passed along to them.  Help us give back to the island communities

we visit by turning your great holiday memories into someone’s family treasure.

Send Sea Trek your photos from past trips, or book now to create new holiday memories.

View Ed Lowe’s Images from his 2012 Ombak Putih voyage.